Archive | children

Year to Live — Day 318 — My Grandma

This morning, I looked in the mirror, and out of it my maternal grandmother stared back at me. The same hair style, eyes, shape of face, the same expression, the same slightly dour down-turned mouth, the same wrinkles. A tear came into my eye. I miss my grandma. I love my grandma, and I know, from my memories of years ago, that my grandma loved me back.

My Grandmother, Safta Chaya, passed away twenty years ago in June of 1996. She had one of those cancers that can’t quite be pinpointed. I’m not sure anyone knew where or what kind exactly the cancer was. She just got sick, and then sicker, and then she died. I was so far away, here in the U.S. while she was in Israel, and I didn’t really manage to understand what it was she had. Even now, the entire progression of the disease and my grandmother’s eventual death are unclear to me. At age 24, I did not quite realize how much her death hit me, how much I cared, and how much I deserved to grieve.

Judaism has a wonderful custom for grieving: the Shiva. For seven days after the passing away of the person, the family congregates at the deceased’s house. Everyone comes: relatives and friends. In the more religious households, prayers are conducted at specific intervals. In other houses, the guests sit and tell or listen to stories. Often (and perhaps surprisingly), the atmosphere is not necessarily heavy with sorrow and tragedy (though those may be present). Rather, in most of the Shivas I attended, people seem to be suffused with gratitude for the community and the love and support that it presents, and with gratitude for the life of the person who has passed away.

I did not fly back to Israel to attend my grandmother’s Shiva, and so I cannot tell you what kind of Shiva my family held for her. Knowing my family from the maternal side, I suspect it might have been (and please don’t faint at my use of this next word) fun and full of humor and love. But thinking about my grandmother’s life, I begin to doubt. My grandmother Chaya (at least in the 24 years I knew her) led a lonely and sad life. A complicated life. Had there been guilt in the family’s mind about not making Safta Chaya’s life easier and happier? About not being there enough for her? I hope not. I hope that during the Shiva, the family were able to celebrate Safta Chaya’s life, and not just to pity or grieve it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma lately, about how much I loved her and why I loved her, and about how I loved her despite the fact that she was not an easy woman to love. I remember the whole-wheat bread she used to bake from scratch (her father was a real baker with the horse and cart and everything, selling bread he’d baked through town) and some of the other food she’d serve me when I visited her. She used to heat the food in the toaster oven (which my dad probably got for her): vegetables which she cooked before slowly on the stovetop, rice, and sometimes sautéed mushrooms too. Once the food was warm, she’d mix each element with a little bit of oil to give it a freshness, a pizzaz. She would cut salad for us without using a cutting board, calmly and carefully slicing the veggies over the bowl into neat triangles. When we ate, sitting together in her little kitchen, the door to the small kitchen balcony right next to us, I would feel cherished and loved. I could tell it was all for me. I could tell she wanted me there, that she appreciated every moment of the visit. There was a tranquility in that kitchen which I experienced nowhere else in my life.

After lunch, my grandma would play the piano for me — she begun to play the piano when she was perhaps 60 or so years old. She did not play accurately or with a smooth flow, and it was sometimes difficult to listen to her — especially since I played the piano myself and knew what the music was supposed to sound like. But today… today I wish I had listened more. I wish I had asked more questions and heard more stories. I wish I had spent more time with her, this woman who I loved but who was a mystery to me. And I wish those things because I see so many lines of similarities between us. I sense the lines of ancestry that connect us. I recognize those facial lines that proclaim to the world that I am her granddaughter. But most of all, I know that my heart is somehow linked to hers.

I can see the cyclicality of life in my grandma, my mother, and myself. In my daughter. I can see each of us enacting roles that family, culture, history assigned to us. I can see the similarities with which we play these roles even as each of us struggles to find her own place and individuality within our inter-relationships. I am not my mother or my grandmother, and yet I am tied irrevocably to both, just as they are tied to me and my daughter to all of us. A hereditary line of mothers and daughters, passing along love and wisdom and hardship from one to the other.

From the mirror, this morning, my grandma’s eyes looked out at me, and as I realized how much I love her, I also realized how much more love and compassion there is room for me to give to me. My memories of my grandma remain locked up in the glass case of memories, like the one that held her special China set and her little glass figurines, clean of dust but somehow hazy. A faint smell of mothballs, paintings of my aunt from when she was a young woman, the yellow sofa which used to be orange when it stood in the living room, and the shutters, always slanted, shadowing the room against the hot Israeli sun.

My grandmother’s life lives on in us, her female descendants: soft and hard, easy and difficult, clear and confused, but always full of love. My mother and her sisters. Myself, my sister and our cousins. All of our daughters, the fourth generation already born. And beyond us, beyond the barrier of death, all of the grandmothers and mothers and daughters before my grandma, whose life influenced her own and through her ours. I can see them, each trying her best. I’m not sure what it means, all this interconnectedness, but I can see it, feel it in myself. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is here to remind me — and you — that we are ever loved, that we deserve to be loved, and that we are never alone.

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Fly, Baby Bird

In the past few months, I’ve been having nightmares about my daughter running away from me. In one, she disappears at an amusement park. In another she climbs out a window, and by the time I run outside to find her she is nowhere to be seen. In this last one, my fiancé Dar cries as we stand by a river, not knowing where to go look for her next. I wake up from these dreams in cold sweat, shaking, completely unable to get back to sleep.

Eden is turning twelve this year, and I suppose this means her river of life is beginning to separate from mine, to make its own path. I read once in an Israeli parenting book, appropriately named Fly, Baby Bird, that as kids turn into teenagers, they wish to become the hero of their own life. Where before parents took center stage (for example, think about how important parents are to a baby), now the child needs to be at the center of his or her own life. Many parents, the author says in the book, have a hard time moving aside and allowing their child to get the limelight, and many arguments and conflicts are the result.

Eden is still transitioning, I think, into teenager-dom. Sometimes she is cranky and impatient with me, and at other times she is affectionate and cuddly, soft and round as a baby. I find myself confused and overwhelmed by these two sides of her, never knowing if I will meet Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyl, or even, maybe, which is which. I think my nightmares about Eden running away from  me come from this: the seeing that she is growing up, that she is, in fact, moving away from being my daughter to being her own independent person. And I don’t quite know how to be with that.

The other day, Eden was sick and did not go to school. Later in the day, we went out together for a bit to get some art supplies for a project she wanted to try. On the car ride she rested her head back in the seat and was mostly quiet. I, on my side of the car, could not keep silent. I could see what was happening to me, the insecurity making me act this way, the nervousness about her unusual silence, but I could not stop myself. I commented on everything. I giggled. I laughed. I kept glancing her way. Finally, she could bear no more, and she said, “Ima, what is going on with you? Be quiet.”

For Halloween, Eden and I sorted through pages and pages of costume photos on the internet. She wanted at first to be Annabelle the gory doll, but we could not find a costume for that. We looked through vampires, witches, zombies and more. For the first time we were searching through the teen section, and most of the costumes were extremely sexy, including teeny short skirts and tight tops. Finally, she chose something completely different, a panda costume, of all things. The costume still had a tight top and a teeny short skirt, but there was, in addition, something innocent about it. Perhaps it was the furriness of the cloth or the hoody with its rounded panda face, or perhaps it was the leg warmers. It was more than appropriate, perhaps even perfect, for a girl teetering between childhood and teenager-dom.

Last night, Eden came to show me what she looked like in the costume. True to (confused and overwhelmed) mother form, I did not notice how cute she looked in the outfit or how well she put make-up on her face. The only thing I saw were the unprotected patches of skin above her knees and the short sleeve of the top. “You should wear a shirt under this, and maybe some tights,” I said, completely distracted by my fears that she will be cold. “You have those new tights I got you,” I continued, missing the disappointed expression on her face. “Maybe you can put them under. And wait, I have a shirt for you.” I frantically dug through the dirty laundry (yes, I’m ashamed to admit it, the dirty laundry…) and held out a shirt for her.

Eden stared at me. “Ima,” she said and handed me back the shirt. “You didn’t even notice how I did my make-up.” Then she turned on her heel and left, only throwing at me behind her back, “It won’t look good with a shirt underneath, and I’m not even cold.” Her rebuff passed me by as though it did not happen. I continued to nag her about wearing the tights, any kind of shirt, or taking a jacket with her, predicting without hesitation that she will be cold. I then criticized her choice of wearing sandals as well (again, because she’d be cold), despite knowing very well that she cannot wear her boots with the leg warmers. Only in the car I recollected myself enough to say, much too late, that her make-up did look fabulous. I never once said anything about how beautiful she looked as a panda and what a great choice the costume was. I even neglected to take a picture.

Sounds like the bells of doom, doesn’t it?

Only when I went to bed last night and had a moment to really pause and breathe, did I realize what happened to me. I was so caught up in my fears that I forgot to enjoy the moment. I was almost not present at all. I saw bare skin, not a whole child. Instead of trusting Eden to know what she was doing, I kept trying to push myself to center stage, as though I, somehow, knew better than her how she felt. A belief that was actually never true, not when she was a baby, and not now.

I hope very much that as Eden grows, I will be able to move back, let go of my fears, and allow her to take center stage in her life. This transitional period we’re in now is the perfect time to start practicing this new kind of letting go: allowing her to make more decisions and trusting her that they are the right ones for her, and that, if they are not, she will learn from her mistakes. I always struggle with how much I as her mother need to guide her, and how much it is my responsibility to protect her, but now, as she is slowly beginning this journey into teenager-dom and young adulthood, it is also time for me to shed my need for control, my over-protectiveness, and my desire to guide her path. It is becoming, increasingly, her path, and I’d like to have and to show my respect for it and for her.

In short, I think my job in Eden’s life from now on is, literally and figuratively, that of supporting actress. It is to give support, be there when I’m needed, and move off stage when I’m not. It is to trust that the way I’ve raised her so far will allow her to make good choices, and to hope that she will consult with me in any she is not sure of. And the best way to do that is to show her I trust her, that I support and love her, and that I respect her for the beautiful and independent human being she truly is.

 

“Fly, Baby Bird” comes from the name of a song in Hebrew. You can watch it below:

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My Television Dukkha (Suffering)

Sometimes I look at my children, and it seems to me they lead very strange lives. They go to school for most of every weekday, leaving home at 7:30am and returning only around 4pm — almost the equivalent of a full-time adult job. Once at home, they need to manage their time between after-school activities, such as basketball and football practice or gymnastics, and their homework, which could take as much as an hour-and-a-half every day. After the homework is complete, oftentimes the kids elect to sit in front of the television, the xBox or their iPads, staring at the screens for hours at a time.

Here’s what my and my sister’s life at their age looked like:

We had school from 8am to 2pm at the longest, often coming home at noon. We had homework, and I sure read a lot, but I spent a lot of time outside, in our garden or the street, playing. I also played the piano. My sister went to jazz and aerobics classes and took karate lessons. But we often played with friends. There was only one channel on television in Israel. For some two hours each afternoon the programming was only in Arabic, and in the evening, it was more for adults. And so, though we watched some television, our life was not focused on it, except perhaps somewhat during summer vacations, when there was more programming oriented to our age. But even then we spent most of the day playing with friends outside, reading (me), or going to the beach and the pool. We did not have a computer till I was in my teens, and even then, games were limited and the internet not invented yet. Our lives were focused on friends and on being outside, and, for me, on books.

When I look at my kids, I wonder what this indoor, screen-oriented life would look like when they’re adults. I worry that they are self-numbing. That they don’t really know what to do with their time other than this digital easy choice. The fear that as a parent I ought to control this better seizes me, and I feel desperate and hopeless at the same time. Somehow, whenever I talk to other parents, they don’t have this problem at all. “We hardly watch television,” one mother told me the other day. “She’s too busy with soccer practice,” said another.

Once school is done for the day, most kids around here head to sports practices, music lessons, horseback riding lessons, and many other after-school activities. Their time is so tightly scheduled that it is impossible to make plans for playdates during the week, and even the weekend is often tough. While admittedly riding horses or playing soccer does sound much better in every way (healthier, more educational, morally more correct perhaps) than watching television, I wonder sometimes if all these activities are simply another symptom of our non-stop society that is so afraid to pause for a moment and get bored.

This morning, I went to meditation practice at Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. I was tired, and my head kept whip-lashing as I fell asleep and woke up sitting on the pillow. I had looked forward to coming, eager for a half hour of uninterrupted quiet, a half hour of not needing to talk, not needing to do anything, a half hour of simply being in the moment, even if that moment was full of sleepiness. After the meditation, Robert Cusick spoke about the Eightfold Path and how to end suffering (dukkha in Pali). As he spoke, my listlessness transformed itself into a panic about this television issue. I was ruining the kids’ lives. I was not doing my duty by them. What kind of a parent was I? The image of my daughter staring at the television last night came to my mind, and my chest filled with such tightness, such desperation, such helplessness, that I wanted to jump out of my seat, to do anything except experience that.

In my mind, action was paramount. I was going to go back home and sit the kids down for a talk. No more television. Ever. Not on weekdays at least. I was going to talk to Dar about not getting Uri the Playstation he wanted for his birthday. That’s it. No more. I was done with screen time. I was going to be better this time. I’ll make them check-in their iPads in the kitchen. I would be on top of making sure the TV was always turned off. No computer for me either. Possibly not even for Dar. I will let them be bored. It’s better than this digitalization of our life. We’ll go to the pool instead, or I could schedule them some music lessons again. We will be a screen-free home. In my frenzy, I was no longer at the meditation hall. Instead, I was fighting the kids, fighting, in a way, against this awful sin it seemed to me that I was committing against their life.

Fortunately, Robert Cusick’s words interrupted my self-torture, bringing me back to the hall. He was telling a story about something that happened in a class he taught the other day. The class began, he said, with a guided meditation. As everyone was sitting, and he was already guiding them in the meditation, late-comers trickled in. The door opened and closed. Chairs creaked and scraped. Bags thumped down on the floor. Sound was happening, but he noticed some of the meditators were opening their eyes, glancing back. In our heads, he explained, a simple noise transforms into stories: who is coming? why are they late? don’t they know the class started already? don’t they know they’re interrupting the meditation? But it was just sound that was happening. Only sound. Nothing else. The rest were stories that were going on in people’s heads.

As Robert Cusick spoke, I suddenly understood. What was happening for me, thinking about the digital usage at home, was fear — fear that I am not a good enough mother. The rest was just stories that I was telling myself that I thought could happen in a future that hasn’t even happened yet. The need I felt to act, like the need the meditators felt to see who was coming, was a reaction to the fear, but there was no real, urgent need for me to act. If I acted now, I’d be acting from that fear and ignorance, from a place of heaviness and helplessness and despair. Instead, I can do what I’ve heard people talk about countless times in meditation: I can simply be with this fear. I can hold this fear and myself with compassion. I can experience it and see that it is just a fear, even if it does seem to me such a terrible, scary fear. And let go of the need to react.

Perhaps, once I’ve learned to hold my fear (this fear of not being a good enough mother) with compassion, I will be more capable of acting wisely with regards to the television/ipad/xbox situation at home. Right now, I realize I cannot. Right now, any action I take will not really be an action, but a REaction, and as such will probably go the way my resolutions regarding the TV had gone before: to guilt and more helplessness and fear. I have a long way to go in learning to hold this fear. It’s a big one for me. And so, for today at least, I’m not going to do anything except be kind to myself about it as much as I can. I’m going to trust that the sense of urgency I feel is a passing sensation. That this situation (which is largely in my imagination anyways) is not critical. That I cannot build or destroy anything in one day, and that the kids, god willing, will not be quite as irretrievably ruined as I fear by another digital day.

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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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Morning Gratitude

My daughter’s cheek crinkled on the pillow
Oh so warm
A smile opens her eyes

My son giggling
Ima, come! He calls
Knowing I will kiss him

The lemony, fresh scent of a cucumber and tomato salad
Slicked with olive oil
Crumbly with goat feta

Three puppies gazing at me with round eyes
Tails going wildly
Love me, love me, love me

Our five chickens
Softly pecking corn scratch off the brown soil
Clucking in pleasure

Bells tinkling in the breeze
Play of light and leaves through oak trees
Patches of sunshine on the ground

A solitary teardrop tomato
On a confused vine
Growing side by side in a pot with aloe vera

Listening tomatoto my heart beat
Breath in, breath out
Sometimes calm, sometimes stormy.

A body, moving
Where did it come from?
Touching it in wonder.

The fragility of life
In the clucking of chickens
The tinkling of bells
A breeze, one moment here, the next, where?
How long does a kiss last?
Knowing the sun will set and shade disappear in shadow
But for now, what do I need?
Biting into a sun-warm teardrop tomato and singing
My morning gratitude.

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Time to Pause

My cousin Iris, who is also a life coach, recently recommended a book on her blog, The In Between, by Jeff Goins. The book blurb reads: “The In-Between is a call to accept the importance that waiting plays in our lives. Can we embrace the extraordinary nature of the ordinary and enjoy the daily mundane — what lies in between the ‘major’ moments?” I have only just began reading the book, but I’m already curious: What do I do in my moments In Between?

I spend a lot of time driving. On Wednesday, for example, I first drove my daughter to camp, 50 minutes. Next I drove my son to his swim lesson, 30 minutes. Later we drove to his dentist and back home, one hour. Finally, I drove to camp to pick up my daughter and then to her Hebrew lesson, 75 minutes. All together, I spent nearly four hours in the car. That’s a lot of In Between time.

When I made the decision to live outside the city, I knew that my kids will be staying in the same school as before. To my surprise, I discovered that the drives back and forth are not all bad. We often sebutteflye deer, jackrabbits, and even the odd coyote crossing the road while we drive past the preserve near my house. I enjoy listening to audio books with the kids or by myself and have managed to listen to some books I probably would not have read on paper (War and Peace for example). Best of all, the drive turned out to be a good time to have family talks in which the kids tell me about their day and their dreams or ask me life questions without distractions. The In Between hours of driving, while not easy, have become meaningful and even important parts of my day.

When stuck in traffic, I often tell myself this is a great time to practice patience. This past Wednesday, the thought occurred to me that being stuck in traffic is also an opportunity to pause in the middle of my busy day and examine how I am doing and feeling and what it is that I need. It is an opportunity to find myself in my own body, settle in, and explore all of my emotions (including frustration, impatience, irritation, anger, boredom, or any other unpleasant sensation that traffic might make me feel). In answer to the claim, “I have no time to meditate,” the Dalai Lama (at least, I think it was him) responded: “Do you have time to breathe?” The In Between moments of waiting in traffic just happen to be a window in the midst of busyness in which I can breathe.

Tara Brach talks in her books about our tendency to run away from unpleasant emotions. While pausing, breathing and noticing where I am in my body might involve suffering an emotion I had rather ignore, I hope to remember how often those In Between moments really do turn out, in the end, to be moments of gratitude, restfulness and joy. I hope to remember to pause. In fact, I am going to do that right now. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

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Points of Joy

People often say that life is a roller coaster: sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down. I never particularly liked roller coasters. I remember the first time I went on one. My experience was made up of moments of dread and moments of terror. The only bright moment was when I stepped away from the car and swore I will never go on one again.

It seems to me that people get on roller coasters because they like the “high” that they get from the ride. Roller coaster passengers get that feeling of “high” because of the swift changes in height difference (apparently those changes produce some kind of hormone in the brain that makes us feel more alive) and the illusion of danger. The downs, or anticipation of the thrill, are as important as the ups, or the thrill itself. The only real “down” moment of the ride is when it ends. Unless, like me, you’ve been praying for it.

I think perhaps people use the roller-coaster-is-life metaphor because we wish that life was like that, the ride of a lifetime kind of metaphor. Just imagine! What if life was not a pan full of drudgery intermixed with a spattering of pleasure? What if it really was one unbroken stream of aliveness and joy?

On Saturday, we went for a bicycle ride in Monterey. I had been looking forward to this trip. We chose a section of the coastal trail, a trail that meanders parallel to Highway 1. I liked the idea of going on a  bike path that is not near the road when biking with the children.

While driving down, we encountered traffic as we hit Gilroy. For over two hours, we crawled like decrepit, aged snails till we finally reached Monterey. By then, my irritation and stress levels rocketed. The children complained incessantly, and the thought “why are we here” kept running through my mind. Once we got on the bikes, however, my mood lifted. This was exactly like my fantasy! We were riding down the path: Dar in front, the children following, and me bringing up the rear. It felt, quite simply, like a family. I was full of joy and life.
bikeride
One mile later, we hit a road. The bike trail had disappeared, and a sign pointed us to follow the road down a hill. There was a narrow sidewalk and no designated path for bikes. The road led us to a Costco parking lot, and my irritation and stress began to return. The children went back to complaining. “Why are we here?” They mirrored the thoughts in my mind. “This is boring.” And they were right. I had not driven over two hours to ride through a Costco parking lot! I did not sign up for this mess.

Past the parking lot, however, the trail continued past gorgeous sand dunes with views of the ocean beyond. The dunes were covered with vegetation. Flowers and low bushes intermixed with sections of pristine sand. The children got off the bikes and, taking their shoes off, began to run up and down the dunes. Dar and I hesitated one moment and ran up too.

On the way back, we passed through the Costco parking lot, and I wondered at my irritation earlier. Such a short section in the midst of so much beauty. Why had I been so stressed?

I had expected our bike ride to be one unbroken, daylong bout of pleasure, but during our ride, I realized that for me to enjoy our trip meant that I needed to recognize and give attention to little moments of fun. Life lights our path with flashes of joy. On Saturday I managed to let go of my thrilling roller-coaster expectations and enjoy the moments. And those moments made my entire day shine.

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To Lie or Not to Lie

Early this morning I was caught lying to a Customs’ officer. After standing in the long line at the Philadelphia Customs, my children and I finally stood in front of the officer, passports in hand. The officer took a look at our Customs’ form and asked: “Did you bring any food with you?”

“No,” said I, thinking guiltily of the piles of chocolate in my bags. And then, before I could bat an eye, my secret was out.

“That’s not true,” corrected my son. “We have plenty of food.”

Exposed! “Chocolates,” I hastened to reassure the officer. And I pulled out a gumdrop bouquet the children’s grandmother stuffed in my bag.

“That’s not true,” the child once again intervened. “We have lots of other food too.”

Every time I go through Customs I have the same dilemma. Are not the officers searching only for agricultural products, like veggies and fruits, and not packaged chocolates? Arguably, however, all are included in their chosen word, “Food.” I once honestly responded to the question with a yes and  found myself having to unpack half the suitcase in order to show the Agricultural Inspection officer that there really was nothing there except for chocolates and a jar of jam.

Despite the fact that I really do believe the Customs’ people are not looking for travelers smuggling candy into the USA, I felt ashamed this morning in front of my children and the officer. I had been caught lying, and surely the Lie Police wcandyas on its way, long years in a maximum security federal prison, and perhaps — for who can tell how serious lying to Customs really is — the electric chair.

So yes, we had lots of food with us: chocolates, kinder eggs, gumdrops, peanut M&Ms, marzipan, crackers, and even (dear deity of the Customs save us) some packages of nuts. I was guilty (almost) as charged. But we didn’t have any fruits, vegetables and seeds. It was just a white little lie!

To lie or not to lie? The critical part of me demands total honesty. I should have checked the Yes box for Bringing foods to the USA, and explained about the chocolates. A practical part of me waves this concern away: “This is mere semantics! Why answer yes when you know you don’t have what the officers really search for?”

I write these thoughts to you and am reminded of Usui’s fourth Reiki Precept: Be honest in your work. Is it dishonest to lie to the officer about having chocolates? Is it dishonest of me to use my understanding of what the officer’s question means and answer my interpretation instead of his actual one?

The officer this morning was merely amused by my exchange with my son. He accepted my chocolate correction to my earlier lie and did not require us to go through any more inspections. Considering how awkward I felt to be revealed lying like this, though, I think the answer to my question is clear. To lie or not to lie? Next time, I will answer the food question with an honest, “Yes, I have food.” And if we get sent to stand in line for the Agricultural Inspection, well, so be it. It’s yet another opportunity to practice acceptance and patience and an abundance of time.

1

Hurray! It’s Summer!

Every year, as the last daSeay of school approaches, I find my excitement level rise. Finally, we won’t have to wake up early in the morning to go to school. I’ll have more time to spend with the kids. We can travel, have fun, relax. The kids dislike going to camp, but that’s all right with me. Hurray, I cheer, more uninterrupted, unscheduled, un-rushed time.

“I’m bored,” my son announces not five hours after we leave the school grounds. “Only seventy five more days till seventh grade.” He sighs with great drama. “I hate summer,” he announces, and as an explanation he adds: “It’s hot.”

Summer is hot. If it were not hot, I, at least, would complain. I love the longer days, the yellow sun shining in the blue, blue sky. I love the smell of sunscreen on people. For me, summer is that long ago time of my childhood, when we went to the beach and hang out in the water for hours, letting the waves carry us up and down. It’s that magical moment when the pool in the nearby kibbutz just opened, and I’d cut into the water first, like a dolphin, watching the ripples breaking the serene surface.

For my kids, summer sure is different. They do not live, like I did, within a ten minute walk from all their friends. The beach is forty-minutes away, and it is not the kindly, warm waters of the Mediterranean that await us there. My parents have a pool in their yard, but without their friends (who spend most of each day at camp), that is sometimes not an attractive option as well.

How can I make summer entertaining for the kids? How can I get them to leave the easy choice of television, computer, or Wii and have a summer the way I think a summer should be?

It turns out that getting the kids to have the summer of my childhood is possible, with a lot of (guess what?) hard work, preplanning and expense on my side. The opportunities around here, after all, are endless: picking strawberries in Watsonville, Great America, San Francisco Zoo, Saba and Safta’s pool, the pool at the JCC, hiking with friends, a camping trip to Point Reyes, San Diego for a week (there’s no lack of what to do over there), a picnic with friends, kayaking in Elkhorn Slough, paddleboarding at Shoreline, a movie or two. And more… so much more.

Would you be surprised if I told you that by the time mid-August rolls around, I am exhausted and longing for school to start?

We live in a strange world, full of exciting opportunities, yet I find myself longing for that somewhat simpler world in which I grew up. I long for our family moments on the Mediterranean shore, for a pool that has no slides coming in and out, for playing outside in the dirt with my friends, riding the bike to the park, or going exploring in the orange orchard next door. But the world is different now, and there’s no use living in the past. And perhaps it’s not that bad to be bored sometimes, or to watch too much television, or work a little harder in order to get together with a friend. After all, it is summer, and whether we work hard or not, we do it for fun.

2

Don’t Push and Keep Breathing

My children are slowly edging toward teenager-dom. A scary time. Perhaps now, before all hell breaks loose, I’d do well to find some coping techniques that might work. Yesterday, at doula training, I had an epiphany, directly from labor and delivery, which I think is perfect for life. This one I intend to use: Don’t push and keep breathing!

We were discussing a phase of birth called transition. In this phase a woman moves from the early and active phases of laboring to the second stage, or actual delivery, of the baby. Transition is the hardest and most painful part of the birth. Contractions are coming in greater frequency and are longer and stronger. The baby’s head is lower in the mother’s pelvis, ready to make its way out to the world. It is putting a lot of pressure on the mother’s bottom, but the mother’s body is not yet ready for delivery, and she needs to practice this fabulous lifelong lesson: Don’t push and keep breathing!

What a wonderful lesson for the future! It is a lesson all us parents would do well to remember when the time comes for the baby’s first steps and her first attempt to go up and down the stairs. It is perfect for our son’s first day of kindergarten, his first playdates at a friend’s house, and the first time he goes to the neighborhood store by himself. It’s invaluable for our daughter’s first car ride, her first date with a boy, and for when she asks us for help with birth control. And later, too, this lesson remains: when our boy goes to college, marries, and has his own child. Don’t push and keep breathing! Let go! Stay calm!

Parenthood is a hard road, paved with mistakes, crises, and love. It can teach us so much about ourselves, some that we like and some that we really, but really, don’t like. In the doula class yesterday, we learned that one good position for a laboring woman in transition to be in is to lie on her back in bed with her legs resting on the birthing ball. The blood is flowing easier in her body. The pressure is there, the contractions are strong, but she is in a position of relaxation, and she cannot push.

Keep breathing. Don’t push. Let’s lie back with our feet on the ball and at least try to relax. Let the blood flow to our brains. Soon enough transition will pass. It’s the hardest phase, and after that, at least till the next transition, we can get some relief. The daughter or son who we brought to this world and who had taught us so much will soon be all grown up and doing just fine. Like our road, so theirs is paved with mistakes and with love. If they stumble or fall, we parents are there, ready to kiss and hug and give our support. Don’t push and keep breathing. I know we’re going to be all right.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109