Archive | children

Sunny Tracking Hike at Coyote Valley

Rachel Carson once wrote, “It is possible to compile extensive lists of creatures seen and identified without once having caught a breath-taking glimpse of the wonder of life.” The Loma Prieta Family Explorers’s mission is to cultivate and embrace our innate sense of wonder, our appreciation of the miracle of life. We love knowing the names of things, but even more, we love to experience them and learn the stories behind them.

Elegant clarkia is endemic to California and grows in oak woodlands. Though it looks so unlike other clarkias, it is still in the same family!

On Sunday, May 27th, the Family Explorers set out in quest of wildlife scat and tracks in sunny Coyote Valley. Undeterred by the warm weather, our group of young story-tellers, bug-and-snake enthusiasts and avid adventurers identified deer tracks and learned which direction the tracks point and whether they were of a hind or front hoof (do you know how to tell?). As proof, we caught sight of two deer crossing the trail, and immediately rushed to check if we can find the tracks they made. We were excited to watch a woodpecker flying overhead, darting here and there, perhaps catching and eating flies in the air, and watched where she went in case her cavity nest was nearby. We examined multiple beetles, spiders and ants, poking through holes and shining a flashlight in to see if we can see inside. We even got to discuss the likelihood of particular scat being dog, coyote or bobcat.

Hopping and skipping downhill, we made our way back, all the while telling stories. The young explorers came up with a tale of three hikers who encounter high adventure at the park climbing trees with poison oak, falling in raging creeks, getting attacked by a mutant shark, and nearly drowning in a whirlpool. A future visitor to the park need not worry, however. We are almost certain mutant sharks are not to be found at Coyote Valley. At least, we found no tracks of them. Other wildlife, however, is abundant, even if often all we see are signs.

Mariposa lilies are one of my favorite flowers to find. I look forward to May, barely concealing my impatience for these glorious flowers to bloom. This one also features lovely bugs inside who are probably enjoying its pollen.

The rolling hills  of Coyote Valley Preserve may seem similar to many others in the Bay Area. The park is so teeming with wildlife, however, because it is uniquely situated not only at the narrow “neck” of the valley but also next to the only undeveloped section of valley floor remaining in the Bay Area. Mountain lions, bobcat, turkey, deer and other wildlife routinely cross through this narrow “neck” between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo Range, helping diversify their genetic pool and connecting habitats. Even the seething traffic of 101 does not stop them — they often cross in culverts under the freeway.

We love visiting Coyote Valley, and this visit was no different, with its promise of wildlife and mariposa lilies, harvest brodiaea, and sticky monkeyflower dotting the hills, the air drenched with the spell-binding scent of buckeyes. Thank you to Justyna for leading us!

Join us on a future hike to experience the miraculous forests and meadows of the Bay Area and reconnect with your own wonder of life. The Loma Prieta Family Explorers offer monthly hikes to nearby parks as well as a Toddler Explorers program. For more information, please visit our calendar.

See you on the trails!

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Early Spring Walk to Frog Lake at Henry Coe State Park

Climbing Monument Trail at the beginning of our hike

Getting to Henry Coe State Park is not for the faint — or lazy — of heart. Seven miles of windy road carry us deep into the Diablo Range, into mountains whose ruggedness baffled and challenged even experienced explorers like the 1776 Anza Expedition. While the land had been impacted by the homesteaders and ranchers who followed Anza, Henry Coe is wilder and more remote than anything you might expect so near the Bay Area. I rarely drive into the park without catching a glimpse of wildlife: deer grazing in a meadow, turkey courting, quail flying away at the sight of the car, or the occasional tarantula crossing the road. As the valley below disappears behind the curves in the road, I release a sigh and step forward on a footpath from which you can see only nature; no cars, no roads, no homes.

Shooting stars

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers began offering hikes for families with children ages six to twelve in November. Our first trip led us to Huddart Park where we learned about the redwoods and counted banana slugs. We loved the redwoods so much that we decided to go back and explore Sam MacDonald Park, where we beat our banana slug record, hugged first-growth redwoods, and had lunch in view of the ocean. Since wildflower season is beginning, our next hike led us to Russian Ridge, where we admired three-hundred-year-old Canyon Live Oaks, a golden coyote, and 360-degree views from the ocean in the west to the bay in the east, with Mount Tam and Mount Diablo dominating the skyline. Now here we are, tackling what can only be described as our toughest hike yet, at Henry Coe.

The young crowd led the way, climbing giddily up the hill on Monument Trail. I am always amazed by the details which children see long before us adults. Called back by hollers, I am shown a patch of snow framed by the roots of a bay tree and different types of delicate mosses and lichen. I inform the kids that though we begin with an uphill, they will be tired of the downhill before we are done, but I am utterly wrong. The children gallop down the sloping trail with the same enthusiasm and geniality with which they tackled the steep hill. The parents and I jog after them, enjoying Indian warriors and shooting stars along the way and stopping to appreciate the curious trunks of big-leaf manzanita.

The climbing tree

Just before arriving at our picnic spot, we pause for the climbing tree. This tree had grown strange bumpy burls around its trunk, tempting us with its climbability. The kids attempt it and only make it a few bumps up, but our solitary dad, unwilling to give up, climbs with agility, using the burls as a step-ladder. He peers at us from the top, calling, “Now how do I get down?” His success encourages the kids to try again, and only the promise of a picnic at the campground drags them away.

Frog Lake

Frog lake proves a wonderful attraction, but we’ve sat too long at lunch and we’re cold. After searching for frogs and discovering one toad, we turn to follow the trail back. We hop over Coyote Creek. Small blue butterflies flutter over yet-to-flower blue-eyed grass. Buttercups and shooting stars sprinkled with dew dot the hillside. We see one cold ladybug and tiny waterfalls, swollen into existence by the rain. Manzanitas and gooseberries grow slowly ripening berries, too few and young to weigh down their branches. We’re full of good cheer, telling tales and jokes, discovering giant mushrooms growing on tall trees. A view opens before us, and we realize our hike is almost over. Just a little bit more uphill, another tale or two, some complaints from the youngest member of our crew, and a last glimpse of the trail which carried us high up into the hills many hours ago.

It is hard to say goodbye. We walk to the barn to take a peek at the stable and the blacksmith shop. We imagine how hot it would have been in there when the blacksmith worked. We answer a riddle: how much money did the state pay for the park in 1958? Guessing anywhere between a dollar and a thousand, the answer, ten dollars, only takes us slightly by surprise. Finally, we all disperse to our homes, driving down the same windy road, this time watching as the road leads us, switchback by switchback, back to the human hub below.

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers offers monthly hikes for children ages six to twelve. Please check our calendar for more information. Short Toddler Explorers discovery walks are offered on Fridays and include a walk, story time, and an art project. Please join us for hikes and contact us if you would like to become a leader with the Family Explorers.

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The Center of the Universe

On Monday, I visited the dentist’s office. Mundane, I know, but bear with me. My dentist’s assistant, Marilyn, is a kind and compassionate woman who greets me with soft and welcoming words. I sat in the big dentist chair and waited for the dentist to come, and it suddenly occurred to me that Marilyn plays a small role in the drama of my life. I come into her office in the midst of my hectic rushing-about life, blowing in through the door like some wind of confusion. The intense energy of me pauses for these few moments on her chair, then moves out through door, corridor, waiting room, main door, and parking lot to continue its rushing about in the world, attempting to do no harm. And to me, that is all Marilyn is: these few moments of respite from rushing about while waiting for the dentist to come, her few kind words, the gentle touch of her hand.

Now this may come as a surprise, but Marilyn too lives a full and whole life. She does not exist in the dentist’s office solely to greet me once or twice a year and assist briefly in my care. To her, patients come and go, playing small roles in the drama of her life, which encompasses her relationships, thoughts, feelings, emotions, confusions, moments of happiness and moments of sadness, her own probable attempt to move through the world while doing no harm. In her life, I play a minor and probably somewhat inconsequential part, a tiny burst of wind and energy, now here, now gone, making room for another patient to come through the door.

Shocking, right?

As a teen, I often imagined us humans as bubbles floating through life. Some bubbles never touch, but some get to stop together for a while and interact so that for at least a few moments the bubbles nearly overlap. I still love walking after dark in the street and imagining how people live behind their curtained (or sometimes open) windows, living their bubble-life.

So yes, I am not the center of the universe. And most likely neither are you, even if you believe you are. It’s our minds that play this trick on us, pretending to be important and one-of-a-kind, filled with illusions about how everyone else is thinking about us, and how they act on purpose to affect us. How everything moves forward in the world to either accommodate us or hinder us.

Some years ago, a friend recommended I read a parenting book which, translated from the Hebrew, was titled Fly Little Bird. One of the points which struck me in the book was the idea that as a child becomes an adolescent, we parents find our place shifts away from being center-stage in our children’s lives. Instead, they are now the main actor, the ones in the limelight, and we are relegated to a smaller role. This, the author implied, was how it should be, the normal and healthy way for our children to grow up. I remember reading this all those years ago and thinking how true this was. When a baby is born, mom and dad are the most important figures in her life. She is totally dependent on them for nearly every need, her safety, health, nourishment, entertainment, warmth, even movement. But as she grows into a toddler, she becomes gradually more independent. She can now eat on her own, move herself from an unpleasant situation on her own, remove a layer of clothing if she’s too hot, or put one on, start using the bathroom independently, and more.

Then, seemingly overnight, the baby turns into a teenager, surprising the heck out of most parents I’ve met. Whatever role we had in their life is turned on its head. Some of the changes I’m finding in my teens are: they don’t want to eat my food, they don’t want to go places with me, they’re not interested in talking to me, they get mad if I don’t do what they ask, they decide what they’re going to wear or what they’re doing, and more: friends, how much water they’re drinking or not, whether to get boba tea 4 or 7 times a week, which movies or series to watch, what music to listen to, whether a full stop at a stop sign is necessary and with what speed to merge on the freeway. Crazy decisions, normal decisions, important decisions, everyday decisions, critical-to-the-continuation-of-life decisions. And I am (mostly) out of the picture, or just peeking in through the window, wondering about the bubble of their life and whether I’ll get to interact with them again after they turn 25.

It’s not necessarily easy or simple to accept that I am not center stage in Marilyn’s life, but it’s ridiculously hard to consider that from now on, while I’ll always play some role in my kids’ life, it is actually my job to set them free and allow them to fly.

Time to move out of the limelight, Sigal.

Curiously, I think some people would not agree with me. Many of us parents identify so deeply with being a parent that we really believe our children belong to us, are a part of us, and that all they do reflects directly on us. Some of us might believe that it is our responsibility and our duty to make sure that our children end up productive members of society, good and upright people, honest, successful and happy. Sounds seductive, doesn’t it? But do we really have this much control over another person’s life?

What I think is the truth sounds a lot less lovely than this, for it affirms the fact that we no longer have control over how our teenagers will turn out (and that perhaps the control we thought we exerted before was also an illusion). These newly-minted human beings are walking their own path, with a lot of minor actors in the drama of their lives of which we are only one or two. We can be present to them and as available as possible if they need us. We can be supportive and loving. We can hope and pray that we have given them a good foundation, that the schools we chose gave a good foundation, and that the choices they make now moving forward will be good ones. But no matter how much we try, we cannot make those choices for them, and definitely not for long. Not in a way that will, in fact, promote their happiness.

And so we let go and trust.

We set them free to be their own center stage and allow them to figure out on their own the fact that they too are not the center of the universe. (A humbling and wonderful insight which I wish on us all).

And we pray that they survive this crazy teenaged time.

So fly little birds. Mamma’s in the nest in case you need to find a safe place to land. But from now on you’re responsible for your own worms and direction in life.

Man, admitting that is hard.

May the Force of love, compassion, patience, and inner fortitude be with us all.

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The Avocado Sushi Dilemma

Some time ago, Dar and I tried a new sushi restaurant in town. Our sushi requirements vary considerably: Dar prefers rolls made out of strange sea life: clams, sea snails, and octopus, while I gravitate to faceless land life, such as cucumber, carrots, and avocado. In this case, while we were adventurous in trying a new restaurant, we stuck to our usual ordering routine. Dar ordered a tako sunomono salad, while I ordered an avocado sushi roll. What we got, however, was far from the safe choices we thought we made. Dar’s tako sunomono had disappointingly-little tako and a whole giant pile of sliced cucumber. My avocado sushi had so much avocado dripping from it, that it could more accurately be described as sliced avocado than a sushi roll.

Sushi takes finesse, balance, delicacy. Even the simplest roll could become inedible by a heavy-handed, inexperienced, or overzealous chef. No wonder becoming a chef is such an arduous process of schooling and on-the-job training. Whether it’s too much avocado, too little avocado, a rotten, stinky avocado, or whatever quality of rice, a sushi chef must tread a fine line in making his or her creations.

In contrast to sushi chefs (who at least get paid for their efforts and who will, in fact, receive compliments when they make an especially yummy roll), parents must walk the fine line of how much avocado to put in a roll without job-specific training or schooling and certainly without ever receiving any positive feedback (except, perhaps, after the children turn the ripe age of forty-five). I am referring, of course, not to making sushi for our kids, but to our efforts to bring them up in the way least damaging to their self-esteem, capabilities, potential, well-being and more. We cook for them, drive them around, help them with their homework, encourage them, pick them up when they fall, and stay up late at night if they have the stomach flu and are throwing up all over the floor. And yet somehow, no matter how much we try, the fine line of how much avocado to put in the sushi roll eludes us. Making the perfect son-or-daughter roll seem as far away as one of Pluto’s moons. Or more.

Raising children, we could argue, is much more complicated than making sushi. For one thing, those darn kids keep changing on us in ways that avocado does not. Things that worked well when they were three are useless by the time they’re seventeen, or arguably, even by the time they turn five. Learning the skills needed to deal with the issues they bring home, whether it be limit-setting, bedtime, homework, interest in boys, getting the first period, drinking alcohol, or learning how to drive, is a constant race against the clock. Before we’re experts in one thing, the kids have already “been there, done that,” and are on to something completely new which we couldn’t have imagined if we tried. We never become experts, instead constantly finding ourselves face-to-face with the limitations of our own knowledge and experience.

Being parents is the hardest job in the world. Sure, there’s moments of gratitude, joy, and satisfaction, but if anyone tells you they never experience the humbling sensation of truly not knowing what to do, well, they’re probably just not paying enough attention… or else, they’re using the well-known and oft-used tool of bluffing their way through it all. We have to bluff once in a while as parents, you know, because just imagine if the kids knew how little we know.

I’ve been thinking about this avocado-sushi dilemma lately, noticing my see-sawing attempts between too much, too little, overripe, and raw to parent my teenagers who are growing (and surprising me constantly) by leaps and bounds. This morning, for example, a grumpy teen rejected the waffle breakfast which she requested specifically last night. Dar has been telling me for weeks now to stop making them breakfast, and yet my desire to please the kids is nearly impossible to overcome. Waffle breakfast turned out to be too much avocado. In contrast, my son who just turned seventeen, told me he did not want to celebrate his birthday this year. I therefore did not put up decorations in the house. No decorations turned out to be too little avocado. But without hardly ever receiving compliments when I do a good job, and always heaps of complaining, how do I even know when I’ve made the perfect roll?

Are we back where we started, with an inedible roll, with an imbalanced, guilt-or-resentment-induced parenting style, or just worried that we’re messing up our kids so badly that we need to start saving for that psychiatrist fund?

I hope not. And in fact, I would like to suggest a different perspective, one that is possibly less concerned with results and feedback and more with faith, trust, and kindness: the mindfulness approach. In the mindfulness approach, how much avocado we put on the roll is not the main issue. Instead, we focus on what it feels like to have put too much or too little avocado (or the wrong kind of avocado altogether) on. Whenever we don’t know what to do, or feel we’re doing it all wrong, we pause and focus on what thoughts and emotions come up, and rather than push the avocado (or situation) away, yell at the waiter and the chef, and stomp back home to write an angry review, we stay with the frustration, anger, sorrow, fear or whatever comes up. The mindfulness approach is not about doing or fixing, but about being. Being with all these difficult feelings and thoughts, our wishes to be better, to do better, our love for our kids, and our desire to be good parents (or at least better than our own). The mindfulness approach isn’t mistake-centered, but kindness-centered. It acknowledges how hard it is to get it right, it stresses the intention, the effort, and what is present in, well… the Present. And it always allows you to start back again from scratch.

Every day is a new day, in the mindfulness approach.

So try this next time you’re frustrated by the kids, or yelled at them, or behaved in any of the multitude of ways that you promised yourself you would never do again:

Stop (that’s already a big step).

Take a few breaths (at least three or five).

Observe what’s happening in your body — are you contracted? overwhelmed with shame? is your belly tight? Is your mind sizzling with thoughts? Is the inner critic in the forefront? What sensations do you feel in your jaw, your eyes, your hands? And though this is really hard, try to stay with these sensations. It is difficult to be with all this, with the contraction, the shame, regret, sadness, anger. Really hard. But stay with the feelings for as long as you can, and remind yourself that you are not to blame. Parenting is objectively hard, and it is normal and natural for these feelings and thoughts to come up. You are doing your best, and you are not alone. We’re all of us doing as best as we can. All us parents are struggling to stay afloat in this parenting pool of thick mud.

When you’ve noticed your heart is back to normal, or when you’re ready to continue, proceed with your life. Make the next son-or-daughter roll again, and again, and again, a million times, even if you’ll never get it just right. And continue to be kind to yourself. This parenting stuff sure is tough.

This practice, perhaps you noticed, has the acronym STOP: Stop, Take a few breaths, Observe your body sensations, feelings and thoughts, and Proceed. And it is, in fact, a practice. We do it again and again, and not in order to get the roll perfect. That is not the point. We do this until it is easier to notice how we feel, what we sense, and what we’re thinking, and then we continue to do it. We do this practice to develop kindness for ourselves, for our children, and for other parents who are suffering like us. We do this to gain some inner (rather than outer) peace, a little bit more perspective, and perhaps, one day when we’re really really old, a wisdom to be kind to our own kids when they too struggle with this parenting stuff.

***Many thanks to Sheri, from whom I learned this practice, and to Julie, who reminded me that breathing just once before observing is not enough.

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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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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109