Archive | children

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.

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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.

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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.

Doula Training, the Fantasy Birth, and My Road to Freedom

Twelve years ago, I discovered that women love sharing their birth stories with other expectant mothers. I remember one friend’s surrealist tale: she had accepted an epidural and felt free from pain. She sat in bed with her husband, ate an ice pop, and watched television till the nurse told her it was time to push. Other moms had horror stories. My sister, who gave birth a few days before me, said: “I can’t believe that you still have to go through this torture.”

I was not really excited about giving birth after this. I was terrified of the pain and even more terrified of a needle in my back. If there was one thing I knew, it was that I wanted to give birth without an epidural. I said “No, no, no,” to the needle, and the needle was what I got. The universe, never distinguishing between yes and no, delivered.

At that point in my life, I was not yet aware of the power of manifestation, my abilities as a healer, or the importance, to me, of leading a natural life (including giving birth naturally). By the time my daughter came around two years later I was one step closer. I knew better what I wanted and not just what I did not want. My message was clearer: “Yes, yes, yes” to a natural birth.

During doula training, I find myself going back in my mind to those two births, trying to figure out what made them so different. I think one difference lies with the medical personnel who attended my birth. The nurse in my son’s birth broke my water, insisted that I lie in bed, connected me to monitors, ordered pitocin, and overrode my worries about the epidural, warning me that the pain of pitocin-induced contractions would be unbearable.

My daughter, in contrast, came out without medical intervention after three and a half hours, with very little pain and a lot of (me) dancing on the labor and delivery floor. My fabulous doctor sat off to the side, quiet and reassuring, allowing me to try any movement I wanted to do, and permitting me to stay out of the bed till I needed to push.

A second difference, I believe, lay in me, in the changes I went through in those two years, my determination and will. I did not get scared but simply let the experience happen. As I think of it now, I feel so proud of myself for having been able to have the birth I wanted, express my needs, and handle the pain.

Breakfasting with a doula book

At doula training, I hear stories about women who have gone through natural birth and felt empowered, as though having faced that, they could now do anything. Without having ever before put this thought into words, I think my second birth has given me a similar knowledge. I was still at the bottom of my spiritual ladder, suffering from depression, in an unhappy marriage, and overwhelmed by the world. But slowly and surely I was climbing, one step at a time, toward freedom. So brave, I can hardly believe it of myself.

Holding On to Letting Go

Last night, as I was getting ready to go to sleep, an overwhelming sense of dread and loss crept over me. I paused, trying to analyze what precisely was scaring me, and discovered to my surprise that I was stressing, thirty-six hours in advance, about Wednesday morning when the children go, as they always do, to spend their allocated days with their father.

Nearly eight years have passed since the divorce, but the anxiety over my time without the children returns at regular intervals, usually on Tuesday, the day before they are to leave. Wednesdays, after dropping them off at school, I walk around the house like a ghost, not quite knowing what to do with myself. There seems to be no reason to cook, which I suppose is understandable, but why do I not use this “free” time to write, paint, garden, or — the fairies save me — have fun?

Every week I ask myself the same question: why can’t I just let go? The custody arrangement is not about to change, and it is high time to accept that and move on. And yet, somehow, it is my very identity as a mother that is in a crisis. I cannot be a mother only half of the week, but how am I a mother during the days when the children are not with me?

Parenting and life itself, it seems to me, are made up of letting-go bumps. The moment of birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord. Weaning and moving to solid foods. Sleep training. A nanny. Preschool. Kindergarten. The first playdate without mommy, then the first party without mommy. Overnight field trips. Overnight camp. Puberty. And before us, always, the scariest moment, the end of high school, the beginning of college. Soon, they will be moving away, perhaps to the other side of the world, finding a partner, getting married, having their own children. And us no longer needed. And soon, gone.

I cheer myself up by saying that letting go is a life-long endeavor. I look ahead, and I can see that my road leads me straight toward these bumps. No matter how much I twist and turn, how much I struggle or try to avoid a particular bump, life relentlessly pushes me on, forcing me into greater and greater letting go’s.

This morning, before school, Eden and I listened to music together. I felt the warmth of her little body against mine, admired how big she got, how long her legs and arms, how cute her little nose is, and the sparkle in her eyes. The next moment I was walking her to school, getting a brief hug. And then I was alone. No matter how hard I try, there is no way to stop the clock. I find myself holding on to these wonderful moments of connection, forcing myself to remember to let go of all but the memory once they are gone.

The Case of the Brussels Sprout Soup

On Monday I made Brussels sprout soup. We ate the soup for dinner with mixed results. Dar and I loved it. Uri was ambivalent but finished his bowl. Eden said that the soup looked disgusting. I got her to take a tiny sip by telling her that I’m sure the soup doesn’t taste as bad as she thinks it does. She tasted, spit out, and said only: “It does.”

When we got back home on Tuesday. Uri requested that I heat a bowl of the soup for him. I was busy prepping for dinner and suggested that he get the soup out of the fridge and heat some for himself. He is twelve, after all, and knows how to use the microwave. But Uri wanted me to get him the soup. He nagged, stomped his feet, told me I was a bad mother, complained that he was dying of hunger, and finally stalked off to his clarinet lesson with many an accusatory glance. After the lesson, weighed with guilt, I heated him some soup.

Parenting experts often say that a mother (or father) should not do for the children what the children can do for themselves. These experts would probably be appalled by the amount of indulgence going on at my house. I twist water bottle caps open for the kids, bring them clothes to bed, wake them up in the morning, make them breakfast, lunch and dinner, help with homework, carry Eden’s backpack to school, and I always, always, bring forgotten lunches, projects, homework folders, and jackets to school.

Every once in a while, as in the case of the Brussels sprout soup, I try to stand up for myself, thinking that I might teach the children some independence and self reliance. And as in the case of the Brussels sprout soup, more often than not the result is total failure. On Tuesday, for example, I found myself guilty that the child had his clarinet lesson without food and then guilty for giving in and heating up the soup.

Wendy Mogel, in her fabulous parenting book Blessings of a Skinned Knee, suggests that calling a family meeting and announcing that “things are going to change here from now on” is not the way to implement change. Instead of drastic reorganizations, it might be better to make subtle changes.

In recent months, I taught the kids how to use the microwave, make themselves a bagel with cream cheese, and put clothes in the laundry machine and the dryer. They’ve also began to do homework much more independently than before. True, I have more failures than successes in my attempts to get them to become contributing members of our small family community, but the general direction is good. I am hopeful that by the time they go to college, they will at least have an idea of how to wash their own clothes. Perhaps they’ll eat more than just take-out pizza, and (to quote an amusing example from parenting expert Madeline Levine), they won’t feel that they need to call me in order to find out where their next class is.

Brussels Sprout Soup Recipe

Ingredients:
One pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and with the top leaves removed
One onion, diced
One large potato, cut into cubes
One zucchini, diced
Garlic to taste, sliced
About 4-6 cups of vegetable soup broth, just enough to cover the vegetables

Directions:
Sauté the onion and garlic till caramelized.
Add Brussels sprout and diced zucchini and pour in vegetable broth till covered.
Let boil and then cook for 20 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are soft.
Mash together till smooth in the blender and return to pot.
Cut the potato to cubes and add to soup, let it boil again and cook for 30 minutes till the potato cubes are soft. Stir every few minutes to make sure the potatoes do not sink and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Enjoy!

For more on this topic:
Wendy Mogel’s Myths about Raising Self Reliant Children
Madeline Levine’s Website

The Price of Passion

Uri’s main competition for my love.

Writers often claim that they write because they must. Why else would we write? Riches and fame, after all, are rarely the results. I have struggled with the inexplicable need to write for at least ten years, writing in bursts and sinking into doom and gloom when no writing comes. Having noticed the connection between not writing and my bouts of depression, I’ve made an effort to get some writing time every day. I channel my creativity into the blog when the novel seems too complicated an endeavor, and I’ve come to realize that the feeling I called depression was actually frustration in disguise.

Realizing how important writing is to me was only one tiny step. Ahead loomed a greater obstacle, so great, in fact, that terrified and ashamed, for a long time I preferred not to look it in the face. Even now, it seems to me both a ridiculous and crucial obstacle: my all-important mother-hood. Turns out that after all these years, I still doubt that I can be a mother and a writer at the same time.

My imagination, my creativity press on the dam of fears I’d built, lashing against it, trying to force a way out. When I write, I often don’t hear the children talking to me. I forget to tell them to go to sleep or to make them food. What will happen if I let all the passion of writing out from behind the carefully controlled dam? What if writing and novels and ideas will come rushing out in a great flood, overcoming everything? Will the mother mountain stay intact?

Yesterday my son accused me, “You love your book more than you love me.” I burst out laughing. I spend so much energy on being afraid that the kids will suffer because of my writing, and here he is blaming me for exactly what I fear the most. Except, he wasn’t talking about my novel, the one I am writing. He was talking about the ultra fascinating and unputdownable Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Okay, so I admit that yesterday I was reading Bitterblue instead of playing with him lacrosse. And I was reading Bitterblue instead of paying him attention. And I was reading Bitterblue in the doctor’s office while we waited though he had nothing to do. But in one moment, with those funny and yet truthful words, Uri gave me glimpse of perspective about my great parenting-writing fear. Just a glimpse, mind you.

I have a feeling that if I let the dam loose the mother mountain will still stand safe and sure. I have a feeling that if I stop putting on the break with my writing, I will have more energy to spend both on my writing and the kids. And I have a feeling that it’s good for the kids to know that there’s more to their mother than just being a mother. It’s just a feeling. But I think perhaps it’s true.

Do you have a passion in your life, that makes you oblivious to the rest of the world?

Writing a Cow

When my son was a year old, he was obsessed with cows. Perhaps his cow-bsession originated from too many repeats of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” or maybe from visits to the local petting zoo. Either way, as a loving parent and a literary nut, I immediately acquired a multitude of books about cows which greatly enhanced my knowledge of the types of cows in the world (there’s a cow that has a white belt across her black belly) and my understanding of the various parts of a cow’s digestive system (there are too many). We had books about cows that type and cows that come home, and even one fabulous and funny book called The Cows Are Going to Paris, written by David Kirby.

The cow painting hanging in Uri’s room

Uri is still fond of cows. He prefers not to eat beef because he feels it is wrong to kill such a beautiful creature. My boyfriend Dar loves cows too and has given Uri a gorgeous painting of some Holstein cows meandering in a meadow to hang in his room. When I drive out through the hills near our house, I watch the cows roaming, and I send out a wish that they are happy cows, raised for their milk. I guess you could say that we love cows in my family.

To me a cow is a symbol of a return to nature and a simpler life. It throws me back to childhood visits to the Kibbutz (the Israeli communal farm) or the Moshav (the cooperative farm), the smell of cows hanging in the air, their melodic moos carrying in the breeze. Cows symbolize, for me, an assurance against starvation, which I draw not from life but from literature. I remember Hector Malot’s touching and adventurous Nobody’s Boy, and the thin cow which alone protected Remy and his foster mother from poverty. I knew: as long as there’s a cow, there will be milk and butter.

So when Patricia MacLachlan, author of the wonderful Sarah Plain and Tall, said (and I think it may have been a quote from her books) at the SCBWI conference, “I can’t write anything better than a cow,” and again after that, “a poem as beautiful as a cow,” I felt a deep connection to that sentiment. What is there, in our world, more beautiful than a cow? She is a symbol of mother earth, nourishing, generously sharing her milk with us. In India the cow is a sacred animal, and in Feng Shui it is a symbol for prosperity and good luck.

But if a cow embodies the mother: patient, calm, accepting, what does it have in common with a conflict-filled, dramatic, fast paced book? For me, at least, Ms. MacLachlan’s analogy evoked a feeling rather than a comparison: that a writer has created something as pure, innocent, and perfect in its own way, as real, as true to its own nature, as a cow.

Legitimizing Writing Time

Here I am, sitting on an airplane flying thirty thousand feet above a sea of clouds. The sun is just rising in the horizon, an orangy-yellow presence outside the oval plane window. I am flying to Los Angeles, where, for the next three days, I will attend the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Yesterday I was all mother. For the next three days I get to be all writer, guilt-free.

Guilt defines much of who I am. Since the children spend only half of the week with me, I want to give them my entire attention when they are around. Partly I do this to make up for not being there the other half of the week, and partly because I want to give them so much, but I don’t have enough time. My writing, therefore, takes second place (or even third and fourth) when the children are around.

A writers’ conference, however, is a different story. It sounds so…, well, so legitimate, so important. It sounds real! Engineers, teachers, people with real jobs go to conferences. And once in a while so do I. I go to the conference and feel that I’m doing something to further my career. I’m making contacts, deepening my knowledge of the business of writing and publishing. Then, after three days of taking myself seriously, I go back home to writing on a desk surrounded by pecking chickens, barking dogs, and attention-deprived children.

The quiet before the storm — conference main room

The truth is that at home I doubt the legitimacy of my writing. I minimize my computer time when the children are around so as not to encourage them to spend time on their computers as well. Except, here’s what makes no sense about this: I am not playing on the computer or watching a teen series with too-beautiful photo-shopped young people. I am working! I am writing, and someday someone will want to read what I write. Right?

Am I working, or am I playing around? Am I indulging in a hobby which might never become a job? Certainly, I don’t treat writing as a job. I do not sit at my desk 9 to 5. And if part of the definition of a job is that it earns the worker money, then I am not exactly up to standard in that. I do what I love, and I feel privileged and grateful to be able to do that. But with an inexplicable fear of what others, my children included, will say, I don’t follow my writing ambitions, yet, with the same single-minded sense of purpose that I do other goals of my life. Motherhood, for example.

My son tells me: “Why are you on the computer all the time?” “Blogging,” he answers his own question, and a tone of hurt (or is it contempt?) sneaks into his voice. Once again I realize how important it is for me to feel the legitimacy of my writing, make room for WRITER in my definition of self. It’s ok, I think, frightening though it is for me to say, not to be 100% mother all the time. I wonder what will happen when I stop being afraid of being more than mother, and give myself permission to feel sometimes all writer inside….

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109