Change of life part two; one dad’s perspective

N is just about done with her first week in Bilbao, Spain.  I can’t tell exactly how it’s going– but we adults seem to want to categorize things simply and I think it’s complicated.  She’s really sick with either allergies or a sinus infection– I can’t really tell what’s going on exactly, but I can tell she feels kind of lousy but not so lousy that she stops doing all the stuff they are doing each day.  When I see the photos that come through she seems like she is really enjoying herself.  But also on one night mid-week she texted me– very early in the morning in Spain– too early to be awake– and said, “I feel so, so bad, Mama.  Can I come home now?”  So, I think it’s both, a great and awesome trip and a trip that is hard and challenging in different ways.  I get confused, but I am moving toward understanding that it may be hard, but it is not too hard for her to handle.  She doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but it’s good she can show me that it’s very hard some of the time.  

Just two weeks ago, we spent much of the day at the Shabbat service marking the Bat Mitzvah of a friend of my daughter.  Another Jewish girl of color, a girl we knew from the park, from preschool days, and then the two girls were in elementary school together until my daughter’s friend went on, as did a number of N’s friends, to a different middle school.  

I forgot (I really did) as we walked into the synagogue, that my daughter is older now and wouldn’t sit with us, but would join her many friends in the synagogue. So M and I sat together in the service, holding hands some of the time, and M cried openly through a lot of it.  I think she was crying about the passage of time, growing-up daughters and I don’t know exactly what else.  

At the party that night– a nice dinner and a rockin, rockin dance party– we sat with a dad– Jim– whose daughter is still in middle school with mine.  His wife was home with a bad back.  I’ve always been a little intimidated by him.  He is a very progressive US Representative from a small-to-mid-size, very working-class city on the east coast.  He told me that until he was elected he had lived in the same district, same precinct his whole life. He doesn’t come off as a really a big-city, cosmopolitan kind of guy, which I really like about him.  I’ve hardly ever talked with him at all.   He is as unpretentious and good-hearted a person as you could ever hope to sit next to at a dinner party and it was great talking with him.  He’s extremely low-key and most things come out in about the same tone regardless of what he’s saying.  

At some point he told me how lucky he feels that he doesn’t just love his daughter, but he really, really likes her– thinks she’s great and fun to be around and great to play with and talk to.  She struggles with reading and academics in school, I think.  In the 4th grade, she discovered, and we all found out, she is an awesome basketball player. She had a great coach– my partner, M– and she’s all about basketball these days.  

Anyway, at a certain point in the conversation I said– something about the hard time I am having getting my mind around and adjusting to all these changes– to the fact that these girls, recently little girls, seem so grown up now and getting more so week by week.  I didn’t want to be perceived as overly sentimental or as a mother who cannot let go.  So I threw in, “I know kids have been growing up for thousands and thousands of years….” and I was ready to follow it with something– that I now cannot remember.     But Jim interrupted me in the most animated and booming voice and cut me off.  He said, “Yeah, but not our kids, not our kids– our kids have never grown up before“.  Enough said.

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Change of life

I don’t mean the euphemism for menopause. But I am very much in the midst of a change of life—actually several changes. I will experiment with trying to write some different posts around this change of life theme in the coming days.

A few teasers are: My daughter (age 12) is, this very morning, in Bilbao, Spain on the second half of an exchange program with her middle school. She chose to take on the project of making such a big trip (and she really did make a big internal decision about this trip that her moms had nothing to do with). Now, for the first time since we brought our baby home, we find ourselves in the house with her away for two weeks. I am thinking about things I wanted her to know about, things I wanted her to know how to do before she went off on her own, and how we found times to talk about those things. All of this, time without her at home, working to get her ready to do something big without us– all a big change of life for me, and for M and me. Last night and today I am taking a deep, internal breath and reflecting on her strengths, her ability to form deep connections with people, her smarts and good common sense, her generosity and clarity about certain things. All this leaves me incredibly proud of her, fairly secure that she will be ok, and ready for her to do this. All that is a big change of life.

This Bilbao adventure has involved three parts that I know of, and there will surely be at least a fourth– the aftermath, but that’s for later. Part One, was my daughter’s decision to go, and all the collective work of the young people, parents, and school administration to plan and fundraise for a big trip that is not managed by an international travel company—it is managed by us parents. Part Two, was our Bilbao “daughter’s” trip here along with the rest of the Bilbao kids and chaperones and our many adventures in large and small groups with them. I loved that part and was more profoundly affected by it than I ever anticipated. So I have meant, for nearly two months, to finish some writing about parts one and two of the Bilbao adventure—the months and weeks leading up to, and the two weeks our Bilbao “daughter” was here all of which were eventful and rich with feeling and insights. But now I will skip to part three–what is happening yesterday and today and tomorrow– my daughter, N, in Bilbao.

Another teaser for another post in the Change of Life series. As you may or may not know or remember, I work for a state-level elected official. I work for a state-level elected official in a jurisdiction that is so Blue that the election is, in most races, over when the outcome of the Democratic primary has been determined. And in April, my boss, after four terms in office, and in a huge surprise upset, lost the Democratic primary. So I will be out of a job come December. Since the election, the fact that this job will end has felt like liberation, a very good thing. As my feelings and struggles about what I want or wanted from my career continue to evolve, I face this change as a definite, immovable next chance to figure out some important things about me, and work, and what I love and value. It is a chance to maybe do something closer to exactly what I want.

That’s the brief update, and those are the teasers. Being the parent of an internationally traveling young person who is still, (happily, for us) extremely connected to her moms, is like this. You help pack her things and take a deep breath and cry sometime—like before or after or at the airport—and give a some big hugs and send your big girl off. Then, in this magical era of texts and phones that take amazing photos and Skype and Facetime, you live like the parent of an infant but with less control. You should sleep and work when you can, because you will not sleep through the night and you will no longer be able to do anything without interruption. We got a Skype call at 1:00 a.m. (EST) when she landed for a layover in Paris and a series of dinging, ringing alerts at about 6:00 a.m. when the first parent learned that they landed safely in Bilbao and we all started writing each other and sharing photos that had been texted to us. And as I drove, late to work at about 9:00 a.m. here, the Skype call I’d been waiting for came in. N– safe and sound in a bedroom far, far away with her Bilbao “sister/ friend”, A. There they both were, together.

One last thought for now. Here’s the start and end point for me about the stunning fact of very tiny babies you once held in your arms, growing up. She is wearing a pink tie dye tee shirt she absconded with from me. A tee shirt I bought at our first trip out of our hotel, in El Paso, Texas, where she was born, to Target, when she was 12 days old and under 7 lbs. It looks awesome on her.

That is my first installment on Change of Life. Photos of travelers below but I loaded them in reverse order– Look first at the Air France desk where we checked in yesterday, next see N. sitting around the airport with her fellow middle-school travelers and parents and teachers milling around photographing the young people. Finally daughter N., and one of her best friends, Y.,– seated together on plane. And the text messaging began.

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Brave and braver

Today is nephew, Izzy’s 21st birthday. The boy whose birth I was at who I was with at 24 hours old while a snowstorm blew threw Chicago, outside the hospital room. Not a little boy anymore, he is far away in Israel. Happy Birthday, Izzy.  

My world is a little topsy turvy. My sister is in a city an hour away for a retreat on the subject of white Jews (no we are not all white by a longshot) ending racism. I was supposed to be there with her– but a large last-minute work assignment kept me from going.  I drove for about four hours Friday picked up sister J at the airport in the city an hour north of here, hugged and laughed in the car while we drove to the retreat site, stopped and had dinner with her, then drove the hour and a half home to work on the legislation I’ve been tasked with drafting. I got to be with another of my oldest, closest, most precious Jewish woman friends who stayed here overnight on Thursday, on her way to the same retreat.   So two of my loves are close but just out of reach.

My daughter is going through so many changes– and she also feels close, but at times just out of reach. She and I have been at teenage-daughter/mother-of-teenage-daughter odds– Jewish female style to be sure. Criticize, criticize, criticize. We are both quick to anger these days. I cannot quite get my bearings in this new phase where I am so disappointed in and mad at myself when I am less than generous with her. And I find myself so easily acting angry and upset with her. Saying things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t like either feeling. I miss her snuggling up to me, wanting me by coming close. But this is territory where things get confusing. She wants me by throwing her anger and frustrations and fears at me, full force. Actually she did this all along, as all babies, toddlers, and young ones do, but it gets you so much more confused when they look and sound more like adults. And I slip and take the bait often and throw my own hard feelings right back at her.

What I know is that it’s a cool and beautiful, vibrant and interesting and also sometimes-scary world out there. I know that she is bravely stepping out further than ever before. You have to be brave to be a teenage girl of color. And you have to be brave to be the mom of a teenage girl of color. So here’s to brave and braver which is what we both have to be.

Here are three more videos–right on topic. Two by the singer songwriter-herself– Sarah Bareilles. The first is the funny, produced, quirky music video and the second is the singer, just herself and her piano and a big audience– live and honest.

And the other, my Jewish boys– the Maccabeats. Their version is great and touching and funny. But this time I think the girl/ woman/ singer-songwriter wins. If there ever was a contest to begin with which there really wasn’t.

Sarah Bareilles– live

And the Maccabeats–silly, awesome, Jewish guys who love to sing.

Burn

In the hours before we say goodbye to February, 2014– a month in which I have been way too busy for comfort and have posted nothing on this blog– I’ll leave you with this– just to have touched down with this blog, for my own sake. I love this song and I love each of these interpretations of it. I love artists working off each other’s brilliance and making something new with something old or at least older. And I am burning to share more. Which I will do soon.

So here goes– The original. By Ellie Goulding.

And then the Maccabeats own beautiful, brilliant version.

And last but definitely not least, one of my recent favorites, Ashanti Floyd performing Burn.

Wave bye bye.

When she was very little, I used to say to my daughter, “Ok, bye, bye sweetheart. See you in a few hours” “See you tonight, honey.” “Wave bye, bye, sweetie.” It’s the oldest cliche in the world to say that time of her being so little has passed in the blink of an eye. I guess it’s a cliche because so, so many of us parents feel this way.

There is so much to write about now. My children, my own one daughter, and the few other young people who I consider most mine, are growing up. I’ve been lucky enough to have some wise parents give me the perspective that as a parent you don’t have to give up one bit on the deepest closeness with your children, ever. But the nature of it changes. In reality it is changing constantly– from the moment they roll over, or hold their own bottle, or start to walk. Part of our relationship now involves doing my least favorite thing over and over. Saying goodbyes.

They are a variety of different goodbyes, but they are goodbyes. Goodbyes where my daughter does things with friends that she used to want me with her to do, goodbyes as young people travel abroad, goodbyes that are small and feel monumental as their focus shifts away from us adults to their own friends, ideas, plans and things to do. If I could manage to stop and cry a little with each goodbye, I’d be happier and better off for sure, but I don’t yet have that down.

I started the week this very morning, with two goodbyes. My daughter’s good friend came over and they huddled talking and then went off to school together as she does most days now, with her friend, instead of spending those last few minutes before a long day hanging out with me in the morning.

And there was the big goodbye for now to my nephew, Izzie; the boy whose birth I was part of, the boy who goes to college in our town and then lived with us and worked in our city last summer. A boy who, along with his brother, is definitely part mine. We got a lot of him his freshman and sophmore years here, and then he was away for the first semester of this year. He studied in Ecuador. Then he came home to his own home in the midwest and got ready for his second semester. In a hopeful, exciting and cruel twist of choice and fate (I’m very tongue-in-cheek when I use the word cruel), he got into another program in a different far-away destination to study for his second semester. Again. To Israel this time.

He stopped in with us for four days plus this morning to visit his academic advisors and his friends (and did stay with us) before departing for his spring semester in Israel. Just three hours ago we helped him load his two just-under-50-pound-suitcases into the car. And my sweetheart took us both in the car, dropped me at work and drove on to the airport and helped him get checked in. My short trip in the car with him was so like this time of life. I sat in the back seat wedged in with his giant suitcases– looking at him. And he sat in the front seat looking ahead.

But my house was the home-base this morning– for Izzie as he finalized his packing, and for my daughter and her friend too, who often go to school together these days with the friend’s mom.

I count my blessings for busy, chaotic mornings like this one, with all of them getting ready to go but with my dining room table and extra bedroom still the home base. With beds and towels a very happy mess throughout the house.

The morning was too busy to snap pictures of either of them. I discovered my nearly-teen girl was in her sweatshirt and no jacket this 38-degree morning once it was too late to turn back and my tall string-bean boy, in his chinos and old farmer’s market tee shirt and fleece pullover and traveling gear. Both gorgeous and handsome, excited for what comes next.

Izzie, and daughter-girl, when you read this, take some selfies and send them on. I’ll post them later. And you too, jj, back home in the midwest…

Welcome 2014, slowly

Ah, ah, ah. Another year. Happy New Year. Thanks to all of you who keep reading, despite my long lapses. For me, as a Jewish woman, a Jewish mother, the Jewish new year is the real spiritual marker of the year gone by and the year ahead. Nonetheless, I have to buy a new day planner (yes, I still use a paper calendar) at the change of the Gregorian calendar, and there is vacation time at our workplaces and school is out for two weeks. (Read up on the Gregorian calendar if you wish.)

These weeks of holiday down time have been full, in every sense. A few highlights, but not nearly all, follow.

The three of us traveled to Indiana to see my mother-in-law who, since September 1, 2013, has broken her hip, been moved to a retirement center/ nursing home, stopped driving, stopped living in her own home and faced one of the biggest life changes one faces in a lifetime. Although Christmas with that side of the family isn’t always the best for me as a Jewish girl, I had a good trip. I loved seeing my mother-in-law. For the first time ever, we stayed with my sister-in-law who I like and love more the more I know her. We talked, cooked, and hung out.

One of the loves of my life– the happy-birthday-girl in this post and her love/girlfriend/co-mother/close-friend-of-mine– of 20+ years got married on December 28. They live in a close in suburb of our city but they just bought a small farm about an hour away and I loved, I mean I really loved this wedding. (This is not my sentiment about every wedding.) I loved seeing my beloved friends into this new phase, I loved being on the farm where the wedding took place, I loved what I wore and the time in the car with another best friend who drove up with me. I loved arriving in daylight and the darkness that fell after we arrived. I loved looking at them and the light in their eyes and looking at the votive lights they had strewn all around the house and at the lights out the windows– from the stars above and the lights they have placed in different places outside. I loved that when I asked to see the rings they had exchanged, they said– “Oh these are rings we’ve had for years and years– nothing new.”

My friends’ son and my daughter are true miracles in the story of our two families’ friendships– in that my old friend D. tried forever to get pregnant and I tried forever to get pregnant and then our adoption took forever. And with those two sagas of forevers; the long, long stretches of waiting and hoping and disappointments– our two children were born three weeks apart and are close, beloved friends. My daughter N. wore a dress for the occasion and was a flower girl! Then she spent the night at the farm with her buddy and the sheep and dogs and chickens.

There has been ongoing wrestling with internal struggles that still plague me about work and career and hope and disappointment and my honest desire to do good work that changes the world and work with which I feel at home.

I’ve had two long, delightful coffee dates recently with a long-time acquaintance who is suddenly (and very happily for me) a new friend. And I’ve had two pretty impromptu dinner dates with an old friend with whom it was so grounding to catch up.

There have been good times with my daughter and a rainbow of feelings as I take in that she is truly entering her teen years. There is a real shift in her relationship with me and her other mom. It’s not worse or less relationship, but it’s different. I’m very much in a “ready-or-not” situation.

And then the very time-consuming mundane. A dishwasher leak that will require a new dishwasher and a new kitchen floor– the latter being installed as I write.

And there have been two fabulous hikes in the woods– just the three of us–on New Year’s day out toward our friends’ farm and yesterday in rainy-snowy-icy weather in our huge sprawling, urban, wooded park.

I send love and good, good wishes to all of you who read. I wish you a very good, growing, connected, brave, sweet rest of the Jewish year, 5774 and a very good 2014. I wish us all peace and justice and courage to tackle the challenges and to enjoy beautiful, interesting life ahead. Pictures to follow.

Most. Beautiful. Vespa. Ever.

Most. Beautiful. Vespa. Ever. I suppose none of you who knows me ever expected to hear that from me–but feast your eyes. There is something about the drudgery that set in with my earliest school days that makes me love being somewhere out of my routine. In that out-of-routine way, I often loved being at home, sitting, quiet and alone at the dining room table, working, or driving somewhere in the middle of the day– during the time I was unemployed. I really love being out walking on the street during the workday, to a doctor appointment or to come home for the plumber or electrician. A few weeks ago, I came out of a doctor’s appointment, rushing to get back to work. It was overcast and starting to drizzle. But walking east on a main artery in our city, I saw this Vespa, locked up on the sidewalk. I stopped in my tracks, and looked. I looked closely. Then I walked on. As I waited for the light to change at the corner, I thought it was starting to rain harder, but I had to double back to take pictures. Being out in the air during the workday is good and is doubly good if you come upon something so beautiful as this. I left a note wondering, who thought of this? Who did this amazing work? It’s good to live in a world where someone thought of such a thing. And did it. Thanks to whoever you are, for the traveling art.

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