Tag Archives: women

Three. And happy birthday to you, girlfriend.

1. Three years ago today, on the Jewish calendar, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah and read from Chayei Sarah, today’s Torah portion. I was already in my 50’s. Today, three years later, I went with my own daughter to what I am calling our kick-off of her 7th grade religious school class Bar and Bat Mitzvah year. It was our kick-off because the Bat Mitzvah today wasn’t the first of her class, but the first she was invited to and attended– and we will have many others in the coming months. It was especially meaningful because the Bat Mitzvah girl today, who I like so much, read the same Torah portion I did. She a girl with a disability who read Torah and led the service beautifully, whose father cried when he spoke to her from the bima and who spoke very eloquently about the meaning she found in the Torah portion. It is the 3rd anniversary of my own Bat Mitzvah, and one year ahead on the Jewish calendar– will be my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She was reluctant to agree to a Bat Mitzvah, but decided she would do it when we told her she could choose to do the Torah portion I had done, parts of which she can chant already. Three Jewish women, three different Bat Mitzvahs. I cried quite a bit during our young friend’s Bat Mitzvah today and I had the feeling that was just the kick-off on that too– that I will cry more and more as my daughter gets closer and closer to her own Bat Mitzvah day.

2. My mother-in-law is 88 years old. She’ll be 89 next week. She has lost a son (my partner’s very beloved brother) and a husband in the past eight years. She is a devout Catholic and I love her though mostly we haven’t been especially close for the roughly 25 years her daughter has been my partner, my sweetheart. She is an important woman in my life and I admire how she has carried on in the face of such hard losses, particularly the loss of her son. Her understandings of the bigger world and in particular of me, as a Jewish woman, are limited–at least to my way of thinking. But something else I admire about her is the fact that she is a devout Catholic. Her devotion and Catholicism and her grit have carried her through and I admire her steadfastness. On September 2, this year she was living alone in her home, still driving, cooking, seeing friends, calling us on the phone, going to church and watching a lot of football. On September 3, she fell and broke her hip, and things got much more complicated.

My sweetheart, M., is a devoted daughter. When her mother broke her hip we agreed– she shouldn’t wait, she should go, like on the next plane. She has been back to her hometown three times in seven weeks and has seen her mom through partial hip replacement, a slow recuperation that involved a long stretch of struggle to regain her mind after anesthesia, physical therapy that is still ongoing to regain the ability to stand and walk and do things like go to the bathroom and get dressed. She has been in a rehabilitation facilty and then a move, given the crappiness of the options for older people, and her strong desire to stay in her hometown, to a nursing home. So far, she has not gone home since she fell (she was walking back to her house on a fall morning after being across the street with her neighbor) and I don’t know that she will ever go back home. Her fall and what has followed has shaken me up. Thinking about her, about my own mother who will be 82 this weekend, about what those later years will be like for us– for me and for my partner and for my sister and other women I love–it’s, well, unsettling.

It is a shake up that has moved me in a positive direction. I am reminded in a good way that life is not forever and it makes sense to look at the goodness around me every day. I have found a new/ old tenderness for my partner, and certain things that we have fought about over many years have dissolved into non-fighting, something closer, and with more laughter. I feel tenderly toward other people I love, and I have had four exceptionally close and beautiful fall weekends– just me and my daughter– three while my partner was away. Then we had one Girl Scout camping trip in the mountains tossed in there– another gorgeous fall weekend. In the midst of her mother’s struggles, M.got the news of a potentially difficult health matter of her own, but the recent good news on that front is another reason to be grateful and I am. Grateful.

3. I have an old friend. To say “old friend” doesn’t even begin to describe the relationship or the significance of her friendship in my life, but there are no other better, more specific words, really, to describe her, other than an old friend. Today is her birthday. We met a very long time ago (more than 30 years) as very young women in our early 20’s. We met in Israel and her love, her enthusiasm for me, her loyalty and humor and generosity toward me has always meant the world to me. She has loved me so well and so much for all these years, despite the fact that in our 20’s something happened between us that was, on my part, one of my life’s larger breaks with my own integrity. I have apologized over the years but I haven’t completely forgiven myself. It is my good fortune that over time she seems to have forgiven me and has remained one of my deepest friends. We are both lucky Jewish women to have each other’s friendship and sisterhood.

There are great things about being in your 50’s, one of which is that having a friendship of this duration, and having been through a lot together– means this is unmistakably a friendship that will last for as long as we are on the planet. She is a wonderful woman, warm and generous and funny. Our lives in the past 12 years have been further cemented because by some astounding miracle, after we both tried to get pregnant and I didn’t and she did– and then after my partner’s and my lengthy adoption process, we had two beautiful children. She with her partner and me with M. Her son and my daughter were born three weeks and a day apart and the two are now themselves, very close. They call each other cousins.

She has her flaws, and I hope she will see both the truth and the tongue and cheek humor of this but one of those is simply that she doesn’t make enough time to see me, and she is too often in a hurry and we don’t talk– like really talk– enough. (I don’t make enough time to see her either, and I barely have time to talk, really, talk, but somehow, in my mind, that whole thing is her fault– why is that?). In any case, here we are in our 50’s with our 12 year olds, and again I feel grateful, very. Happy, happy, happy birthday, D.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2013

My mom and me.

My mom and me.

My Mom and my sister, J.

My Mom and my sister, J.

Today is International Women’s Day.  You may be weary of this kind of caveat, but this will be a short post, not nearly all I want to write.  By way of explanation, I worked through the night Wednesday, until 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning, preparing to staff two hearings at work yesterday.  I was focused and effective yesterday and I pulled off a job despite having severely misjudged what it was going to take to prepare… but I did not go to work today–Friday. (I sometimes have Fridays “off” as the lingo goes when a working mother stays home and works at home rather than at her paid job.)

But.  I could not let the day pass without honoring International Women’s Day and reminding you to do so too.  So, here are a few thoughts for this auspicious day.  My first awareness and celebration of International Women’s Day was March 8– I believe when I was 19.  I was a student in Madison, Wisconsin at the time and I think it was about 18 degrees that day.  I remember the cold and the brilliant sunshine of that day, vividly.  In honor of International Women’s day, there was a day of workshops and talks and hands on activities at the Wilmar Neighborhood Center in Madison.  I remember many things about that day, but the thing I remember most was the sense of joy and energy and invigoration of being a young woman, celebrating International Women’s Day with many other young women.  My mind opened further that day.

This morning I drove my partner to work and remembered what day it was, just as she was getting out of the car and I wished her a happy International Women’s Day.  She paused and sat back down and said how lucky she felt that she had married someone (me, and no we are not married, but that is another story) who was a strong feminist.  She said she couldn’t imagine her life if her partner had not been a strong feminist as she is and as I am.  It was a wonderful, brief but deep talk and then she went on her way and I went on mine.

Then I called my old friend– a friend who was my housemate for many years in Madison.  We were friends and we were sisters together in feminism, and in figuring out many things for ourselves as young women.  She went with me that cold day to that International Women’s Day celebration when we were 19.  She didn’t remember the event at all, but was so glad I called.  We had a long-ish talk about her having made the decision to care for her mother at the end of her mother’s life which she did, intensively, for about 7 or 8 years and about the job of mothering.  We talked about what an honor it is to take excellent care of someone.  This fact is made complex by sexism and by the de facto requirement of sexism, worldwide, that women be caregivers without fully getting to choose and without pay and generally under impossible conditions.  Having this conversation with a beloved woman friend was also a good way to honor the day.

One of the important things I do every year for International Women’s day is simply this.  I remember that it is International Women’s day and I talk about it.  So.  Let this be a reminder to us, to take ourselves and our sisters and our daughters and our mothers and our women friends seriously.  Let us fight for justice and not ignore the injustices of our own lives, nor those of other women– in our neighborhoods, of our own race or other races, in our own country or far from us– let us see and let us fight for justice.  And let us enjoy our lives as women right now.

That’s it for now.  Except for one more thing.  I’d like you, today if you read this today, or tomorrow or a week from now, to do this, in honor of International Women’s day.  Remind someone that today is/ was International Women’s day and then spend a few minutes and each take a turn and have the other listen.  In each turn each of you should tell the other the names of five women in your current life and five women you don’t know (total of ten) you admire.  And why.  That’s it, just do that.  For me.  For you.  For all women.

Here today, just today at this moment, with my tired, fuzzy mind, here is my list.  It is not exhaustive (though I am exhausted).  It is not in any order.  These are not the women I admire more than others, it’s just my list for today.

A few Women I know and love and admire:

1.  My mother, R.

2.  My sister, J.

3.  My daughter, N.

4.  My partner, M.

5.  My friend and former teacher, Evi Beck

6.  My friend and family, Urvashi Vaid

7.  My friend and family A.S. in Wisconsin and L.C. and her daughters in California.   (I cheated and did seven-plus, you can also if you like)

From the famous and not known personally or no longer with us category:

8.  Adrienne Rich

9.  Audre Lorde

10.  Dolores Huerta

11. Hillary Clinton

12.  My beloved and so many others’ beloved, Grace Paley

13.  Courageous female union leaders: Mary Kay Henry, Randi Weingarten and Karen Lewis

14.  Senator Tammy Baldwin

15.  From the Torah, Ruth and Naomi– for sticking together

That’s my list and that’s it for today.  Make your list out loud with at least one other person and be sure to appreciate yourself  (if you are a woman) and be sure to appreciate many, many women in your life.   Happy International Women’s day.

Three women and the poet’s alternative

I’d like to write some poems again.  Poems were all I wrote for years.  In 1995 I learned that Grace Paley was teaching a week long summer writers’ workshop on short story writing at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, so I started writing prose so that I could work with her.  I hadn’t written stories since I was a child.  It turned out I liked writing prose and have worked at that when I’ve worked at any writing at all, but some days and for some purposes I’d like to get back to poems.  Besides stories and essays, Grace wrote poems too. 

Once in one of her classes a young woman brought a poem she had written and asked apologetically to read it to the group.  Grace said yes, and the woman read.  Then there was quiet and Grace asked her to read it again aloud to us.  She said in that definitive way she had of speaking it was because “every poem in the world deserves to be read out loud at least twice.” 

I was thinking of Grace today because of the sad very recent deaths of two beautiful Jewish women–one from the city that I now live in and the other from the city I was born in.  The death of the friend from the city I was born in was a woman I have known my whole life — a woman who remained close to my mother and with whom my mother spent time often, including a long talking visit on the day before she died.  I didn’t get to make it to the funeral. 

This morning I found myself at the funeral of the Jewish woman from this city.  I say “found myself at the funeral” because I read an email at 8 a.m. saying she had died and that the funeral was this morning.  I was there by 10 a.m.   At the funeral I thought of all three women, as well as a lot about my father and his funeral in a synagogue that felt similar to mine today, and I cried some. 

The woman whose funeral was today was a woman I barely knew but even with that amount of knowing we could tell she was a special person.  She was not very much older than I am.  My partner and daughter and I met her and her husband at synagogue and we talked at length several times and liked each other a lot.  She wasn’t really a friend but it seemed we all had plans to become friends.  She had recently written her phone number on a napkin that is still sitting on my partner’s dresser asking us to call her so we could all take a long walk in the spring.  Then she got sick and died. 

The funeral today was a kind of a huge affair, by which I do not mean fancy, but I mean the family shared a lot of themselves throughout the service and there were many words.  The whole thing painted a vivid picture of a life, big and well-lived and a picture of a certain generation of Jews.  All kinds of stories were told, including the story of how the mother and aunt of the now- gone woman had been in five different concentration camps through the Holocaust and stayed alive together.  Then the sisters escaped under a fence together and walked into the countryside where they found a family who hid them for the duration of the war.  The woman who died was born in Europe at the end of the war.  There were grandchildren big and small; a couple of them about 6 or 7, were crying hard, then later running around and laughing and then later came forward and sang a song to their grandmother.  There was a baby granddaughter whose first birthday was today. 

Grace was another older Jewish woman who has meant much to me through her writing, her activism and then personally when I got to know her and study with her several summers in Provincetown. 

I cannot quite find my equilibrium today and to try to find my balance, I find myself thinking about Grace Paley and reaching for her poetry.  Here is one of many favorites which is from her book, Begin Again.  You should, as she emphatically taught me, read it aloud.  Twice. 

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative

 I was going to write a poem

I made a pie instead    it took

about the same amount of time

of course the pie was a final

draft    a poem would have had some

distance to go    days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking

tumbling audience among small

trucks and a fire engine on

the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie

it will have apples and cranberries

dried apricots in it    many friends

will say    why in the world did you

make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable

sadnesses I decided to

settle this morning for a re-

sponsive eatership    I do not

want to wait a week    a year    a

generation for the right

consumer to come along

Grace Paley 1922-2007

To L, my first blogging partner

My friend L called me a few days ago.  She is one of my very best friends– and of the people I have known a long time and am still very close to, other than my sister, I think she is my oldest friend.  She is a completely central person in my life, both because of our friendship now and because of our history.  We live on opposite coasts.   

Cell phones have made our lives and our connection to each other better and worse.  We can talk once in awhile when I am on my way home from work or she is driving to take her daughters to their many activities.  On the other hand our conversations are full of bad connections, technically speaking.  Poor reception, weird delays in the pace of the conversation, as well as wrong turns as a result of being distracted by the phone and then rushing off suddenly to actually pay attention to what we are supposed to be doing or where we are going.  It’s one way to keep up but it sure isn’t the same as sitting down over coffee or tea or on someone’s bed or sofa late at night for a nice long talk like we used to do, both in person and by phone.

L and I met when we were 18– I think on our second day at the small liberal arts college in the midwest where we both started school and then both dropped out.  I dropped out before the end of the semester which was the source of great and grave anger and sadness between my father and me.  I am completely serious when I say that I don’t know if he ever really got over it.  My friendship with L is the only thing I left that school with.  I feel more sympathetic now to the feelings he had about the lost tuition– I didn’t even finish the semester or get the credits for his hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, I wish that before he died I could have helped him to understand the immeasurable value of my lifelong friendship with L and now her whole family– her mother and father (now gone), L’s sister, L’s two daughters and her partner.  If I could now repay my father for the cost of that semester, I would do so and consider it a tremendous bargain because of the friendship.     

What I am remembering now is that in our late teens and early twenties, L and I visited each other a lot.  I did less of the travelling , but she would come to visit me for a summer at a time for 4 weeks or 8 weeks sometimes.  She was much more adventuresome than I.  Once she took a cross country bicycle trip with a plan to finish in the Madison, Wisconsin where I had gone back to school and she was coming to stay for the summer.  She called from pay phones along the way.  And then one day she called me, told me what street corner she was on and asked directions to my house.  She was an LPN and could almost always get work within a week of starting to look, so she could visit and and work.  I would go to California to see her too, but never for a month.  Either way our days often included one of us going off to work, while the other hung out waiting for the work day to end and our visit and talks and adventures to resume.

Why I am writing this now is that looking back, she was my very first writing/blogging partner.  We both kept long, detailed, involved journals.  Mine went on and on and on writing-wise.  Hers did too, and were full of interesting things pasted in as well.  Train tickets, ticket stubs, photo booth photos.  I don’t remember when exactly, but there came a time in our friendship– when we developed a tradition.  When we saw each other, one of the things we would do early on in our visit and completely by agreement was that one would spend several hours reading the other’s journal.  And then we would talk about it later– like the comments part of the blog, only more expansive.

After we started doing this, our journals, our experiments with writing and our own thoughts and feelings about so many things, were no longer only our own– they were soon-to-be-published pieces, with a very, very small and particular audience in mind.  I like to think of that time as I do this work– and I like the immediacy of the blog– and I like to think of you who I know and you who I don’t out there– reading, thinking like L and I did back then.