Monday, January 19, 2015

Good bye grandma Carrie

My dear sweet grandma Carrie has passed away.  I haven’t had the heart to write anything about it or even talk about, as so many in my family have already done so well during eulogies or after the nightly service during our seven days of mourning.  Each night, the Rabbi turns to the small crowd and asks if anyone has anything they’d like to say, and I bury my head while others share memories and anecdotes of this remarkable woman.  But none of my words or thoughts seem to adequately capture who she was or what she meant, and the task of encapsulating someone’s full life and spirit seems insurmountably daunting. 

Every story or thought I have is followed by, “but she was so much more than that.”  She was a young woman with a new baby who kissed her husband off to war.  She was a small child going off to Hebrew school, the only girl in the class.  She was a 10 year old girl who found the strength to raise a baby sibling.  She was a woman of 50 who got her driver’s license for the first time so that she could more easily see her grandchildren.  She was a young widow with the strength to reinvent herself.  And, as a granddaughter, I have no doubt there were aspects that I never knew about this strong but gentle, fiercely loving, creative, and dignified woman.

But to me, she was my grandmother and the anchor and heart of my whole family.  And here is the one memory I have which came back to me in a flash when I first got the news that she had passed: 

I was 6 years old sitting in her kitchen.  My grandmother carved out large spaces for each of her grandchildren to have “special time” with grandma.  She’d take us shopping, out to lunch, to the movies.  This day, I was coloring at her kitchen table.  It was about mid-day and she was probably preparing lunch or washing carrots for a snack.  Then she turned around, leaned her back on the sink, wiped her hands on her apron, and asked me to come over to where she stood.  I put down my crayons and walked over not knowing what she wanted.  And when I got there she just hugged me.  She wrapped her arms around me and swayed and said, “Kimmy I just love you so much.” 

It wasn’t a hug goodbye or hello or goodnight. It was a hug in the middle of the day, in the middle of doing other things because she needed to love her grandchild in that soft and all-encompassing way of grandmothers.

My grandmother was many things, but that hug was who she was to me.  She saw me fully and knew me well.  We could talk about anything and did not always agree. But I always knew she focused on best parts of me, and I always knew I would be loved. And to be the object of that enormous and unconditional love is astounding and has made me a different person that I would have otherwise been.

All religions have rituals and idioms to comfort those who are morning.  “He’s with Jesus now.” “She’s in a better place.”  “May they rest in peace.”  It’s all about what’s happening to our loved one now. 

But in Judaism we say this:  “May her memory be for a blessing.”  It’s about what that life meant and how those memories will comfort those left behind. 

My grandmother’s life was a blessing to us all.  It changed us, improved us, taught us and sustained us. Right now, her memory is bitter sweet. We’d all rather have her here with us. 

But as so many have told us this past week, her memory will be soon be a blessing to us all.  We’ll think of her when we travel, learn, grow and love; when we see beauty or discover new talents.  We’ll think of her when we see her gentle, curious and artistic ways in our own children.  Her memory will truly be a blessing.

We will always love you grandma Carrie.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Which one are you?

I think it was George Carlin who famously said anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster than you is an asshole.  It’s funny, like so many things, because it resonates.  You are your own frame of reference.  You’ve decided the “right” speed limit.  Maybe it’s a bit under or a bit over the posted MPHs, but it’s your “correct.”  Everyone else is some type of wrong.

It’s the same thing with parenting.   You are the norm.  You’ve decided which battles are worth fighting and which are worth letting go.  You’ve struck what you’ve come to decide (through so many painful lessons) is the right balance.  Others, in comparison, are either controlling their schedule too tightly or controlling their children too loosely.  They are either letting nap time rule their life or letting their children ruin every one else’s. These are the assholes and the idiots of parenting.   Except you’re not just sharing the road with them, you’re sharing society.  

This is rarely a problem.  We may mutter under our breath or bitch to our spouses in what is the protective rolled up car window of our lives.  We rarely enter into road rage-equivalent territory because we can simply cocoon ourselves into our nuclear family world with a turn of the key or a click of the garage remote. 

That is, unless we share any significant amount of time with anyone who is currently,  has been, or has ever HAD a parent.  All these folks, whether they admit it or not, have opinions about the right speed limit, which battles are worth fighting and which are worth letting go.  And it’s doubtful that it’s the same as mine. I remember this on every family vacation and every get-away with friends.  I feel it as the nanny and I watch each others’ child care decisions. 

In my case, I’m more wondering if I am being seen as an idiot or an asshole than judging others – though that often comes into to, if I’m being honest.  I feel it when I am laying down the law (“you will NOT get that lollipop until you finish you dinner”) and causing a small person shriek so loud that polite conversation is impossible or when I am giving in to a tantrum to quiet the noise.  I’m either letting my inflexibility get in the way of everyone’s good time or a sucker to my kids whims.

Truth is I’m lucky.  My family or in-family never call me out on ANY of my parenting decisions.  They don’t meddle and they don’t seem to judge.  But I know they have opinions.

OK.  Granted, I’m a touch neurotic and insecure, so that plays into this. Maybe other people confidently plow ahead with their parenting credo, onlookers be damned.  But I don’t think I’m entirely alone here either.  We all feel judged a bit.

I’ve said this before, but I think this is one of the fundamental stresses of modern parenting.  The fact that we all forge our own distinct parenting style, choosing from dozens of different disciplines and philosophies, means we are playing off different scripts.  It makes it harder to have any kind of a village raising a child and it makes you more likely to be the object criticism and to harshly judge others.  I know more structured parents who literally cannot hang out with the free-rangers. 

What do you guys think?  Am I alone here?  Do you feel judged or do you no longer care? (I’m getting there)  Do you judge others?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I think I'm blogging again

OK guys.  I think I’m blogging again.  And it’s not just the predictable New Year’s resolution to do more of what makes you happy, though that’s part a big part of it. 

Here's what else happened: A few weeks ago, I got a “do not reply” email from my blogger account which said that my domain name “mamamzungu” would be up for grabs, if I did not pay my annual fee.  Even though I hadn’t written a blog entry for about a year, that name was mine, Damnit, and I wanted to reserve the right to spew musings on that domain name if I ever had the inclination again. 

So, I clicked on the link it asked me to.  But Google had changed their payment system.  So, I clicked on another link. And another.  No luck.  I entered my username but the site defaulted to my work account.  I created new accounts, new passwords.  Nothing.  About 3000 link clicks and 5 hours down a kafka-esque rabbit’s warren (e.g. you can only get to a help line once you’ve successfully logged in to Google's admin account, which was precisely what I needed help doing), I finally successfully paid my annual $10 fee and have been assured ownership of The Site You See Before You until next year.


Now what?

I guess, sunk costs and all, I should start blogging again.

But I suppose to avoid the all too common New Years resolution pitfall, I should first examine why, after years of blogging, I ever stopped in the first place. 

Well, I got a job. Full time.  FULL time. Not just the opposite of part-time, but the kind of job I cared about after hours.  The mental and emotional commitment seemed to fill all the spare space in my life.

Now, it might not have seemed like it, but most of my blog entries were not just ramblings but things I spent several think sessions (in the shower, patting my child to sleep, staring out the car window) mentally chewing on before I wrote about them.  Now all those space-out/contemplate times were filled with work stuff.  I was afraid if I luxuriated in personal musings I would somehow fall behind in being the best I could at work.

But now, I’m thinking of it like this: I can think about/write about more than one thing in my life.  It’s like learning 2 languages.  People used to fear that children couldn’t handle it.  That something would inevitably be sacrificed. But now we know that not only can children absorb new languages better than adults, but that there are even benefits to brain development doing so.  Maybe if I let myself write and think in another arena, it will only enrich both spheres?  Could work.

Let’s see…

The other thing is my mom.  After several months of blogless existence, she told me she missed my blogging. 

“I do too mom!  I miss writing.” I said wistfully.

“Well, I just miss keeping in touch with you. Seeing what you’re up to.” She replied.  

My heart sank a bit when she said that. 

I was starting to think of myself as a writer.  I had started publishing on other sites, got some positive feedback and even received a few paychecks for words I strung together.  Symbolic amounts, but still. I had enjoyed the process of writing, putting some precision to my thoughts and seeing if they resonated with others.  But almost as much, I liked that new identity – intellectual and artistic - more than just about any identity I’d had in my life.

But that’s a whole lot of ego to attach to what was essentially a hobby and I suppose, to most, just a way to connect with someone they love who now lives half a planet away.  Sure, my blog was read by strangers, but it was consistently read by people I knew.  It was those discerning anonymous strangers who kept me working and re-working and perfecting my thoughts, making each post a multiple-hour ordeal.  Those who love me would forgive lazy thinking and bad grammar.

Thinking of it as a way to connect my thoughts and feelings with people who feel far away certainly takes the pressure off.

So, that’s what I’ll do. If strangers take a gander and like what I have to say, fine.  If not, fine. Whew.   But I miss writing.  And, yes mom, connecting with loved ones.  Let's just make this the place to do that again and maybe I won't go a year without another post.  Agreed?