Breathe in the New Year

Never have we needed a new year like we do now.

Summer’s blessing of an unhurried pace is already forgotten. We have reverted to our scheduled-beings ways: Wake up. Get dressed. Make lunches. Kiss goodbyes. Go.

Go go go.

In the car, I check the news radio for breathless reports of hurricanes and earthquakes. Over breakfast, I read the L.A. Times’  latest science on earthquake forecasting. I carry the anxiety of the bystander as I prepare for doomsday. I buy gallons of water and canned food. I buy candy, because if you’re eating Chef Boyardee and diced peaches, you deserve as much chocolate and red vines as you can get your hands on. I buy flashlights, and work gloves, and put sneakers in arm’s reach of everyone’s bed.

I need to breathe. I downloaded a meditation app a month ago. Every morning my phone gently reminds me “It’s time to meditate,” and every morning I promptly and consistently…ignore it. Ten minutes? Maybe later.

My kids need to breathe. They’re stressed, beyond the norm. Okay, I put on the app during breakfast as background sounds of trickling water and birdsong plays. We take a deep breath.

Ahh. That felt good.

The Jewish new year is like the app, trying to break through my day and schedule, and “I’ll get to it later’s” — a gentle reminder I have to choose to accept: Take a deep breath, it says.

I do. I will. Ahh, feels good.

Happy new year. Love, Laura

(You can read my new year’s posts from last year , 2013 and 2009, and reprinted below)

 


2016: “The Only Three Words You Need”

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

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2013: “Ancient History and Two Hours Ago”

Dear Rabbi Reuben,

This time of year always gets me. I don’t think of myself as religious, but there I am in services. Liking services. Needing services.

I sing along (mostly) with the Hebrew prayers, even though I don’t understand all of them, even though what I do understand I don’t always agree with. There is something in the familiarity of the rhythms and rhymes, the melodies and memories. Memories call me from when I was twelve, sitting in a row of other 12-year-old girls required to attend Shabbat services as part of our Bat Mitzvah year. I think about my son studying for his Bar Mitzvah now, and I feel peace and wonder knowing that he is learning these prayers not only for one Shabbat morning in February, but for the decades of Shabbats that will hopefully follow. He need not realize that these melodies and prayers will stay with him, guide him, fill him with love and hope whenever he may need it, years from now or next week.

I suppose these prayers were with me before I was twelve. They were there when Rabbi Winokur handed me my pre-school diploma, they were embedded in our three-year-old voices singing, “The animals, they came on, they came on in twosies twosies, elephants and kangaroosies roosies!”

The prayers have been there, if it’s not too time-travel-mystic of me, since my parents were dragged to “make an appearance” in their grandparents’ Orthodox shuls in Boyle Heights and Pico/Fairfax, where they heard unintelligible, unpenetrable Hebrew chanting. And so on.

There are prayers I don’t say. That don’t bring me peace. Like the one that proclaims “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” I don’t buy that literal God-writing business. But there I am in services anyway, because you add your spin, that these words remind us that all we have is today. That all the good we are going to do in the world should happen right now.

Next we arrive at a prayer listing the traits of God – compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy. This prayer sends my mind back two hours, to my younger son’s loss of composure this morning when asked (okay, ordered) to turn off the television because he had already watched a cartoon and it was time to play or get dressed. I think of the heat and anger that consumed him, the words that came out of his mouth directed at me, the stormy damage he caused to his room when sent there to cool down. For some reason today I stayed cool, too, let him settle into whatever books he uncovered in the process of forgetting what it was he was so angry about.

After a little while, I brought him his clothes for temple (he loves to dress up so this wasn’t a problem) and we spoke as though intemperate words had never been uttered. My forgiveness was my not asking for an apology, or bringing up the episode, which he knew was not his best moment. I dressed him and blessed him and his full of passion ways. Compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy.

I am grateful that my boys’ ears were in the presence of your words today – that attitude is everything. I hope they heard that everyone feels loss and disappointment, so they won’t feel so alone when it’s their turn. I am grateful for your emphasis on the value of showing up for people, and also what showing up means for participating in life. I am grateful that the sounds and words of our people’s prayers and melodies washed over them, as they sat bookended between my parents. I could turn and see them from a distance, they looked bigger, and my father’s hair grayer, than the images I hold of each of them in my mind. (My mother looked beautiful; that’s a constant.) I am grateful that these words and prayers and melodies were sinking into their depths in ways they may not consciously remember, but which they will no doubt access on some Rosh Hashanah many years from now, wherever their days may take them.

With love and appreciation for all these gifts,

Laura


2009: “Looking for Autumn at Low Tide”

We said goodbye to summer yesterday, again. The first one—the day before school started—didn’t take. My mind was still in pajamas. This goodbye was official. Equinox and all.

As a Sunday of lazing about moved toward evening, Christopher and I decided we’d go to the beach—where else to bid adieu to all things Summer? Our kids refused to come. Even Emmett was adamant: “I’d rather watch football than go to the beach!” he spat. Aaron concurred, disgusted by our proposal: “And I’d rather watch Elmo!”

Like angels conjured from our collective prayer, Grandparents materialized on our front porch, offering their time. I grabbed my flip flops and my man and we ran off.

The tide was low and we walked in wet sand, water gracing our toes. We saw the neighborhood Chabadniks praying the last of Rosh Hashanah, a towel-draped woman in a beach chair raising her martini glass, a toddler in soggy underwear rushing the ocean. All saying goodbye in their way. I stretched my arms wide toward the sunset. I resolved to shake the sand out of my brain and focus. Fall is here, time to hunker down.

It’s hard to tell it’s Autumn by looking out my window this morning. But if I pay attention: I see the sunshine casts its light on the blue tiled table from a longer angle. I feel the tickle in the back of my throat that warns the first cold is coming. I see dark purple leaves scattered on the grass.

I try to forget that this purple plum tree is dying. I know it is, but at least for the next few months its will have company.

 

 

The Only Three Words You Need

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

Reading earlier posts from this time of year, I marvel at how much has remained constant, though so much has changed. In this post from seven years ago, Christopher and I wanted to greet the new year at the ocean, while our kids refused to budge. The same was true yesterday, but now our boys are plenty old enough for us to wave goodbye without grandparents materializing at our front door to babysit, as they did years ago. In fact, so much time has passed that the rabbi’s sermon this year about ethical driving (practicing “patience, gratitude, and forgiveness” behind the wheel) arrived at the perfect moment for our 15-year-old firstborn’s ears.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

Sunset 1

We Survived The Mother’s Day Camping Trip!

The Doritos in the dryer lint are a telltale sign that we’ve been camping. It’s one of those permissions, to eat what I otherwise designate as “poisonous” on regular days. I know this is a crummy lesson, that fun and junk food are partners. I know there are better, stronger, more fit and pure parents who bring trail mix and fruit and make their children do 10-mile hikes. Good for them. But this is us, and our goal this weekend was to bring everyone home alive and uninjured, with family connections renewed.

Mission accomplished.

This wasn’t a given. When we pulled into the campground at Dennison County park near Ojai, the welcome sign warned us to beware of rattlesnakes. As we set up our campsite, Emmett noticed a low mound of dirt with a 2-inch diameter hole at its apex, in and out of which swarmed red ants. This, conveniently next to the picnic table.

We ate, set up the tent, and looked around at our gorgeous surroundings.

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The afternoon stretched out in front of us. Now what? Hide and seek, one suggested, and off we went. Yes, this was why we were here. Playing together, in nature. I chose my hiding spots by the views they afforded.

Then…boredom set in. We played musical chairs, with one of us singing while the other four ran in circles around camp chairs. We read. “It feels like the longest day ever,” Maria said. I didn’t disagree. Christopher said, “Let’s go get ice cream,” and our spirits lifted. We drove the short distance to town and found Ojai Ice Cream across from Libbey Park, where we would spend the next few hours playing on a jungle gym designed for 5-12 year olds, and then playing “Avioncito,” an advanced version of hopscotch Maria taught us.

Back to the campsite. After a dinner of burnt hamburgers and hot dogs came the raison d’camping: s’mores. (See above re: junk food and fun.) Soon after came words I often say but never hear from my children: Can we please all go to bed? It was 9 o’clock.

Maria was nervous about being eaten by animals, so we put her in the center of the tent. As we turned off the last flashlight, Emmett reached toward me and held my hand. In the morning, he looked at me before dawn and said “Happy Mother’s Day,” then we both fell back to sleep.

I had suggested camping for Mother’s Day because I craved time with my children away from our usual habitat. It was everything I’d hoped for.

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Introducing Spring, and Maria

The bees are having an orgy with our bottle brush tree. It’s blooming like mad. Needle thin magenta red flowers are exploding all over the place. They land in my hair as I trim its branches to unblock the backyard gate – … Continue reading

Thanksgiving Traditions, Memories, and Spontaneous Reunions

Thanksgiving memories are enduring, even if some traditions are not.

One Thanksgiving tradition is as deeply loved as it was short lived. It was during my college years — it could even have been once and memory has morphed it into more. As I choose to remember it, the tradition was to gather my high school friends from our scattered collegiate cities, at my parents’ house the evening after Thanksgiving, to tell stories and laugh and dance and eat leftovers until our stomachs ached. Those friendships felt more burnished and eternal than the new friends I was still making (some of whom time has transformed into friends of the eternal variety).

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Circa 1987

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Dancing ’round the fountain.

My youngest son believes his elementary school besties will always be his gang. Maybe so.

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But if I look at my history, it is our older son who is arriving at an age when friendships might last. Next year he will begin high school, the very same high school where these friendships of mine were forged. This passage makes me think about these friends of mine who mattered more than anything in the world, a long time ago. And it makes me grateful for those I still count as my closest friends.

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, these memories surface, and I contemplate sending out a call to reunite over pie tins, forks in hand. But every year the date comes and it goes.

Maybe it is right to leave good memories in their velvet cushioned boxes, precious treasures to admire from time to time. Or maybe it is wrong. Maybe it is time to send out the call — “PIE and DANCING, people!” — to see if spontaneity and nostalgia can overcome grown-up schedules and responsibilities to work their wonders. To reconnect with people I haven’t seen — some for decades, some for just days. To give my children a peek of the human treasures that await just beyond tomorrow’s thanks-filled sunset.

News from The “Will Wonders Never Cease?” Department (aka How to Make Jewish Grandmas Kvell)

This just in from The “Will Wonders Never Cease?!” Department.

1. Not only did I not get to “milk” the taking-my-son-to-the-orthodontist-AFTER-recess moment, but it backfired. He had to finish what he’d missed at lunchtime. (It was two minutes of lunchtime, but on principle it felt like hours.)

2. Same week, he went to Week 1 of Hebrew School, without much griping, and LIKED it.

Let me say, for a kid who lives for unstructured everything, I was certain Hebrew School on a Monday afternoon would be a non-starter. Imagine my shock when he came home reporting:

(a) I made a new friend!

(b) Teacher Lauren is awesome because she lets us talk and is “loose” [um, the good kind, I’m thinking]!

(c) When I guessed the Hebrew letters spelled “pizza” I got to dance and celebrate!

Could we ask for more in a school day?

3. And last, the spittake moment, the following declaration issued from my son’s mouth after Week 2 of Hebrew School:

“Sophie is so lucky. She always gets to hold the Torah.”

Lucky little Jews.

Lucky!!

 

I don’t know what they put in his Challah, but that, my friends, is how we roll these days. Happy New Year, and all good things.

Laura

Halloween, in the Right Place

This is one of the days I love Venice.

It helps that the boys are in school again, after a week home sick. I had the house alone. It’s quiet. The TV is off. I can admire what we’ve created here. The cozy space, the ocean blue tiles, the sunlight and green trees filling the window that dominates the house.

But it’s not about the house, even. I felt it as I drove home from dropping Emmett off at school. So what was it that made me feel today that I was in the right place, right now? Was it the convenience of stopping at Staples on Lincoln to get ink cartridges? Was it the Thrift shop window next door with its small handmade signs offering Halloween Costumes for $5? Was it the slow cruising down Palm Avenue, the cool hipness of Abbot Kinney, then turning down our own palm-lined street with its cottages painted different colors, and creative landscapes, unique styles, the energy of the streets? It was this, and the cool air of Fall. The Halloween decorations, the cobwebs and pumpkins. The lack of mansions. I’m not saying there’s no pretense here; there is certainly a Venice attitude, and some days I feel perfectly outside it. Completely uncool. But today I’m riding its harmonic waves, on which modern attitude coexists with vintage charm, where there is something humble speaking up today, where bigger isn’t better.

It’s Halloween, and the kids are out from their sick beds just in time. Their friends live in other places, and kids like to trick or treat with friends. But a miracle has graced us; they’ve agreed to trick-or-treat with their family, probably for the last time, here in Venice. Maybe they think the candy is better here. Or maybe their brains are still scrambled from fever. Or maybe they are feeling good here today, too, like me. Who can explain the ups and downs of feeling like you’re in the right place at any given moment? It’s enough to know it.

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Recovering from Mother’s Day

I had my worst Mother’s Day, to date. No one woke me with burnt toast. I was awakened by Emmett, actually, but it was with a beautiful hand illustrated book he had made about how much I love him.

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And a bracelet made from paperclips and tape.

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All good. Aaron gave me nothing, because in Middle School the teachers don’t do that shit for you, and he didn’t get around to doing it himself. That’s another discussion.

But I didn’t want gifts for Mother’s Day. What I wanted for Mother’s Day, all I wanted, was to go on a bike ride on the beach.

Aaron was happy to oblige. He was dressed and ready to go. But Emmett, oh that darling, sloooooow and “I don’t wanna do it” Emmett, was not cooperating.

You know what? I can’t even bear to tell you more. It’s too harrowing to relive. So I’m going to let Christopher’s Mom give it to you straight, the story he told her on the phone at the end of the day, which she succinctly boiled down to its essence:

“Laura wanted to go on a bike ride for Mother’s Day to the Farmer’s Market.”

        Okay, I’m piping in. YES, that’s all I wanted!!!

“Somehow, Laura, Aaron and Christopher arrived there in two groups and found that Emmett (who had procrastinated at home) wasn’t with them. Christopher thought he was with Laura and Aaron, and Laura thought he was with Christopher.

“Not only that, but they had all left their cell phones at home.”

       Because we wanted, just for a day, to be unplugged. And we were all supposed to be TOGETHER.

“Laura went to search the Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market manager called the police, who were about to dispatch helicopters, while Christopher raced home on his bike. He found a very shaken up Emmett with his bike in front of their house, who had tried to call all of them, and thank goodness met a nice neighborhood family who helped him!

“All’s well that ends well.”

I still want my damn bike ride.

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Easy Peasy Resolutions (To Make Me The #1 Most Hated Mom)

Resolution #1: More patience.

Even if it’s the 15th time I’ve asked them to do something (get dressed, flush the toilet, turn off the TV), I would just feel so much better about myself if I did not turn into a witch in the process. Instead I could, for example, gently unplug the Wii and throw it in the black bin, gracefully smiling with a glowing peaceful aura surrounding me through it all.

Resolution #2: Less worrying.

Even though worry is in my DNA, I am always happier when I let it go. Let it go…

Resolution #3: More dinner parties.

By which I mean more time with friends. Even if that means ordering pizza on the spur of the moment. I resolve this every year, but routinely let it slip away. I’m getting too old for that.

Resolution #4: Less video games.

Imagine: If I had the nerve I would throw out the Wii, melt down the cell phones, short circuit the computers. In their place I would provide stacks of jigsaw puzzles, a chess board, Scrabble and Rummy Cube, with music playing (any kind, I’m not a total control freak) and lots of crafty things to glue and build. In short, I would be the world’s most hated mom.

I’m not brave enough to go there yet, so I’d better really work on Resolution #1.

Happy new year, one and all.Image