Today You Are Ten

Dear Sarah,

Ten years ago, I entered into the unknown, when you decided to make an entrance in your own way. You didn’t want to wait for a doctor. You didn’t want to make me push and push while your head got squished. You said, “I want out, and I want out NOW!” The doctor ran in and caught you.  A half an hour later, you had your first stage appearance when a nurse borrowed you to show a group touring the facilities what to expect.

Sarah_1

Sarah_1 1

It was the scariest and happiest day of my life, especially when they handed you to me, and I swear you smiled when you heard your Daddy’s voice.

You are no longer that tiny child who needs me every moment of the day.  You are, almost too quickly, turning into a young woman who still wants to make an entrance in her own way, always in a rush for the next exciting thing. You are now old enough to read these words and to form words of your own. You are now old enough to challenge, and question, and grow in ways I cannot imagine.

Sarah turns 10

I’ve learned so much from being your mother as I watch the miracle of your growth.  Sometimes I feel like I’m on the outside, looking in, as you become this incredible person with only a nudge here and there from me.

I know I’ve made mistakes along the way. I know that I’m not perfect. I hope, though, that someday you understand that my goal is always about providing you a path to a happy, fulfilled life. I want nothing more than to see you love and be loved, and to give you the tools to create your own path in this world. I want you to have the confidence that you can achieve anything. I want you to believe in yourself, and always know that you have the support of your family and all the people who love you so very much.

Yesterday we talked about the importance of inner beauty. That, among other things, is one thing I want you to learn and carry with you throughout your life.  There are so many other things I hope you learn throughout your lifetime. Here are some videos which put into words, in a much more powerful way than I can, some of the things I hope for you.

I can’t wait until you come home from school and I can share this post with you. Sarah Kyoko, you are a blessing in my life.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Mommy

Carrying Paradise Inside

I have learned some important lessons over the past few weeks.

The lessons began with the horror of Newtown, when I started to question where we’ve gone wrong to create a world that is full of so much cruelty, horror, and unspeakable acts. I learned from a childhood friend, neighbor or a child who was lost, who spent the days protecting his neighbor’s and his town from the predatory journalists, armed only with a video camera and a caring heart.

Who would have thought the little blonde boy I used to babysit would grow up to be such a kind, caring man.

Who would have thought the little blonde boy I used to babysit would grow up to be such a kind, caring man.

The lessons continued with the passing of my father; the first time in my life that I really had to face the reality of our mortality, and let go of somebody I love.

Photo by Steve Kramer

Photo by Steve Kramer

Then I found myself in Hawaii, spending the holiday’s with my husband’s family. Despite the fact that I’ve spent many holidays with them, there’s always a certain amount of awkwardness in my time here. This year, that feeling was multiplied by the sadness I carried in my heart. I found myself trying to hide from:

  • the awkward reactions from people who did not know what to say to someone who just lost her father
  • the even more awkward reactions from people who simply didn’t say anything and avoided the topic all together.
  • Nathan’s father’s sometimes naive (although I believe unintentional) anti-Semitism
  • the overwhelming holiday spirit that I simply did not feel.
  • the somewhat hypocritical attitude of people who claim the virtues of living in paradise, but never really take advantage of the place they live in
  • a constant clash of cultures

As I’ve been experiencing all this, I slowly began to absorb the lessons that surround me. For example, paradise is only paradise if you take the time to appreciate its beauty.

Sunset at the luau.

Sunset at the luau.

You can find paradise on an island, but you can also find it everywhere. If you spend all your time complaining about traffic, or focusing on other things like work and money, it doesn’t matter what the sunset looks like or the weather feels like–because you won’t see it.

I’m learning that paradise is actually something you carry with you.

It can be found in the smiles of children, who learn that new friendships can be formed over the joy of hanging upside down.

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It can be found in the moments when we stop, relax, and simply enjoy the sun.

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It can be found in those moments where we run, dance, and fly.

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It can be found spending time with old friends.

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Paradise is the place where you stop and realize that the small moments, and the inexpensive pleasures filled with love and laughter are the ones that truly matter. My wish for all in the coming year is that you take a moment to stop and celebrate the life you have.

It’s simply too short not to enjoy with all the passion and love you carry inside.

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A palm with holiday lights.

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Dolphins know how to be joyous!

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Sometimes being different just makes life even more special.

Simple joys, like blowing bubbles and swimming through them, are the things that make life worth living.

 

He Was My Father

I said farewell to my father today. I kept looking for him to be sitting next to us, but he wasn’t there. My mother asked me to write a eulogy for him, and these are the words I said.

 

Photo by Steve Kramer

Photo by Steve Kramer

He was my father.

 

He shared his love of reading with me. He said that, as a child, he always loved to read, and he carried that with him throughout his life. I follow in his footsteps.

 

He was the person I went to when I doubted my own words; we’d argue over the use of commas.

 

He was the only one who voluntarily read my dissertation. I’m not sure what he thought, except he told me he needed a dictionary in parts.

 

He was the person I’d call when I applied for jobs and was unsure what to say. He made me believe that anything was possible.

 

He came to my rescue when I needed help with Sarah, whose toddler days sometimes meant I couldn’t always get my work done. Nathan had to be away for some reason, and I had a big interview to prepare for, so he came and stayed for a couple of weeks, to play with his granddaughter and even take her to the beach for the first time.

 

He printed out images of Snoopy on a dot matrix printer and handed out punch cards with messages on them as he wowed my elementary school classmates with a room full of computer technology.

 

He charmed my friends whenever they met him.

 

He told awful jokes that I’m now passing down to Sarah.

 

He greeted every spring with this memorable poem, “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is, the birds is on the wing, no, the wings is on the birds.”

 

He mastered the art of telling the Passover story as quickly as possible so we could get to the food, and of giving me hints (without anyone knowing) which allowed me to find the Afikomen before the big kids.

 

His snore scared away the bears, but his joy on one particular canoe trip made the adventure even greater.

 

He made connections with people in Japan faster than most Americans who lived there.

 

He led the way on every journey we took. He loved to walk and we had to scramble to keep up.

 

He was my personal GPS system, even though I believe he and I have a completely different understanding of the term “short cut.”

 

He jumped over my wedding dress when my parents walked me down the aisle.

 

He always said that, when he was young he “walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways.”

 

His favorite childhood story involved a skunk, a dog, tomato juice, and the missing seat in his pants.

 

He was the silliest looking samurai ever.

 

I learned early on never to pull his finger, and that beans were a musical fruit.

 

He played endless games with his only grandchild, who has these words to say:

 

I MISS YOU PAPA

I loved the way you laughed.

I loved the way you played games with me.

I loved that you watched me when I was a baby.

I wish I was brave enough to go to your funeral.

I miss you SO much Papa and I love you.

Rest in Peace! Sarah

 

 

He was taken far too soon, by a disease that deprived us of his wit, wisdom and his voice. Two years ago, Nathan, Sarah, and I tried to capture his memories using techniques from StoryCorps. From that interview I learned how much he loved my mother, how much he had hoped to spend his retirement traveling with her, and these words from his mouth

“I had a great life.”

 

I will miss you forever, Dad.

 

 

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.

 

 

 

 

 

New Thoughts on Being Alone

Remember how about a month ago I wrote about how weird it was to be completely alone in the house for an entire weekend--no dogs, no child, no husband? Well, today I have done a total flip and am yearning for some complete, 100% alone time.

I woke up early this morning, even though my body was still aching for sleep. But, when the sun rises, the thoughts in my brain start stirring, at least to some extent. Unwilling to completely engage with the day, and still feeling a little disconnected, I decided to spend a quiet morning reading before I wrote in my Morning Pages and started the day for real. Nathan left to get breakfast, and I chose to stay back and be anti-social. The dogs started to hassle me as soon as he left.

A short time later, after Nathan had left breakfast for Sarah and made the 20 second trek to work, Sarah stumbled out of bed and immediately starting whining at me because she had misplaced blankie. Have I ever described blankie to you? Once upon a time it was a gray flannel shirt of Nathan’s that somehow ended up in Sarah’s hands at some point when she was just a baby. It became the attachment that could never be left behind, and now is a ripped and torn, but well-loved piece of extra soft fabric that dimly reflects its past as a shirt.

In this picture, Nathan is wearing the shirt when in was still actually a shirt. It may have been that day that it became “Blankie.”

In this picture taken the following year (when Sarah was 2 and 3/4) you can see Blankie scrunched in Sarah’s hands just behind Nathan’s head.

Anyway, as any “good” Mom would do this morning, I told Sarah to look all around her room for blankie, including picking things up. When that failed, and the moans and groans of agony started, I solved the mystery after recalling a bizarre experience from the middle of the night last night–one that could have been a dream, except for the evidence from blankie. See, I came out at some point to go to the bathroom only to be startled by the silent and spectral image of Sarah who nearly freaked me out by appearing in the darkness.

“What are you doing Sarah?”

“I’m going to the park.”

“What? You can’t go to the park now.”

“I’m catching fireflies.”

“Go back to bed, Sarah.”

She walked over to the table holding Nathan’s computer and sat down, placing her hand on the mouse.

“Have you been playing computer games?” (The lights of the computer were blinking, but the screen wasn’t on, I was just really tired.)

“Yes.”

“It’s too late to play computer games. Go to bed Sarah.”

“Will you help me?”

“Go to bed!”

She wandered into her room and crawled into bed.

Complete silence in a moment, as I stumbled back to my bed.

I would have forgotten about it, except that I discovered the missing blankie on the chair. She even brought her music player and headphones out. She doesn’t remember a thing.

That mystery solved, I started reading again, only to be interrupted every line or so by a random question about sleepwalking from Sarah, or a random thought about something from Sarah.

“Sarah, I’m trying to read!”

A few moment passes, and another thought bursts out.

“Sarah, your breakfast is in the refrigerator. Please eat while I read.”

“I’m not hungry. But I’ll read, too.” New questions a few minutes later, about words. Questions that I always want to answer with “look it up” as her dictionary was 3 feet away.

“Sarah, I’m heading back to the bedroom so I can read undisturbed.”

“Sorry.”

A few minutes pass. Perhaps a page or so. The dogs follow me back there and start their loud staring, hoping to get something if I could only read their minds. Then Sarah comes back, with a new thing she just has to tell me at that moment.

This happened several times.

“Sarah, I came back here to read in peace. Please do something!” She finally started eating and playing a computer game.

I did manage to finish the book and was finally ready to write in my Morning Pages, but  the chance of me accomplishing that while being tracked by 10 legs, 6 eyes, 2 tails, and one chattering mouth was pretty low.

“Sarah, I am going to go somewhere and I am not going to tell you where. I will have my phone, but you cannot follow me.”

“My guess is a coffee shop.”

“No, I am staying on the lot, but you cannot follow me. I need to be completely alone.”

“Okay, I’m going to the green room. Are we going swimming this morning?”

“Yes, but first I need to be completely alone.”

I found a place underneath the gazebo at the arts center next door, and I wrote in my Morning Pages. My phone buzzed, a text from the people who were supposed to swim with us.  “We’ll be ready in 15 minutes.”

“I’m not ready. Give me 1/2 hour.”

Finding a place to be alone at this bustling theatre is a challenge. Even when you hide away in your cabin, the worlds seems full of eyes and ears and voices.  The 30 minutes or so this morning made me realize how valuable alone time really is.

It is, actually, priceless.

 

 

 

 

“It’s Not My Fault” (100 Word Challenge)

This week, Julia gave the same challenge to both children and adults. She has a magnificent program going where schools all over England (and the world) have students posting 100 Word Challenges, and people can read and respond. By giving us both the same challenge, she is hoping to get more adults responding and have some young people come over to look at ours.  So, I decided to take this weeks challenge phrase “it’s not my fault” from a young perspective. Enjoy! Then take a peak at other entries, by young and old alike.

 

“It’s not my fault,” I heard Johnny say
“Mom won’t let me come out to play.
I didn’t do anything wrong, I swear!
I didn’t mean to destroy Sarah’s teddy bear.
Can I help it if my rooms a mess?
I have better things to do with my time I guess.
Mom’s so mean! She’s  no fun!
She forgets what it feels like to run
as quickly as you can and slide across the floor . . .
Is it my fault I broke the door?
It’s all her fault, I cannot play
she won’t let me out today. ”

 

The Art of Being Alone

Some days I want to be alone, to sit in the silence of my thoughts and hear the echoes of my dreams.

On other days, though, loneliness overwhelms me. Instead of relishing the silence I yearn for discussions with good friends. Instead of walking alone, and listening to the rhythm of my footsteps, I miss my friend Heidi and our long walks where we talked about everything from literature to parenting, from friendship to men, from travel to dreams, from problems to solutions.

Some days being alone is a blessing. I can dress how I want, do what I want, listen to music or not, watch television or not. I can write, I can paint, I can walk, I can think. I can clean the house (or not). I can get a sense of accomplishment (or not). I can go wherever I care to go, or simply stay home snuggled under the covers with a good book.

On other days my loneliness consumes me, making me reach for the food that is bad for me, or watch movies I have watched a million times before. Books become a defense mechanism, building an armor with other people’s words around the fact that I have no words myself. Or if I have words, nobody to share them with.

“We read your words!” Blogging friends say, and that helps defeat the loneliness, but sometimes I wish for a connection beyond the computer screen. Where are the people who have met me in person, and know me beyond the written word? Some of them read, few of them respond, so I build relationships with virtual friends through the sharing of my thoughts and stories, and yet still loneliness overtakes me.

Words alone are not enough.

I need to perfect the art of being alone.

Image by Steve Kramer. Link to his post, "In (future) Memoriam . . . me"

 

A Lee Family Holiday (100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups)

Sung to the tune of Winter Wonderland.* Explanations included below.

Stomach ache just beginning
As Jiji** keeps insisting
You have to eat more
There is food galore
At a Lee fam’ly holiday.

Turkeys cooked in all ways
Not just for the holidays
Roasted and more
Sometimes number four***
At a Lee fam’ly holiday.

In the morning we can open presents
But perhaps we shouldn’t eat too much.
For the party later is in essence
A feast so full of plenty, you’ll be stuffed.

After all the tummy stuffing
Then card battles over nothing
We play into the night
with somewhat friendly fights****
Nibbling on the leftovers while we play.

 

* The challenge this week:

“I want to to choose a favourite carol and re-write it with the theme of a Christmas Dinner. You have to tell your readers which carol it is and they have to be able to sing your version back to themselves. That means the right tempo and beat. You may not need 100 words but I’ll give you that many just in case! Generous aren’t I?!!”

** Jiji: Sarah’s name for my father-in-law.

*** One year there was a roasted turkey, a steamed turkey, a barbeque turkey, and a deep fried turkey in addition to many other meat options and side dishes and dessert of course.

****Shanghai Rummy, an awesome card game that leads to a little bit of competitive bidding.

Reflections on Occupy Thanksgiving, Joy Tinged with Sadness

Starting to load up the table

Insomnia struck at 3:30 am after a fitful sleep before that.

Simply a result of overindulgence?

It would have been convenient if I was one of the crazy thrifty multitudes who choose to line up outside stores for the early openings and buying frenzy known as Black Friday, but I’m not.

Instead it was a reflection of something more. When denied sleep I buried myself in the beauty of tragic love past, reading Jane Eyre for the first time in many years and relishing every dramatic throb of love torn asunder. Finally, I thought I could go back to sleep only to find myself crying convulsively, waking Nathan with wracking sobs.

Why would a day filled with laughter, smiles and thanks bring on this insuppressible sadness?

Because amidst the celebration I saw my mother’s eyes tear up when Sarah interviewed her and asked two important questions:

  1. “What are you thankful for?” Answer: “That all my loved one’s are here together.”
  2. “If you could have one wish, what would it be?” Answer: “That Papa would get better.”

You see, in the cacophony of voices, telling jokes, sharing stories, there was one gaping hole of silence sitting to my left. My Dad, who used to be the life of the party, now caught in the trap of Alzheimer’s would only interject in discomfort or annoyance if we pushed him too hard to eat.

Note my tongue sticking out, a habit I got from my Dad

The silence is heartbreaking.

The day, overall was joyous. Sarah’s excitement and enthusiasm for interviewing everybody was contagious. The food delicious. The laughter and conversation scintillating.

It’s been a long time since my family sat down together for a meal, followed by playing games together.

Love this image with Mom joining in the fun.

All in all a wonderful day that I will always be thankful for, and that I believe Sarah will hold in her memory.

Sarah got the big end of the wishbone. I hope all her wishes come true.

Still, for me, a joyous day tinged with a little sadness.

Most photo's taken by Steve, also known as Taochild

A”maze”ing Words and Surprising Discoveries

Meandering Through a Muddle of Words

We spent yesterday wandering through a corn maze made in the shape of Noah Webster.

The challenge (in order to win a free small pumpkin) was to make your way through the maze finding the words in a giant word search, letter by letter.  Amazingly enough we managed to make it through without having to call 911. 😉

Perhaps the fact that you are given a flag with a number before you enter the maze makes people less stupid. Then again, the competition became intense, which was a little strange, since there really wasn't any competition.

In the center of the maze (aka Webster’s face) was a second game where you had to select the correct definition of some words, and they weren’t easy.

This was the perfect maze for Sarah who has recently taken to looking up words in the dictionary and writing down their definitions, FOR FUN. Yes, friends, she is indeed my daughter, as I would underline (in light pencil) any words I didn’t know in any books I read and make a list throughout my childhood.  The maze combined her new love of words with her never-ending search for adventure.

While the sun stayed behind the clouds for most of the day, it was still a nice day to be in the maze, compared to our adventure in a maze last year in Kansas, which included heat, bugs and two pre-teenage girls who decided that they needed to run through the maze. Of course, this late in the season the maze is a little worse for wear, with brown stalks and downed stalks, as well as evidence of Hurricane Irene who took her own journey through the maze.

As we wandered through the maze, my mind rambled from nothing to word meanings to the meaning of life with lots of side trips along the way.

Disorientation

As we journeyed through the maze, I learned that I have absolutely no sense of direction, while Sarah and Nathan seem to have an innate instinct for making their way through mazes.

The amazing maze explorers know the way.

Another clue!

"Let's see. Where to next? Follow me."

Of course, upon this realization, since I always want to improve, I tried to hone my instincts and improve my navigation ability. My instincts started to kick in, and I eventually figured out a pattern that I could follow. However this inevitably led to the . . .

Brabble of the Babes

You see, Sarah and I tend to be a lot alike. This means that, on occasion, we get on each other’s nerves. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep over the past several days while I was dealing with my personal  emotional roller coaster, or the fact that within 5 minutes of entering the maze Sarah nearly brained me with the flag, my ability to communicate with my daughter seemed to disintegrate rapidly as we made our way from letter to letter. What sounded to me like, “please don’t walk with the flag pointing forward” or “don’t swing the flag around, you might hit someone” must have sounded to her like “STOP TRYING TO KILL EVERYONE WITH THAT FLAG!!”

Sometimes, despite my love of words, I have problems communicating.

As my legs started getting more and more tired, my words became sharper, until I reverted to the inner 6-year-old that often makes appearances when the tension between us gets stronger and decided to stop talking.

Words only work if you use them.

I'm not sure which of us needed a time out more.

Revelations of the Camera Obscura

Eventually we worked through our issues (aka, I stopped talking and we continued on) and found all the letters and words. We exited the maze in glory to select our pumpkin. Then, of course, Sarah wanted to explore a little. We wandered over to the petting zoo, where adorable goats and other animals demanded food which we did not provide. Then Sarah saw an odd structure that looked like a little play house. In reality, however, it was a Camera Obscura and it was really cool.

Through the Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura Landscape

Camera Obscura Farm

Camera Obscura animals

Somehow, looking at the world from a different perspective made me realize that I need to change my own perspective more often, in order to find some incredible things.

So what did I learn by changing my perspective? That there may not be enough words to describe the complexity of my love for my life (even at its most confused and chaotic) and especially for my family.

Sometime words just aren’t enough.

Dancing a jig on a bail of hay, you can't say it better than this.

Monsters in the Closet and Other Scary Stuff

“I can’t sleep with the closet door open.”

I made this statement on one of the rare occasions when the entire Kramer family was gathered together. My mother looked at me as if I was completely insane and said, “Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of monsters in the closet. I know they aren’t really there, but I can’t help being afraid.”

My mother continued to scoff.

Much to my surprise my older sister (Deb) who you haven’t met often, and my older brother (Steve) who you have, jumped to my defense.

“I know exactly why she’s afraid,” Deb said. “It was because of Grandma’s house.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “The door with the glass doorknob.”

My mom looked at us all strangely. “What are you talking about?”

So we explained.

When my grandparents were alive we would go visit them in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandparents passed away within a few months of each other when I was about 6 years old, so my memories of them are limited. My sister is 5 years older than me, so she probably has clearer memories, but we rarely talk about them. Perhaps we should.

When we visited my grandparents the kids all stayed in one room. A small double bed filled one side of the room, and a cot lay opposite for the third little body. We alternated who would sleep in the double and who would sleep in the cot. You might think we all wanted the cot, but you would be wrong. Why?

Because the cot was right next to the scariest door in the world. The one with the glittery, diamond-shaped door knob.

 

I’m not sure where the door led. I always thought it led to the attic (shudder) but someone told me it was just a closet. When it was my turn, I would lie in that cot, the door knob inches from my non-sleeping eyes convinced that at any moment the door knob would turn from unseen hands and open to suck me into a terrifying nightmare.

We were all afraid of the door knob.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mom asked. “Grandma would have done something.”

“We were kids, Mom,” My sister answered.

But I think it was deeper than that, I think we didn’t say anything because nobody would have believed us anyway. We would have received the same reaction then as we did on this day, nearly 40 years later.

I am convinced that my grandparent’s house had its ghosts, even if they were simply the ghosts of our imagination. I am also convinced that, if I have ever really been visited by ghosts, the visitations have come from my grandparents, my nana (Dad’s mother) and possibly a man we called Cousin Lou who may or may not actually be my relative. All I remember about him is the giant red teddy bear with the flowered belly that he gave me after winning it from the fair.

When did they visit? I will try to remember some of the occasions that add to my belief in the power of spirit, as I discussed yesterday.

  • When Nana passed away, a bird got into my brother’s tiny bedroom somehow. My mom claims the window was open, but I remember it being closed. Even if it was open, this had never happened before. Birds, in Jewish folklore, can represent a “winged soul.” This particular bird was extremely important as it got into the room a few minutes before we got the phone call saying Nana had just passed away. I will always believe Nana came to say good-bye.
  • I used to have a recurring dream that took place at my grandparents house. Sometimes we would go down into the basement of the house (a basement that I really don’t have a memory of). Usually my grandparents aren’t there, at least not visibly, but I hear their voices talking to me and telling me something. I might just pass these off as dreams except for something I learned much later in life, Deb and Steve both used to have similar dreams.
  • In a similar way, Cousin Lou often visited me in dreams of my Nana’s house, although not as often.
  • There is one day that I know all my ancestors were with me in spirit; the day I became a Bat Mitzvah. I remember the day starting out cloudy, threatening rain. This upset me, as I wanted a beautiful day. But, by the time the Friday evening ceremony rolled around, the sun shone in glorious April beauty. A gift from my loved ones. When I stood on the Bima to read my haftorah, my stomach jiggled with a million butterflies. There was a certain part of the complex Hebrew text that always sounded like something else to me. I can’t remember exactly what, but it was something like “we love you” or another comforting phrase like that. It was early on in my chanting, and as soon as I hit the phrase my heart filled with warmth and I knew that the people who would have most celebrated that day (my grandparents were Orthodox Jews) were there with me, with glowing golden smiles on their faces. My Mom said she saw me smile then. I continued with a strong voice, and was even invited back to repeat the haftorah the following year.

Of course, this could all have been the workings of a very imaginative child, but who knows? Most bumps and creaks in the night can be easily explained away, but once in a while you experience a mystery that adds to the awesome complexities of life.

So forgive me if I close my closet door before I go to sleep. You never know when something unexpected might come out.

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