Friday, April 21, 2017

Cuba!

Taking a five day trip without my children wasn't something I had planned on doing for a long time. I have had the travel bug for the last few years and I just kept daydreaming about how we could all hop on a plane, or when we will one day pull the kids out of school and live abroad for six months. I have high hopes that my kids after-school language classes will be enough so they can translate for us when we go to China...someday. If only we had sufficient disposable income, we could visit our close friends in Europe for a weekend. A girl can dream.

Cuba has been on top of my list since I met my husband. On our first date he told stories about his time in Havana. He spoke about how life-changing the country was, how it was a time piece, and how the locals welcomed him when he was there. When he spoke of his experience there was a magic twinkling in his eye. I needed to see it for myself. We had always talked about going together. He even had a website that he created for people who wanted to go from America. Since at that time it wasn't legal to just be a tourist, there were other ways to plan a trip. He made T-shirts that said "Cuba" on the front, and "Travel bans are unAmerican" on the back. We even met with a Cuban family here in LA to plan a trip together, but then I got pregnant, and traveling to Cuba took a seat in the back of one of the old Cuban cars, and drove away...for a while.

This past January when friends of ours were getting married in Havana, the idea popped back in my head. I wanted us to go, but we couldn't figure out a way to both go, and we didn't feel comfortable leaving the kids behind. Then my sister called a month later from Israel, and asked if I would meet her there. She explained that I didn't have much time to decide because she needed to buy her ticket. After a quick conversation with my husband about logistics, I said yes! I booked my ticket and planned my trip.

It wasn't until a week or two before that I realized I wasn't just going to New York or even Europe where I might be far, but I would be reachable. Cuba has little-to-no wifi -- what if my family needed me? What if I needed them?  I got a bit panicked, and questioned my decision. As the days approached, I got teary, scared, and my old friend anxiety reared it's head. I was worried my nerves would ruin my trip, but I was determined to have a good experience. After all, the best travel is equal parts terrifying and thrilling. It is what I craved. I wanted my eyes open to a new place, a new culture, and a new world. That is exactly what I got.

Upon landing in Havana and getting a cab, I learned quickly that I would have to try and speak in Spanish even if I sounded like an idiot. Immediately I could hear my dad's voice in my head saying, "I told you you should've taken Spanish more seriously in school." I definitely didn't work hard enough in that class, and I am sorry now. I got to my casa particular (a home you rent from a local, where they host you, and cook you breakfast) and took in my surroundings. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was beautiful and broken at the same time. The city was bustling but the buildings were dilapidated, the colors were vibrant and new, yet as far as my eye could see, everything was from a different era. It was, in fact, a time piece: the cars, the sky, the Malayan surrounding the city -- all of it was a feast for my eyes. My sister and her friend met me there and we had an exciting reunion. The three of us spent the first day or so together, and we kept saying, "Hey, we are in Cuba!"

The first night I went to sleep with a lump in my throat. I missed my husband, I missed my children, and I felt really far away from anything even remotely familiar. I wasn't able to make contact with my family, and it with the first time since being a parent that I couldn't at least tell them goodnight and I love you. I didn't sleep well. The chickens in Cuba are very confused and were clucking in the middle of the night. Time seemed to be moving too slowly and the idea that I would be gone four more nights made my heart hurt. The next day I spent with my sister and her friend, and it was a fun, full and busy day. Still there were so many days ahead, and it felt like a daunting amount of time to be away. I also hadn't spent any real amount of one-on-one time with my sister in years. I know I loved her, I talk to her often, but we also have had troubles seeing eye-to-eye on some visits together in the past. We were never alone though. There were always so many other people, schedules, and family dynamics that came into play when we saw each other. I was worried that those elements would cause us to bicker, or that our individual idiosyncrasies would annoy the other. Traveling well together with other people is not always easy.

The next day my sister's friend left and it was just the two of us. I learned very quickly that telling someone else what you think is wrong with them can only negatively impact your time with them. I am sure she was reminded when she was with me that I had some annoying traits. For example, I don't know anyone who appreciates my sense of timing, because it sucks. We all have our "stuff" but just because thoughts come into my head, doesn't always mean it would be a good idea to say them out loud. So I kept my mouth shut and surprisingly, I started to only see the qualities in my sister that I missed for so long. We had such a good time together. We laughed together at how bad our Spanish was. I was so impressed at how well she knew how to read maps, how she could somehow communicate with a mix of Spanish and Hebrew, when at times only Italian came out of my mouth. We finished conversations that have been interrupted since we both started having children. We rode the local bus, rode every kind of Cuban taxi, and even rode horses. We swam in the bluest water at the beach.We tried food we loved, and food we will be happy to never try again.  We took nightly walks down the street where we stayed and got ice cream for 17 cents, and tried to figure out what flavor it was since none of the words translated.

The night before she left, we went out for dinner at a really beautiful restaurant. Our last day together had been one of the best. We joked that we had done it all, since we had a little list of things we wanted to see and do and we managed to squeeze it all in. We should have been festive mood but instead I felt a flood of anxiety. I was so proud of us for taking this trip and we had an amazing time, but I suddenly got so sad. I mentioned it to my sister, and she helped me. She talked me through exactly what I was feeling, helped me look at what was rational and what was irrational, and then she helped me plan the rest of the time I would be in Havana without her. The way she took care of me was the way she did when I was younger. She has almost nine years on me and I have always looked to her for advice growing up. I grew up though, and so much time had past since she I have needed her in this way, and yet the quality of support she gave me was just as I remembered. I was crying because I missed my family so much and I was relieved to go home, but I was going to miss her.

Like many places in the world, when in Cuba you quickly realize all we take for granted here. There are very few resources available to them. Supermarkets carry only what is available to them so you will see the shelves filled with the six random items they were able to get that week. You feel how far you are from the instant gratification we get from Amazon, Target, and a green tea latte. When asked where I was visiting from, they can only imagine what California would be like. The politics, policies and limitations don't allow for Cubans to travel outside of the country. So while I might have looked around at them and felt grateful for all I have, they looked at us like we were crazy when my sister and I said we live in different countries. Once home my sister and I have quickly jumped back into a day-to-day lives, but Cuba will never be forgotten. We both traveled pretty far for this trip, and what what we found in each other will never be lost again.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hug!

This is not my best week. I know I am not in the minority when I say this is a strange year so far. I am trying to see the bright side. This week however can suck it! I am not happy with the state of our world, our country, and more specifically my house.  As soon as I clean it, it gets messy. As soon as I put out one tantrum, another begins, As soon as I put down a nice meal, the complaints come. My parents moved across the world and I miss them. It's spring time and I am not skipping about it yet. My lips are chapped, my kids a whiner, and I am always running out of time!

Sheesh, that made me feel a bit better. This morning after I dropped my kids off at school, I thought I should get home and get to some of the things I need to do. I realized why I don't run off after dropping them off though. It is my only time to connect with other adults after the chaos of getting them out of the door. I crave those few brief connections I make before I go about my day. This morning I saw a friend who recently lost her dad. I hugged her, we chatted about politics, family, wills, and how we spent our twenties trying to get away from out parents and now we would do anything to be closer to them. I had a bit of a cry, and as we parted ways we hugged again. I really needed it, and took it in.

Yesterday, my son was being really testy. He is definitely going through a rough week himself. He is asserting his independence a lot lately. I doubt he could be much ruder about it. He wants my husband over me from the moment he wakes up. If I am the first person he sees, he lets me know instantly that he is disappointed. It's a pretty awful way to be greeted first thing in the morning. He is obsessed with candy and TV, so when we remind him that we aren't giving in to either one of those requests at 7 in the morning, it's an instant meltdown. There are a lot of tears, usually his. Yesterday, out of nowhere though, he came up to me and gave me a huge hug. I melted. I thanked him and took it in.

Last night, my husband and I were both exhausted. It was after 9 when we finally sat down just the two of us. It was the first time all day that we could discuss something other than the kids. I brought up things that we need to get done, and after a long day of work that was the last thing he wanted to hear. We got into an argument, which is not the norm for us, and he got up and said he was going to bed. It was just a case of poor topic and timing on my end, and it was a pretty awful way to end the day. I sat on the couch for a while, trying to figure out how to turn it around. I didn't come up with anything except to put the day to rest.

When I went upstairs, my daughter was still awake. She was having trouble sleeping and so I sat next to her. She could tell I was upset and she asked if I was okay. When I told her I was sad, she asked why. I answered that I didn't exactly know why. She took me in her arms and hugged me. She rubbed my back, and I took it in.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Seat Beans


The second child often doesn't get the same kind of baby book the first does. My husband took pictures of me pregnant every week with both pregnancies, but only one got an album made. I also kept a great pregnancy journal with the first. The second's is sporadically filled in. When my daughter was born I brought the brand new baby journal with me to the hospital to begin filling in her details. With my son I never even bought one. My friend who is a third child jokes that her parents filled in her sister's baby books but she stubbled on hers and it never made it out of the wrapper.

Now my son is four and a half, and my daughter is eight.  Before I forget all the first things they have done, I want to also remember the last time they do them. We ride our bike to school and my son still fits in the toddler seat on my bike. His head is right in front of mine.This is one of my favorite times of the day because we are so close to each other and that I get to see things the way he does. Along with my daughter we pass a block that has a lot of snails, and everyday we count them on the way to school. I made a decision that no matter how rushed we were, I will always slow down to count the snails. I love listening to them find them and count them out loud.

Every night we cuddle up to read books. My son gets two books before bed and we read them together with my husband in our bedroom. My daughter is into her own chapter books now, so she usually reads in her bed until I am done putting her brother to sleep. After I read him his books, I put him in his bed, say goodnight and then he will ask me to check on him in one minute. I come back in one minutelater and say sweet dreams. His reply has been "Seat Beans" until this week. He said it correctly "sweet dreams.” There goes another last.

Bedtime reading has changed with my daughter too. We can no longer read her books. That last happened when she discovered her love of reading in first grade. Now we cozy up on her bed at night, each of us reading our own books. It is one of may favorite parts of the day and I hope it stays forever.  Today is the first day back to school after holiday break. As parents said goodbye to all the slow moving kids, who were out of the routine, a parent said,"Here is to the second half of third grade!" This is the fastest moving slow time I have ever experienced. 


I remember the day I came home from the hospital with my newborn son. My husband was carrying him up the stairs to show my daughter. I walked behind them and as he called to her to look at her baby brother, she called out, "Is mama home?" Up until the moment I had left to deliver her brother, her mommy was all hers. We were so bonded and when we brought a new little person into the mix, we were all a bit thrown. We now move as foursome quite well. Sure, there are days where we get on each others nerves, but more often than not we are stopping to smell the roses together. We just have to remember to hold those inhales a bit longer, since the blooming happens rather quickly and we don't want to miss anything.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Smile!

There are many things that I am, but shy is not one of them. I am usually pretty friendly, and on a typical day I smile at most people I walk by. This wasn't always the case. Growing up in NYC, rarely did you smile at anyone while you walked down the street.If we did our face would hurt from smiling because there are too many people to smile at, and anyway no one is really looking at each other. Everyone is too busy trying to get somewhere.  It would be like people in LA trying to smile at every driver they drive by in a car. It just doesn't happen. When I pass by people now though, I smile. You never know whose soul it might warm that day.

This has been an interesting time of year for friendliness. A lot of people are on edge with the state of our country. There has been so much division, haters and an uneasiness has fallen upon many of us. If nothing else, I think a smile might be the smallest gesture of "we are in this together" that is needed right now. I have been teaching mindfulness to the classes in my daughter's school. I teach the kids about eye contact, about noticing themselves and the people around them. As I left the school today I was thinking of my own lesson, and I took it to heart.

My husband and I both have aging parents, and we got some not so great news yesterday about one of them. I was in the middle of a lunch with someone when I got the call, and I was too shocked to finish my lunch. There is a time and a place fore faking it, and then there is a time to be real. Tears filled my eyes as I told her what I had just heard. I processed out loud as much as I could before losing all words. I excused myself and told her I was too distracted and needed to leave. There might not be the "right" words to say, but people understand.

Our heads have been occupied by confusion, sadness, worst case scenarios and prayers. We have been putting up our best stiff upper lips, going on about our days as best as we can. As I came home from taking the kids to school, I ran into a friend on his way to work. We went through the regular chit chat, and then I asked him how he was. He confessed that he is suffering. His mom is really sick and he is depressed. He battles between gratitude and "whats the point?”. For a quick moment, judgmentally I was taken aback. Why was he telling me all this? Then I realized he was being honest, and it was helpful for us both to hear each other.

Life is hard. One moment you see rainbows and shooting stars, and the next you could get hurt, or lose someone you love. It's not always fair, but no one is alone. As my father said yesterday when I complained about illness and aging, "No one leaves this planet alive." We need to make the best of the time here and when it sucks, we need to be gentle on ourselves. I passed by a total stranger after walking away from my friend, and she smiled at me. As I smiled back, and felt grateful. Her smile was a little gift and I needed it. It warmed my soul.

















Friday, March 3, 2017

What Breaks Your Heart?

My kids and I went to the park after school recently, and I started talking to some of the other parents hanging at the park. A mom with whom I'm friendly was talking about an event that she had been to the night before. It wasn't quite a motivational seminar as there were no major plans for life changes that came from it, rather thought provoking ideas to take home and ponder. She was explaining a bit of what they did, and who spoke. I was trying to understand what it was, and she told me some of the questions they asked. One of the questions was, "What breaks your heart?". I haven't stopped thinking about this question.

I thought about mental illness, homelessness, war, but my quick answer was the elderly. Personally I have aging parents and so this subject is on my mind a lot lately. I have always been sensitive to the aging though. When I see a senior citizen at the end of their life I get sad because the way people slow down, and fade away is done with so little respect from younger generations. There is very little dignity in getting old. I was discussing this at a dinner recently and a friend joked that her heart doesn't break for the elderly because they can be so annoying. It is true that when we stop being capable of taking care of ourselves and suddenly have to cared for like babies again, it is understandable that crotchety behavior rears its head. I've also watched so many people have to live in pain when they get older. There is a point where doctors often say, "there is not much left we can do to help you." That would put me in a bad mood.

There are so many things that I wish I could change. After a week thinking about it, I became acutely aware of the injustice, racism, hatred and inequality that fills me with rage. I think about the social change that I wanted to see happen in college that is sadly more in need of happening than even then. With time, I understood that there are so many things that break my heart. Depending on the day, week, month, or minute my quick answer will be different. When I think about ageism though I do feel that people generations ahead of me, are wise, and although they may not always be in the most friendly mood, they have a lot more experience living life than the rest of us. Each and everyone of them have lived through more history than I have and have pretty fantastic stories about how freedom and opportunities have changed since they were young. So when thinking about what breaks my heart, I can answer it quickly but it is a complicated answer. I didn't even go to this workshop and I have gotten so much out of that question. I have begun to open my eyes to what my part is in working towards change. If there is something I feel is unjust, I want to do more than simply identify my feelings. 


What breaks your heart?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Piano Recital

My mother was a concert pianist. She went to Performing Arts High School, Manhattan School of Music, studied with the best of the best teachers and was even a soloist at Carnegie Hall. Suffice to say, she knows a thing or two about playing the piano. When I was a little girl, it was a given that I would take music lessons. Wanting to follow my sister's footsteps, I took violin first. My brother played the French-horn and eventually my mother started me in piano lessons. She was smart enough to know that teaching me herself wasn't wise, but what she didn't expect was that she would have listen to me practice and not chime in. She couldn't help herself and after a short time, I was done with piano lessons.

That wasn't the end of music in the house at all. My sister continued violin and went on to be in a chamber orchestra, my brother continued French-horn, and every afternoon my mother taught piano lessons in our living room. Her students were made up of friends, neighbors, and a few non-english speaking music prodigies. Somehow the language of music could be taught with out words, and it filled the house from the moment I got home from school each day. While I had snack after school, there was a lesson. While I did my homework, a lesson. While my dad cooked dinner, another lesson. I was accustomed to whispering in my own house, and I didn't like it. Sure my exposure to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were more than the average kid my age, but I began to resent the piano.

My form of "rebellion" was to take up a sport. I began figure skating and I fell in love. I was a rink-rat; I was happier at the rink than anywhere else. I loved all that skating was. Something I could do that was just mine. I loved the speed that I could move when gliding on the ice. I loved landing jumps, skating clothes, putting together routines with my coach, I loved my coach, I loved spinning, and I loved that I found something I was good at. My confidence grew and at the end of the first year of lessons, I was heading to my first competition.

I was no stranger to performing. In fact, I loved that too. I had always loved to act, and sing. I had done theatre, and had been part of productions with large audiences. I wasn't afraid of a crowd. Performing was always part of the practice, and I knew that from watching my mom with her students. She would always hold a recital once or twice a year in our living room. I would sit on the couch or the floor with all the other students and listen while they went up one by one to play their pieces. If they messed up I never noticed, and if they were nervous I never noticed that either. I just remember a series of well played pieces that I heard over and over again in my home, but this time with out any breaks in between. When all of the students were done playing my mother always served cookies and juice. It was usually Pepperidge Farms Milano cookies, which would never make an appearance in our house except for piano recitals.

When I performed, my adrenaline would kick in and I felt my energy lift, and I enjoyed every minute. When I took to the ice for my first skating competition I expected the same feeling, but it didn't come. In it's place were nerves. My legs felt shakey, I felt distracted by the newness of the rink I was skating on for the first time. My music began to play and I felt like my body was skating without me. My mind was trying to keep up, and my heart was off doing it's own thing entirely. I made it through the program, but it wasn't fun. I didn't fall that first time, but it wasn't graceful. When the marks came out I was tenth place out of twelve. When I reunited with my heart it felt broken.

Performing and competing were not at all the same for me. Skating is also not a forgiving sport. Unlike acting, when you mess up a word you can fix it without anyone noticing, when you fall not only does everyone see, you also get judged for it.  In all my skating I only won one gold metal, a handful of silvers and bronzes but more often than not I didn't stand on the podium.  Competing wasn't my favorite part of the sport, but I did the best I could. The lessons form losing, and the confidence from trying were worth every minute.

My daughter started piano lesson almost a year ago. Like my mother, my husband is also a piano player. I warned him ahead of time that we need to keep our hands off the piano while she is practicing unless she asks for help. So far, she is loving it, and we are both proud of how much she has learned. Saturday, she had her first piano recital. She had two pieces to preform and she had been practicing them for the last couple of months. There were almost thirty students playing, and she was at the end of the first half. All through the players before her, she reminded me she didn't need me to come up, she wasn't going to bow, and she rejected any advice I had. She was a little nervous, but she walked up to the piano with confidence. She played her first piece just how she had practiced it. The second was going smoothly until the very end when the notes just didn't come out right. She stumbled for a few seconds and then fixed her mistake and ended the piece. She stepped away from the piano and her face was red. She held it together until she sat down. She was about to cry but was able to turn it around. I pointed out to her how many students were making mistakes, and that nerves play a big factor. I explained how everyone was in together and that was okay to make mistakes.

After the recital she was relieved to be done, but also proud of herself for getting up in from top everyone and playing. Refreshments were served afterwards, and just like after piano recitals at my house, there were cookies and juice. There must be a note in the piano teachers handbook about cookies and juice. That one time in my skating that I won a gold medal, my parents took me home and regretfully explained they had plans that night and couldn't cancel. To this day my mother is upset with herself, that she didn't get to celebrate with me that day. At the time it didn't upset me. I was so happy I think I stared at that medal all night, but seeing it from a mother's perspective, I can see how she felt bad. I thought of that Saturday after the show. We had plans to go to someone's house together as a family, but it wasn't related to celebrating her. I'm not sure if trying to overcompensate would have been the right thing, or if going on about business and reminding her through the night how proud I was of her was enough. Just like everything else in parenting, we figure it out as we go, and when we mess up we do our best to fix it and try to finish off on a good note
.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stay On Target

Shopping has never been my thing. The sound of clothing hangers screeching along and clicking into each other is up there with nails on a chalkboard. That action of mindlessly looking at one piece of clothing after another just screams of time wasting to me. Sure, every now and again I hit the retail lottery and find a shirt I like in the right size -- but when time is money this is a costly hobby. I've always tried my hardest to get in and out of clothing stores as quickly as possible. In junior high, I somehow (likely peer pressure) was in a teen group at the Bloomingdale's down the street from my house. It was sponsored by Mexx, and all I remember is that I learned you could wear a tube top and it could double as a skirt. I'm sure parents were thrilled to see such valuable information being taught to their young impressionable daughters. I would get lost in the store at the end of the class. Not because I was busy looking at stuff, but because the perfume smell, the persistent sales people, and the mannequins would distract me from trying to find the closest exit.

Today I still have little patience for clothes shopping. I do it when I have to, but I don't enjoy it. My mother taught me to just buy it, try it on at home, and then go back if need be to return. She lived walking distance from stores in NY though so that wasn't as much of a waste of time as that would be here. I now have three people to shop for. I somehow love buying kids clothes more than I ever did for myself. Don't get me wrong: I love new clothes, I just don't like going on a scavenger hunt for them.

Then suddenly, everything profoundly changed when Target entered my life. Target did something right. If there aren't support groups out there for Target addicts there should be. I love Target so much it feels unhealthy. I have a Red Card that now takes the first slot in my wallet over all my other credit cards. I live dangerously close to one Target, and a short drive from two others. I've read that study on de-cluttering your life, and putting an end to consumerism -- I understand it, but Target keeps calling to me.

The whole layout of a Target was done so strategically. Place knick-knack bargain items that appeal to any child or any crafty bargain hunting adult, and you have successfully suckered victims into purchases before they even remember what they came to the store for. Oh Target knows how to Target, they have the woman and girls stuff first. They know who is buying. Then as you attempt to get to the home needs section on your right you will be very much distracted by the home wants section on your left. More crafts, cool vases, faux taxidermy and other random eye catching items that you definitely don't need. I seem to justify a trip to the store for a bottle of soap and then end up with $85 worth of stuff. I know I am not alone in this.

Recently improvements were done to our local store. Thank goodness they didn't have to close during renovations. I don't know what I would have done. They did have to temporarily close the Starbucks. That was a big problem for me since I enjoy a nice iced beverage while I Target. Two corporate addictions quenched in one trip is a good day for all. I have thought more than once that Los Angeles does have earthquakes from time to time. I have recently thought of this when buying earthquake supply kit materials from Target. Where else? At home I have a back pack filled with some bars, water and a blanket. I worry about being stuck at home during an earthquake, but I fantasize about being stuck in a Target during an earthquake. I know, I have a problem.

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