Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Round Trip Home

Last year I surprised my dad and flew back to New York for his 90th birthday. This has become a thing in my family - to randomly show up in different states or countries to surprise each other for birthdays. I did it ten years ago when I showed up in Israel at a restaurant to be there for my dad's then 80th. I was four months pregnant and it was not an easy trip but it was worth it just for the look on his face when I walked in. This past weekend my mom turned 80 and this time, I walked through the door during dinner, and my brother walked in a few hours later during dessert. It was pretty special, and we feel pretty grateful to be able to be together.

The first time I left my kids was a big one, when I went to Cuba for five days. It was so hard, and my heart ached for the first two nights. I had an amazing time, but travel alone felt odd after all the travel I've done with kids in tow. My dad's 90th was the second time and this year was the third. Again it felt strange. It was so easy to pack for just one person. I got out the door so easily and through the airport so quickly. It was all so quiet. I slept on the plane and read my book. I didn't talk to anyone for hours and I felt so still. By the end of the flight when I landed, I missed them though. I navigated the train from the airport, to the bus, to my parents house, in freezing weather (remembering at least one big reason I chose to live in LA.).

My husband, kids and I were just there last week so when I walked in the door after being gone only a week, I said " I think I forgot my glasses here." That was my daughter's idea and after the initial shock of me walking in, everyone had a good laugh. A few hours later when my brother unexpectedly walked in, my mother literally did a double take. We had a great night and played many rounds of ridiculous card games. We helped my sister prep for my mom's big party and went to bed. My parents have lived in the same house for over 50 years, so no definition of home could explain the familiarity I have with theirs. To be around the table with my parents, sister and brother for the first time in years, took me back. There were no spouses and no kids, so it was the exact same room and same people I sat with night after night throughout my childhood. I suddenly felt this tug between by two families. My heart tried to find a place to land with both the family I grew up in and the family I created.

The party was festive and filled with friends of my parents I've known my whole life. Everyone was older. Everyone was celebrating my mom though and it was a happy day. Since there is no big birthday coming up next year, I wondered when I'll see all these folks again, and I suddenly got sad. With life as busy as it is, the distance between NY and LA feels farther, and the visits fewer. Not to mention the cost of flights for not just me but for all four of us. I worry that the next time I see all of my parents' friends in our family home again could be when we lose one of them, and immediately following that thought the word "no" audibly came out of my mouth. The layers of denial I have about losing my parents is thick. I cannot think of it without crying, so I don't indulge those thoughts too often.

My parents have a lot of passion for life and it seems hard to imagine that changing anytime soon. They may move slower now, with more aches and pains, but they still force themselves out and about the city to see shows, music and friends. My dad aways says as long as he can, he will. As always, saying goodbye was not easy. I don't have a next visit planned and I'm not sure when they might come here. I got home and hugged and kissed my kids and husband. I was home, just like I was home there. I felt off balance again as my heart jumped between my two families. I wonder how many of these trips alone are ahead of me. You don't think about how far 3000 miles is when everyone is young and healthy.  In the meantime, I will follow my dad's advice and as long as we can, we will. I hope there are a few more major birthdays to celebrate all together. Le Chaim!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

She's Back

There are over eight years difference between my sister and me. My parents had a daughter and a son, two years apart. When their kids were about seven and five they packed up their city life for a year and headed to Israel and Europe for an adventure. After being told they could not conceive anymore children, they were in for a surprise when more than halfway through their trip, my mother discovered she was pregnant. Suddenly, the family of four became five, and I am pretty sure I may have rocked the boat a bit here and there along the way.

With such a big age difference, my sister and I definitely didn't sit down and play together. I did look up to her in a major way though. My parents both worked and I spent a lot of time in the care of my big sister. I wanted to follow her footsteps, and loved when she would put rainbow glitter on my nails to match hers, draw hearts on my red down jacket, or take me to see Gandhi with she and her friends. I would never admit it then at age 7, but I was bored out of my mind. I just really wanted to be with her, so I was willing to sit through a three hour movie that went completely over my head, just to sit next to her.

When I was nine, my sister left for a year to move to Israel. A year is a very long time when you are nine, and it devastated me to have to say goodbye to her. She wrote me long letters on those old air mail pieces of stationery, we sent her care packages from home and we went to visit her one time in the middle of the year — but I truly missed her. Little did I know that once she came back at the end of that year, that she would soon after leave for college. Despite never being geographically close again, our relationship was still strong. A couple of years, marriages and children later, she came for a visit to LA. It became clear within a day or two that we hadn't really spent time in the same place in years, and that you can't always pick up where you left off. It was a bumpy visit, and I felt like we had to get to know each other all over again. By the time we started to, she was back on a plane to Israel.

A year and half ago, she asked if I would meet her in Cuba. It was a last minute decision, and one that I am so glad I said yes to. We reconnected over mojitos, sightseeing, and beach days. A year after that she and her youngest son moved back to New York. This move was something I had wished for many years ago. Now, I no longer live there, but it doesn't matter. Having her that much closer is everything. As my parents get older, it is a huge relief to have her living close to them. It is also a pretty beautiful thing having my sister back. We talk all the time, we are involved in each others lives, and we are making up for lost time now. I am so happy to have my big sister back.