A Pleasant Passover

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Kveller

Born into a Catholic family with a Jewish surname, I should have expected that I would one day find myself leading a Passover Seder.

To date, Mac and I have hosted eight Seders, seven of which I’ve had the honor to lead. This role was bestowed upon me after my Jewish husband concluded that in light of my organized, creative, teacher-like nature, I was the right person for the job. The trade off was food prep, which he happily agreed to tackle. Not one who enjoys cooking, I acquiesced. Besides, the man makes a mean brisket.

I love a good Passover Seder.

The parallels to the Easter story coupled with the springtime symbolism and my personal affection for The Ten Commandments movie make Passover a welcomed and relatable holiday.

The Seder service creates a setting where both the newcomer and the experienced guest feel connected.

It’s a forum to discuss physical and emotional freedom, think about the responsibility one has to repair the world, question injustice, and reflect on values and relationships. The Story of Exodus and the blessings translate into modern life and are meaningful for young and old, regardless of ethnicity or faith.

Lastly, the traditions are designed to keep children engaged, which make it easy to add elements of fun.

I didn’t always love a Seder.

In the beginning, I found it a tough ceremony to swallow. I felt like the token Christian; the stranger in the wrong outfit eating the matza out of order. The structure of the service confused me and the intensity associated with staying on task gave me the perfect excuse to keep quiet. I felt excluded by the deluge of Hebrew spoken by those in the know and in general, lost; drowned in a Red Sea of rigidity, pomp, and circumstance. For years, I couldn’t wait to suck down that fourth cup of wine and hightail it home.

Determined to do right by my Catholic self and our Jewish children, I set out on a mission to create an outreach friendly Seder.

I compiled a Hagaddah chock full of catchy ditties, kid friendly verses, and hands on plagues. I switched up the order of the service, made the blessings accessible in English and Hebrew, added passages about civil rights and the human condition, and offered readings that would appeal to different belief systems.

It took a few years to earn our Seder hosting chops, but eventually Mac and I found something that worked for us.

Fast forward to Passover 2014.

Walking by a local church the morning of Passover I noticed a passage carved into the steeple.

How wonderful it is

How pleasant for God’s people

To live together in harmony

Psalm 133

I thought about our Seder guests. That evening, sixteen people; Jews, Catholics, Muslims, a son of Methodist missionaries, family, old friends, and new faces would gather around our table in Pleasantville like a bona fide interfaith, intergenerational jamboree.

As suspected, it turned out to be just that.

We waited to kickoff the festivities so my Muslim neighbor could run home to say her afternoon prayers.

My father, a good ole boy and the son of Methodist missionaries who has a mezuzah affixed to his doorpost out of respect for our Jewish ancestors, joined us for his first Seder and my first holiday with him since I was a baby.

Adults and young people alike wore sunglasses to symbolize darkness, the ninth plague and enjoyed an enthusiastic food fight of marshmallow hail.

Twenty somethings and teenagers were just as jazzed as the under ten population to hunt for the Afikomen.

The widow and sister of a dear friend, a devout Irish Catholic who always attended our Seders but passed away a few years ago, recited the concluding poem together, a job historically reserved for him.

And when the Seder ended that sister, a retired high school special education teacher, mother of four and grandmother who attends daily mass, and a Passover newcomer stood up and addressed the group. She shared,

We are a society of self-absorbed immediacy. It seems that all anyone cares about today are the latest trends, the hottest stars, and themselves. It is important to pass on traditions, talk about ancestry, tell stories, and make connections to the past. Doing this creates a necessary foundation for our children. For me, the Seder represents hope and a renewed determination to keep ALL the traditions we have alive and fun.

Then she took our Hagaddah home to use as a teaching aid in her Catechism class.

Three days later, a gust of anti-Semitism blew through the dining room and knocked me off the kumbaya cloud as I read about yet another account of worldwide religious intolerance and persecution.

This time it was an article about Jewish residents in the Ukraine who were stopped outside the synagogue after Passover services by masked men, and handed a leaflet citing that anyone over the age of sixteen was required to register themselves and personal property as Jewish or face deportation.

I was not raised Jewish. I did not convert to Judaism. But as a person raising Jewish children, the institutional nature of the attempt made me sick. It made me angry. It hit home for this Mama Bear.

So to the bigots who ordered, printed, and distributed the leaflets; raspberries and middle fingers to you.

And to all those who continue to hurt others because of or in the name of religion, I invite you to climb down from your bully pulpit.

Take off the mask, put down your weapon

Grab the marshmallows, slip on the sunglasses

And join my family for a Pleasant Passover; there are sixteen people who value freedom, tradition, inclusivity, harmony, and humanity that we’d like you to meet.

One, Lucky Granddaughter

Gram and me as a baby

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Two weeks ago, I lost my grandmother to cancer.  The disease engulfed Dot’s body almost as quickly as she learned the diagnosis.

When the doctors assured she still had a few weeks, I returned home, gathered my notebook, and made big plans to capture my grandmother’s talkative mood.

My mind raced with possibility; perhaps, as Jewish tradition teaches, Dot could fulfill the 613th mitzvah and write a Torah, a personal 10 commandments thus sealing her life scroll or perhaps, as a member of her church’s quilting guild she could share patch ideas for a memory quilt.

But by the time I got back to my grandmother’s bedside, she was already in a final sleep.  Weeks whittled to hours.  Before sunrise, she was gone.

Dot’s death was beautiful; swift, pain free, and at home surrounded by loved ones.  Her last days, passing, and funeral were a fluid waltz.  Everything fell into place as if she was the choreographer.

Without her words, I stretched my accordion memory file in search of tucked away treasures.  Two stepped forward; Sweet 16 and Oh Definitely.

Each birthday, my grandmother would caw over her candles, “I’m sweet sixteen and never been kissed.”  Sixteen was her forever age; the age at which she liked to see herself.

Pic of Gram sweet 16

Any time Dot emphatically agreed with a point, she broke her silence with a high pitched, “Oh, definitely!”

More memories began to surface.  My notebook soon filled to form Dot’s Sweet 16 of Definite-lys.

Definitely…

1.     Listen for understanding.  When conversing with others, don’t uh-huh, right, or yes them.  Take it all in.  Dot was everyone’s ear; mine included.

2.     Visit the sick.  My grandmother was not afraid to go into the fray.  She recognized that one’s comfort was more important than personal or situational anxiety.  The key to helping those failing feel alive, she recently told me, was to talk about old times.  Present day connections are less meaningful to a lost mind.

3.     Create a warm and inviting home.  Dot raised three daughters on the second floor of a modest, two-family house.  Even as the family grew, her apartment was the place to be; men congregated in the living room, ladies packed around the dining table.  A full home filled my grandmother’s heart.

4.     Keep an open door policy.  Dot always left an empty plate on the table.  Crowds of cousins, neighbors, and friends traipsed through the door in search of company and my grandmother’s eggplant parm, kielbasa, spareribs, and peanut brittle.  No appointment needed.  Guests knew when Dot’s Westminster doorbell chimed, she would welcome them.

5.     Talk to everyone and do it with respect and genuine interest.  My grandmother was well versed in the art of chit-chatting and boy, could she work a room.  From store clerks to politicians, children to commuters, she never categorized or judged.  In recent years, however, she became increasingly disillusioned with technology.  “No one stops to talk anymore,” she said.  It made her sad.

6.     Be a good time Charlie.  Cut a rug, laugh, quip, banter, sing.  Dot loved to tell tales of old boyfriends and reminisce about her young and single watering hole shenanigans.

Gram in curlers

7.     Send cards.  I’m convinced Dot single-handedly bankrolled Hallmark.  My grandmother sent a card to every grandchild, great-grandchild, in-law, daughter and cousin regardless of age for every birthday and holiday, Jewish, Christian, secular or otherwise.  Enclosed was always a personal check and for the little ones, an additional side of cash.  Relatives can’t help but smile when they talk about Dot’s cards.

8.     Watch your television stories, but limit the news; it is depressing and redundant.  When my grandmother told Mac she had to check into a quiet hospital room to escape Fox News, ISIS, and Ebola, he couldn’t help but laugh.

9.     Take advantage of an opportunity but own up to its responsibility.  My grandmother didn’t get her driver’s license until she was a mother of three in her thirties.  She loved to drive.  With a dashboard pat for luck and a tank that never fell below the half way mark, Dot was always on the go.  As her housemate until age five, I don’t remember ever being home before supper.  But when her eyes weakened a dozen years ago, she didn’t hesitate and returned the keys.

10.   Forge ahead.  My grandmother’s limited eyesight was exacerbated by arthritic knees, a temperamental heart, weekly doctor visits, and piles of medication.  Not once did she complain.

11.   Volunteer in your community, house of worship, schools or wherever floats your boat.  My grandmother’s obituary noted her occupation as Homemaker.  More so, she was a chauffeur, troop leader, lunchroom aide, caregiver, church elder, and neighborhood sentinel.  You name it, she did it because for her, the making of homes took a vested village.

12.    Say “I love you.”  Dot had a hard time doing this; showing love was easier.  The last time my grandmother heard me say I love you, she still flicked her wrist and squawked, “I know, I know,” trying desperately to fight the tears.

13.    Avoid self pity.  Dot was a Depression kid from a broken home who left school in the 10th grade.  These experiences never stopped her from embracing life.

14.    Communicate.  My grandmother didn’t speak to her sister for thirty years and regretted the lost time.  “Put all the cards on the table now,” she advised.  “Grudges are worthless.  Life is too short.”

15.    Keep the faith.  Dot had an unwavering commitment to prayer and church; attending and sharing a pew with the same senior ladies each Sunday, often offering the young ministers words of kindness and encouragement.  She held fast to what spoke to her in this universe and at the end, wasn’t afraid to let go.

16.    Love well.  During my grandmother’s final hours, her apartment was filled with family giving to her and my grandfather what she had always given to us: attention, care, support, strength, and comfort.  At her funeral, it was no surprise to hear that strangers approached my grandfather saying, “You don’t know me, but I knew Dot.  She was a special lady.”  My grandmother left an imprint on the hearts of many because above all things, she valued love.

Three days before Dot’s death, The Skootch said goodbye to his great-grandmother.

He stood at the base of the hospice bed and said, “I love you, G.G.”

“You do?” she replied.

“I will miss you when God comes.”

God came; all too soon and all too suddenly it seems and I miss her.

People speak of rocks; Dot was mine.  My grandmother was an exceptional lady who, during the era of her teenage crush, Frank Sinatra but long before Derek Jeter did things her way.

This way, her spirit, and legacy fill me today and always.

I am one, lucky granddaughter.

Most definitely.

Gram and me wedding picture

The Day I Deleted Minecraft; a letter to my son

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Dear Bubbe,

I never intended to do it; really.  One second it was a quivering icon, the next it was gone.  Just. Like. Magic.

Honestly, it brought on a smile.  I’m not trying to be mean.  Chalk it up to a Mommy epiphany, a moment of clarity.  The day I deleted Minecraft, I liberated myself and you of a virtual, addictive burden.  Pressing that shaky, little X ushered you back to real life.  That made me happy.

In the beginning, I was a fan.

Compared to the other choices the video game world has to offer, I could see why you wanted to tap the piggy bank to invest in one that requires players to scavenge for resources, earn survival treasure, design landscapes, construct villages, and defend against intruders.  As a lifelong rock collector, forager of sorts, visual thinker, and creative designer it appealed to many of your natural sensibilities.

A popular topic of discussion at summer camp and later in the school cafeteria, Minecraft was also something to bond over with friends.  Game play and conversations led to art projects, dissecting handbooks, sharing song parodies, and pretend play.  It was a vehicle to stretch your imagination, apply ingenuity, problem solve, and socialize.  So like organized sports, enrichment programs, and play dates, this Mommy approved video game quickly became outsourcing I could justify.

Not only did I feel like I was doing right by your development; it kept you busy, safe, in an earshot and out of my hair all at the same time.  My afternoon was still my own and I didn’t necessarily have to entertain or engage with you all that much.

Then I began to notice screen time and giving up the screen made you cranky and angry.  You responded less to Dad and me, ignored guests, and blew off friends playing outside.  Preferred downtime was spent in the basement; alone in a Minecraft cave.

Even with the game shut off, I was living with a one note Bubbe on Enderman autopilot.  It was all you wanted to talk, draw, write, and think about.  And when The Skootch got access, twice the misery ensued.

So in an effort to find balance, we set up a schedule to earn and limit play time.

It didn’t work.

The timer chime was drowned out daily by your pleading, sometimes screaming voice, “I wasn’t done; I just found iron, I need a diamond sword, a creeper destroyed my supplies and all I have left is a raw chicken!”

It was only after the drama escalated to the point where I found myself ripping the IPad from your grip and yelling back, “Who cares; it’s not real!” that I knew we needed a big change.

All craziness combined led me to Deletion Day.

In the future, I’m not ruling out screen time completely; that would make me a hypocrite but Minecraft was sucking wind from your childhood and it needed to go away.

Proof of my decision came the morning after Deletion Day when I read an article about Steve Jobs; the man who invented the tablet on which you play.  He was brilliant for many reasons, particularly in his choice to limit his own children’s access to technology.

A few hours later, you played with months old Minecraft Legos for the first time and said, “Mom, this is fun.  I never would have known if I kept playing video games.”  I then knew we were heading in a better direction.

Your Lego comment got me thinking more about fun and parent approved outsourcing, both today and when I was your age.

Like you, I kept busy after school and like you, my mother gravitated toward outsourcing.  She didn’t have insight into child development or the value of play, I’m just pretty sure that when she came home from work, she didn’t want to see my face until dinner.

But I didn’t play video games, do gobs of after school activities, or have scheduled dates to see friends.

I was let out of the house and off the leash; in an earshot of only the person on the bike next to me and left in an unstructured and by modern standards, unsafe environment to play pickup games with neighboring kids, defend myself against obnoxious villagers, explore the nearby pond, collect crystals from a stream, build forts, and roam through the woods.

Call it my own, private Minecraft.  No IPad needed.

And it was good fun.

Listen, growing up isn’t easy but parenting isn’t simple.  You can’t always get what you want when you want it, and I can’t always do what makes my life easier.  In an effort to raise you to be a thinking, well adjusted, connected, kind, happy, independent human being I sometimes have to check myself and then love you enough to say

Enough.

Your childhood is just out of my reach, but it is not yet out of yours.  Embrace.  Enjoy.  Experience.  Take time in the real world to discover uncharted lands, dig caves, build cities, mix it up with the villagers, and have adventures.  You’ll be glad you did.

Now go.  I’ll see you at dinner.

I Love You,

Mom

Laundry Room Mishpacha; a Rosh Hashanah Tale

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After Hurricane Sandy, roughly six weeks post Rosh Hashanah 2012, we temporarily moved into my in-laws’ apartment.  The building is home to a number of observant Jewish families, my in-laws included.

Waiting in the laundry room, I noticed a grandma folding clothes while her four-ish year old twin grandchildren, a boy and girl played nearby.

“I’m going to sing a Rosh Hashanah song,” announced the light eyed little guy.

After he got a few lines into his song I said, “That’s a nice tune.”

“He’s a good singer,” Grandma replied.

“Yes.  I haven’t heard that one before.”

Right then his sister whipped her auburn curls, looked me dead in the eye and declared, “That’s because you’re not Jewish.

“Watch what you say to people!” Grandma barked.

Watch what you teach her, I thought.

I bit my lip and explained, “The Rosh Hashanah song I know is different.  It goes like this…”

I sang a few lines of my holiday ditty.  Thankfully the dryer’s buzzer went off.  I took my clothes, wished them a good day and left – fuming.

Why do I have to be Jewish to know a Rosh Hashanah song?  Why did the girl assume I was different than she?  We were in the laundry room, not synagogue and it wasn’t Shabbat.  Could she really have drawn her conclusion simply because I was dressed less conservatively than her grandmother?

It wasn’t clear.

What was clear was this little girl had been taught either directly or indirectly to identify, judge, and draw a conclusion about a person based on one’s appearance relative to the other grown-ups in her life.  As a Christian woman married to a Jewish man who takes pride in raising Jewish children, I felt offended and sad.

This week, my family will celebrate the Jewish New Year.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time of reflection and new beginnings.  Whether you observe or not, perhaps it’s a good time for us to think about the symbolic gestures we feel bring us closer to God.  Although seemingly benign when practiced with a similar group, the question remains;

Do these gestures create an unhealthy divide, particularly when our children form false and hurtful conclusions based on them?

When all is said and done, I personally don’t think God gives a rat’s ass about what clothes we wore, the food we ate, the holidays we observed, or how many times a day we prayed.

It is how we view and treat each other while we are here that matters.

But let’s be realistic; life is wonderfully diverse and so our lifestyles will vary and symbols sustain.  So in an effort to close the gap, let’s be mindful about consistently teaching young people that all religious and cultural perspectives are valid and deserve respect.

Grandma, you and I may have different ways of approaching our day to day living, but my hope is that we embody the same values.  With this New Year upon us, let’s show our children that when we look beyond the laundry room, we are all mishpacha.

Learning to be an Athlete

Yogi Berra or Jim Wohlford (depending upon the Google search)

Yogi Berra or Jim Wohlford (depending upon the Google search)

Summer morning CrossFit classes in my hood are notorious for crew shifts.  Vacationing teachers, students, and corporate types working summer hours show up as the morning unfolds to mix it up with us daytime regulars.

One recent hump day, I walked into our gym to find a swarm of angels.

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Strong, confident, tenacious, fit; nothing stops these ladies.  Not age.  Not kids.  Not career.  Not cancer.  Nothing.  When the tough get going, they step on the gas and when the weights get heavy; these gals find a way to lift them.  They consistently lap my veteran CrossFit ass, leaving me to wallow in their well-sculpted sweat angels.

Sweat angel

They are women who, when asked what they did they did before CrossFit rattle off a lifetime of athletic achievements: college soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and volleyball, gymnast, kayaker, marathoner and trainer.

I adore the Angels.

A salt of the earth group, they play musical chairs in a rainstorm, foster and rescue neglected animals, offer unsolicited hugs for all sorts and no particular reason, and embrace known entities as well as new faces with respect, genuine interest and open arms.

But when a gaggle of them showed for class the same hour, my hour; I felt compelled to back squat with the dust bunnies.

A gritty, tough cookie born with athletic tendencies, perhaps; but an athlete I am not.  I stopped wearing any semblance of that hat just shy of thirteen when I traded it and organized sports in for a drama beret, a couple of mock trial caps, and my model student beanie.

It wasn’t until drinking the CrossFit Kool-Aid two years ago that the notion of being fit enough in my lifetime to be called athlete crossed my mind.  However, after consistent discomfort, fortunately and often surprisingly I am thrilled to share that I’m able to tackle most tests thrown my way.

Still, anytime Coach Herc or BE calls out, “Look at these great athletes getting it done!” I can’t help but half smirk, cock my head, and scan the room because I can’t imagine they are talking about me.

Why?

Because fitness level isn’t enough.  The Angels know this.  What they own is the ability to stay mentally tough when presented with a physical challenge; a nurtured skill from a young age.

This combination is new for me and I have some catching up to do.

But I’m learning.  Learning to…

Relax

Coach BE used to stare me down regularly and say, “Relax Red, relax.”  He was right.  Excess tension wastes energy and I need all the fuel I can get.  Now this two syllable mantra helps me scale hills, get under a clean, and go back for more burpees.

Stay in the moment

During a workout, the same coach stood next to me and said nothing.  His presence, a quiet push, encouraged the kettlebell to keep swinging and me to focus only on that task.  With life darting about, staying in the zone is no easy feat but doing it transforms the unbearable into manageable.

Make a plan, set a pace

My husband, a fellow CrossFitter laughs when I strategize the scheduled workout a day in advance and classmates love to comment on my marked up whiteboard.  Mock they may, but a plan offsets anxiety and marginalizes intimidation.  Pace preserves gas and rationalizes the agony.

Dig and push

When the dark side creeps in and the Angels are on the verge of breaking, they dig deep, shift gears, and turn up the performance. Experience tells them what their bodies can handle and they go for it.  It’s an admirable sight.

Keep it real

Beating myself up and inflicting unnecessary pressure to perform or eat a certain way drains the psyche and limits my ability to grow.  Witnessing Coach Herc’s tabletop foil wrapper glacier as evidence of a devoured bag of Hershey kisses and watching him take time to heal an injury are wonderful reminders that life is a balance and athletes are human.

As the summer winds down and the Angels rejoin their respective crews, I’ll once again be left alone with my WOD notebook, aspirations, and will to learn.  But thanks to these ladies and our coaches, the next time someone yells something about a group of athletes; I’ll be peeling my ears for that ringing bell and peeking over my shoulder,

because this angel is sprouting wings.

Crossfit barbell jump

The Loss of a Therapist

I used to tell people I would never see a therapist.  Then my young marriage to Mac began to crumble.

Having spent a lifetime immersed in family dysfunction, crumbling traveled with me; gaps in the sidewalk were the norm and I was a comfortable expert at skirting them.  It was only when Mac and I tried and failed to get pregnant, and the reality of possibly never adding Mother to my resume sank in that my feet got caught up in the cracks.

Still, I refused therapy.  “We don’t need a shrink,” I told my husband.  “We can deal with problems on our own.  It’s not anyone else’s business.”

Frustrated and tired, Mac took himself to see Amy; a well regarded and highly recommended social worker who conveniently had a home office across town.

“She wants to meet both of us,” he said afterward.  “You need to go to a session so Amy can understand how to help.”

We’d been down the counseling road before, but this was the first time Mac actually met with a person. His suggestion was Amy’s request and there was no talking my way out of it.  With her involved, ignoring Mac’s plea translated into losing him, our marriage, and the prospect of starting a family.  Backed into a corner, I made the appointment.

Amy’s home office was on the second floor of her well kept Tudor style home.  Up a small set of stairs adjacent to the living room, it was a guest bedroom, library, TV room and therapy space rolled into one.  One wall was filled with a pale, but inviting sofa adorned with embroidered pillows partnered with a cubed pouf.  I shoved myself into its corner, scratching my back against the pillow stitching.  The balls of my feet pressed against the base of the cube.  There I sat, stiff with pride ready to convince her that I didn’t need help from any therapist.

Amy settled into an over-sized swivel chair across the room, slid off her flats, and rested a tiny pair of feet on a nearby stool.  Behind her sat a narrow desk flanked by impressively organized wall length shelves.  Magazines, photographs, Judaica, and a sculpture of a molar gave me a glimpse into her private life.   I stared beyond the chair hoping my fascination with the decor might deflect attention from me.  But to no avail; there she sat, petite, blonde, plump, suntanned, manicured and ready to listen.

“Why don’t you tell me about your background; your upbringing,” Amy suggested.

That’s all it took.  As a logical thinker, model student and frugal realist, I knew on some level it made sense to embrace this chance and bank on Amy’s expertise.  The clock was ticking, the check was written, so it was time.  Out it came; the family secret I had harbored for twenty-five years.  When the session was over I knew it was going to be the first of many.  That conversation commenced our eight year relationship.

Whenever we met, Amy escorted me from the front door to the office where I took the customary position.

Because she worked from home, she made it a point to conduct our sessions with arm’s-length professionalism.  Still, Amy managed to convey a maternal sensibility rooted in spirituality and common sense.  I quickly learned that she was a little lady with a powerful presence, a strong sense of justice and an unwavering conviction to improve the lives of others.

Amy always said the right words, gave effective homework, and provided the necessary tools to help me treat wounds, shed skin, and grow up.  Some weeks her office was a welcomed respite; other times a dreaded box.  Regardless, I always felt safe.  Over time, I joined the sofa’s center and let my heels crawl up the back of the ottoman.  Together we worked through my list:

Childhood trauma, abandonment, reconciliation…

Self worth, family, love, intimacy, marriage, faith

Career, pregnancy, birth, motherhood, betrayal …

Initially once a week, then every other; sometimes with Mac, sometimes alone that office, the list, and Amy’s guidance during those first years were a constant.  Inside that space, the only variable was the magazine covers.  Consequently, on the outside I got healthier, my marriage began to mend, and our family grew.

Needless to say, Amy and I had a good thing going.

During year five, things changed.

At the end of one session Amy casually announced, “Tomorrow I’m having a medical procedure.  I will not be working for awhile.”  She confidently handed over contact information for her back up therapist and reassured me she’d return.

Several weeks later, Amy and I reconvened.  I immediately noticed a shift in the tenor of our conversations.  Her approach, albeit professional was more direct.  She also began to sprinkle my therapy with an occasional personal anecdote.

Treatments followed the medical procedure.  Amy shared very little information; only that as a result, she might need to change our schedule.

For months, I sat on the couch and watched her deteriorate; plump shrunk to thin, her blonde hair faded, and the suntanned skin grayed.  Amy seemed tired but determined to live her life.

When her color came back and hair grew thick, Mac and I breathed a sigh of relief.  She shared that whatever growth she had was smaller, but required ongoing medication.  Amy sounded stronger and had a renewed outlook.

Two years and she never used the word cancer, but Mac and I knew.

Then Amy took a downturn; more treatments, more medication.  Each time I saw her, it felt as if she was fighting less for normalcy and more for life.  But because I was her client, our time together was focused on me.  She wanted it that way.  I was deeply concerned about her health but I let her do her job.  Amy wasn’t giving up on me, so I refused to give up on her.

One evening session, her office phone rang several times.  Amy uncharacteristically picked it up.  I noticed her elevated legs were bloated and swollen.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I thought it was the doctor’s office.  Let’s continue…”

When time was up, Amy paused for a moment; long enough for me to believe she was debating her thoughts.  Then she asked the usual question, “Do you want to schedule an appointment now?”

“No, I’m going on vacation,” I reminded her.  “I’ll call you when I get back.”

She walked me down the stairs to the door.  “So we’ll plan to meet in two weeks?”

“Yes.”  Then I said something I got used to not saying, “Thank you, Amy.”

Two weeks later, I went back to her house.  This time, I let myself in; I didn’t go upstairs.  Instead, I joined a group of familiar faces on low, hard, black leather chairs.  I kept my feet firmly planted on the living room rug, hands clasped in my lap.  The faces were Amy’s family.  I was paying a Shiva call.

I listened to her adoring husband share his memories, watched her devoted son, daughter, and pregnant daughter-in-law keep busy, and smiled at her spirited grandchildren as they played on the stairs, disappearing into the office.  These people were no longer the characters in Amy’s anecdotes, the aging images in her photographs, and the fairies that left toy remnants on the rug.  They were real people who lost a cherished loved and I felt sad for their devastating loss.

But it was my loss too.  I was there to pay condolences, but needed some of my own.  Yes, my relationship with Amy was professional; it was also intimate and sacred.  Even though I needed to mourn the loss of my therapist, I resisted the urge.  “Amy was not family or friend,” I thought, “It’s not my place to grieve this woman.”  Surrounded by those closest to her, I felt guilty and unworthy of sympathy.

I soon realized that it was okay to grieve, just not right then.  I spent close to a decade healing in that house but now Amy’s home was no longer my therapy place, and her husband and children were not the ones to console me.  It was again time; to turn inward to my tools and outward to my loved ones.  My work with Amy was done.  I was ready.

As I left, Amy’s husband and I exchanged a knowing glance, smiled and said, “Stay well.”

It has been years since Amy passed away.  Larry and I sometimes talk about her when we have an issue, need to reflect, or feel sad she’s not here.

Recently, we were recalling Amy’s modestly attended funeral.  She was our rock star.  Her work changed my life and saved our marriage.  It will have an impact on us, our children, and family for generations.

“Why wasn’t there a line of mourners spilling from the sanctuary?” I asked.  “Where were all her other fans that day?”

Then Larry reminded me, “Amy was an ordinary lady who happened to do extraordinary work.  She was the best kind of person.”

He was right.  For that, I am grateful.

Two Sides of a Coin

Beach picture of the boys

Bubbe and The Skootch are two sides of a coin.

Bubbe, now a smidge under nine was the two year old who got off the classroom rug at dismissal only after he knew the other children had a place to go and the little guy who sat in the corner and covered his ears at birthday parties.  He is the child who relishes in engineering golf courses and marble runs out of anything he can get his hands on and the boy who recently told me after I advised him to push back as needed, “Mom, I’m not that kind of kid.”

Four year old Skootch, on the other hand, is a one speed, rock and roll, let me smell you ninja machine.  He is the kid who proudly wakes his parents at two in the morning to show us the late night grape juice he poured for himself, the child who sings loudest at birthday parties, the one who pops a balloon and tries to fix it, and the boy who loves a good boxing match.

On a recent family outing, we found ourselves here;

stepping_stones_museum_children

The Celebration Courtyard of a nearby children’s museum.

I’m pretty certain this foamy, cerulean hued open play area is meant to encourage calm but on this particular Saturday it looked more like a loony bin for babes.

Bubbe naturally made a beeline for the blocks.  Swarms of children surrounded the construction materials, moving in and out, taking them at will.  He tried to grab what he could, but the other children kept getting there first.

The biggest boy of the bunch became a regular culprit.  Not a caregiver in sight, this young Lummox grabbed at our son’s small stash again and again without so much as asking.

Bubbe began to hold his temples in distress; his thoughts piercing the cerulean calm.  “What am I going to do; how am I going to manage this problem?”  Thirty seconds of frozen agony seemed like a lifetime for the poor boy.

Our golden-haired fire hydrant watched Bubbe desperately trying to get his bearings, sensed the angst, and swooped in for the rescue.  He marched right up to the Lummox who was twice his size, waved a southpaw, pudgy finger up at him and yelled, “Hey this is our space and you don’t take anything from here!”  Then he stepped in and offered a right hook.

The Lummox jumped back, recoiled, and found a new space from whence to steal.

As soon as The Skootch was confident that Bubbe’s artistic space was clear and safe, he asked his brother, “Ok, now what?”

Bubbe gave the order.  “Go get a couple of blocks.”

“Alright,” The Skootch scurried off and successfully returned with the coveted blue, foamed mass.

For a serious ten minutes, Bubbe constructed and sent The Skootch into the wild as the little boy happily obliged his big brother’s instructions.

Together they created quite the structure.

Too pooped to pop, Skootch lied down in the center of the masterpiece.  “Thank you for building my castle,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” Bubbe replied.

We never expected to have two children; Mac and I were content with one, healthy Bubbe.  The Skootch was a happy accident.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.  Our sons, these brothers, are a gift; to us and to each other.

They are most certainly two sides of a coin, but together their value is immeasurable.