Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

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RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT? – 5 Things I Remember About Middle School That I Bet Are Still True…

middle school locker

Whether it’s 30 years or 50 years, Jan Wilberg’s universal truths about middle school ring true today.

I read her post and flash backed to the cans of Aqua Net arranged on my nightstand, the pages of Teen Beat that lined my locker walls, and how I seemed to be in love every other Tuesday. And although I would NEVER want to do it again, I must admit thinking about pubescent electricity made me smile. Thank you, Jan.

Red's Wrap

Middle school was a critical juncture in my life.Of course, this is only occurring to me now, fifty plus years after the fact. Here are five things I remember about middle school which I bet are still true today.

Changing classes meant I could change, too. In Science, I sat with my partner and prayed for invisibility. In English, I was reprimanded for interrupting and being sarcastic. In Art, I believed the teacher when she said it didn’t matter what my piece looked like. It was all about the technique. Each class in the day was a chance to shake off what had happened in the previous class, good or bad, start over, put on a new hat. I loved this because I’d spent the last months of elementary school waiting (in vain) to be called on to give a report on the Roman God Janus, each day was…

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What’s Your Story?

Small world sign

Mac leaned across the handrail to get the lay of the ride’s land as he commentated into the iPhone.  “The happiest cruise that ever sailed.  It’s a Small World is the only thing I remember about my first trip to Disneyland, and I remember everything about it.  Even the boats are the same.  That was 1968.”

My wide-eyed husband entertained our boys with his broadcast as we herded our way around the corral, down to dockside, and into holding pen number three.  Mere seconds passed before our craft expeditiously floated into place.  We boarded, sitting four across in the center row: Me, five-year old Skootch, big brother Bubbe and Mac.

“Mom and Dad, there are 16 in the boat.”  A divine voice with an undertone of Disney princess addressed the crowd from a microphone equip cotton candy hued canopied chair perched above our heads.

Our crew patiently waited for the boat in front of us to move.

It didn’t.

The Divine Princess spoke again.  “Sit the child on your lap so there are only 15 in the seats.”

As I thought, Who is she talking to? my quads seized, chest blotched, and shoulders went stiff.

Oh crap! She means us. 

The disembarking Happy Boats stacked up behind ours while lines of guests stared us down in the midday sun.

“Take him,” I ordered Mac.  He reached across and hoisted Skootch up.

“I want to sit next to Mom!”  Our brawny boy wrestled his way off of Mac’s lap, knocked into his brother who fell into me.  The ride rocked.  Passengers braced.

“Leave the boat,” I instructed my husband.  Mac returned to the dock to await the next cruise.

I counted fifteen passengers.  Problem solved.

“All four of you get off and wait,” the princess summoned.  “I said all four.”

“No!  I want this boat!” snapped Skootch.

I shooed Bubbe to shore and stepped over my stuck puppy hoping his fear of abandonment would set in.

It did.

“Okay Okay I’m coming,” he said.

Back in pen three, I stared at the concrete, gripping my boys’ hands for moral grounding until the new boat slipped into place.

Again, we sat four across.

Still displeased, the Divine Princess made a final pronouncement.  “Sit two and two.”

Mac and Bubbe moved up a row.  Skootch stayed with me for safekeeping.

At long last, the happiest cruise set sail.

Small world boat

Serenaded by the world’s children, our shipmates marveled at the unfolding spectacle in Mandarin, German, and English as we drifted through the tunnel.

Skootch hardly cracked a smile.

He skeptically squinted at Alice

Small world Europe

and curiously cocked his keppe at the carpets overhead.

it's a small world

Jiggled ever so slightly to the jarabe

Small world South America

and silently shimmied his way through the South Pacific.

Small world, south pacific

It wasn’t’ until Skootch was embraced by a chorus of children adorned in white and gold that he completely settled into the experience.

Small world finale picture

Our exiting vessel halted just shy of the Divine Princess’s throne.  “So what did you think?” I asked.

My son looked up with a cheeky grin and sang,

It’s a small world after all.

When Disneyland celebrates its 100th anniversary, perhaps Skootch will be the father leaning over the handrail recording into a device.

“The happiest cruise that ever sailed.  It’s a Small World is the only thing I remember about my first trip to Disneyland, and I remember everything about it.  Even the boats are the same.  That was 2015.

Kids, let me tell you something.  This small world is filled with harmony, variety, and life.  But if you truly want to enjoy the ride, sometimes you have to heed a higher voice, leave Mommy’s lap, and switch boats.”

On a recent visit out west, we squeezed in our first family trip to Disneyland between the measles outbreak and the park’s 60th anniversary.  Recalling our Small World experience at a Passover Seder, we were surprised to hear how many guests could relate.  From getting kicked out of a park for mischievous mischief to being trapped on It’s a Small World, it seems everyone had a Disney story.  This one is ours.

One, Lucky Granddaughter

Gram and me as a baby

Brain Child Logo

Mothering Mag logo

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 Hovel

cherry blossom tree pic

Here in the Northeast, the mourning doves are cooing again.  The sound reminds me of the spring I was pregnant with my first son.  That year, a couple built a nest in a cherry blossom tree outside the window of our soon to be nursery.  When we brought him home from the hospital, two eggs hatched from the nest.  The family took a liking to our Urb-Burb neighborhood and set up permanent residence.

Each season, after the first buds appeared my son, Bubbe and I would sit in his rocker, peer down onto the pink and red blossoms, and watch for the doves.  When the birds returned, much like my growing boy, they were a little bigger, bolder, and wiser.  Our rocker time evolved into a game of I Spy for him and a welcomed mother and son tradition for me.

This spring things are different.  One year ago our family said goodbye to the doves, that glorious tree, and our home of two decades; The Hovel.

The Hovel was originally my husband’s place.  Mac purchased the quaint, turn of the century Victorian style house in the late eighties using money his father had left him in his will.

For a dozen years, he rented out spare bedrooms to supplement mortgage payments to, as a friend described, “a parade of cretins.”  Rock stars, sparrow heads, and a couple of regular guys made up the crew.  Together they enjoyed poker games, Tyson fights, dates, beer, and general shenanigans.  It was good fraternity house fun.

Around the time Y2K threatened to destroy our technological way of life, domesticity disrupted The Hovel’s rhythm.  I moved in.  Newly engaged, moderately enthusiastic, and abundantly neurotic I immediately commenced The Hovel’s fumigation.

Curtains went up.  Neighbors took notice.  The family to our right, who had yet to acknowledge my husband, invited us to go for ice cream.  When I planted flowers in the front yard, the elderly lady across the street yelled, “It’s about time!”  And after single handedly de-jungling overgrowth that swallowed the side yard, the father to our left said, “Whatta ya know, you have nice property.”

My newly betrothed begrudgingly went along for the ride.  Mac eventually got over the domestication hype; but so did I.  As projects piled up, responsibilities ensued, and my husband’s stubborn connection to The Hovel became evident, my enthusiasm waned.  I wanted out.

Then Bubbe was born, followed a few years later by The Skootch.  Our children breathed life into The Hovel.  She started to feel more like home.

But as they grew, her quaintness became claustrophobic.  I felt burdened by the upgrades and upkeep.  I wanted out again.  Each time I suggested a move Mac repeated the mantra, “People live with less.  We know what we have.  It’s a good house.”  I cursed him and The Hovel.  He was gum stuck in a sneaker groove and I resented it.

Well into my seventh year of scraping, Mac finally caved when my tune changed from lack of space to lack of confidence in the schools.  We prepared the house and put her on the market.  Two weeks later I received a new lease on life; The Hovel sold.

The evening before we closed, I stopped by to finish cleaning.  Our home stood empty; a hollowed, lifeless shell.  I went up to the nursery, looked out the window and for the first time, cried at the thought of losing her.

Too sad, I avoided that Urb-Burb neighborhood until recently when I had to pick up a package that was accidentally delivered to The Hovel.  The new owner offered to give me a tour.

With the exception of a fresh coat of exterior paint, a stately historic house plaque, and some thoughtful, decorative touches the house was more or less the same.  My brain rewinded like a mixed tape of greatest hits.

There was the living room; home to cushion forts, flying sessions, and makeshift mini-golf holes.  The kitchen countertop where the boys took their first sponge baths and Bubbe sniffed spices, always tasting the cinnamon.  The familiar nicks in the floor cabinet that The Skootch emptied daily to make drum kits from pots and skillets.

We walked through the dining room that hosted two brises, several Seders, countless birthdays and our first Christmas tree, and across the pine wood floor where my little guy took his first bowlegged steps.

I peeked in the narrow, upstairs bathroom where the boys innocently called from the window to their friends below to let them know they were out of the bath and naked, stepped around the iron floor registers whose ducts no doubt still housed my big guy’s marble collection, and admired the dent in the attic carpet where his bed once stood.

Outside, I gazed at the corner of the driveway where Bubbe and The Skootch shot hoops with Mac and smiled at the garden hose that fed a cascading irrigation system that always seemed to run long after I told the boys to stop wasting water.

The owner and I said our goodbyes at my favorite place, the front porch, where Mac and I spent endless evenings just trying to figure it all out.

It was strange to be in a space that I knew intimately, looked similar, still felt a connection with but knew didn’t belong to me.

But it was okay.

It was okay to mourn the loss of my house.  The lack of the tangible did not erase the intangible.  I no longer have the setting, but I still have my stories.  Thankfully, those memories will live for as long as my brain allows.

Leaving The Hovel behind was not a sad occasion but a passing of the torch.  She will always be the first home Mac and I made; the place where our children spent their first night after coming home from the hospital, and the place where we loved, laughed, grew, built friendships, and became a family.

To the new owners; as you welcome your newest addition this spring, keep an eye out for those doves.  Embrace the blossoms.  Write your stories.  Cherish your memories.  Love The Hovel.

We know you’ll take good care of her.