Wonder and Awe

Life is complicated.  The carousel of time often feels like a gerbil’s exercise wheel.

Now that we are adults, we are mostly surrounded by colleagues, other parents, strangers (and just plain strange people), and family.  But not friends.  (And while colleagues, life partners and family can be friends, it isn’t ever simple.)  And, while we may love our lives, our families and our work, “carefree” does not describe any activity that comes to mind.

I think we all go through periods when our self-esteem and our souls feel depleted.  If you are lucky, there is a special place you can go (either in your mind or with your body) for solace, resolve and validation.  And, if you are really, really, lucky, this place is there even if you forget about it for decades.

I am one of these really, really, lucky people.  This weekend, 49 similarly blessed women and I returned to Camp Wingate (and still others were carried to Yarmouth in our hearts and memories).

Once I drove past the camp sign, I was transported to another place and time, where the days were about friendship, nature and self-discovery.

No one could pretend that 30 or more years had not passed and no one tried (ok, I lunged for a ball on the tennis court that will put me in traction, but I digress).

We came to see each other and breathe in the memories of summers as young girls and blossoming women.  And to visit our special place, where we could do anything and be anything.

It is amazing how good the air smelled (still).  How gross the bathrooms are (still).  How thin the mattresses are (still).  How stiff we were in the mornings (now, not then).  How early we wanted to go to sleep (wow, full circle, huh?) but powered through to maximize time with each other.  How the tennis courts got bigger (ok, we just can’t run down those balls any more) and Elisha’s Pond got smaller (“lake” was never really an appropriate word).  How wonderful to catch up while making friendship bracelets in the art studio or playing tennis with wood racquets.

And the comfort that still, among the many unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, mysteries of the universe, are:

  • How did Pearl know and remember every bad (and good) thing each of us did each summer?
  • What were we thinking when we used to walk on the rail road tracks to L’il Peach to buy candy?  It was an active train route!!! 
  • How did Pearl survive our childhoods?   How did we?
  • And why did she keep letting us come back?

But wait, there are a few more:  Where else in the world could I be considered part of an awesome DJ trio for compiling and playing summer pop songs of the 1960s-80s?  Where else could I dance with childlike abandon with my childhood friends and without regard to any rhythmic sequence?  Where else could 40-, 50- and 60-year olds (promise me no one was in her 30s) could have endless hours of fun singing these songs into hair brushes and flashlights and strumming on tennis racquets?

Wingate helped lay the foundations that made us strong, kind, purposeful people.   At campfire, even the words to the Circle Game or Anticipation weren’t so scary because here we were, decades later, standing with the friends of our youth and feeling enveloped by love, and realizing that the goodbyes said decades ago don’t always have to be permanent.

My spirit is revived, my mind is peaceful, my soul is nourished and I left an even bigger piece of my heart at Camp Wingate.

Meanwhile on the other side of town . . . .

Some back story (again).  TLP (our son, the little prince) asked BYP (beautiful young princess) to marry him two years ago.  BYP said, “Sure!!”  And they have been betrothed ever since the tender age of 7 years-old.  The Yiddish name for the relationship between parents of a married couple is “machertunim”.  The mothers are “machertenesters” and the father is a “shver” (not a really pleasant translation).

So, while I was having my well-documented endoscopy, our machertenester was having  laparoscopy to remove her not-quite-burst appendix.

How did we find out?  Our machertenester was emailing from her blackberry to tell us because they had to cancel our dinner plans for tonight.  Really?  Really? That was on your mind as you recover from surgery?

Laparoscopy, open-heart surgery, whatEVERRRR.  Surgery is surgery.

The emails went something like this:

“We have to cancel dinner tomorrow night.  I had my appendix removed this morning.”

[Blogger side bar:  I am thinking, WAIT, WAS THAT WRITTEN IN THE SAME WAY AS, “Sorry, we couldn’t get a babysitter”  ???????  Really, machertenester?   What, all of sudden, you like minimalist and Bauhaus in an emotional context?  Are you too assimilated?]

“OMG, what happened?”

“What do you mean ‘OMG what happened?’ You have an out of office message about an unanticipated absence! I am freaking out!”

“No, you can’t freak out because YOU-U-U had major surgery?”

“Not so major; it was caught before the rupture.  What did you have done?”

“Endoscopy, with Michael Jackson drugs.”

“And you thought you were going to the office after THAT?”

[OK, this conversation is going in the wrong direction.]

“Wait, we are talking about your almost disastrous brush with rupture, peritonitis and shock.”

I look up exactly what happened to Machertenester.  Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

(ruptured appendix)


“I’m fi-i-ine.”

“Should we take the kids? Do you need ANYTHING?”  [I am thinking if she said, “New cable box or blender” I would have gotten it for her.]

“We’ll check in tomorrow.”

Ok, Machertenester is a strong woman.

I don’t care if our kids marry.  She is my machertenester forEVEH.


Dear IFOB (Italian friend of blogger):

First, let me say that I do like your critiques of my views and my blog.  You challenge me to define and refine my positions.  And you are right, recently I conflated three issues: the deficit, taxes and entitlements.

I believe in social programs and safety nets.  Ideologically and emotionally, I am all-in on these.  But we can’t go into debt to provide them. 

If everyone paid taxes even at Bush tax levels with no deductions or loopholes and, excluding war costs, we couldn’t pay for the social programs and safety nets, then we have to re-prioritize and cut.

Unencumbered by facts or education in this matter, I just don’t believe that we would go into debt to provide these programs if people paid their taxes and we didn’t go warring in quagmires.

Separately, we have a huge debt right now.  We spent on credit and now we have to pay the bill.  Forget about the reasons for now.  The bill is big and we owe it.  I think that means higher taxes, at least for a while. 

And just for icing on the cake, President Obama is pissing me off a lot lately.

Oh, and IFOB, I think you still owe me lunch.  We can just eat tuna fish sandwiches — nothing fancy. 


~~ Blogger

Dinner at Eight

POB (partner of blogger) and I have the same couples over for New Years each year.  A decade-old tradition.  But every now again, we like to gather a sub-set of the group for a “mid-semester” dinner.

POB really enjoys cooking new recipes.  But she needs a sous-chef.  I look to my left, I look to my right and then I realize, “le sous-chef, c’est moi”. I am good with that.  We set up a play-date for TLP (the little prince) and the two of us hang out companionably in the kitchen, each at our own stations, chopping and marinating and chatting.

POB accidentally purchased un-pitted olives.  She needed pitted olives for the fish marinade.  Two cups.  So, of course, I pitted the olives (and smell like Kalamata olives even today — two showers later).  Only when taking out other ingredients for the meal, did POB discover that she, in fact, had pitted olives in the refrigerator.  Hmmm, I thought.  Was there a passive-aggressive undertone?  Nah.  We just have an over-stocked refrigerator and we forget what is in there.

Guests arrive.  Wine and hors-d’oeuvres are warming up the crowd.  The smelling of delectables cooking in the kitchen puts everyone in a happy mood.  Time to be seated.  I help with the plates coming out.  The fish, which has a roasted tomato and olive marinade (along with various spices), looked very red.  As no no olives.  I look in the kitchen and there, on the counter-top next to the stove, was the mountain of olives I had pitted, a task that stained my hands and caused a noxious reaction with the perfume I had put on.  WHaaaaaaaat? Maybe there was something passive-aggressive after all. . . .

I turn to POB, my eyes wide with a sense of betrayal.  “Oh, no, sweetie, people were talking to me and I forgot to roast them . . .  and . . .  I am soooo sorry!!”  “No worries,” I say.  I bring the olives out, pour them over the fish as a garnish and explained to everyone, “I personally pitted these, so everyone is going to eat them — no excuses and no dispensation.”   I overheard someone say to Sabrina, “if I got [her partner] to pit olives for an hour and didn’t use them,  I would be making up for it for — I don’t know — YEARS.”  I caught POB’s eye and she looked at me and I smiled.  POB responded, “I think, it is only a question of months with [Blogger]; she is the forgiving sort.”

POB and I both smiled.  All is good and, as you all know by now, the “bravas” from our guests over my pitting the lives made up for everything.  I even washed the pots and pans.

These Arrrrrrrrre the “Good Ol’ Days”

Forgive me, Carly Simon, for the lack of harmony in the title.  I tried.

A camp friend tagged in an old photo on our camp’s website.  I was 8 years old.  About my son’s age.  It sent me time-traveling through memories.

I was a camper for 10 of the 11 summers, from 1971 to 1981.  Some of my earliest camp memories are Saturday night campfires where we sang and listened to stories under the night sky.  Only as I am older do I understand the importance of those campfires.  In my mind’s eye, we were sitting in the majesty of nature and day turned to night, singing together about friendship and emotions we were too young to understand (like those in Carly Simon’s Anticipation), and being part of a group as we each let our minds wander — sometimes to homesickness, sometimes just in the music, sometimes to how much we loved our friends sitting next to us.   Sugar-coating in part, but only in small part.

So, this morning I had to follow the link to see other pictures.  I found some crazy old pictures of people I hadn’t recalled in years.  And I got so excited that I shared the pictures with camp friends on FaceBook whom I thought could remember their names.  I wasn’t sure that my best friend for many of those years would remember so I didn’t send to her.  Now I think I will, it is less important that she remember the names, but it will evoke for her a (I hope, happy) time — in all its wonderment and angst — that we, those campers of the 1970s, think of as the “Good Ol’ Days”.  When we sang, “these arrrrrrree the good ol’ days”, we may not have known then what we know now:  they were indeed so.

Just a little aside about FaceBook:  Too many levels of contradictions and irony, among them, that it connects people who were friends in a time before fax machines and copiers (rexograph machines were it).  Another blog entry, perhaps.

I was looking at these photos and smiling.  Then my son switched off the cartoons and wanted to cuddle.  I paused my trip to the OLD good ol’ days to enjoy the here and now.   And I think, I am old enough to know — in real time, as this time with my son unfolds — that these moments, too, will be the Good Ol’ Days in short order.

I guess good ol’ days happen all the time.  We just have to remember to enjoy the moment and then, years later, relive the memory.

And stay right here
‘Cause these are the good old days

Everyone, click YouTube of Carly Simon from 1972 and sing along.

Holiday Photos

Most every other family can get it together to take a photo, get prints done, put in envelopes, address the envelopes and mail them.  We can’t. 

In fact, POB (partner of blogger) would rather do laundry and I would rather destroy the house under the guise of “home improvements” than undertake this gargantuan task.  (As an aside, we have had to contract repairman to correct my home improvement projects, but I digress. . . )

So . . .  Not happening until our son is of an age where he can do all of that.

But we love getting the holiday pictures from our friends and family.  (Note to friends: we love seeing your kids, but we also want to see you in the picture as well.)

SOPOBAB (son of POB and blogger) especially likes the pictures of the kids he knows.  Even he says stuff like, “wow, they’ve grown!!”  There is one family with an adorable little girl and two younger twin boys (you know who you are) whose card was particularly of interest to SOPOBAB.  (I think he likes the willfulness in the girl.)  But he is betrothed to another (this, he decided at the tender age of 7, so his interest in the willful one is merely big-brotherly.)

He also likes to see pictures of my college friends’ families.  A group of us female friends have remained tight-knit (the “Soeurs”).  SOPOBAB asked POB, “when are the Soeur kids getting together?” 

He also asked POB, “[Blogger] is a Soeur, and I am a Soeur kid, then what are you?”  POB responded, somewhat sheepishly, “I am a Soeur Consort.”  Since not everyone has a spouse and partners may change from time to time, it seemed like a suitable name — heck, Queen Elizabeth’s husband is called “The Queen Consort” (I think). Unfortunately, it sounds a little tawdry.  Maybe we will all get married by the time he is old enough to think the name is ooky and then “Soeur Consorts” will be “Soeur Spouses”.

But our boy is used to eccentricity.

My son, the Prince

This weekend, POB (partner of blogger), SOPOBAB (son of POB and blogger) and I went to see dear friends who live outside the City.  The wife, M., is in the travel business so she knows how to spoil people with sumptuous accommodations.  The husband, C., is the sweetest man ever and, together they are generous with their hearts, their time and their money.   These are the kind of people that should have G-d’s grace shine upon them forever and always (not that I am a religious person or anything).

They have taken an especial liking to SOPOBAB and SOPOBAB adores them — simply adores them.

M. made sure his bedroom for the weekend was filled with presents, like Christmas morning in the movies.  Our room had a gigantic bed with matching pajamas in case we forgot ours, a gift basket and bottled water.  The bathroom was the size of most Manhattan apartments. So, this was SIX star accommodations and, because we were visiting our dear friends, it was a TEN-STAR experience.

I forgot to tell our friends that SOPOBAB said after the weekend that he slept in “luxurious comfort” (he is 8 year old and where do 8 year-olds get this vocabulary).

We kept saying, “they must think you’re royalty — a REAL prince!!”  He wondered after the weekend if he should tell them that he wasn’t really royalty, after all.  But then, he figured, there might not be as many presents or endless games of hide-and-go-seek and tag.  (G-d bless C. for running all over and watching cartoons.)  So, SOPOBAB thought he would keep his commoner status quiet.  Still, he felt a little sheepish about the ruse.

Yet, during the weekend, SOPOBAB got a little toooo into the groove of “ask and ye shall receive” when he asked that his burger be pan-fried, like in diners.  C. was braving the frigid temperatures to grill a delicious carnivorous fare.  (I was personally horrified, first, that my son would be so bold as to make that request and, second, that he would have a palate that desired pan-fried burgers, but I digress.)  I was a little concerned that C. might accede to his wishes and then we would have to send our son to boot camp to bring him back down to real life.

But G-d not only gave them wonderful hearts and souls, but “seychel” (Yiddish for “smarts” and the “ch” is a guttural German-like sound).  C. brought a pan outside and deposited the grilled hamburgers into it and then brought them into the dining room for our son.  SOPOBAB pronounced them the most delicious burgers he had ever eaten.  I had the biggest smile on my face.

A fabulous weekend getaway.  Except that our son now asks, “what if I am a real prince, only kidnapped by you like in a fairy tale?”  I think, “sweetie, most times, only us, your real mothers could love you,” but I keep that thought inside.  I merely said, “we treat you like a prince, so does it matter?”  “But, M. and C. treat me better!!”

I know he knows that that is all because they are not his parents and they can (and do) spoil him.  But, oy.  Boot camp here we come.

Play dates

Yesterday, my son had a friend over in the afternoon.  The ground rules were no electronics — no computer, no video, no TV.  His parents are rather concerned about the amount of time he spends on Wii and on the computer generally.  So, low-tech play date.  No problem, right?  Now, remember it is 2010 and we are taking about an 8 year-old and a 10 year-old.  BOYS.

First my son refused to stop what he was doing when his friend arrived.  His friend was kneeling in front of the Wii remotes.  Ok, ok, ok.  POB (partner of blogger) took out all of this cool building sets, some even have circuitry (electric ok, but electronic, no).  No one tried anything.  Variably mournful and angry eyes were watching us.  I started helping the friend put some circuit boards together and we made lights flash on and alarms ring.  Just like those awesome kits that you could do at camp if you brought an extra $5 dollars which in 1972, was a lot for an 8 year-old.  We were having an awesome time although my son was still pouting by reading train books, hoping that I would cave and let them watch a train video.  Nooooo. Then his friend got up and knelt by the Wii again.  I said no, and we had a tense moment when he kicked something over angrily.  We walked back into my son’s room.  At that point, the friend tried to make conversation with my son, but my son, who figured he was punishing me by being rude to his friend, was unresponsive.  So I sat down with this friend and played scrabble and asked my son to help me.  Finally, finally, my son decided that fun was a good thing to have and they started to play together.  Phew.  All is good, right?  Ten minutes later, “we’re booooored.”  Really?  Really?  With all of the toys in this house, you kids can be bored?

Then I remember what withdrawal was like when I quit cigarettes.  And, I realized that neither of them bargained for a non-electronic play date, although we did tell our son the ground rules.  So, in a lapse of parental judgment, I started a pillow fight in the living room with the couch pillows — some cushions, some just decorative.  All fair game.  POB looked on in horror and amusement as there were many near-misses with the lamps, etc.  But the humans were each in one piece.

They were able to amuse themselves for a little while.  But the electronic-free play date was running a little too long for anyone’s patience, let alone those of pre-tween boys.  Recently, I bought a Star Wars light saber to match our son’s (Mom, please forgive me, for buying something that is a weapon, but your grandson is a boy.)  My son didn’t want to play but his friend did.  So, I handed him a pair a protective glasses (see, Mom, you did raise me right) because I cannot live in a world where a child is blinded while playing while fencing with light sabers in my house.  Ok, I never, ever, imagined that I would be condoning, much less partaking, this behavior, but, sometimes, one has to stand less on principle in order to survive your child’s play date.  Then the boy’s father came to pick him up just as he was striking me in the gut with his light saber.  Score one for Luke Skywalker.

Luckily, POB and I had a dinner date with our machertunim (the parents of the girl that our son is intent on marrying).  Machertunim is the Yiddish word that describes the parents’ relationship when your children are married to each other.  This play date also did not have electronics.  We coped very well with these parameters, since we have great fun talking and laughing, and there was wine and great food.  Did I mention the wine?

Both play dates were fun.  But I suspect that they won’t need my facilitating non-electronic play dates after a while.  And to tell you the truth, the second play date was awesome.

A Great Party

Our dad’s 90th birthday party was a wonderful success.  It was a beautiful day and the party was in a greenhouse with an outdoor space.

One of my dad’s friends spoke about meeting Dad in 1943 when Dad was a corporal and his friend was a private.  They re-met during the Korean War (my father almost ran him over in Tokyo) and then at dental school and have been friends for 67 years.  I can’t imagine knowing someone for that long who could still say wonderful things about me.  Crazy.

Lots of relatives or people who are relatives just by longevity.  Follow me on this one.  My aunt, my mother and Blossom (among others) were sorority sisters at college in the 1940s.  (My aunt was dating my uncle and introduced my mother to her boyfriend’s brother (my dad) but that is another story for another blog entry).  Blossom married my aunt’s cousin whom she divorced.  (That cousin was there with his wife, even though they are not technically related either, but longevity is more important than blood anyway.)  Blossom then married Aaron.  Blossom died and Aaron married Marjorie.  The first time POB (partner of blogger) and I met Marjorie was at a cousin’s bar mitzvah.  But Marjorie must have been part of the family in another life, because she had no boundaries from the start.  POB was pregnant and Marjorie turned to her and said, “Known donor or unknown donor?”.  POB, having been raised in a good home and not quite used to direct, personal questions from near-strangers was so shocked that she actually answered.  I then turned to POB and said, “well, now that Marjorie knows, don’t you think we ought to tell our parents?” So a person married to someone who married into the family who was married to someone who was no longer married into the family asserted family privilege to ask any question that came to mind, without filter.  I love this family.

My cousins — Dad’s nieces and nephews — talked about things they remembered about Dad from when they were kids in the 1940s and 1950s.  Cousin Gentle (from prior blogs) talked about how Dad gave tickets to a ball game to his father (my Uncle Dave) so Uncle Dave could take Cousin Gentle to a ball game.  It turns out it was Don Larsen’s 1952 World Series perfect game.  Still the only ball game that Cousin Gentle has ever attended.

Another cousin talked about Dad’s teaching her to build card houses, and another talked about Dad’s taking him to the Opera.  All of them talked about the beautiful things he brought home for each of his nieces and nephews from Japan after the Korean War.  They remembered him as someone interested in them and kind and gentle.  It was really touching to hear new things about my Dad and hear the love expressed in those memories.

One cousin started talking about the meaning of family and how he is a trust and estates lawyer (I had to stop him from taking the opportunity for self-advertisement) and how he has seen families fight and disinherit each other.  He started to go off on a tangent and get a little worked up, without an end in sight.  SOB (sister of blogger) gave me a sign that I had to intervene, so I got up, went over to my cousin and took the microphone away and offered it to the next cousin who wanted to speak, in age order.  Cousin Gentle and SOB now call me “Hook” because I pulled that act off the stage.

SOB talked about the first night she was an intern and was in the hospital all night and was scared and overwhelmed.  At about 3am, she got a page.  It was Dad, wanting to make sure she was alive.  She never forgot that and it helped her through that rest of that night’s torture.

Then BOB (brother of blogger) talked beautifully about how Dad is a role model for being a good husband and father and how special it was that Dad was his best man at his wedding.  BOB is not usually that emotional, introspective or even talkative around us.  I was so moved.  But the moment was over like a shooting star flaming out, so all returned like a flash to status quo ante.  But for the moment, there was kumbaya in the air, as if it were being sung for the first time.

My dad is such a sweet, and humble man.  When it came time for the cake, he thanked everyone for coming and said how fortunate he was to be surrounded by friends and family and he was grateful to everyone for being there and for their kind words.  The cousin from whom I had to yank the microphone said in a stage whisper (really a stage SHOUT), “what, that is all he is going to say?”  Aaaaargh.  My dad said it all in a few words and did so with grace and humility.  Dear Cousin, a lesson might be learned here.

We had the quintessential Jewish goodbye — we all said goodbye but didn’t leave.  In fact, I must have said goodbye three or four times to the same people.  The rule is if there is more than a half-hour between goodbye kiss and departure, you have to start over again.   I don’t know the provenance of the rule, but it caused the goodbyes to go on for almost 2 hours.  Also, it probably didn’t help that we had pictures from 1920 to the present out on a table by the door so people starting reminiscing anew as they were leaving.  Some of the older folk sat down in comfy chairs to nap a little while they waited for the rest of their group to finish.  I wish I had pictures of that.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Long time passing.  Long time ago.

On our way to the beach last week, we listened to 70s music on Sirius radio.  “Afternoon Delight”, “Handy Man”, “Monster Mash”, “Young Hearts, Run Free” and all those other long ago summer time songs had POB (partner of blogger) and me screaming the words as our son looked on in horror and embarrassment.  (He also said, “E-mom, you should blog about this.”  I love my son.)

At camp, we used to sing “Anticipation”, “Circle Game” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Cruel War” at Saturday night campfires.  These and other songs made us both melancholy and grateful for each other in ways I didn’t understand then.

Since those days, we have all lived with not knowing about the days to come, the (stupid, stinking) painted ponies going ’round and ’round the carousel of time, and war and its cruel endings.  Life has, as it inevitably does, lifted us up, let us down and gave us a few battle scars along the way.  And, sometimes, songs sung when I was so young resonate with me now as, with each passing year, I spend more and more on an ounce of (alleged) skin rejuvenation cream.

I firmly believe that, if I slathered olive oil all over my body (instead of throwing gobs of money away on creams and potions), it would give me a more youthful (and, ok, smarmy) glow.  People might also like to brush up against me with chunks of bread.  Maybe if I used extra, extra, virgin (as in the driven snow) olive oil, I would look even younger.  I would do it, but for fear of the inevitable question from a colleague, “did you have salad for breakfast?” or, after a meeting, someone sitting next to me saying, “you know, I have a strange hankering for Greek food.”

Oops, there I go digressing again.  About camp.  Sometimes those memories make me laugh out loud or just give me a wonderful feeling and a lift to my step.  And it has been a gift to reconnect with old friends on Facebook about batik, peach pit rings, the Leoj, Plaque Night, etc.

Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other’s gold.  Ok, campers, repeat in rounds (with Lodges 1 and 2 starting, followed by Lodges 4 and 5) and Lodge 3 please add the harmony.

Better than gold.  Really.