Saturday, March 28, 2009

So Long, Farewell

On Wednesday, my brother-in-law--Baroy's brother S--is moving to Boston. It is a huge loss for my children...and for Baroy and myself as well. This is the man to whom my kids are so close that they call him, simply, Uncle. (All the rest of their uncles require a name appended to the uncle, but not S. He is the Uncle above all uncles.) Through most of the kids' lives, he's seen them an average of two to three times a month, sometimes more. He's been here for pretty much every holiday, and certainly every birthday party. He was in the labor room when I was waiting to have Em; he stayed with Em when I was in the hospital having N. All of our friends know him; all of their kids do, too. And they all call him Uncle S, because he is pretty much everybody's uncle.

Add to that the fact that he's our only family within 3,000 miles...or, rather, he was our only family within 3,000 miles...and you've got an additional layer of sadness. Somehow, his leaving really brings home the reality that we are a continent apart from everyone to whom we are related by blood. (No, J, that doesn't mean we're moving back east...)

So, today, we went to Santa Monica, where Uncle has lived for 15 years, to have a last dinner with him. We walked the Promenade, we had dinner at Buca di Beppo, and we took a walk down to the beach.

As soon as Baroy snapped the photo to your left, we both knew it was going to be one of those shots. One of those shots that makes tears come to your eyes every time you look at it, that makes you think of sadness and endings. One of those shots that makes you hear the music from the end of Philadelphia, when they play that supposedly old video of the Tom Hanks character as a young child, and even though you know--damn it, you KNOW--that you are being manipulated, you still cry. Every single time. Or, at least, I do.

See you in June, Uncle. We'll miss you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Details, Details

Things are insane. That's become the norm, but still. They are. My house is a wreck, and the parts of it that are the wreckiest are my parts. I am behind in my work work, my freelance work, my house work. I literally can't use my desk any more for the piles of stuff on it...and on my chair, and on the floor spaces that surround my chair.

And so, when I have a spare 15 or 20 minutes, what do I do? I take a toothpick and scrape around the edges of the stovetop, to see if I can get that thin line of grease to go away. I take a toothbrush and try to scrub around and between the hinges of the toilet seat in the kids' bathroom to see if I can make that SMELL go away. (Little boy + Bad aim = Dear GOD it's like living in a frickin' ZOO.) I grab a Magic Eraser and try to scrub away the probably-decades-old rust stains around the faucet handles in the kids' shower...the shower nobody uses because it's too small and the pipes are rusty (hence the stains) and the hot water goes from nonexistent to scalding when you breathe in the direction of the hot-water handle.

I try to do something that can be done. That can be finished in those rare, spare 15 minutes. That can make me feel like I've accomplished something.

And I have. The grease is gone. The smell has abated (at least until the next time N uses the bathroom and gets distracted). The rust stains are incrementally less obvious.

But the piles are still there, the work still undone, the desk still unusable, and the chaos still beyond overwhelming. Funny, that. Funny how the lack of grease around the stovetop's edges didn't change everything, didn't somehow subdue the insanity that surrounds me.

Funny. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


It's hard for me to think of myself as a person who does anything for 13 straight years, including being married. But, apparently, I am a person who does that...and so is Baroy. Our 13th wedding anniversary was on Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day.

[What? It was the perfect date for two Jews to marry. Before the 'wedding season,' so much cheaper. Took the whole 'color scheme' decision right out of my hands...we even signed our marriage license and our ketubah in green ink! And, most importantly, the place we wanted didn't already have a wedding planned for that day. Sold.]

It was last Sunday, amidst the bustle of serving food to all 18 members of our Sunday gang, that Baroy looked at me and said, "We haven't even thought about our anniversary and what we're going to do, have we?" And I looked back at him with pleading eyes. "If you love me, your present to me will be that we won't do presents or cards or ANYTHING, because I just...can't...right now. It's too much. There's too much going on."

"Done," he said. And so it was...aside from the his-and-hers Facebook status updates announcing our pleasure at finding ourselves still married, still happy, 13 years later.

We're hoping to get out to dinner one of these nights soon. It's hard, though. I'm not quite ready to leave Em to watch N for several hours at night; we do an hour or two during the day on rare occasions, but that's it. And the thought of paying for a babysitter sort of takes all the momentum out of us to actually do this thing. So we'll wait for a convenient night, one where one of our friends (TC waves at Susanna, Ambre, Deb) is home and wouldn't mind an extra couple of kids. Or we'll just not get around to it. Which is OK, too. Because, really, aside from feeling like other people would think it's a sign that there's something wrong with our marriage for us to care this little, to make this little of an really doesn't bother me.

After all, our marriage was never about candlelit dinners at a steakhouse. It's always been about making a home together, raising our children, just being. It's always been about dinners in a well-lit, warm, spicy-smelling kitchen...which is exactly how we commemorated it. Thirteen years from the day we took vows to do just this.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Killing Fairies

We'd just finished reading a chapter of Beverly Clearly's Ribsy. I'd turned off the reading lamp above N's bed, and we'd turned over into our customary back-to-back position for falling asleep.

"Mommy?" N said softly. "Can I tell you a question?"

"Yes, you may ask me a question," I said in my ceaselessly pedantic way.

"When do the Killing Fairies come?"

"The what? The what families?" In my defense, sometimes it's still hard to understand N's speech, especially when the words aren't ones you often hear juxtaposed. You know, like killing and fairies.

"NO," he said slowly and loudly. In his defense, it's frustrating to try to tell people stuff and have them misunderstand you all the time. "The. Killing. FAIRIES."

Immediately my mind sprang into action: What the hell? Oh, hold on. He was talking about something like this earlier. When was it? Right, on the way home from Religious School this morning. Something about needing to check the doors of our house, except I hadn't understood, and started talking about the mezzuzah we have there. Except I had been in a class on kashering your house for Passover today, which means it's likely that his class had been talking about Passover too, and...

Oh. The angel of death. Passing over the houses with the blood on the lintels, and killing the firstborn sons of the houses without. An idea which, I can imagine, was easily transformed in my eight-year-old's mind into some kind of posse of homicidal fairies.

"Oh, no, honey. You mean from Passover? That's just a story from a very, very long time ago."

"So you mean the Killing Fairies aren't real? They're pretend?"

Our rabbi often talks to us adults about having an adult view of the Torah, about how it's possible to both view the stories in the Torah simultaneously as myth and as Truth with a capital T, in the sense that the stories reveal deep truths about human nature, about right and wrong, about morality, etc., without having to have literally occurred the way they are said to have occurred. Now, that sentence didn't come close to doing justice to what he's talked about in this regard, but suffice it to say, it is this sort of theology that has allowed me to become more involved in Judaism without having to shut off the part of my brain that says there's no way that two people who had two sons could populate an entire world. (That, obviously, is just for starters.) It is also what allowed me to answer my son with completely truthfulness.

"The Killing Fairies aren't real, sweetie. There are no Killing Fairies."

N sighed deeply. "Good," he said, snuggling closer to me. "Because I was starting to be a little worried about that."

When Em was a little girl, there were several years in a row when we weren't able to put a glass of wine for Elijah on our seder table, because the whole idea of Elijah--of this stranger who would come into our house and drink wine from our table, and we wouldn't even see him, wouldn't even know he was there--was terrifying to her. (I sort of had to agree with her on that one. I mean, if he LEFT something, like presents under a tree, that would be different. But this guy just comes in, takes the wine, and leaves. Under most circumstances, we'd call that a home-invasion robbery.) It was only in the last couple of years that she's gotten past it, though I think she still finds it rather creepy.

I have to say, I have no idea how exactly Passover managed to outpace Halloween as the scariest night of the year for my kids. Or...maybe not JUST for my kids. Because now I have this image of these Killing Fairies being led on a murderous rampage by a drunken prophet-ghost, and I'm starting to get a little nervous myself.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I've been waiting to write about last weekend--our second family camp/Shabbaton weekend with our synagogue--because I haven't yet downloaded the photograph of what it looked like after we removed the tick that had embedded itself into Em's arm.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was a fabulous weekend, tick notwithstanding.* As good as last year's trip. Maybe even better. But still just as impossible to describe.

What I can tell you about, though, is how my son once again reached new heights of contradiction. No, no. Really.

To wit:

Friday night, after dinner, there was a singalong in the dining tent. It got exceptionally loud in there. N is already sensitive to loud noise; it was getting to me, so it was not surprising that it was torture for him. But he was great about it. He simply came up to me at one point, told me it was too loud, and allowed me to lead him out of the tent and out into the (omigodsocold) night air. We walked far enough away that the sound was no longer piercing, but stayed close enough that we could hear the music. And we danced together, under the stars, my son and I, doing a little side-by-side hora. Lovely.

Saturday night, after dinner, there was Israeli dancing in the dining tent. N asked if I would take him outside again; I said that I sure would, but only if the sound was too much for him. It wasn't. I asked him if he wanted to dance with me again, this time with the group, but he said no. "I'm too shy," he said. I told him I understood, and then I joined the other 30 or so people in the dance circle.

At which point my son ducked under my arm and walked into the middle of said circle to stand next to the (somewhat puzzled, but willing to go with the flow) dance instructor. And stood there. And watched. As we all danced around him. As we all took steps toward him, en masse, and yelled, "Hey!"

He stood there, and watched, and grinned, and walked around the circle watching us appraisingly, and high-fived his counselors, and showed absolutely no ill effects from all those people, all watching him.

Too shy to hold hands and dance, but not too shy to be in the middle of the circle.

The next morning, same scenario. This time, we were doing the camp's closing circle, standing by family and holding hands, everyone who wanted to saying a little bit about what the weekend had meant to them. All he had to do was hold my hand, and Em's hand. He wouldn't have to talk; Em didn't. But he refused, told me he was "too scared to do it," pulled his head into his sweatshirt, wouldn't look at me, wouldn't stand by me.

And then walked into the center of the circle to stand next to the song leader (who, admittedly, he loves), and became, once again, the center of attention. Because he's too shy to stand on the outskirts.

[For the record, that was not nearly as cute as the Israeli dancing thing. Something about it was just so much Even though he was in the center of our circle, he was so obviously just watching us all, not engaging. It was one of those admittedly few times when he just 'looked' more disordered than quirky. I really need to learn how to deal with those times better. Even Em, who is almost preternaturally willing to accept his quirks for what they are, leaned in to me and said, "I don't mean to be mean, but this is a little bit embarrassing." And it was.]

It was also impossible to parse. What does it mean that he can't be part of the group, but doesn't mind being the center of it? Is he trying to hog attention, or is this his own way of trying to be alone? Is it really easier for him to have everyone's eyes on him than to join in with what we are doing? I don't have the answers. All I have are the inherent contradictions, which I can't quite bring together.

Even his Occupational Therapist, when I told her about this, had to shake her head. "I don't know either," she admitted. "I don't really understand that myself."

At least I'm not alone.

*Tick facts:

1. We only discovered it in the last 15 minutes of the trip, when I put my arm around her for a picture and she winced as it brushed against her. We figure she picked it up during the night-time "trust walk" her bunk took...but, really, the woods are crawling with ticks at this time of year, and it could have been any place at any time.

2. One of my friends/bunkmates, a doctor--we were 75+ Jews in one place...of COURSE we had a doctor in the house--found a pair of tweezers in the camp infirmary and removed the s.o.b. almost before the words, "Um, Em, that's not a bug bite..." were out of my mouth.

3. Em freaked. Of course Em freaked. There was a bug burrowing into her right tricep. So she cried a lot until the doctor eased it out. Later, however, she admitted, "It actually didn't hurt at all. It was like her hands had anesthesia on them."

4. I freaked. Of course I freaked. There as a bug burrowing into my daugther's right tricep. But I didn't cry at all...because I'm a big girl. And because I was too busy trying not to gag.

5. Although Lyme disease is still pretty rare in Southern California, my doctor-friend and I decided I should take Em to the Urgent Care near our house, just to be on the safe side, and because the bite almost immediately started looking icky. After three hours in the waiting room and a visit with a doctor who actually knows less about infectious disease than I do, I prescribed Em a topical antibiotic cream, and we left. (No, I did not mistype that. The not-especially-bright Urgent Care doc rambled on about how "we" don't give oral antibiotics as a Lyme preventative, but then wanted to prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent the bite from getting infected. I gently inquired as to whether or not that was overkill, especially because Em was leaving on Tuesday for a week at sixth-grade science camp--more on that another time--and wouldn't a topical cream do the trick? Why yes, said not-especially-bright Urgent Care doc, and pulled out her prescription pad. For this I lost three hours of my life?)

6. It was good cream. I'd already put bacitracin on the bite twice, and it hadn't done diddly. One dab of this stuff, and the puffiness, the red streak, everything just disappeared.

7. What didn't disappear? The image of a swollen bug sticking out of my daughter's right tricep. I may be scarred for life.

8. Both of us are, nonetheless, counting the days until next year's trip.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


My brother-in-law and I call them "habits," because "habits" sounds so much better than "obsessions."

Nonetheless, that's what they are. Obsessions. Compulsions, really. In fact, both he and I have--at one point or another in our lives--had the words obsessive and compulsive and disorder put together into one phrase, and applied to us in writing, on a medical record.

This means that my kids? Have it coming and going, from both ends of the gene pool.

All of which is to say that the morning 'routine' N has developed should be no surprise to me. There's the fact that he almost physically needs me to park in the same spot on the side street near the school. The fact that I must stop by the same "No Parking" sign to kiss the two of them goodbye. The fact that I absolutely, positively must then walk about twenty yards away while he and Em climb The Stairs, after which I must turn and wait for him to get to the top. The fact that he and I then have a precisely scripted and yelled dialog from (his) top of stairs to (my) assigned waiting area. (N: Bye, Mom! Love you! Me: Bye, sweetie! Love you too! N: See you after school, see you in the night time! Me: See you later! Have a great day!) The fact that as I walk away, he HAS TO continue to yell and wave to me ("Bye Mom! Bye! Love you! Bye!") until he can no longer see me.

And, quite honestly, I don't mind any of it. Or, at least, I don't mind any of the part I just described to you. Because, sure, it's a little obsessive, a little "habitty," as my BIL and I would say. But it's a harmless habit, a reassuring habit, a habit that--to anyone on the outside looking in--doesn't really look like a habit, unless they realized how choreographed it is.

I guess what it comes down to is, if it doesn't bother me, I don't think of it as a problem.

But there's a part I left out, a part that does bother me...for reasons I can't quite explain. It's the part right after the kiss at the No Parking sign, and before I retreat to my designated 'wave and shout goodbyes' spot. It's the part where he says to me, "You'll go and wait and turn around to watch me at the top of the stairs, right?" It's the part where, if I don't answer him and reassure him that yes, I will, I always do, don't I?, he will ask me again and again, won't leave my side until he gets what he's looking for, what he needs.

That's the part that feels like true obsession, because there's just so much anxiety surrounding it. I've been trying, of late, to 'wean' him of it a little. At first I went too far, refusing to answer him at all, pretending I didn't hear him. When this actually resulted in him bursting into tears, I took it down a notch. Instead, I've started dropping off the "yes, I will," part, and just reminding him that I always do. The first time I said that, he kept pushing, still pushing, "But you will today too, right? Will you?" By now, he's accepted that IS my version of yes. I've even said to him, "I'm not going to answer you, because I need you to trust me. I always stand there. If I EVER forget to stand there, then you can ask me. But since I never forget, you don't need to ask me."

The problem is, he DOES need to ask me. And he needs to get a specific answer. All he's done is translate that little diatribe above into his version of "yes." He's still getting what he wants, and what he needs, and that feels...wrong. To me.

My problem is, I know exactly how right that feels to him.

Rather, I know it's wrong, and I know he needs to stop, and I know how it will mess with him as this compulsion--this requirement--morphs into other compulsions, other requirements. But I also know how it can actually hurt--deep down in places so primal you can't even name them--if you try to deny a compulsion. It's the feeling I used to have when I'd be on the subway during my lunch hour, traveling from Manhattan to Brooklyn by myself rather than eating lunch with my friends, because I absolutely had to check to be sure my iron was turned off. It's the feeling I still sometimes get, today, when we're halfway down the street, late for a soccer game or a doctor's appointment (because it's always when we're late that the compulsions get triggered, never when I'm calm and have time; stress is what they feed on), and I become convinced that I've left a burner on on the stove, and I must go back and check the knobs...even if I haven't cooked a thing all day.

If you tried to stop me then, I...I can't tell you what would happen. Most immediately, I would descend into a panic attack. But it feels even scarier than that, on the inside. It feels like you're simply going to fall apart, literally, physically. It's not in your control, this feeling. The compulsions really do take you hostage.

And so I'm trying very hard to find a place where I can challenge N's compulsions, without scaring him like that. Make him uncomfortable, without causing him to fall apart. But it's hard, because there's such a big part of me that is right there with him. It's hard, because all the while I'm pushing at him for his own good, I'm aware that I really ought to be doing the same to myself. It's hard, because it's so unfair. He doesn't deserve this, not him, especially not him, not on top of everything else.

Frickin' genes.