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Monthly Archives: October 2012

He has a story… everyone should hear.

He has a story… everyone should hear.

His eyes never left mine. Rimmed with tears that had already been shed a thousand times, they yearned to share his story, for me to listen, to hear, to feel. “Pay close attention” they pleaded as deeply as his accented words. “You will not be sorry you did.” I could feel the current of emotion in him, rising like a tide. “It started in Poland. I was born in 1937. My brother in 1933. I was two years old when they took my father away.”

We had just been introduced, barely having said hello. I was a first time guest at his son’s home with my family for a holiday dinner for Sukkot.  Seven children and eight adults warmed the house like a nice glass of Merlot . The children were jumping and screaming. One was playing the drums. A massive pillow fight was in the works as  the adults chatted merrily without care. Over the noise, our friend Tim introduced us. “This is my father Ben. He has an amazing story to share.” “Dad, this is my friend. She is a writer.”

His focus changed from light to locked. “You are writer?”

I demurred. “Not really. I have always written stories, essays and such, but no, not really.”

But both Tim and my husband would not allow my honest assessment of inexperience and pumped up my resume and his confidence in my story telling abilities.

“Come.” His intensity guided me from the others as if his hand were on my shoulder leading the way. I could only follow. He was a small man but he carried a heavy story. It walked with us like a third person.

He motioned toward the dining room table and we sat down. I was happy for my glass of wine. It gave me a moment or two of distraction away from his intense need. There was no small talk or preamble.

“Do you know much of Poland in the late 1930’s?”

I really did not. My knowledge of my own history is embarrassingly inadequate. He explained how Poland was divided by Hitler and Stalin and split between Russia and Germany. His family lived on the Russian side. They had some means, he explained, his father was an educated man, an ecologist of some sort. As communist Russia overtook Poland, they “nationalized” the middle and upper class families living there, taking their homes, lands and wealth and sending them off to Siberia.

“They sent your family to Siberia?” I asked stunned and amazed. Siberia was, well, Siberia.

“Yes, my father first and then they came for my mother, my brother and me.”

“So at least you were together.” I felt some small comfort that at least there was that.

“No. My mother, brother and I were sent away to another part where we lived in spaces dug in the ground with around 2,000 others. My mother was put to work as a lumberjack while my brother and I were left there alone with nothing.”

“But you were only seven and two?”

“Yes.”

I took a big gulp of wine. How do you even look at someone who has been through so much pain? By asking a safe, clinical question. “They did this to all the Jewish people of Poland?”

“No, they did it to every one of means.”

I nodded. I had a hundred questions. I could never imagine living in my bubbled suburban world that my family could be ripped from their home and then ripped from their loved ones. I felt a tear in my heart. I wanted him to go on. I needed to know about how they survived each day, but I also wanted to know about the home they left. What it looked like, and tasted like. The smells and sights, what their lives were really like in Poland in 1939 before the world turned on its head and then closed its eyes.

We were interrupted by Tamara, my friend, Tim’s wife, who walked in I’m sure to save me. We had, after-all, just arrived for a holiday dinner. She gently put her arm around her father-law. “Come. You can’t tell her the whole story tonight.” She kindly teased him. You could see the love and high regard she held him in.  Ben smiled and politely acquiesced to social graces. “Of course.”

We both stood to join the party, but Ben still looked to hold my eye and my attention. “I hope for us to meet again so I can tell you more. That is barely a beginning.”

“Me too.”  I meant it. I was sucked in to his story – to him, to his history and his almost desperate, palpable need to divulge and honor that history. But I knew, ultimately, that he wanted someone to put his past on paper, to make it live and breathe again. Just because I was intrigued by him – by his eyes and his hands, by his words and intensity, that didn’t mean I could write it for him. That didn’t mean that I could make the bored and desensitized world of today stop for a moment and remember.

Could I?

I’ll Worry About It Later *

* This was my week 2 blogger idol assignment which was to write about my day as a man.*

When I glance at the clock this morning, I can feel right away something is different. My back is sore and my crotch area itches a bit. Instead of jumping out of bed to run downstairs and make lunches for the kids, I decide, eh, whatever, and just roll over and sleep a little longer. Weird. I NEVER sleep longer.

One of my kids finally wakes me out of a drooling stupor. “Mommy!! It’s almost bus time!” I lift one brow and try to focus. The clock reads 7:50 am. The bus comes at 8:15 am. “F*CK!” I blurt out, which startles me more than the clock. I never say that, at least not in front of the kids. My seven year-old stares at me wide-eyed and is grinning like he’s just learned the best secret.

I make my way slooowwwlly out of bed to the bathroom, my kid following the entire time. Why do I feel like I have a hangover? “Go get ready.” I order and scratch my ass.

“But you always pick out our stuff.” He whines.

“Do it yourself.” I grumble and then fart loudly. His eyes perk again and he runs out giggling.

Ah. I sit myself down on the can for a nice, long time and flip through the paper. Heaven. By the time I get downstairs, it’s 8:10am. The boys have miraculously made themselves breakfast and are at the door ready to run to the bus stop. I give them the once over. My oldest has his shirt on inside-out, his shoe laces are untied and he’s wearing two different socks – one short and one long. My middle son looks perfect for a soccer match, and my youngest is wearing thick brown sweats, a brown tee shirt and brown rain boots. I scratch my head, amazingly unconcerned. “Did you guys brush your teeth?” They all look at each other and shrug. “Homework?” I ask, and my oldest pulls out a crumpled ball of paper from his bag. “Okay then, have a good day!”

As they bound to the bus, I notice that my oldest son’s backpack hangs open. There’s something I’m forgetting. What is it? Lunches! Oops. I have an epiphany, maybe I can get Dominoes to deliver to the school. That’s genius. Why haven’t I ever thought of that before?

I have a half an hour before I need to get my youngest to Pre-K. In the kitchen there has been a cereal explosion, but I casually crunch my way past the table covered with Fruity Pebbles and spilled milk over to the coffee maker. Oh lucky. The container of milk is right here on the counter. And cookies! I shove a few in my mouth without a thought. I should really clean this up I think, and gulp down my coffee while my child dressed like a big doody eats the cereal from the floor.

 The phone rings. It’s my mother. I’m way too busy to answer.

“Let’s get to school, buddy.” I say. “But how ‘bout a catch first?” We leisurely throw the ball on the lawn for a while before I finally get him to school 15 minutes late. A bunch of nursery moms are still hanging around and chatting as I bounce by with him on my shoulders. Wow, one of them has a really nice rack. I can’t seem to stop staring. I feel unusually drawn to her, but realize I’m wearing my pajama tee-shirt with the holes and somehow I forgot to put on a bra this morning. I don’t really feel like socializing anyway, especially after one of the flat-chested moms gave me a strange look when I whipped her daughter up and threw her into the air. I totally thought she was laughing, but turns out the kid cries like a laugh. How would I know that?! I have a strong urge to return to my bathroom and the sports section.

Comfortably seated back on my toilet I think about what I have to do for the day. Gym, supermarket, dry cleaners, I need two birthday party gifts, a school meeting and I must do laundry. Hmmm. None of that sounds like much fun. I’ll definitely do the gym. Maybe I’ll just blow off the rest of it and go hit some golf balls. That’s an awesome idea. I am so Awesome! I think and then realize there’s no toilet paper. “Hey can you bring me some toilet paper?” I yell out, but there’s no one there to get it. I shrug and go back to the newspaper. I’ll worry about it later.

*Putting finishing touches on my week 3 entry now. I’m partnered up with Meredith from www.pilesofbabies.com. She is hysterical and awesome!!! Get ready to vote Wednesday/Thursday at www.writersarethenewrockstars.blogspot.com. Thank you all for keeping me in the game. 🙂 *

Just Say No!

It’s the word most often used by children, an easy, mono-syllable that’s fun and expressive. We’re brainwashed to it at a young age from parents and teachers. There’s a whole campaign telling us to just say it. Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain; my kids certainly know how to say, “No.”

“Michael, it’s time to get up.”

“No.”

“Julius, did you brush your teeth?”

“No.”

“Tyler, do you know where your homework is?”

“No.”

This morning, I’m finally leaving the nursery school after some harrowing negotiations with Julius.

“I don’t want to go to school today!” Floppy-curled, chubby-cheeked four year-old stands tough.

“I’m picking you up in just a few hours.”

“No.”

“You have to go.”

“No.”

Heavy sigh.

I had a 9:15 spin class and didn’t want a battle this morning. He was going. I was late. There was only one thing left for me to do… bribery. Yup. Plain and simple. I got low and whispered in his ear. “Go now and I’ll take you to the candy store at pick-up.” I threw some sugar on the sugar, “You can pick out TWO things!”

Julius easily took the bait. We were both solid candy addicts. With a big hug, I was out.  Genius parenting, right there.

I maneuvered my way through children and moms like an all-star obstacle course racer, waving here and there, trying to quickly get to my car without stopping. I was outside, almost there, when the Rabbi spotted me and beckoned me to him. I had a momentary fight or flight reaction; I wanted to run to the car. First, because I was going to miss my gym class and second, because nothing good can come from our conversing. I have a long history of inappropriate commentary, but when the Rabbi beckons, one can only submit. So I take one last longing look at my escape vehicle just feet away and walk over. So close.

As it turns out, it was worse than me embarrassing myself.

Rabbi – “I was wondering if I could count on you to get a little more involved in the Hebrew School.”

Me (Smiling painfully, nodding in the negative and backing slowly away) – “I have a lot on my plate right now.”

Rabbi – “Yes, yes, I know you do a lot for the nursery school but it’s time you transitioned your efforts.”

Oh no, he was using Rabbi mind games on me, it was like the Force, only stronger! I felt myself nodding up and down in agreement.

By the time I got into my car, I had no idea what I had agreed to.

On the elliptical machine at the gym (yes, I missed my class) a friend from the elementary school approached and asked if I would help out on a volunteer project for the kids.

“I don’t know.” I demurred. “I’m already over-extended.”

She assured me it was nothing. Cake. Just need a name to put down.

Again I found myself nodding. I was going to have to consider wiring my head to my neck.

Finished with exercise, I stopped at the supermarket and the dry cleaners for Howard, then home for a shower before nursery pick-up. My phone rings. It’s my father. He needs me to call a doctor for him and maybe figure out this problem he’s been having with his home health aide. He’s in a decent mood, which is a plus, but I sigh and add the chore to my list.

I go to pick-up Julius, checking my emails while I wait. There’s already one from the head of the volunteer committee, the “name only” gig. Uh oh. I’m distracted when Julius runs out with a hug intended to knock me over and almost succeeds.

“Hey! Did you have a good day?” I ask.

“No.”

Of course not.

“So, do you want to go to the candy store?”

“YES!!” came his exuberant reply, accompanied by another knock down hug.

Finally, a yes from my boy! Now here’s a kid who knows his mind. I think about it. He’s a genius. He simply says “yes” to what he wants, and “no” to what he doesn’t. What a concept!

Hmmm… I wonder if I’m going to learn anything from this?

NO!

So I Fret. I’m Not Gonna Worry About It.

It’s dark outside, not yet morning, but I slip from my bed, tip-toe to the bathroom and down the stairs. I spent the last five hours in a restless doze, waking every half hour or so and checking the clock. I had gone to bed at 12:30 am, bleary-eyed after a long day racing with the kids and then four hours straight sitting in front of the computer writing, discarding, writing, discarding. I’m anxious. I have an unfinished essay on my mind; and because of it I can’t sleep. For hours I lay there, snuggled under covers, tossing and turning, ideas popping in and out of my head as I unsuccessfully try to think myself into unconsciousness. I jump up with a start when I realize I am not alone; there’s one person at this very moment, in another town, doing the exact same thing I am. My mother.

It’s not for the same reasons, of course, but my mother is someone who when something is on her mind, it goes straight to her heart.

Often, we’ll speak and the conversation will go something like this,

Her, nervous and anxious – “I couldn’t sleep again last night.”

Me, nibbling on snacks, going through mail, half-listening – “Oh no. What now?”

“I’m worried I did the wrong thing about…”

Now here you could insert almost anything from “I cut my hair too short” to “I wish I had been a better mom.” My mother has the unique capacity to fret over everything in her life, big and small, no matter if it happened that day or 30 years ago. She can’t let it go and will worry herself until a new worry emerges to supersede it.

This is your brain on fret – It glows!

When my brother bought a new house, she worried if it was the right one. Then she worried that it was the wrong one. She worried about what color they’d paint it. And she worried about when they’d paint. Then she worried about the paint. Once it was done, she worried if it was the right color. She didn’t sleep for months over that.

I am the calm one, reminding her to relax. Trying to focus her on the important things or bring her around to the positive side. I like to think I keep it all in perspective. I tell myself I’m not crazy like that, yet here I am, typing out my thoughts while my body begs for sleep. I can’t seem to rest till it’s done. It hits me that all the women on my side are fretters to some degree. My grandmother was a fretter and my aunt is a fretter as well. My cousins, although it’s been diluted through the years, are little fretters. Maybe, it’s part of me, passed down like my green eyes and beyond my control. How aggravating.

From the dark silence of my sleeping house, my four year-old calls out and I race with soft feet up the stairs to his room. “Mama,” he says drowsily, “sleep with me.” I place my head down on the pillow and feel my tension lift as his little hands pull me closer to snuggle. Wait, maybe it doesn’t  run in the family. I can let things go and relax. I can fight the fret! I breathe in the sweet scent of my son’s curly mop. As I drift off, my brain no longer running but slowing to a walk,  my last thought as I flutter on the edge of consciousness is that this would make a great ending to my essay.

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