Thursday, August 5, 2010

Growing Up & Getting Older.

This is a photo from ... maybe 2005? 2006? I don't remember. It's old. Just like us, now!
I hit the road to South Carolina around 5:45 a.m. on Monday from Teaneck, beating the early-morning traffic around the city. I turned the music up loud, chugged my Skinny Vanilla Latte, and watched the world fly by in my rearview mirror. I drove through Delaware and Maryland and North Carolina and part of South Carolina, and I knew when I had entered G-d's country: Ronald Reagan quotes on billboards and the "Pull off for porn here" billboards juxtaposed with "Have you been saved today?" ones just across the highway.

I stopped at a large Outlet Mall somewhere in North Carolina, popped into the local Lane Bryant and nabbed a new skirt. While checking out, I had to explain to the woman the difference in names on the cards and all that and she queried, glancing at my head scarf, "Did you change your name for religion or somethin'?" with a thick, curly twang. "Yup," I said, "I got married and converted to Judaism." Without much interest, but with a hint of "well, then ... " she said, "Well, isn't that just nice," handed me my bag, and wished me no pleasantries on my way out. It's easier for me to express the tone in person, with the language and the tone, but, well, perhaps you get the drift. As I left the store, two Muslim women were entering, and I almost issued them a "steer clear!" I almost wonder if my name gives off a hint of Middle Eastern-ness that doesn't say "Jew" to a non-Jewish or non-Muslim crowd. It's not an Esther or Miriam or Sarah or Elisheva or anything. Chaviva sounds to many like Habibi. Anyway ...

So I'm here in South Carolina, where I've been for the past two days, and tomorrow I pack up and ship back off to Teaneck. I am here visiting my little brother, although calling him that feels really strange now. Yes, he's nine years younger than me (surprise!), but he's not little anymore. I resisted a long time seeing him as a teenager, and now seeing him as an adult is even more difficult. He and his awesome girlfriend are sharing an apartment in town until they're able to move into campus to start the school year (which will happen in a few weeks), and at first I wanted to quip, "So how is playing house?" but after being here for two days and watching them cook each other dinner and clean up and do dishes and everything, I realize they're not playing. They're grown up. They buy groceries and watch movies and hug and snuggle and cook pasta in the meager pots and pans they have, but they make it work. And most importantly? They're happy. They're really happy. I'm almost jealous of their happiness. It's simple happiness, but they're really happy.

And it's about 5 million degrees and humid here -- not sure how anyone can function in those temps, but they do. And did I mention they're still happy? Sweaty and snuggly, they're happy.

If anything, being here with my brother and his girlfriend has made me miss my husband more than ever (this is, after all, the first time we've spent nights apart since being married in May). Yesterday we went to Myrtle Beach and roamed the beach, we watched fireworks, we schlepped the boardwalk. And the entire time I was thinking, Tuvia would love this. Vacations without your beloved kind of suck.

I never thought I'd be okay with Joe (that's the brother) getting older, but I think this short trip has helped me cope. I'm beaming with pride and joy in his accomplishments. He's a smart kid, he's always been smart, but his smarts have landed him some pretty sweet stuff here in South Carolina (a scholarship with a FREE computer attached!?), and he's living his life. He's doing his thing. He's living. He's grown up now. And I think that finally -- sof sof -- I'm okay with that. I love my little brother more than anything in the world, more than life itself. For all the hell I put him through as a child, he clung to me and nothing has ever come between the two of us; he is my closest relative, my most special soul. I don't know if he knows how much I adore him, but I think he has an idea. After all, I drove 12.5 hours just to see him.

And buy him sheets and a pillow for school, of course. What are sisters for, after all?

Life is a funny thing. I feel so old around him now. This kid, a man now, with a long-term girlfriend and name on an apartment lease and his own things and life. He's growing up, and I'm getting older. But I'm okay with it now. I have the pride of a million mothers for this boy-turned-man.

Now if I could just get him to cut his toenails ...

Stay tuned for lots of trip photos and me letting you know what it's like keeping kosher around non-kosher/non-Jewish family in a state with very, very, very few options that are not convenient at all. As a preview, check out this gigant fried flounder I got at Cafe M in Myrtle Beach!