Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Packing Away the Losses and Looking Forward

All roads have led us here. 

I've always been a big believer in the "no regrets" philosophy on life. I like to think that everything happens for a reason (cliche), that the big dude upstairs never gives us more than we can handle (Jewish cliche), and that no matter how craptastic everything in life seems, gam zu l'tovah (religious Jewish cliche).

On this point, a friend sent me a video of Oprah talking about how there are no mistakes, that all paths and decisions lead to the same point, a greater destiny in time that we can't always see or envision or understand, but that all of our choices, good and bad, land us at that same destination. I'm not an Oprah-holic, but she has a very good point appropriate for both a new year and my life right now:
"There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, hear that, and know that. And sometimes when you're not listening you get taken off track. ... but it's all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths. There are none. There is no such thing as failure, really. Failure is just that thing trying to move you in another direction, so you get as much from your losses as you do from your victories. Because the losses are there to wake you up."
The other day the local afternoon radio show was doing a segment where they were asking callers what, if anything, they would hop in a time machine and go back and change. There were all sorts of stories, from people cheating with their best friend's significant others to not taking amazing job opportunities and losing out on millions and millions of dollars. I started racking my brain about the choices I've made in life and trying to decide what I would go back and change.

I thought about the moment I decided to stop working for The Washington Post. A dream job, my friends said. People would have killed for my job at The Washington Post. Should I have stayed? Should I have found a way to make the hours and loneliness work? Where would I be now had I stuck it out? My dream was always to live in New York City and work at The New York Times, and maybe that dream would have become a reality. I had connections, I had the skill.

I thought about the moment I decided to really end things with a long-term boyfriend, a boyfriend with whom I held an epic love story of distance and years and drama. What if I had stuck around in Chicago instead of leaving to go to graduate school, what if I had made a commitment to be there for the one-millionith incarnation of our relationship? I had loved him, I knew him, I'd committed years to us.

Oddly enough, those are the only two moments in my life that popped up as possible "go back and change it" moments. And in that same instance of momentary thoughts I considered my son, my husband, my Judaism, who I am now.

Had either of those moments in my life not occurred precisely as they were meant to, no matter how much heartache, pain, and fleeting regret I have about them, I would not be where I am today. I would  probably not be an Orthodox Jewish mother to a beautiful little dreamboat of a boy or a committed wife to a husband a million miles away doing everything in my power to keep our world afloat.

I've had a lot of losses this year. I could enumerate them month by month for you, but that would be a labor of looking back, not forward.

I want to focus on waking up, not the losses. This year's wake-up call is propelling me into 2015 with a sense of commitment to my marriage and my son, to knowing that my father is in the right place for him, to solidifying a plan to return to the land where I feel so at ease even when I understand nothing I read or hear, and to feeling more alive and trusting in my Judaism.

After five years of doing Jewish (I finalized my Orthodox conversion on January 1, 2010), I think I can handle this.

Here's to 2015, everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 Days Will Never Be Enough

At Ben Gurion, prior to departure.

I'm the woman you'll find booking it between Terminal C and the International Gates at the Philadelphia Airport with puffy red eyes and tears streaming down her face. Twice. Coming and going, I broke down, Asher happily eating cheerios and staring at the shops flying by and people asking if I'm okay, as I flew through the airport trying to make connections, barely, both times.

And after 10 days in Israel with my husband (and the difficult last-minute decision whether to possibly cancel the trip because of health issues with my father), who I hadn't seen in 2.5 months and won't see for another 2.5 or more months, after the second breakdown in the airport after leaving him at Ben Gurion and the 12-hour flight with a 1-year-old child and the never-ending customs line and having to pick up and then recheck my luggage and stand in security and have a TSA agent yell at me for throwing my shoes at her because I was frustrated that I had to completely dismantle my entire stroller unlike I had at any other airport, after it all and I was sitting back in my car in Denver heading back to our apartment where all our stuff is and where Ash immediately fell back into his circuit of toys here, toys there ... I realized how utterly broken I am.

I find myself perpetually on the verge of tears. Those moments where things are quiet and calm where my mind is relaxed I remember my reality, the reality of those around me, my family, my father, my husband. It all breaks my heart. And it's exhausting.

There's a popular joke that Jewish guilt is a special form of torture. Although I wasn't born Jewish, I was clearly born with a Jewish neshama (soul), because the moment the plane rose into the sky over Tel Aviv all I could think was, "I didn't tell him I loved him enough or hug him enough. I didn't do enough while I was there."

I also found myself walking through the Philadelphia airport today whispering to myself, "What did I do HaShem? What did I do to deserve this?"

After I got divorced (or maybe while), I read Harold Kushner's Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, and part of me is thinking I should crack that puppy back open. I remember having more clarity and understanding of the pain I was feeling and feeling better about the cause-and-affect reality of Judaism.

Without a doubt this has all been one mighty test. It will continue to be a test until we're all back together again. The verge-of-tears reality over those far away and those close by will continue, the frustrations with not having a night to myself will continue, and the pain of feeling alone, helpless, and lonely will persist.

My world is a mess. As usual. Right? Calm is not in the books for me.

Luckily, as everyone along my journey to and from Israel told me, my son is beautiful and happy, evidently I'm a natural mother, and with those things combined, I have a bit of hope that we'll survive. That I'll survive.

I just have to figure out what that means.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Maccabee on the Mantel, Mensch on the Bench, and Gelt-Giving Golem

Captain makes a guest appearance with the Chanukah crew.

My house is full of cute plush creatures and their tales of Chanukah miracles and Asher couldn't be happier!

Yes, we're the proud owners (thanks to receiving these for review) of the Gelt-Giving Golem, Mensch on a Bench, and Maccabee on the Mantel. Each of these plush cuties comes with a box and a book that tells a bit about the Chanukah story, a bit about the character, and a bit about the celebration, the brochot (blessings), and how-tos when it comes to the eight day festival. Likewise, all three encourage the new owner to give a unique and special name to the Golem, Mensch, or Maccabee.

The three are very different in terms of what they bring to the table for the discerning, gift-giver. I always say that I'm boldly honest when it comes to my reviews, and I won't hesitate with that promise here.

Mensch on a Bench (✡✡✡)

You've probably seen the Mensch on a Bench in your local Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, as it's the most well-advertised in the mainstream. It's also probably the most substantial "kit" out of the three, as it comes with a mensch decked out in a black hat, tallit, and beard; a book about how to be a mensch (a generally good person); and a removable bench for his lounging pleasure. The mensch holds the shamash (that's the candle that you use to light the other candles on the Chanukah menorah) at the ready for each night of Chanukah, and I love that you're urged not to actually let the mensch light your menorah.

I really like the idea behind this kit, and the plush mensch has a super expressive face (we named him Mordechai) and a well-thought-out outfit and brand. Of the three, however, it isn't Asher's favorite.

The Gelt-Giving Golem (✡✡)

The first company that contacted me presented the Gelt-Giving Golem, the concept for which I really liked. According to the website, this kit
"tells the tale of the Hanukkah Golem, a friendly character who was formed from clay by Rabbi Ben Bezalel on the 25th of Kislev, the first night of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah Golem teaches children to practice Tikun O'lam (repair of the world) and shares chocolate gelt with children who are well-behaved during the holiday."
In this sense, its theme is the closest to the popular Elf on the Shelf, what with the Golem geared toward overnight antics and the promise of treats.

I will say that the plush is not very impressive (especially compared to the other two), although he does have velcro on his hands and feet so you can easily attach him to things in your home. If anything, Asher really loves that the Golem has a cape, because we can make him fly. Even still, he's not Ash's favorite!

The Maccabee on the Mantel (✡✡✡✡✡)

Of all three of these Chanukah-themed boxes of meaning, inspiration, and fun, this is Asher's favorite by far. It is the most substantial and high-quality of the three when it comes to the packaging and presentation, with its almost anime-style illustrations in its book, and the plush itself is very light and soft in its features, which seem to really appeal to my little one.

I also think The Maccabee on the Mantel provides the nicest tie-in to Chanukah overall, what with the plush and almost squishy-soft/hard-cover book highlighting the miracle of Chanukah and the role of the Maccabees. Of the three, it seems like it's the most true to the message of Chanukah.

Asher schleps Zevulon (that's what we named our Maccabee) around the house with joy and giggles, and I have to say that if I had to pick one of the three to gift, I'd definitely pick this one. They also have a lot of really cute videos:

Note: I have a bunch of pictures of Asher + the Chanukah crew and how he reacted when we received them and opened each of them, but I have to find them to post. When we opened Maccabee on the Mantel it was almost like the Maccabee walked out of the box! His jaw dropped and he did this sort of "air release" sound. It was freakin' adorable. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Day in the Life: Single Parenting, Ear Infections, and Survival

Oh hello there. The past few weeks have gone a little bit like this:

Three weeks ago Ash got pink eye.

Two weeks ago he got it again.

Last Monday: Ash was a little kvetchy.

Last Tuesday: Ash was very kvetchy and got sent home from daycare with a fever.

Last Wednesday: Ash was kvetch half the time and laying around lifeless the other half of the time. He threw up.

Last Thursday: My parents showed up. The turkey went in. I was told by the parent line to take Ash to urgent care/the ER. Then the turkey came out. We went to Children's Hospital and it was diagnosed as an ear infection. We drove across town to a 24-hour pharmacy, went home and ate turkey and Pistachio Salad. (For my first turkey ever, it was pretty amazing.)

Friday: Ash screamed for two hours straight inconsolably several times. I felt helpless.

Saturday: Ash seemed a bit better. Hoping the meds were working, we went to shul and then out to lunch. Ash deteriorated again that night. He threw up twice.

Sunday: Magic! Just as my parents prepared to leave town, Asher brightened up, became himself again. And by Monday he was healthy, happy, and giggly like normal.

I'm not asking for sympathy or for the trolls to write about me and how sad and pathetic and whiney I am. I'm just writing it out for perspective. Thankfully, Ash has been a pretty healthy baby as far as illness goes. Yes, he was terribly colicky and had terrible gas/intestinal issues the first part of his life, but considering, he never suffered ear infections or anything worse until now. I'm simply hoping he doesn't get chronic ear infections. I never had them as a kid, and the inconsolable screaming proved one thing to me: ear infections are the worst. Worse than teething. Worse than a painful poop. Worse than anything for baby.

Ultimately, however, I realize that it all was probably a lot harder on me than it was on him. Having my parents around should have been helpful, but it made me anxious. All I could think was, they probably think it's always like this. I'm a terrible parent. I can't sooth and calm my child. I'm failing.

The worst of it all for me? This is going to sound stupid, but when G-d decided that babies shouldn't be able to blow their own noses on instinct, he was asking mothers everywhere to feel terrible, horrible, demonic for having to pin down their children to suck snot out of their tiny noses. At the hospital, I had to hold Ash down while the nurse did it and made him wail. Dad heard all the way out in the waiting room. At home, I found it too hard to do. I probably did Ash a huge disservice not squiging out his nose four times a day like they suggested, but the stress of his screaming and having my parents around and feeling like a failure as a parent kept me from it.

Also? That tiny little screaming baby face with welled-up tears and that look of, "Mommy, why are you doing this to me!? I'm so cute and cuddly and snuggly and I love you so don't take my boogers" is hard to overcome.


Just a week and a half and we're off to Israel so Mr. T can help us celebrate Asher's first birthday (and, you know, it's been more than two months since we've seen each other and it'll probably be another three or more). I can't believe it's already been a year since Asher was born. I can't believe it's only been two years since Tuvia and I first started talking. Where does it go? The time. It's ripped away at lightning speed.

The reality? You never know your own strength until absolutely everything is moved out of reach and you're forced to cope, adapt, and stumble through it all with necessary optimism. Because there's a tiny human -- one that pulls off your eye mask in the morning with a huge grin and loud bursts of "da da da ba ba ba" as he crawls all over you -- relying on you for absolutely everything.

To be needed is what forces us to survive.