What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

clock2Writing has been part of my life since I could first use a pencil and left scraps of paper all over my grandmother’s house – my “notes” – when I visited.  She said that from the time I was about six years old, cleaning up after I had spent time with her was entertaining. She never wondered what was on my mind – I wrote everything down. I planned on being a writer all the way through college and graduate school when I realized that I needed a day job to pay the bills.  I resisted teaching for a long while because it was sort of my “family business” – Mom still teaches elementary school (finishing her 46th classroom!), my father was on the board of education for years, my uncle teaches law, another uncle was the vice-chancellor of a big university, and even my grandmother was assistant superintendent of schools in a system in Connecticut when I was little.  I didn’t want any part of it.  I tried advertising, public relations and even a computer firm until I finally caved in and got a doctorate in English education and started teaching writing on the college level.

As any woman knows, balancing the demands and rewards of work and family is no easy feat.  When our family moved to Japan, I was lucky enough to find part time work at Temple University where I could teach two courses a semester and still have plenty of time to not only be a participatory mother, but even volunteer in the kids’ schools and never miss an event.  Adjunct teaching isn’t for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have a husband with a steady job so my career didn’t have to be primary and I could focus on the kids.

Babies tend to do this funny thing: they grow.  A lot.  Quickly.  Though it seems like only seconds ago I walked down a street holding the hands of a toddler and a kindergartener, my current reality has one child graduating from middle school and the other graduating from elementary school.  Yep, in a few short months I will be the parent of a high schooler and middle schooler.

More often than not, the kids are busy after school these days and not home until close to dinner time.  I don’t always have to go with them to these activities because many of them are associated with the school and they have busing.  So that leads me to the question of what I’m going to do next.  It’s an interesting question for any woman at any time, but in Japan, where I’m a trailing spouse, sometimes the issues seem insurmountable.  I don’t speak or read the language, and most Japanese companies don’t want a foreigner working for them anyway.  In addition, with my children’s school schedules, I want to be able to take them to the US for a long summer holiday so they can reconnect with our extended family and American roots.  I can’t take just any full time job, so the Temple University position, for just two semesters a year, is ideal.

Luckily, as a writer I have a lot of other options too.  There are blog posts to read and write, contests to enter, and even English-language magazines for which to write.  I’ll do another posting on writing vs. editing and the challenges therein, but this leads me to another point – focus.  I can’t do everything.  I have to pick what it is that’s important to me and focus on those things, otherwise I’ll do many things and none of them very well or successfully.

So now it’s time to raise the bar and figure out what it is that will claim my focus going forward.  Teaching will hopefully be part of the equation, but what I choose to write and how I choose to organize my time in the next few months remains to be seen.

One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that what I want to be when I grow up is not a static thing.  The idea of it can grow and change as I grow and change – emotionally, physically and even situationally.  That same grandmother who found my scraps of paper when I was little used to tell me, “when I stop learning, that’s how you’ll know I’m dead.” I subscribe to that theory. I’m not sure what exactly I want to be when I grow up, but figuring it out is a great journey

How Do You Want To Be When You’re Old?

My grandmother, Shirley Bernstein, bottom right, and the "girls" - her table-mates.

My grandmother, Shirley Bernstein, bottom right, and the “girls” – her table-mates.

Old, I have discovered lately, is a state of mind.  Look at these ladies here.  The one on the far right next to the empty chair is my grandmother.  She’s ninety and these are her buddies – her table-mates at the independent living establishment where they reside.  A few weeks ago I had the privilege of dining with them, and what an experience it was!  All of them are over eighty and living on their own in an apartment in the building.  They have dinner together in the building’s dining room nightly.  But it’s not just a cafeteria; this is a place where you’re required to dress for dinner.  No schlumpy jeans and t-shirt for this dining room.  Every night they dine on soup, salad, entree and desert.  And the apartments are regular apartments that anyone might live in.  My grandmother’s is a one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom unit on the third floor.  It’s lovely and perfect for her.  She has someone in to clean, but she does most of her own laundry and gets herself meals other than dinner.  The dining room is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch, so sometimes she lunches there, but mostly it’s just dinner.

I was visiting to give a speech that night about my experiences as an expat in Tokyo.  The place has a great auditorium and I was able to connect my laptop to the projector and give a Powerpoint presentation like at any other lecture hall I’ve attended.  The lecture was at 8pm, after dinner, and I didn’t know really what to expect, but there was a pretty good turnout – 40 or 50 people there.  But really, I learned more from these six women before the speech that evening than I could ever have presented to them.

Over dinner, these women acted just like me and my thirty and forty-something girlfriends.  They complained about men, they discussed fashion and shopping, and there were two condom jokes told, making us all roar in laughter.  I must admit that heads at other tables turned toward us to wonder why we were laughing so much and so hard!

This is just how I want to be when I get to be ninety, I decided.  All of them play either mah jong or bridge weekly.  They are active in local women’s organizations, and some of them, including my grandmother, volunteer in a local elementary school.  They care about their hair and makeup and clothing like anyone else.  They demand to be taken seriously, as well they should.  Each one of them is a formidable force in her own right with a good brain and thoughtful ideas.  So some of them, also including my grandmother, use a walker to keep them steady or take a catnap in the afternoon to refresh them.  They are all making the most of the opportunities afforded them at this time in their lives.  Of course it’s different and life is different for them now than it was twenty years ago, but truly, which one of us is the same as she was twenty years ago?

My grandmother, as I’ve mentioned before, has been my best friend for all of my forty-something years, and there are very few days that I don’t speak to her on the phone even though we live thousands and thousands of miles apart.  Somehow we both make the effort to keep our bond close and I don’t take it for granted. I know how lucky I am to have her in my life.  She’s the person who taught me to always strive to be my best self and for that, I am grateful.

I plan to be happy and forward-thinking well into my nineties, or as long as my health will allow me.  These ladies know the meaning of a life well-lived, and they continue living it with great gusto.  They’re my heroes and I love them all.

Multicultural Parties for Kids

Bailey shows the teens how to spin the dreidel.

Bailey shows the teens how to spin the dreidel.

Right after the war, in 1945, a Jewish man named Ernie Solomon started an orphanage in Japan.  He had escaped Eastern Europe and came through Japan, living most of the rest of his life in Tokyo.  He saw a need for care for children who had lost their parents during the war, and he made it happen.  He and his family have supported the Wakabaryo orphanage ever since its inception.  A man with strong Jewish roots, Ernie always arranged for the Jewish Community of Japan to have a joint holiday party with the orphans and the children of the JCJ.  Ernie passed away two years ago, but the tradition continues.  This year, I had the opportunity to go to the orphanage with my children and it was a joyous holiday experience for everyone.

Everyone at Wakabaryo was truly excited to see the group of five adults (including the rabbi) and the ten kids who arrived around 6pm.  Like everywhere traditionally Japanese, we were instructed to first remove our shoes then go upstairs to the party room.  In the room stood about 30 young people and ten or so staff waiting to welcome us.  The tables were laden with cakes and other sweets and not one of the children, from the youngest (age 1 or so) to the teenagers touched any of it.  There were a few speeches welcoming us, and then a rousing rendition of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer in Japanese.  They asked each of our kids to introduce themselves, which they did in proper Japanese.  But for four of the Jewish kids, ours were not Japanese speakers, but they all take Japanese lessons, so they were able to tell everyone their names and ages in Japanese.  Then we got to eat the sweets.  Our kids really tried hard to interact with the Japanese kids.  Once again, I learned the lesson that silliness among children has no language barriers.

After eating, we cleared the tables and moved them out of the room so everyone could sit down and play the dreidel game.  It was 2012-12-06 07.09.10great fun to teach these kids about the game and its meaning – all in Japanese.  There were shrieks of laughter and even some boo-ing as the kids enjoyed the game together. Mr. Solomon’s widow gave each child a small gift and the children presented our JCJ kids with a small gift as well.  After a group picture, it was time for us to leave.

Those Japanese youngsters were so appreciative that they formed a line down the stairs and out the door to see us off properly.  There were shouts of “sayonara!” and even “see you!” from a few of the kids.  It was hard to leave.

The experience awed my own children.  It inspired feelings of gratitude and appreciation for all of their many gifts, including the large family that loves them so well.  But it also reminded them, as it did for me, that children are children, and games and celebrations transcend language and culture.  Add in holidays and special sweets, and there’s a recipe for instant friendship.  I hope this is the first of many visits.

Thanksgiving At My Home Away From Home

To an expat, the idea of “home” is very confusing.  It could be where you live currently, where you’re from, or even the last place you lived before moving to where you are now.  It just depends on the connections you’ve made or the roots you’ve set down. However, on a day like Thanksgiving, home is tied up in the memories of complex feelings and ideas as well as place.

For Americans, Thanksgiving is the truest of cultural holidays and memories are tied up in all sorts of ways.  For some people it’s their grandmother’s kitchen or the groaning table laden with food.  For others its the insistence about watching a football game that a favorite Uncle had after dinner.  Most people have some sort of memories about food, though – it’s a really common thread.  Whether it’s Mom’s turkey or the pecan vs. pumpkin pie debate, food plays a huge role in the event.

Yesterday I was over at White Smoke, which is a Texas barbeque place right in my Tokyo neighborhood. (As an aside, the food there is unbelievable – they smoke all of their meats with a Texas dry rub and the flavors are unreal.  My son, who is off from school, and I went for lunch.)  I got to chatting with the owner and he was telling me that they will have two seatings for Thanksgiving people with upwards of eighty people expected in the restaurant.  In a place where restaurants come and go with nerve-wracking frequency, I was glad to hear they were doing so well!  But I had to laugh when he told me proudly that he was making the “corn bread dressing” he had grown up with.  First off all, I’m from New England.  We call it stuffing, not dressing.  And corn-bread? Ew!  I like plain bread stuffing swimming in onions.  In fact, my sister-in-law taught me to make it with sauteed sausage in it.  Corn bread is fine to eat as its own side dish, but as  a base for stuffing?  Not for me, thanks.  But that’s his memory – his childhood Thanksgiving food memory is tied up in cornbread dressing, so of course that’s he is going to make it as an adult.

My childhood memories involve the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  My mom had it on ALL day in the kitchen as we ate breakfast and as she cooked the meal.  My aunt and uncle and cousins would arrive before noon because they would get a jump on traffic from New York to Connecticut by leaving at the crack of dawn and having breakfast on the road. Every now and then we’d pause in our bustling around to say, “Look! There’s Underdog” (always my favorite balloon) or “Wow, listen to that awesome marching band.”

Having made a number of meals this autumn for the Jewish holidays and having thrown two bar mitzvahs in the past three months, I have abdicated my hosting responsibilities.  We are going over to the Tokyo American Club with our friends.  These are not just any friends, I must note, though.  These are the friends with whom we have a standing Sunday night dinner date. These are the friends who I would call in any emergency.  These are the friends where the parents are close and the kids are all equally as close.  And most importantly, these are the friends for whom I am grateful daily for their place in our lives.  They are as close as we’re going to get to having family in a foreign country.

So while I am missing the Macy’s parade this morning, and I sent flowers to my dearest Auntie, who has my grandmother at her house, and I have already spoken with my mother and father, I am having my own Thanksgiving in Japan, halfway around the world from where I grew up.  I am thankful for the ability to create Thanksgiving memories for my children, and I am doubly thankful for the memories of my own holidays of my childhood.  I’m going to make it a great day.

A Friday Special: Friends, Family and the Mikveh (A Hopeful Sign)

One of my favorite outlets for which to write is A Hopeful Sign.  All of the stories on it are full of interesting ideas and thoughts, all carrying the same thread of positivity.  In an increasingly negative world, its message is not just a breath of fresh air, but a full-on oxygen tank for navigating today’s confusing maze of a universe.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to be present at my friends’ daughters’ conversion at the Jewish Community of Japan.  My take on it from the AHS site is HERE.

I would prefer you click on the link above to see the proper site, but here’s the text of the piece anyway.  Enjoy

 

Running late, I hurried into the synagogue.  The rabbi met me downstairs and started explaining the whole process as we walked toward the mikveh. We had a conversion to complete.

A mikveh is a Jewish ritual bath and it has a number of uses.  Women might immerse themselves in the mikveh monthly to purify themselves.  Some men and women use it for purification before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  In Orthodox communities, some people will go to the mikveh every week before the Sabbath.  Like most things in Judaism, there are very specific rules about the construction of the actual bath, including that a certain percentage of the water must be sourced from a flowing, natural base, such as rain water or a river.  The most common use, especially here in Tokyo, is for purposes of conversion.

Judaism is a matrilineal religion – if your mother is a Jew, then you’re a Jew.  When a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the children have to be converted.  In some communities, and in the Reform and Reconstructionist sects of Judaism in general, only one parent has to be Jewish in order for a child to be Jewish and have a bar mitzvah but problems can arise later if a child who has not been officially converted wants to either move to Israel or marry a very religious person.  So by “dipping” a kid in the mikveh, parents who intend to raise their kids as Jews are covering all bases with very little downside.

Some people might argue that a mikveh “dip” should happen before the child has awareness – around age one or two.  But there is another school of thought that says a child should be aware of what’s happening and have a little bit of say in the matter, so it should happen around age ten or eleven. There are definite pros and cons for both sides here, but in this particular case, the parents had waited.

We first met the K family in 2007 when we moved back to Tokyo after just two years in Washington DC.  Our kids went to school together at the lovely Montessori school nearby; both of their daughters are a year younger than my children.  In this case, the father is Jewish and the mother is not, but both parents are committed to raising their children as Jews.  I admire my darling friend G, the mom, for this; whereas it’s easy for me to do things like clean for Passover, or make certain ritual foods, for her it’s harder because she didn’t grow up with it.  To an outsider like me, it looks like she throws herself into it wholeheartedly, committed to her family as a unit, making it stronger in their united worship.

Our friendship, while often taking place in the synagogue or around Jewish holidays, expanded far beyond those events.  The adults would go out for dinner; the kids would have play-dates and sleepovers.  The dad is forever in my husband’s heart because he eats the same type of matzo ball as my husband does, which I make under protest every year just for the two of them.  After the earthquake, the older daughter ran a bike drive to collect bicycles for those in northern Japan who lost them in the quake.  I interviewed her for an article.  The younger daughter once came up to me, threw her arms around me and said, “YOU are my trusted adult.”  Clearly a lesson on safety had just happened at school, but regardless, I was honored to have that place in her life.  Our lives have been intertwined for the past five years.

And indeed it was the older daughter who presented the idea of the mikveh to her parents.  Just months away from her own bat mitzvah, she wanted to complete this ritual, and her sister wanted to join her.  My husband and I offered to help and be witnesses.  I was designated to be in the mikveh itself with the girls since I’m female and my husband would sign the certificate as a witness, based on my testimony.

So on that day, with their mom beside them and me kneeling next to the bath, first one daughter, then the other performed the ancient ritual of purity.  The girls had to come to the mikveh the same as the day they were born, so they could not wear jewelry or nail polish or any other adornment.  One at a time, they dunked completely under the water, every hair on their head, I said the blessing over them thanking God for the ritual, and they dunked two more times.  I signaled to the rabbi and witnesses that it was done, and the girls dressed.

After the papers were signed, all of us together went upstairs to the sanctuary and we opened the ark so the girls could go before the Torah for blessings.  The rabbi covered each girl’s head with his hands and murmured the traditional prayers.  He wished them both a life of Torah and good deeds and to grow in strength with the Jewish people.  The girls’ faces shone as they looked up at the rabbi who had been their teacher and their friend, and their parents who loved them.  The reverence was tangible in the air as the tears flowed freely down my face and my husband took my hand.

These girls and their parents, as I watched, embraced something that I take for granted.  They were able to reaffirm their commitment to Judaism and its faith and practice.  I was born a Jew, as was my husband, but they, as a family, were making this choice.  Likely, since they had already been living a Jewish life, their everyday existence would not be changed.  But that day was not one I will forget, nor will the K family.

Because we’re Jews and food is what we do, a celebratory dinner followed with the kids thoroughly enjoying each other’s company and the adults having so much fun that we nearly lost track of time.  The experiences we have shared as friends, as fellow expats in the Tokyo community, and as Jews will extend and expand over space and time.  There are some experiences and some people who stay with you in your heart forever regardless of geography.  Much love and thanks to the K family for sharing this experience, and your lives, with us.  We love you.

On Parents, Not Parenting

My parents left last night after a ten-day visit.  I was sorry to see them go, but the feelings were much more complex than just missing them.  There was a bit of relief to get my house back; a little sadness for my kids missing their grandparents; and a lot of deep nostalgia for my childhood, even though the visit was nothing like the way I grew up.

Like almost all adult parent-child relationships, mine is fraught with not just emotion, but emotional memory.  I have forty years of remembering my father’s quirky and wonderful habit of wearing cowboy boots with a suit.  When I see those boots, I am reminded of being a child and  young teen and pulling them off of him at the end of his long work-day.  Simply watching him don his shoes and take them off in my wholly Japanese genkan for ten days flooded the emotional memory part of my brain with the smell of rich leather. My mother is the most organized and put together woman on the planet.  She makes me, the consummate planner, feel like a slacker.  So instead of being grateful that she was showered and ready for the day (leaving the shower free for others to use) at 7:30am, at least two hours before we planned to leave, I got annoyed and felt like she was taunting me for being late or lazy,  neither of which is remotely true, nor was she taunting.  But, as a child, I was late and lazy until her lessons started sinking in post-college, so it’s old, outdated emotional memory that her early-ness triggered in me which made me automatically annoyed before I could think to be grateful.  Once I thought it through, of course I was pleased that she had been so prompt and thoughtful, but it took me a moment to remember that I’m no longer seventeen and entitled to that trigger.

Humans learn and grow every day and I’m pleased to report that my parents visit was a great one, full of new sights and adventures, as well as regular family time.  They got to attend the Tokyo Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, and meet all of my friends and the boy’s.  What my husband, the kids and I were able to show them in a concrete way, is that we have a warm and loving community in Tokyo.  While they are sad that their kids live so far away, I think they were gratified to know that we have such a rich, full life here.

What I see happening with my parents as they get older and so do I, is that our neural pathways continue to expand and we continue to learn about each other, with each other.  No one is perfect.  We all slip into old, unwanted and discarded patterns far too easily.  But we continue to make the effort to be together, enjoy each others company and plan future visits.  Emotional memory only extends so far; the future needs its own time to unfold.  Nurturing relationships requires work – all relationships require care and feeding – the good ones, anyway.  It’s worth the work.

My house is very quiet today as I’m in recovery mode and trying to get my proverbial house in order.  Without the quiet times we cannot fully appreciate the noisy times, however, so I am glad for the chance to move forward with my own to-do lists, writing and other tasks that did not get completed in the past week or so since they arrived.  We will see my parents again in December and I’m already looking forward to it.

The Bar Mitzvah Boy – On “A Hopeful Sign”

Photo by Fotik, all rights reserved.

This week I want to share with you my latest post on the e-zine “A Hopeful Sign.”  If you don’t know it, the site is truly beautiful, with posts from across the globe written by an interesting and dedicated group of people who think positively.  I have been writing for them and receiving their posts daily for about 18 months now, and every day I am awed by the incredible photography, hopeful messages, and fascinating ideas the writers share.

This piece is about Bailey’s bar mitzvah, and the way it connected us all to the past while allowing us to glimpse the future.  I look forward to hearing your comments.

Here’s the link to the site: http://ahopefulsign.com/making_a_difference/the-bar-mitzvah-boy

Please click the link, but if you would really prefer, the text is here:

I didn’t know that poised, confident young man who stood before the congregation leading the service.  He bore a strong resemblance to my 13-year-old son, but surely my child wasn’t as talented and engaging as this boy – or was he?

Strangely enough it was indeed my child up there.  Bailey, age thirteen, recently celebrated his bar mitzvah.  Literally translated, it means “son of the commandments” and it’s the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony that recognizes a boy’s entrance into adulthood in the eyes of world Jewry.  It generally involves leading a service and reading from the Torah, all in Hebrew.  So this is something for which Bailey had been studying for months.

The unusual part of Bailey’s bar mitzvah, however, is that he is doing it twice.  The first one was in August in the U.S. with our entire family, and the second one is in October with our Tokyo community.  It was important to Bailey to have this celebration with his extended family, all of whom are in the U.S., but also with his own friends, at his own synagogue, with the rabbi who had been teaching him for the past three years, even though that place was halfway across the globe. So while I kept on him to study, he was largely self-motivated, wanting to please his grandparents in the U.S. and his beloved rabbi in Tokyo, even if that meant learning two different services.

One of the beauties of Judaism is that the readings from the Torah are cyclical and proscribed.  I feel very comfortable knowing that every Jew around the world is reading the same section of the Torah on any given Saturday.  But given that parameter, it meant that Bailey would have to learn a different portion for the October bar mitzvah than the August one.  And still, he never batted an eyelash.

On this special day, Bailey carried with him, on his person, proof of his heritage.  He was wearing my grandfather’s mezuzah, a casing containing a special prayer, around his neck; he wore my other grandfather’s watch.  He wore my husband’s grandfather’s tie-tack, and as the icing on the cake, he wore his grandfather’s tallis, or prayer shawl, which his grandfather’s grandfather had worn to his bar mitzvah.  Bailey had a piece of ceremonial regalia from his great-great-grandfather.

Only moments before starting the service, Bailey had dragged me away from the gathering crowd to a private room where no one could see us.  “I can’t do it,” he said, and started to cry.  My first reaction, which thankfully I didn’t show, was panic.  Luckily rationality took over and I just held him and let him cry for a moment.  Any mother would tell you that sometimes all a kid needs is a good hug, not words or even treats.  Just a hug.  “It’s a lot of pressure,” I told him, hoping to validate his feelings.  “Do you want to do a quick run-through right this second?”

Bailey nodded and dried his eyes while I snuck out and retrieved his study materials.  We had a quick, ten-minute, last-second rehearsal right there.  When he was through, he stood up and looked straight at me.  He looked so dapper, that boy of mine.  He wore his first full-on suit, a blue striped shirt and a snazzy tie.  The shoes, straight from Nordstrom’s, tied the whole outfit together.

I searched his eyes as he looked at me. “You’re okay,” I said to him and he nodded.  I repeated it.  “You are okay.”

This boy, this baby of my heart, as I used to call him when he was little, stood up in front of 120 of our closest friends and family members and performed like a champ. No one would know that he had had a little meltdown only moments prior.  He sang with a rich, strong tone and spoke clearly without a waver to his voice.  He delivered his d’var Torah, a word of Torah that explained what he read and his interpretations of it, without missing a beat. He bantered lightly with the rabbi, and hugged his grandparents when they went up to share the sweet moment with him.

At times like these, it’s hard to recognize the sometimes-surly child who makes an appearance at the breakfast table each morning, or the scatterbrained kid who can never find all of the elements of a homework assignment at one time.  But it is moments like these that give us hope.  It is moments like these that connect us to the past, yet I could see a glimpse of the man my son has the potential to become.  In an increasingly cynical world where religion sometimes takes a backseat to other, more modern activities, watching a child take his place next to his ancestors as a young man proud of his heritage and ready to take on all of the rights and responsibilities thereof, is like receiving a gift of a vision of the future.

After the service, there was dinner and dancing, and Bailey danced like a brick wall had been lifted from his shoulders, as well he should have.  Joy, hope and pride all mixed together to form a twinkle in his eye and he whirled and played.  I have a feeling that I will recognize that twinkle many times in the years to come.  I cannot wait to watch.

A Baby No Longer

This is a photo of the Baby of my Heart, as I have always called Bailey, at age one, nearly twelve years ago.  He loved boxes and would squeal with delight if he saw the UPS guy in our driveway.  It never mattered what the boxes contained; the boxes were the fun part.  As you can see, most often Bailey himself ended up in the box.

He has always been a talker, this boy of mine.  He talks through his feelings and ideas, and can give you the play-by-play of every baseball, basketball or soccer game in which he has ever played and scored.  This past week when he was away with a grade-seven trip to Izu, south of Tokyo, the house was wildly quiet.  He has also always been an independent and curious person, eager to explore the world and what it has to offer.  He never went through an attachment phase and he has never minded leaving my side to go to school, to a sleepover, or even sleep-away camp.  He is always happy to come home and holds on tight when he’s here, but leaving is not an issue.

So last night, after the three days away with very little sleeping, he went to bed early.  By 2:30am he was in my room, waking me up.  “I feel funny, Mom,” he said.  Well, it’s really to be expected, I explained.  Just as his body is changing through puberty, so is his brain.  Part of the issue was that when they were away near the beach, they were required to shake out their shoes lest there be a caterpillar in them – the biting type of bugs, and he was concerned that one might have gotten into his stuff that he brought home.  His bag, when he brought it into the house and opened it, exploded in a mass of wet and stink! I assured him that we had already thrown his entire bag into the laundry and there was not a bug in sight.  But then he went into the particulars of the social nuances of the week he had spent.  There was one kid on the trip who was a bully and no one liked him any better on the trip than they did at school.  There was one boy on the trip who is “different” – on the autism spectrum – and Bailey tried his best to include him with varying degrees of success.  He talked to and played card games with girls for the first time.  He was concerned that some of the teasing that occurred on the trip would be carried over back into school.  He feels glad that he has a lot of friends spread out over various social “groups” at school, but gets frustrated that the groups, which he is experiencing for the first time, exist at all.  He keeps asking why everyone can’t just sit together – why does he have to choose which group to sit with at lunch every day?

All of those questions and that information came out in the hour between 2:30 and 3:30am last night.  I didn’t say much – just listened and gave a few minor suggestions. Finally, as his talking slowed, I told him to just go to sleep.  Just stay there and go to sleep.  As he fell asleep and I stroked his hair, I assured him that he was normal. I told him I appreciated that he wanted to talk to me and that I would never say no to a conversation.  If he wanted me in the middle of the night, he should always come to get me – or his dad.  I did assure him that we are good for talking in the middle of the day, also, and at other times when we’re normally supposed to be awake.

The baby in the box is definitively out of the box and out in the real world these days.  In just three months he will be a teenager and I feel like we’re just at the start of the all the changes that are on the horizon.  It is going to be a wild ride, I am certain.  But I do realize that if I can get Bailey to keep talking to me, then we’re most likely going to get through it just fine.  I admire the young man he is becoming as much as I adored that little boy in the box.   Here  we go.

Siblings – Yours Forever

I write for the e-zine “A Hopeful Sign” and here is my latest post.  It’s all about my brother, and how it doesn’t matter how different we are to each other; we are brother and sister and that’s forever.  We grew up together, we share the same memories – and the same parents, and that bonds us beyond all differences.  Here’ s the text of the piece, but I urge you to also see the attached photo on the e-zine itself.

Between Siblings, History is What Matters Most

(Post by AIMEE LEDEWITZ WEINSTEIN)

I started calling my brother “Dink” when he was about twelve, and I was sixteen.  That was the year I got my driver’s license and my parents gave me my mom’s old car to drive if I would agree to drive my brother everywhere he needed to go.  Alan had his bar mitzvah that year, and the Hebrew School carpool was particularly grueling, but I made the deal to get the wheels.

My brother and I had always been close.  He was the opposite sex to me, and four whole years younger, so there really wasn’t any competition.  Instead we conspired on ways to make our parents crazy, taking turns masterminding plans designed to put mom and dad in a tailspin while strengthening the bond between Alan and me.  That year I first had the car, though, we became even closer.  He was having some academic difficulties and turned to me for help since I always found school so easy.  He asked advice on clothes and girls, as well, and we had time for long talks. I don’t really recall the origin of the nickname precisely, but it definitely stuck – I still use it nearly 25 years later.

As Alan and I grew, I went on to college and then he did, but our closeness didn’t wane.  I remember taking a day off from my job the day my parents brought him up to school – to Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island.  My parents thought I was crazy, but there was no way I was going to let them take that journey without me.  I think I cried just as much as my mother on the way home.

I used to joke in those days that when Alan got married, I would be the biggest and smartest girl standing up there with them – and at five foot two in stocking feet, I’m no giant.  But my brother, who grew late, in tenth grade, when he had despaired of ever getting over five feet, grew to a final height of six feet even, and still
preferred girls who were just about five feet tall and as dumb as stumps, to put it kindly.  I met only a few of them, but they were all the same, and now I can’t recall even one clearly.  So it was a delightful surprise when Alan brought his wife to meet us the first time – she is tall and stately and very bright.  He had met his match and finally recognized it.

My brother and I are very different and have made a lot of different choices in our lives. For one thing, Alan has a cooking degree and a degree in hospitality management.  He is a great salesman, suave with clients, and a master party planner.  He is a creative whiz in a kitchen and never uses a recipe.  I couldn’t sell anything
to anyone, and even though I talk a lot, no one would ever describe me as suave – just chatty. I’m not that bad in the kitchen if I have a recipe to fall back on – in fact I have written down a bunch of Alan’s successes but he says he never writes anything down and nothing ever comes out quite the same way twice. He detested school almost as much as I loved it.  For him, college was a means to an end – to get the good job he wanted at the end of it. For me, I could have stayed in academia forever.  In fact, I have – with my doctorate I am now a professor of writing for a university.

My brother has chosen to stay in Florida, where he got his final degree, and where his wife is from.
I moved to Washington DC and then Japan, and now that I’ve lived in the same rental house in Tokyo for five full years, it is my longest continuous residence since leaving my parents’ house.  My brother’s wife also home-schools their two younger children, ages nearly ten and eight, something I would never have the patience to do, and I admire her pluck endlessly.  I love my children, but I love them most after school.  Those are the choices that Alan and his wife are comfortable with and they do the things that make them happy.  He assures me he’s happy and when I see his kids, I can tell they’re happy, so all I can do is be glad that my brother’s life is working for him.  Conversely, the choices my husband and I have made are the ones that are right for our life together and our kids.

I could go on and on listing the differences between the two of us, right down to the basics of him being dark and me being fair, a fact I’ve cursed all our lives as he tanned and I burned.  But that’s not the point.  Recently I have been called out because I am not doing certain things the “right” way – not raising my children to someone else’s standard, not taking a career path someone else expected, and not spending money in a way another person prefers.  At first when it happened I was shocked because I thought I was doing pretty well.  But then I realized that people are entitled to their own opinions and if they don’t like things about me, then that is their valid opinion.  But if I’m happy with myself and my husband and children are happy with me, then really that’s all that matters.  It’s disappointing to know that a few people disapprove so sharply of me, but in the end, it is the other parties who are expecting all people to conform to their standards, and it’s unreasonable to expect all people to conform to the same standards.  Personally I think it’s a good thing that all people are different; it sure makes life interesting – and sometimes it even makes me grateful to be me instead of someone else!

And that brings me back to my brother. Do I agree with all of the choices he and his wife have made?
Absolutely not.  But I would bet if you asked him the same question, he would say that he thinks his sister has
done some pretty bone-headed stuff in her life.  But for the “Dink” and me it really doesn’t matter.  From where I sit, if it makes him happy, he can paint his house purple and throw a rodeo.  I don’t have to do it his way and nor does he have to do things my way. It’s the great part about being siblings – it doesn’t matter how different they are to you; you’re siblings and that’s it.  My brother jokingly (I think!) complains all the time that his daughter is just like me – the ten-year-old me that he remembers, and just last week he was teasing me and called me “gross” in a very public forum.  I responded that I might be gross, but he’ll always be grosser. Our relationship is grown and different, but still has elements that are similar to how we were raised that neither of us want to let go.

And that’s why, despite our differences, he is now, and forever will be, Dink

2012 – Here We Go!

Many bloggers post their New Year resolutions, but I am not going to.  I really only have one goal for the most part and that is: setting realistic expectations.

So much of stress is derived from what we expect from ourselves.  Time and time again it has been proven that women, in particular, are prone to beating themselves up over a job done less than perfectly.  Working moms, of which I am one, feel guilty about so many issues and we forget to have a sense of balance in our lives.  My children are fine; they are no worse for the wear with me working.  So I sometimes forget to remind my daughter to bring her tennis shoes to school on days when she has tennis lessons – she’s 9; shouldn’t she be remembering too?  So in our home, we’re all going to try to take responsibility for each other and for ourselves, and help each other out.  The kids are old enough to understand the concept of taking responsibility and also for looking out for each others’ interests.  While we reconnected in Hawaii, we talked a lot about it.  We are not going to take on projects that cannot be successfully completed within the time-frame, and if one of us has a particularly big project going on, then the rest of us can support the one.  Again, at ages 9 and 12, the kids understand the concepts, and were able to give examples, like a big test or class project, during which they would need extra support from their parents.  My husband has a few business trips coming up this winter and the kids will have to step up helping in the house while he’s away.  I have grading periods during which my husband and the kids will rally around me the same way. Letting go of having clean rooms might be a little harder for me, but I promised to try in the spirit of realistic expectations.

So this year is all about realism, keeping things together, and figuring out ways to keep the stress level down.  It’s also about support and staying connected with the four people who live under this roof.  Bring it on, 2012!