Friday, April 22, 2016

Passover, Prince, and Immortality

By Scott Penner (Flickr: Prince) via Wikimedia Commons
We lost another immortal yesterday. Another icon of my MTV childhood gone far too soon. He joins Bowie in making 2016 a damn hard year for music.

Prince died the day before Passover begins, which strikes me and my weird thought processes as important. I was just telling my rabbi the other day that I consider the Passover seder to be a kind of time travel. During the seder, it is stressed over and over again that each of us Jews were there in Egypt:
We were once the slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and our Eternal G-d brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.
We even tell our questioning children that we do all we do during the seder and during this season "because of what G-d did for me when I came out of Egypt."

We also end each Passover seder by proclaiming "Next year in Jerusalem!" It is our yearly reminder that next year's seder is already linked to this year's and last year's and all that came before. Each seder is a link in a millennium-spanning chain of history, that stretches long before I or my mother or my grandmother or my ancestors-lost-to-history were born, and long after my great-great-great grandchildren will pass away.

Each spring, I become my ancestor who followed Moses out of Egypt, as well as my offspring who will tell my child's child's child what happened in Egypt so long ago. Taking part in the Passover seder each year helps to cement my own immortality by continuing the retelling of this important story.

By Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), via Wikimedia Commons

Prince did not share my faith, and I have no idea if he ever sat down to a Passover seder or even enjoyed a bowl of Bubbie's matzah ball soup. But his life and his music embodied the lessons I take from Passover.

First, Prince has achieved immortality through his art in much the same way that the seder offers immortality to those who retell the story of Passover.

Listening to Purple Rain or 1999 or Raspberry Beret or Little Red Corvette or Nothing Compares 2 U or Let's Go Crazy evokes a time and place in Prince's life and the lives of his fans and the lives of those who come after who discover his genius and the lives of the artists who influenced Prince and the lives of those artists who have been and will be influenced by Prince.

The music and the story it tells is a pebble dropped in the water of history, rippling out into forever, just as the hurry to make portable snacks for a trek through the desert continues to ripple through my own life and the lives of every Jew each spring.

By Center for Jewish History, NYC, via Wikimedia Commons

And then, of course, there was the way that Prince freed himself from expectations in every area of his live.

Passover is a holiday all about claiming freedom. Matzah is both the bitter bread of affliction and the sweet taste of freedom. Enjoying matzah is a way of rubbing the Pharaoh's nose in our liberty. "How you like them apples?" is what each crunchy bite of matzah seems to say, because we may have nothing but flour and water to use to make our food, but damn if that plain food doesn't taste good as we are heading to a new life of sweet freedom.

Prince's refusal to be bounded by the conventions of our society is a similar nose-rubbing. I suspect that he, like David Bowie, had to deal with violent pushback at points in his career because of his unconventional and idiosyncratic fashion, his gender-bending, his unapologetic sexuality, and his refusal to be labeled. But being completely himself despite the constrictive expectations of society must have tasted so incredibly sweet, despite the pushback.

May we all embrace such freedom to be ourselves.

J and I are in the midst of moving stress this Passover. We forgot to RSVP to our synagogue's congregational seder. I have not bought a single box of matzah, nor have I worked to clean out the chametz in our kitchen. We considered just skipping Pesach altogether this year.

But then an immortal died. And I was reminded that it is my job to teach my children that they were there when G-d brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arms and with signs and wonders. Telling the story of our exodus helps to cement my sons' immortality, another link in their chain to history and future, and I can't let them down.

So, we will give LO and BB a seder this year, moving stress be damned. I want them to remember that the freedom of being themselves both tastes sweet and promises a kind of immortality, no matter what kind of violent pushback they may face.

Mourning Prince (and David Bowie all over again) is mourning the death of those who can show us the way. But they will never truly be gone, just as the story of my ancestors' escape from Egypt will never finish being told.

That's because they, too, left us with signs and wonders.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Opus and the Great Green Room

LO and BB tend to cycle through favorite books. For a long while, LO requested Katy and the Big Snow every night. Some weeks, it's The Cat in the Hat. For an interminable several months, BB wanted only the inane Thomas the Tank Engine books.

But over and over again, both LO and BB return to Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, with pictures by Clement Hurd.

Before he died, my father and stepmother recorded themselves reading Goodnight Moon to LO, and it is the kids' preferred method of hearing about all of the items in the great green room. (Some of that preference might be because of the button they can push that invites them to re-record the story by moving the switch to the unlock position, which only occasionally gives me a heart attack at the prospect of losing Dad's recorded voice.)

But like generations of children before them, the boys love reading about the red balloon, the kittens, the mittens, the little toy house, the young mouse, the bowl of mush, and the little old lady whispering, "Hush."

On the day before Dad died, J, LO and I camped out in his hospital room, along with Dad's best friends and my devastated stepmother. We had brought board books along with us to read to LO, including our (non-pre-recorded) Goodnight Moon book. We read it to LO several times during that afternoon.

When we buried Dad three days later, his dear friend Kate read this poem she wrote, which was inspired by Goodnight Moon and our repeated readings of it to LO at my father's bedside:

Jim and Good Night Moon
April 7. 2013

Good night room. Good night moon.
Good night cow jumping over the moon.
Good night light and the red balloon.

Good night Broker. Good night Friend. Good night Brother…this is not the end.
Good night Grandpa. Good night Dad. Good night Husband…our hearts are so sad.
Good night Buddhas. Good night Beer. Good night Barn Pictures; all things you held dear.

Good night Room. Good night Moon.
Good night dear Jim. This was much too soon.

Good Night All. There is too much to say.
Safe Journey, friend Jim. Help Guide our way.

I don't remember reading Goodnight Moon as a child, but it is now inextricably linked to my parenthood and my father.

This morning, the connection deepened again. Berke Breathed's 2015 revival of Bloom County--which I SO wish I could discuss with my Opus-loving, Bill the Cat-voting dad--has introduced everyone's favorite penguin to a new line of work: as a support animal. November 20th's strip finds Opus reading a (somewhat edited) Goodnight Moon to a sick kid in the hospital.

It's hard to know how I feel about this. I was amused by the cow's big fat tush, and I love the kid's puzzled reaction to Opus's revision. Seeing Goodnight Moon read in a hospital setting (fictional though it may be) brought tears to my eyes. Re-reading Kate's beautiful farewell to my father makes April 5, 2013 feel like today. Knowing my sons will know their Grandpa Jim through his voice whispering, "hush" is bittersweet at best.

But with the week's horrors still fresh in my mind, I am so grateful for the gentle pleasures of a support penguin, a great green room at twilight, and my father's familiar voice.

Perhaps we can go home again, if only to say goodnight.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

August 31 and September 13

August 31 at 6:17 am
September 13 at 13 minutes to midnight:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Picture Day

Yesterday was picture day at the boys' school.

Pictured: LO's 2013 photo disaster
I have long since given up on trying to dress the children up for their school pictures, as you can see from LO's terrible 2013 photo shoot. (To be fair, I gave birth that day, but still).

However, J and I hoped that the kids could at least have better hair this year. To that end, we got out the comb before school and ran it through both kids' hair.

BB, ever happy to enjoy a new experience, submitted to the combing with good grace and pleasure. He even tried combing his own hair, with the non-toothed edge of the comb, in solidarity.

LO, on the other hand, wanted only to snuggle with me. In an attempt to get him to sit up so we could complete the minimal photo prep, I told him, "LO, please sit up! We need to make you beautiful and handsome."

LO snuggled even closer and shouted "No! I don't want to be beautiful!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When the Ground Refuses to Swallow You Up

BB here is a lover of life. He is a generally happy guy who is delighted to join in any activity life throws at him.

For instance, when we dropped LO off at Sunday school this past Sunday, BB (who is too young by a good 13 months for the three-year-old class, let alone LO's K/1 class) followed the group into the classroom, pulled out a chair to sit, and looked up as if to say, "All right, what are we learning today?"

In addition to wanting a jump start on his Jewish education, BB also wants to know if there is anything better available wardrobe-wise than the clothes he happens to be wearing at the time. The way he generally indicates a preference for a different outfit is to remove all of his clothes and bring me the new ones to help him make a new sartorial statement.

I explain all this in order to tell you why and how BB was the center of the most embarrassing incident that has ever happened to me.

Here is, officially, what happened:

J and I signed up to purchase back-to-school clothes for a child at Lafayette Transitional Housing. Because of our unparalleled skill with planning, we had yet to buy the clothes as of the night before we needed to drop them off.

Since we wanted the boys to be involved in this small bit of tzedakah, we piled everyone in the car after dinner and told LO and BB that we were shopping for clothes for a little boy. (LO called the little boy, whom we have not and will not meet, a "friend." LO calls anyone under the age of 10 a friend, whether or not he knows them. As in, "that friend over there has a Thomas train. I want to play with it.")

When we got to Target, we immediately spread out among the boys' clothing section. I was distracted by a Darth Vader sweatshirt with an actual cape and the overwhelming sense of unfairness in realizing that it would never come in my size. J was doing the responsible adult thing of comparing prices of jeans vs. khakis. LO was running around like a maniac, excited to see some of his favorite licensed characters on toys that we. are. not. taking. home, so stop asking.

I was bringing the world's greatest sweatshirt over to show J when I realized I'd lost track of BB.

LO then said three words that did not strike as much fear in my heart as they should have.

He said, "Where's BB's shirt?"

Here is why those words did not strike fear in my heart. He neglected to add "and his pants and his diaper?"

Yes, my youngest was standing stark naked in front of a display of tee-shirts, reaching for a yellow shirt sporting an astronaut on the front.

(Upon looking back on the situation, I now understand why LO only asked about his brother's shirt. The pants and diaper were bunched around BB's ankles, well within LO's view. It was only the shirt that LO had lost track of--never mind the unorthodox way in which BB was adorned in said pants and diaper.)

That would have been bad enough. But in addition to my naked child, there was a grandmotherly type standing right by him keeping an eye out for the terrible mother who allowed her toddler to strip naked in the middle of Target.

"I thought his mom had to be nearby," she told me, as I wondered why sinkholes are never around when you need them.

"Mrrp," I said to the kindly lady while hurriedly pulling the child's pants up, wondering if embarrassment could still be considered a fatality in one's 30s.

"I thought maybe he had to use the potty," she added, trying to be nice.

Perhaps stomping on the floor could get that sinkhole going, I thought.

As it turned out, the grandmotherly type actually was a grandmother, and she couldn't have been kinder or more gracious. She told me her grandson was only a little older than BB. (She did not mention if he had ever taken down his skivvies in a major big box retailer, which makes me think the answer is no.)

Throughout, BB just kept looking at the display of shirts, wondering why Mommy's face was so durn red.

We successfully completed our trip with no further nudity. And I have had some time to think through my embarrassment and realize that it's just a part of life.

So my darling child, I want you to know something.

Someday, you will no longer be my exuberant little guy.
You will be a teenager.
You will know more about the world than Mom and Dad possibly ever could, and you will be embarrassed by everything we do.
You will wish for a sinkhole any time I start my exuberant public singing or your father wears his gardening clothes to run errands.
Most of all, someday you will be horrified and embarrassed when we meet the object of your affection.

And on that day, my sweet dear child, you will learn just how deep a mother's feelings are for her beloved son.

I'll tell your date this story.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Roughing It

For years, J has been lobbying for us to do more camping. One of the reasons why he bought his current vehicle, a 2006 Honda Element, was because it would be ideal for car camping.

Pictured: Not J's car.
"We can just hoist up the back seats and sleep on the floor!" he would exclaim. "It'll be really comfortable."

This past weekend, we decided to field test the Element's camping prowess. It performed admirably in getting us down to Clifty Falls State Park (two and a half hours away, because we believe that sleeping outside necessitates being as close to Kentucky as possible).

The rear seats folded up, just as advertised, leaving a nice flat spot for two not-too-tall adults and a couple of kids to settle in for a long summer's nap.

However, J's assurance that sleeping on said Element floor would be "really comfortable" was not entirely true. (And by that, I mean it was a dirty dirty lie.)

We unrolled the camp mats, made a nest with several blankets, and attempted to climb in together. Therein we discovered our first problem. We may not be tall, but the fine engineers at Honda never considered the possibility of a family of four attempting to sleep on the floor of the Element.

As LO put it as we assumed several different sleeping positions in an attempt to find something comfortable for the vast majority of the campers, "it's quite squished in here."

Add in a restless BB (who, I must point out, was pretty much always comfortable because my increasingly numb limbs served as his pillow and bed), and it was not a super great night's sleep.

I am thankful that we at least did a trial lie-down before getting on the road. J had hoped to bring Obie, our 70 pound greyhound, with us. But despite the fact that I consider myself to be a pretty good Tetris player, it was clear after multiple attempts to fit four Birkens plus one Obie into the space allotted for our sleeping that there was no winning this particular round. Lucky Poor Obie had to spend the night at our local kennel/spa.

That said, I had a wonderful time camping. The campground had a well-appointed bathroom, fire pits at each campsite, and some lovely hiking trails. We made s'mores. I read a book outside. Lack of sleep no longer guarantees my lack of enjoyment of something, or else I would have been in a constant bad mood for nearly five years. (And no comments on that statement from the peanut gallery, thank you very much.)

Since we had such a good time, other than the sleeping arrangements, we are talking about buying a large and nicely appointed tent into which we can easily cram some air mattresses.

Since someone other than J has rated these sorts of accommodations as "really comfortable," I trust that they will be.

Next time, it won't be so "quite squished" is what I'm getting at.

Let's just hope the kids aren't planning on growing to be 6 feet tall anytime soon.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Emily! So Nice to See You Again

Last Tuesday, LO and BB attended the same childcare facility for the first time. They are now both going to Montessori five days per week.

I feel reborn.

That same week, I managed to actually accomplish the following things:
  1. J and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road 
  2. I decided that if we ever have a daughter, she will be named Furiosa. (This may or may not be related to item 1.)
  3. I ran five miles two days in a row.
  4. I completed five articles well within their deadlines.
  5. I got some cavities filled. (Not a fun or a good thing, but this was also on a day I also wrote a long and complex article, so yay for that. Or more accurately/numbly, aaay bor dat.)
  6. I started on a major project for Temple Israel. (I will be taking over as financial secretary.)
  7. I reorganized our filing cabinet, which I have been planning on doing since long before BB was born. (This may or may not be related to item 6.)
  8. I stayed up past 10 pm four nights in a row.
  9. I felt like myself.
I've really missed me.

Being sleep-deprived and time-scarce really took a toll. I spent much of the last winter just trying to get from morning to evening without actually looking forward to anything. I would procrastinate terribly when it was time to pick up the boys, because I knew I would be in the car for 45 minutes and then I'd have to wrangle children and hungry pets at the end of it all. I just was.

Now, BB is sleeping through the night more often than he is not.

We have found a babysitter who is auditioning for the role of real-life Mary Poppins and J and I are able to spend time together watching spiked/armored cars explode and old women kick ass and take names. (Seriously, even though I have never had any interest in learning to ride a motorcycle, I am now thinking about it so I can be like the Vuvalini.)

And the boys are together at a wonderful school for seven hours each day, and picking them up takes all of 20 minutes--if we can't find someone's lunch box.

Yes, I understood intellectually that the really hard part of sleep-deprived/time-scarce babyhood had an end-date, but I still forgot to feel it. It seemed as though I would never get back to myself again.

It's been long enough that this energetic person who jumps out of bed excited for the day feels kind of new--but she's really an old friend. I'm so glad to see her again.