Zom-body to Love

source: unbiasedtalk.com

source: unbiasedtalk.com

I love to love. To feel love. It’s a warm, happy, feeling that fills me from the tips of my toes to the very ends of my hair. Often it overwhelms me in intensity, or moves me to tears of wonder. Sometimes it feels far away, unreachable, and then even in the happy I feel sad. But still, I love to love.

I was not an emotional type as a child and young adult. Didn’t cry much, not even when a pet died. Felt awkward in situations heavy with feeling, blinked back the tears that threatened to spill when the movie was so sad. Hugged and kissed family and friends, but in a happy-go-lucky way, keeping it one layer light.

But as I’ve married, given birth – pregnancy, labor and delivery have no regard for emotional discomfort! – aged, experienced, argued, reconciled, lived… that intricately latticed fence that kept my messy tears and intense loving feelings “up there” has been weathered down, its two by fours weakened by the hot sun and pouring rain. The lattice is cracked, blistered, decomposed.

And now here I am – exposed to love.

I love to love. And to show my love. For my family, near and far. For my friends, also all over the earth. For my graying, aging, blind little doggie. For my kids’ teachers, and my rabbi, and my hairdresser. By saying, doing, writing, or just feeling.

This month, writing daily from A to Z, has been one of the most fulfilling, soul-destroying experiences of my life. I have amazed myself with my discipline, my creativity, my perseverance. And have disappointed myself with my creative lack, my inability to carve out time to write, my willingness to give up. There have been days when the words have bubbled happily forth in no time at all, but more when I’ve searched for every drop in any corner of my heart, mind and soul. It has been a month of memories, dark and delightful, of intense emotion almost from the start. I have cried, raged, felt joy, defeat and accomplishment – often all those, every day.

And today is April 30. Z-day. And what I feel, at the end of it all, is simply: Love.

Zom-body to Love by OPI

Zom-body to Love by OPI

This is my final post in the April A to Z Challenge. Thank you for joining me on this crazy, colorful ride through the alphabet. To read all my A to Z posts click here

You Rock-Apulco Red!

His head bops in time to the music. His fingers tap out the rhythm on his knee, and his mouth moves as he sings the song in his head, while a little smile plays around his lips and lights up his deep, dark eyes. As long as it’s a song he likes, he’s happy. This morning it was Green Day’s “21 Guns.”

I look over at him, and feel a smile tug at my own lips. “He rocks,” I think. Kinda corny, he is literally rocking out with Billy Jo there in the front seat, but the awesome heavy drumbeat inspires my thought, as does his ten-year-old body moving in time to it.

21 Guns - Green Day source: fanpop.com

21 Guns – Green Day source: fanpop.com

It’s not often that I have such positively-inspired thoughts about my children, any of them. I’ve written much about my struggle to feel fulfilled as a stay-at-home-mom, about my loathing for my minivan, that dastardly Chariot of Carpool, about how needy and hungry and whiny they are much of the time. And all of that is true.

But on occasion, they do rock.

Like my daughter who made up a song while in the shower last night. I heard her off-key singing and verses that made no sense and just smiled and shook my head. When I walked by the bathroom she was staring straight into the mirror, belting it out.

“Oh Mom, I made up this song with a few words, but then these other sentences just came to me, so when I perform it, I’m going to sing the whole thing.” I don’t know where she plans on performing it, and for whom, but she believes she’s going places and so do I. She rocks.

Or the biggest brother who has a nickname for each of his siblings, something quirky and esoteric that only he calls them, that makes them feel very special and very loved by him, makes them smile when he calls them and melt in contentment like a puppy having its belly scratched. He rocks.

And my tiny boy, five for just three weeks, who had a sleepover last night. Not just anywhere, but over the bay and across the bridge, all the way in San Francisco. That’s pretty far when you’re five. But not for him. He loves his little friend, and wanted to spend time with him, and this was the only way he could do it yesterday. So he packed his own bag, and put in three stuffies, and memorized my cell phone number, and gave me a quick kiss goodbye. And had the best time. You got it – rocks.

“Do you like this song, Mom?” my rhythmic rocker asks as “21 Guns” fades into the new one from Eminem and Nate Ruess, the one about their moms. “I do,” I say. “Me too,” he replies, and effortlessly raps the Eminem part. Happy if he likes the song, and happy if I like it too.

I often tell them how impossible they’re being, or wonder out loud why they can’t stop fighting. Nag them to stop eating candy, turn off the TV, clean up your room, don’t say shut up.

But today, you guys, I just want to say: You rock.

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

eXcuse Moi

Please excuse me. Here’s where I take enormous artistic license. Today is X in the A to Z Writing Challenge I’m participating in. Already a difficult letter to write on: according to OxfordDictionaries.com there are only 120 words in current English that start with the letter X. And there are no OPI nail polish colors named with an X-word. None. And the very creatively named OPI colors have been my inspiration for every piece I’ve written in this challenge, since A for Are We There Yet on April 1.

So now what? I’ve been dreading today. I’ve anxiously referred to it a couple times in previous posts – the lack of a color X. Stressed about it enough that my sister researched OPI X names (she didn’t come up with anything, but did offer creative suggestions). Even tried to palm today’s post off onto another writer. So not cool.

No X-named nail polish means no inspiration. Which means no writing. Means a day skipped. Means incomplete challenge. Means No. Fucking. Way.

So, merci Artistic License, described by Wikipedia as a “colloquial term used to denote the alteration of the conventions of grammar or language…” To complete this challenge and feel like a [lame, geeky] rockstar for doing so, I am going with the phonetic spelling of X – e x – as an acceptable substitute for X. Excuse moi s’il vous plait.

source: tripadvisor.co.uk

source: tripadvisor.co.uk

My French is very limited. The few words I’ve written so far are nearing the grand total of my vocabulary à la Francaise (does that even make sense?). Which is a shame because I love Paris and French things, and I adore listening to spoken French. I did take one year of preliminary French at university. I learned enough to haltingly decode the written version, and to say, “C’est tous? Oui. Voilà!” with a flourish in both my hands and my voice. (Meaning: “That’s all? Yes. There you go!” A common exchange to elegantly close a transaction in French stores).

When my father’s parents arrived in South Africa from Lithuania, some time in the 1930s, they knew no English. Only Yiddish. Spoken mainly by the Jews of Eastern Europe, Yiddish is a uniquely expressive hybrid of Hebrew and German, and many of its wonderful words have become part of everyday language in some communities – words like oy vey, chutzpah, mensch and schlep. 

My grandparents eventually learned heavily-accented English, but to each other they still spoke only Yiddish. A marvel of the young human brain is its ability to absorb other languages, especially with regular exposure, and my father and his brothers quickly learned Yiddish too. All my memories of the interactions between my father and his mother are in that exotic, elusive language.

poem by Yiddish poet Edith Kaplan Bregman source: yiddishbookcenter.org

poem by Yiddish poet Edith Kaplan Bregman source: yiddishbookcenter.org

No doubt my grandparents took pride in their sons’ proficiency at their mother tongue, while they raised them in a land so geographically, linguistically and emotionally far away from their own. But perhaps at times they wished they had a way to communicate with each other privately, a way to discuss grown-up matters beyond their boys’ comprehension.

I imagine they felt this way, because I do.

My dismal French aside, Hebrew and Afrikaans are the two additional languages I can understand, read, write and speak with fluency. Neither are particularly useful in my daily life in California, but I have secret multi-lingual aspirations and love knowing other languages.

My children are learning Hebrew, and already understand a fair amount. They are learning it because they will all be having a bar or bat mitzvah and need to know how to read and write the language of our religion, and also because my husband and I have strong cultural and emotional ties to the land of Israel and want our children to be able to speak and understand the language of the country. If not fluently, at least the American/South African/Anglo version: crappy grammar, mixed-up tenses, and big pride at being understood in an ancient language rich in history and culture and spirituality. And fun slang.

But the language I keep secret from my children is Afrikaans. I will never teach it to them.

source: washingtonpost.com

source: washingtonpost.com

Not like the South African foods I’ve fed them since they were babies: boerewors and biltong and jelly babies and rooibos tea. Not like the songs I’ve taught them over the years: Shosholoza and Ag Pleez Deddy. Not like the Springbok rugby jerseys I dress them in, or the very South African way they say “ja ma” (yes mom) when I call them, just like I answer my own mother.

I love to impart these small, significant, South African pieces of me to them and watch how they absorb and own them, because I too am raising my children in a land very far away from the one I was born into. While the cultural, linguistic and emotional barriers in 21st century San Francisco are nothing compared to what my grandparents encountered in the 30s, I am South African. And my children are not.

But Afrikaans I keep for myself. And for my husband. And for anyone else who can understand and speak that language besides my children.

It’s essential for me to have a way to talk to Ryan in a language the kids don’t understand – comes in handy when planning birthday surprises, or discussing progress at school, or any other sensitive topic. But also because my children have too much access to me. They read my email over my shoulder until I shoo them away. When they sense a conversation is quiet, they cluster around, strain harder to hear each precious word. The car’s bluetooth broadcasts phone conversations loud and clear to the very back of the minivan.

We are not trying to hide it from them. But there are issues, problems, family and world affairs that are not necessary for them to hear. That they do not have the ability to process even if they do hear. And so I like to keep it private, when I can.

Afrikaans is not a language I grew up speaking. It’s not my language, the way English is. I learned it at school from first grade, heard it on TV, read it in magazines. I live in a town 10,500 miles away from where I learned Afrikaans: I don’t hear it anymore, I hardly ever speak it, and its fluency is slowly fading from my brain. More often a Hebrew word will surface when I’m looking for an Afrikaans one. But the longer I am away from South Africa, the tighter I hold on to it. My linguistic license.

Verskoon my kinders, this conversation is private. Excuse moi!

Excuse Moi by OPI

Excuse Moi by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Wocka Wocka!

I don’t know what “Wocka Wocka” means. It’s what the muppets’ Fozzie Bear says after he cracks a joke – he considers himself something of a stand-up comic, so he cracks a lot of jokes. And then says, “Wocka wocka wocka!” I adore the muppets, but I feel more of a kinship with Miss Piggy than with Fozzie and his creative chortling.

But Wocka Wocka! starts with a W. And today is W in the A to Z Challenge (three more left, but who’s counting…). And today is our Wedding anniversary. And we were married at Wingate Park Country Club, in Pretoria, South Africa. So it seemed to be meaningful that today was a W day, despite the lack of meaning in Fozzie’s mirth.

Sixteen years married. The sun beat down so unseasonably fiercely on the golf course at Wingate that fall Sunday, our guests took cover under bright red umbrellas emblazoned with “Dunhill Tobacco Company Ltd.” Dunhill probably did not intend its umbrellas be used to shield the revelers from the South African midday sun at a small wedding, but thank goodness for that rosy shade! If not for them we might have had to share our chuppah (wedding canopy).


Pretoria April 26, 1998

Those first few anniversaries we celebrated with such earnest, so deliberately – cards and gifts to each other, phone calls and emails from around the world, a romantic dinner at a special restaurant. A day, this day, to celebrate each other, the moment he smashed the glass under the chuppah, the exuberant Mazal Tovs resounding in our ears for years.

As our union steadily and not-so-slowly expanded from two to six, the day itself waned in importance. We still exchanged cards – maybe a gift on the odd year, but his birthday is three weeks before and mine is two weeks after, so to add more wrapping paper to the pile seemed ridiculous and unnecessary. With one, two, three and then four kids around, there was less time and space to feel uniquely special and celebrated in our duo. “Happy anniversary,” at 6.47am, a meaningful but hastily scrawled funny card, a quick kiss. Probably dinner out, but not too late, and a rush to meet him in San Francisco, or pick him up from the train station in the rain, to make the reservation on time, stay interesting and interested and don’t yawn!

Sixteen years today. It’s a pretty long time. Driving age. We didn’t exchange cards. Neither of us has had the bandwidth to plan ahead. It wasn’t a mutual decision not to do cards – in fact, I realized it right now. I didn’t get him a card, and he didn’t get me one. I’m vaguely relieved we are equally oblivious – if he had given me a card with no reciprocity, I would’ve looked terribly inconsiderate and felt, quite frankly, like an asshole.

And we are going out this evening, but to celebrate our friend’s birthday, not our anniversary. Maybe our eyes will meet and we’ll quietly raise a glass to each other for a second. Or not.

Before either of us had the chance to utter “Happy anniversary” this morning, the kids were asking to watch TV, and what are we doing today, and can I go in the hot tub and and and. “It’s our anniversary,” Ryan said to more than one of them. “Oh,” he, he and she replied. The oldest was nowhere to be seen. “Can we watch TV?”

We looked at each other. I rolled over. Pulled the covers on top of my head. When I surfaced again the littlest two were stumbling into our bedroom with a tray: four slices of dry toast, and a bowl of strawberries they found in the fridge. And two freshly-picked flowers adorning their breakfast-in-bed bounty.


“Happy Anniversary!” they giggled.

It’s not really about the day we got married in 1998. That was a wonderful day. A wonderful day for a wedding and a wonderful wedding of love and celebration. And we love to remember that day and those red Dunhill umbrellas, and “Staying Alive” on the dance floor, and that crazy hora chair-thing they do at Jewish weddings, and Ryan’s cousin broke his foot, and my aunt usurped the microphone and serenaded us all at the end.

It’s more about everything that happens from one April 26 to the next.


San Francisco April 26, 2014

W is for We: one mom, one dad, four kids and a dachshund.

Wocka Wocka! by OPI

Wocka Wocka! by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Vintage Violet

Granny Nancy & Yisrael

Granny Nancy & Yisrael

Granny Nancy died nine days before I was born. She was my mother’s maternal granny, my great-granny, but she has always been Granny Nancy to all of us.

My mother was very close with her grandmother, and I imagine that must have been a terribly difficult and confusing time – to lose her beloved grandmother, while waiting for her first child to be born. My own Granny, my mother’s mother, died six weeks after my fourth child arrived. We had a close relationship too, and she had only ever seen my baby boy on Skype. So I have some sense of those very mixed-up feelings: pure joy at beholding this new life of love and potential, and impossible grief and mourning for the loss of a precious life ended.

Obviously my birthday is close to my Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death of a loved one is commemorated in the Jewish tradition by lighting a special 24-hour candle and reciting a prayer. This day in our Gregorian calendar is not consistent from year to year, because it is observed according to the Hebrew calendar). In the 40 years since she died, her yahrzeit has not yet fallen on my birthday. This year it is two days before.

Granny Nancy did not meet her first great-grandchild. But I am named for her.

My own relationship to Granny Nancy is unique, special, fragile and very beautiful for me. She is both real and imaginary, created from photographs, mementos, stories and memories and alive in the sayings, mannerisms and hand gestures I absorbed from both my grandmother and my mother. The way we laugh. Or mutter something under our breath. The way we use our hands when telling a story.

My mother has Granny Nancy’s chair in her living room, and I have a tablecloth that belonged to her. I wore her beautiful heart pendant at my bat mitzvah and I am keeping it safe for Sage to wear at hers.

Granny Nancy’s yahrzeit is almost upon us and I know my mother is thinking about the decades that have passed without her special grandmother, and that her “baby” is turning 40 soon. I have been thinking about Granny Nancy too, but more about my own grandmother. The hours I spent with her, watching her sew, drinking tea from a saucer, helping her bake, trying to knit because she was knitting. We would laugh and laugh, do the crossword puzzle in the Fair Lady together, gossip about her friends and mine. She was always frying fish, and often had a fine dusting of flour on her cheek or down her pajamas. Before I left South Africa I bought her a red cardigan from Woolworths and she wore it all the time.

In an attempt to put technicolor pictures to my mind’s slightly fuzzy and jumbled memories, I went through old photographs. I adore this one of my Granny, my mother and me. I was her first grandchild and I am transfixed by the way she and my mom are looking at me with so much love.


Granny Mary, me, and my mom – circa 1975

And of course I noticed the old-fashioned furnishings, clothes, colors – Granny’s fabulous hot pink and white sheer shirt, the pearls, my mom’s straight dark hair. That pale pink petticoat lamp and the heavy ashtray on the nightstand. And I vividly remember the pale violet bedspread I am sitting on in my parents’ bedroom. Vintage treasures. Like my memories. And my connections to my grandmothers.



Vintage Violet by OPI

Vintage Violet by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.