Breathe In. And Breathe Out.

Breathe in.  Breathe Out. Somehow, earlier this summer, it seems that I had forgotten how.  This summer was THAT Summer.  The last one. The one where everything I knew changed from what it had been to what it will be.  We are now, a Party of 3. Parents, like me, all around the world had this same summer.  In simpler terms…we are scared as fuck!  For three solid months, I have been playing the infinite loop of the last 18 years.  The funny thing is – the only two characters in my movie are me, and my son.  My son who now reports to a San Francisco address instead of our family home near San Diego, has officially begun his new life.  I think of everything I’m about to miss while he embarks on his next journey five hundred miles from home. FIVE HUNDRED MILES FROM HOME.  My dear friend, Wendy, and I have been trading notes all summer.  Just under 19 years ago, we found out we were pregnant within 24 hours of each other.   Turns out, we had boys born exactly four Tuesdays and four minutes apart – boys that would spend their first five years at every attraction in Southern California every week, while we discussed the virtures of Pampers, Huggies, Sippy Cups that didn’t leak, and the benefits of gliding rockers with and without handbrakes. Several years later – we took the epic road trip to Vegas – loaded four kids in the Odyssey and headed out for three days of video crazy, neon-induced gargantuan meltdowns in desert towns whose names I can’t remember.  But I digress that was not the point of this note, but it was certainly a monumental journey.  It feels like yesterday, but as it turns out, reminded by Facebook On This Day – it was 9 years ago this week.

And so goes the cliche – the days go by slowly; the years go by quickly.  And over the past four days – the two boys – born four Tuesdays and four minutes apart are now 500 miles from each of our homes.  I have officially survived a three-month panic attack, while I lingered on all the lessons I hope I taught, and equally important, that I hope he learned.  It’s not easy for any of us – this time of transition.  I was a single parent for the majority of his upbringing and I often feel uncertain about how I rated as mother and a less-than-adequate father. Today, as I sit in the airport, returning to the place where all lessons were either learned, or missed, I just got one more text…”Thank you for everything, Mom.  I love you.”  Breathe in.  And Breathe out.

 

 

 

 

 

I counted the days.

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I counted the days…til he would sleep through the night, hold his own bottle, say his first words, and walk his first steps.  When would he be potty trained?  When would Roary – his favorite stuffed animal – change from being his beloved Lovey to becoming an embarrassment for his friends to notice in his room?  When would he stop calling me “Momma” and start calling me “Mom,” or worse? When would he stop asking me if he could go to a friend’s house, and start telling me when he’d be home? And then he hit his teenage years and we struggled.  He held one end of that rope while I pulled so hard on the other.  And then I wanted to let go.  And just walk away.  Those days were hard.  I counted the days that bound me to him by law – the days when he pretended to hate me, and I pretended not to care.  They were long, but really they were brief.  When he was born, I believed we – he and I – could survive anything.  On those darker days, I didn’t even know if either of us would survive each other.  Then one day passed without conflict, and that day became two, and then a week, and all of a sudden there was a man that replaced the boy who held onto Roary every night and called me, “Momma.”   He got a job, a driver’s license, a car, and the loveliest girlfriend.   Sometime in the Fall, he announced that he was going to change his course – he wanted to go to college. He signed himself up and paid for two SATs, and made appointments with the school guidance counselor to help him submit applications and apply for federal grants.  He finishes every conversation now with, “I love you, Mom.” And his irritation with me is faint, distant, and short-lived.  He will be leaving soon, and I am counting the days…the few days I left with him, holding on tightly – as tightly as I can.

Here in America

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One week ago at this hour I was watching the details unfold – the terrorist masssacres in Paris put France, front and center, on the world’s stage – again.  Since last Friday, November 13, our country has become divided – again.  My social media news feeds have exploded with diametrically opposing views on how we should approach the Syrian refugees.  My friends and my favorite pop culture sites have delivered everything from carefully constructed logic, to unbridled emotion on the topic. Truth be told, many of my favorite pop culture sites are no longer my favorites.  As for my friends, I certainly don’t mean to offend you here, so if we stand on opposite sides, I still appreciate your thoughts.

Deep breath. Here we go.  The loud, vocal protests of allowing refugees into America is unsettling to me:  “Close the borders!” “Don’t allow a single family into our country!”  “Build a wall!”  “Send them away!”  “We need to protect our own!” And the very worst, “Make the Muslims register.”

Just before the massacres, I was channel surfing while I finished a day’s worth of emails.  I landed on Schindler’s List.  I have seen it so many times and I know the ending.  I didn’t think I could be brought to tears, yet again.  But wept I did.  And not just watery eyes.  I sobbed out loud, in the privacy of my bedroom, safe and warm.  I wept for the conspicuous lack of humanity.  I wept for the audaciaous ability to hope.  I wept for relief when the Jews were liberated. And I wept for Oskar Schindler – a Nazi, a Savior.

Jews and Muslims, like oil and water, don’t mix.  So why do I, a Jew, need the Syrian refugees to be treated with so much compassion.    Here is why – My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe.  I have their papers that granted them asylum, life and a touch of hope when they came to America through Ellis Island.  I write tonight because of those papers. I write because there was enough compassion here in America, to allow the hopeless to hope.  Here in America, my grandparents, Jews, would not have to register.  Here in America, they would not be forced to identify themselves with golden stars embroidered on their clothes.  Here in America, they could start over, build dreams, build homes, build families.  Why we must accept the Syrian refugees is for the same reason America accepted my grandparents and their families.  Why we must accept the Syrian refugees is because tonight, here in America, I get to write.  Why we must accept the Syrain refugees is because we are a civilized society, we need to provide an escape from barbaric conditions and offer a chance for lives that otherwise would be lost.

I have a client, Ray, who has trusted me to care for eleven of his businesses.  I went to visit Ray earlier this week.  I asked him where he was from, guessing he was Middle Eastern but not exactly sure from which country.  Ray’s answer saddened me.  And embarrassed me.  “I am from Iraq.”  He continued, “But I am a Christian.  I am a Coptic Christian”.  I realized at that moment, how protective he must feel for his heritage.  I feel like I owe him an apology for what must have felt like an interrogation. I am always interested in people’s genealogy.  But I suppose in this day and age, it can sound like there is judgement that lurks beneath.  It wouldn’t have mattered to me if he was Muslim.  Ray has been very kind to me over the years.  He is a good client and is a smart business man.  He is very concerned about paying his taxes and making me promise to keep his businesses in compliance with the Federal and California governments.

We don’t know how the terrorists entered Paris.  We only know what the media wants us to know.  They may have entered with refugees but from the looks of things, they have a very sophisticated and complicated network throughout the world that has been in place for quite some time.  We live in a country with an out-of-control gun problem.  We have mass shootings in elementary schools carried out by white kids from the suburbs.  We risk our lives in movie theaters while we are held hostage by an interpretation of Second Amendment Rights.  We are hypocrites.  We are using the tragedy in Paris to turn our backs on a crisis of human brutality.

“We need to protect our own!”  Who are “our own?”  Do I count as “our own?”  Did my grandparents?  How can we feel less scared of concealed weapons than we do of families who seek what we seek for “our own.” Opportunity.  Life.  Hope.  Our collective compassion is required to remain civilized.  The innocent victims of the terrorists are not only those that were gunned down without mercy in Paris, but also those who have left everything behind to begin an exhaustive journey with nothing more than hope.  By fortune, I don’t know this level of desperation.  At this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

 

 

 

I Believe

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I believe in countries with state-sanctioned siestas

I believe in dessert before dinner

I believe that eating French Fries (vegetables) for lunch is equivalent to eating a salad

I believe in falling in love – Head Over Heels, Cloud 9, Butterflies – with the same person, again, and again, and again

I believe that calling in sick to take advantage of a rare rainstorm, by staying in bed, is perfectly legitimate

I believe that legal and just are quite often worlds apart

I believe that doing something for someone else usually feels better for the giver

I believe that we use the wrong yardstick to measure success and fortune

I believe that silence is golden and useless rhetoric will fall on deaf ears

I believe in the power of a genuine apology

I believe in karma

I believe in second chances

I believe in not keeping score

I believe that pedestals are very high, can give you altitude sickness, and are dangerous places to fall from

I believe that sometimes good enough is good enough

The upRoar

Cecil: by Andrew Loveridge - www.wildcru.org

Cecil: by Andrew Loveridge – http://www.wildcru.org

Thousands of miles away, a majestic and beautiful voice has been silenced. Last month, Walter Palmer, a prominent dentist from Michigan, carelessly, cold-bloodedly and probably illegally, slaughtered Cecil, the lion. The revered 13-year-old Lion King was lured away from his protected grounds in Zimbabwe, shot with an arrow and left to die — only, he didn’t. After 40 hours of suffering, he was tracked by the dentist, shot, skinned, and beheaded; his GPS collar, then hidden in a tree. Following the killing, it is said, that the blood-thirsty, Dr. Walter Palmer, hadn’t gotten enough and was off to butcher an elephant.  Social media has gone mad with this story. My newsfeeds have blown up with Palmer-shaming. Between reports of the 2016 presidential election circus, every news update includes a report regarding the legal tangles of Palmer, his unknown whereabouts, and the request for his extradition, back to Zimbabwe, to face his crimes. The hunter has become the hunted.

The internet is flooded with images of hunters and poachers gleefully posing with their lifeless kill – a buffalo, a giraffe, a leopard, an elephant – always with an assault weapon, unabashed pride and a shit-eating grin. The commentary that follows ranges from vitriolic hatred of Walter Palmer, et al, to fervent support and defense of the hunters and the “legal sport” they pursue. In an article published in Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-equation/201104/children-who-are-cruel-animals-when-worry):

Animal cruelty in children is one of the best predictors of later violence and criminality.

When children harm animals, they are classified as psychopathic, sociopathic and closely watched for behaviors that might later lead them to more violent behaviors, even murder. When adults “legally” kill and torture animals, it is somehow considered a sport – a sport often with a large ticket in excess of tens of thousands of dollars and the farce that the money is going to save poor villages in Africa.

I have no compassion for Palmer and his ilk and only feel a mild compassion for his family for what is akin to guilt-by-association. I wish no harm on his children but I don’t care for a spouse that supports detestable behavior and “stands by her man” no matter how vile his “legal” pursuit of the innocent. Whether or not a hunt is “legal,” I wonder how can she sleep next to him given his careless disrespect and flippant attitude toward killing. Of the things that keep me up at night, the destruction of his dental practice and even his personal property are not on my list of worries. While I trust that Karma will somehow take care of this, I know that there are many others that would like to see his head proudly displayed on the wall in the center of all of his innocent and beautiful victims.

I urge you to read this lovely and cogent article written by Tony Keller:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/dr-palmer-why-did-you-kill-cecil/article25784337/

Tony Keller on “Why Did You Kill Cecil the Lion?”

That is a very good question. It is also the essential question. Not whether he had the appropriate permits, or followed local bylaws, or lured a lion out of a protected area, or knew Cecil was a revered part of a research project. No, the fundamental question is this: Why kill something for the sake of killing it? What kind of person finds pleasure in that?

 And he continues to contrast the behavior of by-standers who came across a trapped, beached orca:

Last week, a female orca was discovered at low tide in Hartley Bay, B.C., trapped on the rocks. If the whale remained stranded and in the sun for even a short time, she would die. She was making distress calls, probably to her family nearby. Volunteers rushed to the scene, covered her in blankets and for hours doused her with saltwater to keep her cool, all the while trying to calm and soothe her. When the tide rose, the whale’s five-tonne body became buoyant and she was able to swim to safety. People on the scene, interviewed after the fact, expressed wonder at what they had seen and satisfaction at what they had done. The life of a living, breathing, feeling creature had been saved.

 I love this contrast. Incidentally, I was on my regular Saturday walk last weekend when I noticed a fence that was built around a tree – in a vertical way. The fence had a hole in it so the awkward, low branch could grow through it. I am always impressed when people go out of their way to protect something that is living.

Why the uproar over a lion? Why the uproar over this lion? What if this lion didn’t have a name? How about the killings before Cecil and all that will follow? Why do we care more for a lion than we do for humans, who are starving and being tortured all over the world? Here’s my thought: Why not? Ignoring the calculated, inhumane destruction of this lion, because other atrocities are concurrent, is counterproductive and doesn’t help any cause. On the other hand, if the attention given to the death of this lion frustrates you enough because your cause is being ignored, then use that frustration to motivate. If Cecil’s death forces compassion, energy and protests to right the wrongs of refugees, The Lost Girls of Nigeria, lions without names, zebras, giraffes, the hungry and the poor, and childhood cancer, then by all means, channel that passion in what matters to you. One cause is not more important than the next. They all matter. Using your voice, where others have been silenced is a small donation to the right side of humanity.

Cecil mattered. If the senseless and cruel killing of this beautiful creature forces all of us to use our voices where others have been silenced, then Cecil’s death was ultimately, worth more than his life. Restore his roar in your own voice and use that passion to fight for a cause that needs some strength.  Leave a legacy of hope for those who can no longer be heard.

An Open Letter to the Airline Industry

Dear Sirs:

On Friday, March 27 at approximately 11:00 pm, I will be placing my heart in your hands. My son, 180 of his classmates, and some very brave chaperones will be boarding your jets for the 8th Grade trip to the East Coast.

In light of this week’s events in Europe, I am begging you the utmost in care during transport. When I heard the news of Germanwings, I assuaged my angst by falsely telling myself, that this couldn’t possibly happen on our flight, not with all these kids on board. Not if I am still trying to believe in God. And just this morning, I learned that the Germanwings flight was full of high-school students on their educational trip.   My son’s flight, the flight that will carry my heart, is being trusted to you. I am no different than the parents that lost their hearts this week. I can’t bear the thought. I have turned off CNN.

You will never know what I know. You weren’t there when my 9-month old started chattering in full sentences. At 18 months, he began wearing glasses and looked like he was 45. You don’t know that he could cite every word of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” before he was two. You don’t know that by his second year, he could distinguish between a back hoe, a loader and fifteen other kinds of large tractors, just by the shape of their windows as they drove down the street in our developing neighborhood. He was mesmerized by Chriss Angel and performed magic shows for nearly 40 guests at all of our Thanksgiving feasts. You don’t know that he loved to build things every Saturday with his father at the free construction classes offered by Home Depot. He ran around in an orange apron until he was five. You weren’t with us when I laid beside him in his twin bed, covered in flannel sheets with vintage cars.  Our home was large but I knew that even if we lived in a small studio, we would still be happy. You weren’t there when, at 6, he recited the entire history of the Kennedy half-dollar in a room filled with numismatists. You don’t know that he received two awards for photography by the age of 11, and that he was one of 100 kids out of 10,000 that displayed his work at the Museum of Photographic Arts. He loves his sister more than anything in the world; his cats, next, his rabbits close behind.  You also don’t know that he can never find his shoes, still at nearly 14 years of age, and his back-pack resembles something out of a sci-fi thriller.

On Friday night, at approximately 11:00 pm, PDT, my son will be on one of your jets. I know that air travel is the safest way to see the world.  But this letter isn’t about intellect.  It’s about the raw emotion of a mother, watching the broken-hearted fill an airport nearly half a world away.  I am begging you with all I have to take care of my heart and the hearts of all parents like me. I know I won’t sleep until those wheels are on the ground and my flight tracker sends my alert.  Safe Travels, dear Pilots. My heart is in your hands. CR

Since this was posted, I learned that the Germanwings flight was intentionally downed by the co-pilot.  I plead:  If you are scheduled to carry my heart tomorrow night, and you are depressed or angry, drunk or damaged in any way that interferes with your mental composure, please seek the care you need.  Please choose to sit this one out.  And the next.  Please.

My Short List of Things Better Left in 2014

Happy New Year.  It’s 2015…how did we get here?  2014 was somewhat of a blur…it sped through so quickly and for me, it was as Dickens said, “the best of times and the worst of times”.   I wasn’t sorry to see it go.  Yet, through my health issues, I learned many lessons.  New friends emerged from no where and old friends stepped up to help me navigate some pretty tough terrain.  Relationships were tested with an absurd amount of challenges, and guess what…we won.

Saying a fond farewell to 2014 at my beach meditation this morning, I made a short list (I love lists) of thoughts, words, and concepts that I am particularly happy to leave behind. Some deep thoughts and others on the lighter side.  Just needed to write again.  Wishing you a very Healthy and Happy New Year.

1.  Headaches: On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being OVER IT, I’m at an 11.  Enough said.

2.  FML – OK dear friends. Fuck My Life – Really? I have seen this hashtag/textspeak acronym on posts about delayed flights to fabulous vacation destinations and run-of-the-mill bad days at work. Unless you are dealing with a terminal illness, a loved one on a downed jet, a life of permanent exile in a war zone like Syria, or at the very least the realization that you lost your wallet at the same moment you notice you have run out of gas, please do not complete your Facebook posts or texts with FML. It’s poor form.

3.  Remuneration – I’m sorry, but I hate this word. It showed up on my Dictionary.com word-of-the-day this morning and I don’t ever need to see it again. The “m” and the “n” are in the wrong place, it’s hard to say correctly and the word “compensation” works just fine.

4.  Sustained tension – Every story needs an ending. It doesn’t have to be happy but it does have to end. Sustained tension, in music and in life, just doesn’t work. Finish the song. Finish the thought. Finish the story.

5.  “These ones” or “Those ones” – Wrong. Always wrong. Don’t say it around me. Never. Not ever. If you MUST hear the words “these” or “those” in the same sentence as “ones” just use an adjective in between and it will all be fine: “those blue ones”, “these fat ones”.  Otherwise, just don’t.

6.  Taking the low road when the high road is virtually free of traffic  – A situation arises where someone is faced with two ways to respond: the easy choice and the right choice. This is where the rubber meets the road. Most people instinctively go with the easy choice; the one that is full of fire and unbridled emotion.  The easy choice is one of instant gratification and no mind for long-term consequences.   The thing is this, the right choice is usually harder, more controlled and requires a high level of character to pursue.  The payoff of taking the high road, however, is like a hike in the Sierra, it may be harder to get there, but once you are, you have nothing but fresh air and peace as far as the eye could see.  How can you lose?

2015 – here we are.  Happy New Year.

Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last – Make it Count

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The morning started as many do now in my new normal – in a health-related appointment. I’m trying not to allow this illness to define me, but they say: “Write what you know” and at this particular time in my life, I know medical appointments. While waiting for my CT Scan, I couldn’t help but notice the other people in the waiting room with me. What were they feeling? Were they scared or hopeful, like me. In an imaging waiting room there are two good outcomes: 1) It’s gone 2) It can easily be fixed. There is another positive outcome that doesn’t necessarily lead to positive results and that is, “The test is negative and unremarkable in every way, so we still have no clue why you have had headaches nearly every day for the past sixteen months.” I know this is the better answer than the alternative but it leaves me frustrated and without a solution.

I first noticed an elderly couple in the corner. The wife in the page-boy cap appeared to have cancer or was at least suffering the effects of a treatment that causes hair-loss. I wondered how many times she had sat in that room. She had a mild tremor, revealing Parkinson’s, I speculated. I watched her husband and thought about how many prayers he has said, asking for a little while longer with his wife or at least for her comfort. As it turned out, it was the husband that was being called for imaging. As he hobbled over on his cane, which I had not previously noticed, I wondered what else I didn’t know. How long they had been together and how many battles have they fought on the same team against the fierce realities of life?

There were young people and old in the room, and nearly everyone had disappeared into a smartphone or tablet, escaping their own minds just to be anywhere else. I chose to write these notes. The book I am reading requires much more concentration than I could muster this morning. I am allowed two “pain days” a week. That means that I am allowed two days of prescribed poison, nothing over-the-counter, which allegedly makes my condition worse. Unfortunately, the migraines are unaware of this deal I struck with the neurologist. They show up and stay often for weeks at a time. So, since I have to limit my use of poison, I need to wait to really need it. If I wait too long, I can have a pretty hard time reeling it back in. Last night was rough. This morning I was detoxing from last night’s adventures in big pharma as my latest round of headaches escalated to unbearable heights after five straight days.

It was chilly in that waiting room. I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed the cold air keeping me acutely present, or if I preferred something more “cozy” at that moment. The attractive woman across from me must have been thinking the same thing. I watched her put on her jacket as I wondered what kept her awake last night.

I thought about the people that worked there. Was this just a 9:00 to 5:00 for them or did they possess the certain angelic qualities of life savers? I know that when they are not behind the desk, they also sit as “guests” in imaging centers. No one is immune. The lady that did my intake was very pleasant, compassionate and very well-suited for a job that deals with “customers,” usually at their worst: in pain, afraid and uncomfortable. Even routine screens like annual mammograms always carry at least a mild amount of trepidation and anxiety. The lady that performed my scan appeared to be too young to appreciate what might lie ahead for her. She was cold and distant, but maybe she had her own scan that left her with an unfavorable report. I’ll never know.

I thought about corporate platitudes and how absurd and practical they would be plastered on the walls right now. What if “Hit it Out of the Park” was stenciled on the wall in the room that performed x-rays on children with sports injuries? What if “Win-Win” appeared on the ceiling of the CT Scanner? What if “It’s Time for A Paradigm Shift” was etched on the door to the MRI suite? How about “Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last, Make It Count” was handed out on stickers as you left your appointment? Just wondering who thought these things up anyhow and if there was ever a place that needed an infusion of positive energy, or a false sense of hope, it was at an imaging center.

The day is nearly over. I have no results yet. What is a positive result for me? Anything that says my headaches will be resolved by something that can be excised, cauterized, irradiated, or sliced out of my sinuses–anything with a clear plan of attack. Having sinus trouble is much more palatable for me than having brain trouble. I can’t explain why exactly. Pain is pain.

Make no mistake, every time I receive an “unremarkable” result, I take a deep breath, look up, and say a very quiet “Thank You” to any force that might be listening. I would however, like to look back at this year and say “Remember when…” Until then, I will feel very grateful for the here and now. After five solid days of headache pain and pressure, I am writing this, headache free.  I will go out there and “Reach for the Stars.”