I see the light at the end of the carpool tunnel


I sure felt sorry for my daughter when she got her driver’s permit. Even though she completed all of the requirements virtually by herself, she was still completely dependent on us whenever she wanted to drive.

For six months she had to navigate around town with me, her neurotic Jewish mother, strapped securely next to her in the passenger seat. It was necessary  in order to earn enough hours of practice to take the road test to get her real driver’s license. She was great.

I was a wreck. Nervous Nelly does not even begin to describe my ridiculous barrage of fears and warnings and sharp scoldings that hysterically spewed forth  as she practiced driving safely behind the wheel of our family car.

At first I let her navigate the treacherous three block  drive home from the bus stop after school. My heart pounding, watching in my rear view mirror as she carefully pulled out on to the residential road and I held my breath the entire ride as we crawled along at 25 mph towards our street.

Next, we expanded a full mile to Costco for afternoon errands–taking the back roads the entire way. Eventually we hit the boulevard, with its precarious intersections and lane changes. Finally we embarked on the freeway, allowing her to merge her skills and actually get somewhere on this island besides the bus, the store and school.

It was excruciating–for both of us. I breathed deeply, my anxiety mounting each time we left the house. I apologized as we got in the car for the impulses and fears that I was simply unable to control. She said that it was okay, but I could that tell her feelings were hurt.

I remembered my own mother over 30 years ago, riding next to me, nervously pressing an imaginary brake pedal into the car floor, wearing a spot in the carpeted mat with her irrational fears and distrust of my competence.

Like mother, like daughter. Mine noticed that I grab a tight hold on to the door handle as we approached each intersection or another car dared to drive on the same road as did we.  I thought I was hiding it until one day she remarked with a thin veil of good humor on my nervous habit. Mostly she managed to suck it up with her eyes on the prize–her driver’s license.

Early on in the process her step-father assumed as much of the practice as possible, due to his reasonable and patient nature. She much preferred to drive with him. But in order to log as many supervised hours as she needed behind the wheel, she had to deal with her mother. She deserves a medal.

In a manner of speaking, she got one–her driver’s license.

Last month we took a drive together to Kapolei Hale, this time with an appointment. The examiner called her name and she drove off with this virtual stranger to take the test that, if she passed, would change both of our lives forever.

I was surprised how nervous I was. Who cares about how she felt.  I really wanted her to get her license. Why else would I have tortured myself by sitting in the passenger seat while she drove, danger eminent at every turn, facing my irrational fears deeply rooted in motherhood and a few control issues.

If she got her license I wouldn’t have to ride with her anymore.  It would free up hours of my time usually spent on the road, behind the wheel, taking her back and forth to the multitude of sports and school activities in which she enthusiastically participates. She could drive herself there and back. She could go to the store and pick up last-minute items that our family always seems to need at 8:00 PM, just when I’m ready to relax for a while. She can take her step-sister places too. The possibilities are endless.

With my eyes also on the prize, waiting passed fairly quickly. 20 minutes after departure, the examiner followed by my daughter returned, walking silently back up the hill. She turned her solemn face to me, flashed a quick smile and mouthed, “I passed.”

I can only imagine how great she felt because I was jubilant. I was free! For sixteen years I carted and ferried and carpooled this child to play dates, school, doctor’s appointments, Hebrew classes, social functions, hula practice, softball games, canoe paddling regattas.

It might be said that our relationship  formed and blossomed during all of the time spent together in the car. From out of the womb into the world, from infant seat to booster seat, back seat to front seat, passenger seat to driver’s seat, from drop off to pick up this child has been in tow. My passenger.

And now she can drive herself. It is time. On our way back from the DMV (her driving, me less nervous) I told her in a very stern voice, “You may think that having your driver’s license is your ticket to freedom,” taking a poignant pause for her to think and worry a bit, “but I have to tell you that it really is mine.”

Finally, my days of carpooling and arranging my schedule around hers are coming to a close. I have the option to sleep past 5:30 AM on school days because she is perfectly capable of setting an alarm, getting up herself and driving to the bus stop without me. And she does.

I can go out on a Saturday night without having to be at the ready to pick her up from the football game after the fourth quarter decides to end. If we need her to drive the younger teen to an activity or appointment or party we just have to ask and she is at the ready to oblige (she’d better be!)

It is such a wonderful feeling that I am not willing to taint it with anxious, unnecessary worry. We have safety precautions in place. She is very responsible and careful. It is enough.

I know I am going to miss her and the time we spend together in the car, talking and sharing, not to mention having a captive audience. In the short month she has been driving on her own I have had time to reflect.

I think about the music we’ve shared: CD’s with Sesame Street songs and how she’d sing along  in her sweet toddler’s voice, the Aaron Carter phase, Fergalicious on the radio and recently whatever she blasts from her iPod so I can keep up to date with her and what is trending these days.

There has been a lot of talking: constant chatter and incessant questions from the backseat when she was little, sometimes driving me a bit crazy, after learning to read she read every sign out loud, school gossip and teenage confessions, scoldings and reprimands. Every moment a blessing to bring us to this moment.

I have to admit that the relief still overrides the sentiment, leaving me not with a sense of loss, just a nice warm feeling of satisfaction. And when I miss her just a little too much, all I have to do is invite her to join me for a trip to the commissary or the mall and she is at the ready and willing.

She hops right in that passenger seat, I back out of the driveway and we roll on towards our destination, picking up right where we left off on our mother, daughter journey. And thank goodness that once again, I get to drive.

Home of the free and the brave

When I was transporting my teenager to the beach on July 4 to drop her off at a party, I heard the DJ on the radio say “Independence Day” and it struck a chord. I thought about how important it is to celebrate our independence, especially for a teenager who is in the process of developing hers.

Of course her budding independence is kind of an oxymoron at this point as it is often dependent on  to my willingness to drive her to all of the places where she has arranged to experience it, thus making me somewhat of a slave to this process! Oh the irony.

I am not complaining. Mostly I am happy to facilitate and enjoy every opportunity to bond in the car that I can get–when she isn’t taking a quick nap or sending a text message to a friend that we are on our way. We definitely do good car. And I am thrilled at her independence. She wears it well and with honor.

The 4th of July turned out to be one of those days where her transportation sort of dictated our schedule. But my husband and I managed to enjoy the day anyway.

It’s hard to think of celebrating this important American holiday without being outside: at the beach, at a park or in somebody’s backyard. The 4th of July commands an outdoor celebration.

We left her at the beach with her friends and decided to go out to lunch. Our criteria were that it needed to be somewhere that had outdoor seating, a good view and did not require driving too far from our home in Kapolei.

There’s always Ko Olina–but we thought it would be pretty crowded there on a holiday. After much thought and deliberation we remembered that there are four golf courses right in the vicinity that all have club houses that serve lunch. A veritable buffet of choices. (I have to mention that since the 4th I have looked on the internet and it turns out that there are eight!)

I remembered that my friend Catherine said that she likes to go to the Barbers Point Golf Course to eat, so we decided to go there. I happen to know that Catherine has a knack for finding good food and hidden gems.

She was not wrong. We had a wonderful lunch. Located in Kalaeloa, right near the former gate of Barbers Point Naval Air Station that closed in 1999, this golf course feels like a getaway to the past. It is quaint and cozy and quiet and beautiful. We are not golfers, so I can’t tell you anything about the course. I can only tell you that it was busy, is easy to access and Nana’s Cafe serves some delicious club sandwiches and awesome beer battered onion rings.

We even ordered a few beers and sat out on the lanai to enjoy our serendipitous celebration.

And now we have a plethora of choices when we want to go out for a bite. There are seven more golf courses in the Kapolei/Ewa area to explore, leaving lots of time for driving teenagers and celebrating all of our independence together!

My husband’s childhood comes to life at Ko Olina Resort and Marina

Last night we met Ruth and Steve Levine at Longboard’s in the Ko Olina Resort and Marina. “So what,” you say, thinking that every detail of our social life is not really interesting enough to share on Facebook, let alone in a blog post. And I would usually agree with you. But not this time. This time I will share.

Ruth and Steve Levine lived next door to my husband in Monsey, New York where he grew up in the 1970’s. He ate at their dinner table, played ball in their backyard and road in the back seat of Ruth’s big black Cadillac to Hebrew School when she drove the carpool.

And that’s where this story gets interesting.

I often write about our Kapolei Hebrew School Carpool. It has been the saving grace to transporting our children several times a week to and from Temple Emanu-El’s School of Jewish Studies. This is especially true on weekdays when Honolulu’s dense traffic can trap us on H1 for almost an hour in each direction, turning what should be a simple 20 mile commute into a demanding and grueling journey for both driver and passengers alike.

My friend, Laurie Hanan, and I started carpooling over 5 years ago when our older daughters were in grade school. We have continued with our younger kids, adding in other West Side Jewish families including the Gottlieb’s and the Stiglitz’s, as schedule and convenience have allowed.

For me, driving the Hebrew School Carpool has turned out to be more than just convenience. It has become a rite of passage as I have embraced the tradition of Jewish Mothers before me, my mother and mother-in-law included.

Thus, meeting Ruth Levine and her husband last night was more than just being nice to dear old friends of my husband’s mom. It was like meeting an icon. I was in the presence of a super star, the Real Deal:  The Carpool Driving, Jewish Mother from New York who had survived driving my husband in their Hebrew School Carpool of the 1970’s. I was not going to let this moment pass.

We have heard the stories from my mother-in-law of how he used to hide in the back seat when other mothers dropped off the kids at the shul in the afternoon to try to get out of attending classes. We have laughed together at anecdotes filled with his antics that caused so much tsorres for these moms, knowing that the stories have happy outcomes. He became a Bar Mitzvah, he went to college. He grew up, married a nice Jewish woman (eventually) and is an officer in the army and doing quite well, thank you very much.

Meeting Ruth was the opportunity to hear these stories again–her voice adding color and depth to bring alive these beloved tales of my husband’s childhood.

With a serious face she told us hilarious stories of a neighborhood of boys, leaving their bikes on her front porch, playing ball in her backyard, breaking her windows, grabbing corn and cucumbers from her garden to take home to their mothers. She called my husband by his childhood nickname, “Henry Pippenpo,” which was bestowed upon him by Ruth herself. And  she shared with us the story that we came to hear: the day that he hid in the back seat and tried to ditch Hebrew school. Of course she caught him.

She counted the boys as they exited the black Cadillac and noticed that all 6 did not disembark. (How she fit 6 kids in the back of her  Cadillac was not revealed, but I assume it was in the days before seat belt laws such as “Click it or ticket.”)

Aware of his hidden presence on the floor of the back seat, she exited the parking lot. Instead of turning left to go home, she turned right. She returned to the Synagogue, leaned into the back seat and grabbed him by the neck. Nothing got past the keen radar of this sharp and experienced Jewish Mother.

Caught in the act, he had no choice but to do what she said, get out of the car and go learn some Hebrew, “Like a good Jewish son should do.” While he did learn Hebrew, I’m not so sure that he learned his lesson right away as I hear he tried it in another mother’s car along with a plethora of other antics. But eventually he must have.

Ruth Levine was clearly happy to see him. She warmly told me that he has mellowed over the years and I had to agree, praising my wonderful husband to the highest degree.

This is why it meant more than just aloha and hospitality that we went to meet Ruth and Steve last night at sunset. It’s one of those moments that brings us full circle– or at least in the vicinity.

Hearing her tell the tales in the setting of this gorgeous leeward resort, accompanied by the  breeze of our local trade winds, both transported me back to our childhood carpool days and joined us together in the present. It somehow magically connected our west side carpool with their East Coast original as tradition has the power to do.

And it further installed me among the legions of Jewish Mothers from recent generations who have carpooled through the antics of their kids and the frustrations of traffic to provide every opportunity possible for their children, driving them on the journey to success.


Follow the red brick wall

I have often written in praise of the “Hebrew School Carpool.” Around here we call it the Kapolei Carpool and it has become an established method of transportation for the small group of West Oahu Jewish families who are driving  the 21 miles back and forth, some times several times a week, to Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu for our kids to attend the Jewish School of Studies.

On Sunday mornings it’s pretty easy. We zip in and out of Honolulu in less than 30 minutes, with little interference. Traveling west on H-1 into Town on a weekday afternoon poses a challenge. Traffic congestion is random and can start as early as 3:00 pm. Often the pace makes a slow crawl until well after 6:00 pm.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. It has to do with the carpool, but in a much different way.

While forming the Kapolei Carpool was generally effortless, it took me much longer to find a carpool with neighborhood families whose children go to the same secular school that mine attend. I’ve been looking for a kindred group of drivers since my Teenager was in second grade and was not successful until recently.

Several of  Middle Schooler’s classmates live nearby and together we have established a nice carpool system.

We’ve told her to be at the ready to jump in the designated driver’s car as soon as it pulls up to the house. I don’t like to wait for other kids when I drive, so I don’t want other parents to wait for mine.

I told her about my Hebrew School days carpooling with the Rosmans, Shermans and Oxmans. My parents made us go outside to wait for them. We would sit on the red brick wall that divided our yard from that of our neighbors, the Armstrongs.

That’s what this blog post is about, the red brick wall in the front yard of the house where I lived for the first 18 years of my life at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California.

My sister on the red brick wall when she was a teenager.

I pose on the wall when I was a teenager.

One of the main attractions of our trip to Buena Park was a visit to that house.

The Gershun girls pose with our paternal grandmother in front of our house on Somerset Street.

We entered the neighborhood from Beach Boulevard and turned right on Los Coyotes Drive. It was called Bellehurst when we were kids, but now the entrance simply boasts the way to Los Coyotes Country Club.

Turning right on Country Club Drive, we wound our way to Somerset Street. We pointed out the few houses whose former occupants we remember. We got to the Morish’s house, 5 doors from ours and entered “The Zone”: the Morish’s, The Jensen’s, The Sheatz’s, please remind me if you remember the name of this family, the Armstrong’s and ours.

And there we were, facing the home of our childhood and the wonderful memories it holds. The front yard was the gathering place for croquet games, hide ‘n seek marathons and relay races of any kind.

The red brick wall was not only a bus stop for the local carpool. It was home base for kickball games and the launching point for piggy back rides and the wooden stilts that a family friend made for us.

We hesitated about parking in front of the house to get a good look. It felt kind of stalkerish. But I insisted. Why hide?

They have added plants in front of the wall where we used to play so we had to take pictures sitting on the wall from the Armstrong’s side.

My sister poses on the red brick wall in 2012.

I pose on the red brick wall in 2012.

By the time I was taking pictures of the tree, a lady came out the front door to ask us what we were doing! We explained who we are and she was very nice. She told us that mail addressed to the Gershun family was delivered to them a few times. We talked about the yard, the area and the schools. And then we were on our way.

While not as prominent as the red brick wall, our front yard tree was ever-present in our childhood games. It was known to grow leaves and shed them at odd times of the year. It was my job to rake the leaves.

I visited the area in 2009 and took photos of the house and wall. It has changed, even since then.

The red brick wall in 2009.

The house and tree in 2009.

On that trip I reconnected with childhood friends.

On this trip I reconnected with my sister, our childhood and myself. Each stop on our itinerary prompted us to relate personal perspectives of experiences we shared, rejuvenating the wonderful memories of growing  up in our childhood home at 5081 Somerset and the surrounding Bellehurst neighborhood.

Doing the Bat Mitzvah shuttle

We just came home from a Bat Mitzvah.

I had three kids in the car. They make up the 8th grade class at Honolulu Temple Emanu-El’s SJS, besides the Bat Mitzvah girl. She had her own transportation.

I will take them to her party this evening.

There are only 4 kids in the class. My older daughter is one of them. Her Bat Mitzvah last January was the first for that class. A Bar Mitzvah followed last summer. The Bat Mitzvah today and a Bar Mitzvah scheduled later this month over  Thanksgiving weekend will find the whole class completed in this major rite of passage. Two boys and two girls.

While a small group like this does not offer the busy social life of many Jewish 13-year-olds, filled with ceremonies and catered affairs on a weekly basis, it does offer the opportunity to forge close relationships between these adolescents who have been in Sunday school class together every week from 9 am to noon since they were in kindergarten.

Add in Wednesday afternoons for two hours of Hebrew school since fourth grade and these kids have spent a significant amount of time together learning about and being Jewish.

As I drove, my daughter talked and joked and laughed with these two boys, who are like brothers to her. I started to muse about her prospects of dating a Jewish boy or marrying one some day. I wondered which of the two boys sitting in the backseat of my car would make a good boyfriend or husband. I like them both very much.

They are very nice boys. I am friends with their mothers. And that’s when I stopped. I don’t want to be in-laws with my friends. She can meet a Jewish boy from another state when she is in college. Or maybe one will move here that she doesn’t know so well.

It did remind me of my youth and the Jewish boys I knew so well: Jon Sherman and Jason Oxman. We lived in the same neighborhood. We rode together and were in the same class at Sunday school, Hebrew school, weekend camp programs for our entire Jewish educations. Jon and I were in the same class in elementary school every year as well. We all went to the same high school. They were like my brothers. We fought like siblings and have remained in contact to this day.

I never would have dated either of them and I am pretty sure they would say the same about me.

So that’s where it stops.

I will let my daughter play football with these nice Jewish boys we know so well. They can go to parties and dance and lead services together with the Temple youth group. And I will let her choose her own dates as well. I’m pretty sure these boys will have her back and take good care of her like any brother would.