Just the Ticket

Today is my mother’s yahrzeit. Today marks the 7th anniversary of my mother’s death. I can’t believe that it was seven years ago. Seven is a significant number for us Jews. We sit shiva for seven days after a person dies.  I’m surprised that there isn’t some ritual or blessing or special thing that one does when a person has been dead for seven years.

Somebody once told me, “When we are grieving, our hearts are open. When our hearts are open, it is a time to receive.” The same person told me you don’t get over grief. It is always there. Some times it is more active than others. Today it is active and today my heart is open and in my heart is where I found the significance.

So here’s the significant story.

My kids think that I am perfect. Or perhaps they think that I think I am perfect and expect the same from them. Alas, it is definitely not true. I am not perfect nor do I expect them to be. Nevertheless, I refrain from regaling them with stories of my not so flawless and somewhat adventurous youth. The mistakes and missteps I made along the way have led me to where I am today and I turned out pretty decent. So I see no need to tell them the nitty-gritty details of the fun I had straying from the path before my frontal lobe was fully formed.

Of the few stories that I have been willing to share, now that my girls are closer to the age I was when these events happened, one became significant this week.

I went to college in west L.A. where parking was at a premium: on campus, in public parking lots and on the street. I got a lot of parking tickets. Some were for expired meters, others were because I forgot to move my car on street cleaning day and a lot were just because I was too lazy to find a legal spot. In this instance I did not learn from experience. Ever the optimist, I continued to challenge the odds on a regular basis and park my car in places where it was not welcome. Of course the odds were ever against me and I collected a series of parking tickets.

Then I would forget to pay them. Yep. I’d put the ticket in a pile of things to take care of and forget about them as I immersed myself in my studies and also driving around L.A. discovering the city and new places to illegally park.

Since the car was registered to my father’s name and address, notices of unpaid fines were mailed to my childhood home in Buena Park. That’s when the phone in my dorm room would ring. My mom would call and tell me that the notice of an unpaid fine came and that she paid the ticket so that my father would not find out. There’d be some scoldings, but not really any threats of punishment. Considering how many tickets I got, it did little to deter me from my wayward parking habits.

I often drove the 40 miles home to visit on the weekends. My parents were always happy to see me. At some point over the weekend, my father would pull me on the side to inform me that a notice came in the mail for a parking ticket. He also let me know that he had kindly paid it on the sly so that it was taken care of before my mother found out about it. He was less likely to scold.

I couldn’t tell you how many times this happened, probably not too many or my parents would have gotten angry at some point. But in later years it became a favorite story that my mom liked to tell. Those parking tickets became a significant memory illustrating both my impetuous ways and my parent’s tolerance for their youngest and somewhat impudent child. On one occasion or more, my mother would cheerfully threaten, “I hope you have one just like you some day!”

Well, I had one, about twenty years ago. I don’t know if she is just like me. Neither of us is perfect, but so far she hasn’t gotten into too much trouble, except for the parking ticket last week. She recently moved to San Jose. Parking is at a premium in her neighborhood.

On Thursday I woke up to a text from her at 6 AM, “I got a parking ticket.”  All I could do was laugh. “Welcome to city life,” I responded. And then I offered to pay it for her, just this once. It seemed like the right thing to do since my parents bailed me out so kindly when I was her age.

I really missed my mom right then. I ached to call her and tell her the story. She would have laughed out loud.

The timing of this event is significant. My mom is always on my mind and in my heart and in my head, for sure. This week, however, she is more. I can feel that the grief is a bit more active and my heart has been a lot more open. They say that paybacks can be a bitch. But this one is a blessing. It is a story that comes full circle, connecting me to my mom and my memories and bringing the past into the present for us to enjoy in a new way.

 

 

 

I see the light at the end of the carpool tunnel

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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.

If you build it, they will come

When my youngest sister started calling it the ”Beach Mitzvah” a few months before the big day, the new event title stuck and we’ve been referring to it that way ever since.

That is what it was, a Beach Mitzvah. Our youngest daughter became a Bat Mitzvah last month and the service was held under a tent at Paradise Cove in Ko Olina…. and it was fabulous.

Once all of our mainland guests arrived, all of the details were taken care of and we were finally celebrating this significant rite of passage together with our family and community on the lush green grass, under the warm bright sun, along the crystal clear water of one of Oahu’s most beautiful “Secret Coves,” it is hard to imagine that choosing this venue so that our youngest daughter could perform this particular rite of passage was anything but completely deliberate.

In reality it was an act of compromise that turned out to be exactly what we wanted, a Beach Mitzvah.

It is not uncommon for these important events that are usually planned at least a year in advance to suffer a few setbacks. Caterers screw up, teenagers forget their Torah portions, people  get stuck in traffic on their way to the Synagogue.  It teaches us to focus on what is important and why we come together to appreciate the true meaning of these rituals. Ours was no exception. Luckily for us, the bumps in the road happened long before the Bat Mitzvah date.

Due to forces beyond our control and details on which I will not dwell at this moment, we switched shuls in the middle of her Bat Mitzvah study and preparation. Our new congregation, The Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC,) is located on Pearl Harbor Naval Base with limited public access. So we had to figure out a way to bring over one hundred people, our family and local community, together for a service outside of this military installation.

Combine that with the fact that our Bat Mitzvah is quite the individual, the idea of a typical reception, a Saturday night party with a DJ and dancing, was not her idea of a fun way to celebrate all of her hard work and study. She preferred a beach party so she could swim and hang out with her friends in the cool water of the Pacific Ocean and also celebrate this paradise that we call home. That part was not a problem for us. We also prefer this type of celebration.

It wasn’t easy coordinating all of the moving parts of this particular piece of our family’s Jewish traditions, but once we “settled” on Paradise Cove, everything fell right into place—kind of like Divine intervention!

When we realized the need to hold the service outside of the chapel, it was the Bat Mitzvah herself who immediately made the connection between the Torah portion she was studying and our choice of venue. In her portion of Terumah, Exodus  25 1-16, G-d tells the Israelites to: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם,  “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

That’s exactly what we did. We made a mishkan, a sanctuary. We put up a tent with three sides at Paradise Cove. In the front we created a “Bima” by setting a small folding Japanese table that I bought years ago at City Mill on top of a folding 6 foot table and covering each with a table cloth. It ended up creating both a lectern on which to place the Torah and an “Ark” in which to keep it safely covered during the rest of the service.

We placed 120 plastic white chairs under the tent  in a semi-circle facing the Bima, hooked up microphones for sound, brought the Torah from the AJC and voila, G-d was definitely among us.

My sister commented that it’s not very often that the Torah gets to go outside—kind of like a Torah field trip. We decided that it must be enjoying its few moments in the fresh air. We certainly did.  And boy did we celebrate.

In some ways it was not much different than a typical weekend family celebration. We shuttled guests between airport and hotels. We coordinated schedules with 25 out of town visitors. On Friday, we enjoyed Shabbat dinner and Erev Shabbat services with our family at the AJC. On Sunday we had a barbecue at our house  for our family to be together again. And every minute of it was very special.

But I have to say that the Beach Mitzvah was particularly poignant. The pieces of this puzzle transformed so magically and beautifully we couldn’t help but feel the inspiring presence of G-d—in our Bat Mitzvah who’s sweet voice chanting from the Torah reminded us that she chooses to take her place among generations of Jews who have chanted those same words and made similar sanctuaries in their own communities and homes and hearts, in the united pride of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings and friends and in the sublime paradise of the mishkan we created by the beach on the leeward side of Oahu for our beautiful and wonderful and amazing Beach Mitzvah.

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.

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The blessing of a good book (or two)

A few months ago, Rabbi Schaktman recommended a book to me. Actually, I think he recommended an author and mentioned the title of one of her parenting books. He had recently returned from the Union of Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial Convention where he heard her speak. He said that she was incredibly dynamic.

Always up for some good advice on parenting, I was intrigued and went home to look her up. Her name is Wendy Mogel and after reading about her on the URJ Biennial’s and Amazon’s websites I immediately downloaded both of her books onto my iPad: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus. I then proceeded to devour each of them. I am still savoring the wonderful framework that she presents for raising my Jewish kids.

If I had to choose between the two books as to which is my favorite, I’d  pick: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. Maybe it is because I read this one first. It introduced me to the concept of raising my kids  from a Jewish perspective and I immediately connected. I teach them about being Jewish, but this is different. It is more about being Jewish in the choices that I make in regards to parenting.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book in which Mogel tells the story of how she embraced her Jewish self and chose to study more about Judaism. I’ve been talking to my husband lately about the idea that we don’t have to wait to go to Temple to be Jewish. We can enjoy our religion and culture in our everyday lives at home. I was thinking that we’d celebrate Shabbat and Havdalah and talk more at the dinner table.Reading this book reaffirmed a lot of choices that I make by instinct and encouraged me to understand my children in new ways.

I had no idea how often I embrace what she calls the “Three cornerstone principles of Jewish living….moderation, celebration and sanctification.” Now that she has named it for me, I am able to practice it even more.

Most of the reviews on Amazon are much better than I could write here. They also affirm that it is good parenting advice whether you are Jewish or not. I will simply close by saying that they are the two best parenting books I have ever read. They have made a huge impact on my choices. They make me feel better about being a parent and being Jewish. I wish I had read them sooner. I’d love to meet Wendy Mogel and it would be totally awesome if she came to Hawaii to speak.

Thanks, Rabbi Schaktman, for the suggestion.

My apologies….

I must apologize to my parents. I am sorry, Mom and Dad. I forgot to light the yarzheit candles in your memory on Yom Kippur.

It wasn’t until  the Yizkor service that I realized my mistake.

I love the moment  when we are sitting in the Sanctuary, the late afternoon sun is streaming through the stained glass windows casting a golden glow over the congregation  and  representatives from the Sisterhood stand at each of the memorial boards and  turn on all of the lights on the memorial plaques.

I know this is a memorial service for those who have passed away and it is traditionally very solemn, but something about the moment makes me feel more joyous than sad.

There is something comforting about all of those people and all of their lights and all of their lives lighting up together for us to feel and remember them all. It is not like the lonely one or two lights that shine during services at each Shabbat, commemorating the individual Yahrzeits.

It is collective and powerful and fills me.

Somehow I imagine that it has a similar effect on  those whose memories are being honored as well. They might feel a little less lonely since they are being remembered in a crowd. Lighting up together, connecting through our collective memories.

So that’s when I remembered that I forgot to light the candles at home and I was sad. It gives me similar solace to see the light of my parents’ memories dancing together on our kitchen counter for a full 24 hours and I missed it.

I light a single candle on the anniversary of each of their deaths, but it feels a bit more lonely and a reminder of our  loss.

The funny thing is that I planned ahead. If you call shopping on eBay planning ahead. I ordered yarzheit candles and special holders from Israel. I purchased them months in advance in anticipation of this moment.

And then I forgot.

My family suggested that I could still do it when we got home, but it did not feel right. The flame would seem false. In reality, the service would be enough.

I am pretty sure that it bothers me more than it would my parents. They were of a generally forgiving nature in life. I can’t imagine it would be any different now.

I will remember next year. I will remember them and the others and the candles.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the Yamim Noraim, my apologies. I will try again in 5773.

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