Monday, September 5, 2011

Closing Time

One of my favorite songs from the college years is "Closing Time," by Semisonic, a song about a bar that is about to close and all of the random people you are encountering for an evening of fun, are all about to go their separate ways. "Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Some timely words as this project of mine is coming to an end.

The past two weeks, in the midst of my final month of this blog project, have included an earthquake, a hurricane and a move across town for my family. Not to make excuses, but I have certainly had my hands full. Needless to say, I was able to fit in a few more calls to long lost family and friends who knew my mom in her hey day. And during these talks, I've learned so much about my mom's childhood, her dreams and her family life.

Not only did I learn more about her, I made some new and close relationships with extended family and friends from her past. They are now like family to me. And, with their help, I have uncovered a treasure trove of long lost family photos of both my mom and her family (through her father's side) as well as keepsakes of her name in school violin concerts and the like. I am sure more discoveries will find their way from New York and Washington State to my little mailbox in Silver Spring. And I feel so fortunate for this month of detective work and exploration.

Since I grew up with my nana (my mother's mom) assisting with our raising from toddler hood to high school, I have lots of photos and stories of my family through my mother's mother. What I gathered this time around, are photos from my mom's father's side. My papa was the youngest ordained hazan (cantor) in the USA at the age of 13. He conducted weddings from my mom's childhood apartment in the Bronx and officiated at so many smachot (celebrations).

Here are just two photos shared with me. One of my mother posing in all her splendor and another of my great grandmother Anna, the grandmother of my papa (my mom's dad and my nana's husband) lighting candles to start the holiday of Passover, sometime in the 40's-50's. Just unreal. As I bring the light of the holiday candles into my home each week, I am inspired through the lighting of my Grandma Gertie's brass candlesticks from Poland (my dad's mom) and now through these unearthed photos of my great grandmother on my mother's side. My family always grew up with Jewish spirituality and connection and apparently observance was a part of the picture back in the day. Since I have returned to this way of life as of my college years, it is such an empowering feeling to look at my ancestors and ways in which they connect to G-d.

So with my 33rd birthday a week away, I wanted to close out this year and say just how fortunate I feel to have had this year to explore myself as a person and to push myself both physically and mentally to the next level. No I didn't have the chance to visit New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia or see the green fields of Ireland. But I am still young and please G-d, I will have many more years ahead of me to explore these places with my family in the future.

I have had some highs, both literally in my zip lining and my bike riding lessons and some lows, encountering a fear of bugs and struggling to find volunteer positions with bar tenders and the local aquarium in town. Some projects never came into fruition while others, such as shadowing a professional pastry chef, taught me so many new tricks of the trade I can bring to my kitchen.

I have learned that one can always make time for the important things, no matter how busy or how overloaded one becomes. And that nothing ever goes the way you envision it in your head. I struggled to make time each month between my husband's hectic schedule, two kids under the age of four and a part time job that changes moment to moment. But somehow, I made it happen. Sure, there are things I wished I accomplished, like whitewater rafting and others I probably could have done without (bugs are totally overrated), but all in all, I have truly grown as a person. I have learned more about my strengths to handle unexpected challenges and both the importance of and the limitations of relying on friends to get you through a tough spot. At the end of the day, you have to come through for yourself. Expectations of yourself are often unrealistic and expectations we have of others are all the more so.

You learn how to be a good person by being one yourself. And we get through difficult times by becoming the person we wished we had during those times of our deepest fears.

I am thankful for my family who was so supportive and understanding through this process and to my children who have taught me in their short little years thus far, how I can go on to be a caring and tuned in mom despite not having a mother figure in my life all these years. One of the hardest challenges I have faced was bringing my daughter home from the hospital and not having my mom to call or to share with me the memories she had of raising us. Now at least, I have a few of those stories backed up by photos, of her earlier life back in the day.

As I embrace my 33rd year, a year I never thought in my whole life, I would live to see, I just want to be more aware of my inner voice, take nothing for granted and to be the mom to my kids that I always wished I had. The biggest blessing in life we can give to others is to be true to ourselves and have no regrets. This year has afforded me the opportunity to pencil myself into the gerbil wheel of residency and new motherhood and I feel to lucky to have brought it into fruition. What will this next year and the future hold for me, that no one knows. But at least I have been granted the days and the minutes to be here in the life of my kids to savor their ups and their downs, their new achievements and the obstacles along the way.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey. Your emails, calls and personal stories of mother loss and tackling hidden dreams and fears inspired me to follow through this daunting path.

Its closing time and I'm back to my routine of a life, but this time with a better head on my shoulders and a few less fears in my pocket. I feel lighter, refocused and inspired to face my next adventure, whatever life has in store for me. Mid-thirties... ready or not.... here I come!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Turning the Page

Its been a long and awful week. Listing events in the order of occurrence, not importance:

-Horrible canker sore in my mouth just the day before a fast day meant I couldn't eat much before or after the fast
-Burn on my hand from cooking
-Passing away of Steve's grandmother who we loved so dearly
-Job challenges which shall remain mysterious
-Husband working 30 hour on call shifts
-Weird medical malady that left me thinking I had cancer all week (thankfully not the case!)
-Two weekends alone with the kids and no hubby or shabbat plans in sight
-Breakdown of my car leaving me stranded with the kids
-Husband gone for 60 hours including an overnight shift and 40 hour trip to Denver for funeral that me and kids couldn't attend
-Friends letting me down in a hurtful way

As you can see, I have shed a lot of tears and burned a lot of brain power swimming in the misery of this terrible week. Friends and family have surprised me in their support while others have focused rightly so on their own issues that consume us all in our day to day efforts.

One can literally become so consumed in their pity for oneself that it can become a barrier to enjoying life and seeing the good things that surround you. I started to become that person. To be fair, everyone should have the right to acknowledge their feelings and come to terms with the hardships they face. In fact, I find myself often in the situation where I either am afraid or don't know how to ask for help. I get so caught up in keeping it all together or taking care of other people, that I overlook my own needs.

For example, picture a weekend where Steve is working, I'm trying to shuffle work, taking care of the kids and making shabbat plans. Here I am, calling friends offering to host a meal, including shopping and staying up late night just to make a few dishes to create a shabbat atmosphere for me and the kids when the hubby is away. Its critical for me to try and maintain a senses of stability when the schedule gets us down, but sometimes my desire for creating a Jewish environment ends up with me taking on too much so that I am in over my head when most other people would pick up ready made food, eat on paper and plastic with the kids and call it a day.

As I was sitting in my doom and gloom of a night, reflecting on the hardships both physical and mental of this week, I realized that the answer of how to turn this all around lay simply inside ME. By doing something nice for another person or reaching out to ask for help, I can give someone else the feeling that I want to have and I can let someone into my world to do something nice for me.

I have been overwhelmed with the support of friends today talking me through my challenges, buying me groceries and driving me and the kids 30 miles to the airport to pickup Steve's parked car after my own broke down. I feel so lucky to have friends such as those.

But I decided tonight was the time to also turn the corner on my blog project. After my first outreach call to my mom's maid of honor, I was able to put the pieces and detective work together to locate my mom's long lost first cousin. Through the help of, Google and Facebook, I found her alive and well in Seattle (my favorite city on the planet thus far).

I chose to end my night with a bit of exploratory learning about my mom, her home life and childhood, her musical talents and her dream of creating normalcy in her life by marrying the man of her dreams and starting a family. She succeeded in so many of her goals, becoming a junior high English teacher, settling down with my dad and bringing life to three lively kids. Even though she died, she continues to live inside each of us and instilled in us the dream of making our home and family, not our jobs, the center of our worlds.

Perhaps there is a light at the end of all our tunnels. We just need to lift up our eyes to the mountains and see the horizon for all its glory. It would have been easy to mope around in my pajamas tonight clinging to the challenges that lined my week. But, I'm done with that. I've shed enough of my tears and had my disappointments. I have places to go and stumbling and falling down is a part of the real world.

We've all been there and know how easy it is to get stuck. But at the end of the day, it isnt other people who are going to recenter your world.... its YOU. Its a decision, whatever your malady, whether it be emotional, physical or mental difficulties, to choose to view it in a different light. Reconnection with my family and with those my mom held very dear has warmed a place in my heart that used to be cold. To hear the obstacles my mom overcame in life just to make a loving family is so inspiring to me. And here I am in the midst of it all, living the life she always wanted.

Perhaps all those things that can make it seem like the sky is falling down all around us are really just there to teach us that we're human and that we're still here. No one is immune to pain and hardship. But everyone can choose to turn the page.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Connect the Dots

Friday afternoon is probably the absolute worst time of the week to blog. But seeing as the first week in August is coming to an end, I feel an internal obligation to just get out what I have been working on and prove to myself that this project isn't over until its really over.... which is supposed to be at the end of this month.

How is it that I find myself in the last month of my year long project to get through my 32nd year? Where did the year go?

The truth is that my goal for this month was/is to go whitewater rafting for my first time ever. Come to find out once I did the research, that the season is mostly over at this point in the year. I've looked into a few places mostly in West Virginia, a reasonable drive from the DC area, to have my time in the sun. But, its been challenging to fit it in with my new found time consumers: moving and the trauma ICU.

We are moving across town at this end of this month into a townhouse and although its literally just down the street, it seems as though this move is to another world. Friends talk as if they will never see us again and some feel as though us going to a new synagogue means that something was wrong with the old one. Before I get too ahead of myself, I should say we're mostly moving because of rising costs and lack of space in our current place. We found this wonderful set up that we just could not turn down. I am sad to be leaving but very optimistic/excited about the new opportunities that lie for us just across the way. Those plans, combined with my husband's return to the trauma ICU for two months, means a mommy with the kiddies most of the time.

So, finding time, weekday or weekend to grocery shop for the next two months is going to be a challenge let alone rafting. So I've reluctantly put rafting on the agenda for perhaps a future trip. So, I've decided to spend this month trying to tie my whole year together. I've realized over the years that although I have been so upset from losing my mom, I really have little knowledge about the woman she was. I have a few photos with her when I was first born but she was already so ill and that its hard to remember her that way. We have some family photos pre-my arrival in this world which are lovely. And a few years back, my dad burned all the family super 8 movies onto dvd. It was the first time I saw my mom move.... of course there was no sound, but I will take what I can get.

So for this month, I have set out to learn a bit more about my mom, try to track down old family members and friends that knew her and see what I can learn. Its not really a fear to overcome but it will be a challenge. It will also fulfill a dream of mine to learn more about my mom and who she was as a person. Through the wonderful aid of Facebook, my dad encountered the maid of honor at my parents wedding. A childhood friend of my mom's that learned of her death many years after she had passed. Through some effort, I was able to connect with her and hear old stories of my mom growing up, playing violin and taking care of others. In so many ways, it felt as if I was on the phone with my mom. It was such a powerful experience to hear how someone I do not remember even meeting impacted others and shone such a vibrant light into this world. It made me want to go back and be there, like a fly on the wall, watching her grow up and become the woman, mother and wife that she became.

From that encounter, I am now on the hunt to locate my mom's first cousin who is somewhere in the state of NY. They apparently were inseparable through childhood and I am hopeful, in this world of technology, that she is out there awaiting my call, email, text.... you get the point.

I guess I've seen enough of those long lost family reunion shows on tv and never realized just how much detective work I could do to uncover the true story behind my mom. I am so invigorated and inquisitive about the opportunities to uncover lost stories and photos and who knows what else.

So August may be on its way, but this little lady isn't done until the clock runs out and the birthday candles are literally on the cake. Have faith and doors will open along the way. The end is in sight and so is my 33rd birthday. A year I have looked forward to my whole life and one I plan to spend under a shady tree in my hammock. And now that I will soon have my own backyard, its a place I cannot wait to make into a reality.

So forgive me for the last minute pre-shabbat post but the research will go on and the puzzle pieces come together. Although I know a complete picture can never be, a mosaic of a few pieces here and there can help make me feel more whole inside and fill up the hole I have had in my heart for so long. Slowly slowly, its starting to fill with love, memories and hopes for the future.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bugging Out

Its been a long time coming and I have run from the idea that I should use one month this year to overcome my fear of bugs. I would say that I am a pretty loyal person. Enough that if a huge bear was attacking my family at a camp site, I would be the one trying to lure it away. But you put a spider on my couch or an ant on my picnic blanket and I am running for the door people.

I have seen Fear Factor and all of those other "overcome your fears for money" shows but no one is giving me money to see me overcome these personal issues. Well... not yet anyway. I guess I can hold out hope that Oprah or Ellen will read this and be so inspired to see how far I've come and help me take my story to the next level.

But I do live in reality and bugs are everywhere. Especially in the summer, from the mosquitoes which I actually find more annoying than scary, to the ladybugs which are both cute and not welcome in my home to the roaches outside in the hot DC sun. Lets not talk about the bed bugs I have heard so much about from friends who bought a used mattress or succumbed to from an infected apartment rental. I am just not a bug person. Never have been and never will be.

I expected to spend this month whitewater rafting, even tried to fit it in to my week long trip to Colorado last week but Denver is home to my husband's family and we chose to see our relatives and take a quiet family vacation to Vail instead of me squeezing in another blog-related pursuit.

That being said, in a location that shall remain nameless, I came face to face with small, little white bugs known as none other than maggots. Yes sir, real indeed. I was sitting down on an outdoor chair when some water squirted out under my seat and onto my foot. When I got up to look and examine the cushion underneath, I saw some dried piece of food and some friendly little white critters crawling around like it was chocolate mousse pie. Maybe it was but it certainly wasnt in edible condition.... for humans anyway.

My first reaction was to jump up and try to shake myself free of any loose hanging stragglers on my outfit or sandal. Despite the fact that they were under the chair and none had touched me, I still could not remove the idea that one had to be stuck somewhere on my body or belongings and I just might not see it. Its sort of that feeling like you're itchy all over when you see a creepy crawly thing even though nothing touched you.

Once I calmed down from my clear over reaction, which was obvious to both me and my 3.5 year old, I took a step back and thought about how to handle the situation. I eventually agreed to assist in the cleaning of the chair cushion and helped wash those tiny little buggies back into the great outdoors where they belong. I wouldn't say I willingly confronted the little guys but I realized I was needed to step in and assist in the reclamation efforts and I did as I should.

Now back at home, I have been secretly awaiting another opportunity to encounter another bug and save my family from its control. Last night, after sleeping for a few hours, my big kid woke up asking me to sing her a song. While singing her back to sleep, I noticed a huge millipede on her wall right by her water bottle about an inch from where she lays her head. Without a second thought, I ran to the bathroom for a tissue and squashed the little creature. Not exactly mother natures best solution as I am not a huge fan of killing anything. But it was too late to run outside and I was home alone with both kids. These bugs move SO fast that if you don't trap them or squish them, they can hide for months and you'll never find them.

I cannot say my anxiety has passed but I am proud of myself for coming out of my shell just a tad to overcome what has been a long time fear. I am certainly still planning a rafting adventure for next month, the final piece to end this blog project of a year. But until then, I guess I will be on the lookout for critters along the way and try to force myself to both acknowledge their existence, attempt not to kill them and linger for a few minutes in their midst before standing on top of the kitchen table. You will never find me inside one of those plastic containers you lay in during those competition shows lined with bugs galore. Not my style. But to challenge myself on a daily basis to put myself into the sphere of discomfort in an attempt to let go of something that doesn't bring me closer to being a better person, is something I can certainly live with. Who knows, maybe I'm on my way to having a pet tarantula someday... or worse maybe one of my kids will fall in love with one and let it loose one day just to test if Ive really confronted my fear. Wouldn't that be a blast!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home is Where the Heart Is

Can we talk a word about home. What exactly is it? Its a debate I keep having with my husband and we both hit the ball back and forth over the net trying to sort out what this means.

To most, its where you grew up. The place you remember as a child, small and simple and where you discovered or began to discover who you were. You made old school friends, received an education and explored the mini world around you. You spent time with family, pushed the envelope time and time again and the place you left behind when you went off to achieve higher education, take a job or find yourself, whatever that means.

To some, home is where you physically live. As in, the place you sleep at night and the community to which you and your family belong. My husband always says, "Home is where you are, where we raise our kids." Its a lovely sentiment but to me the word home needs to mean so much more. Yeah sure, wherever we are as a atomic family planted in this world is technically home. But to me, home is an emotional experience and a mental state where I can finally set down my baggage, unpack my junk and settle in to a place that "feels" like home. Its not just finding the right jobs or the right Jewish community, its about feeling a click inside me that says, "Yep, here it is, you're home."

I am a northerner and I do go out of my way to show my allegiance to Boston. Its the place I grew up, discovered my inner voice and met the man of my dreams. Will it be the home I choose to return to or simply a place in my mind as a reminder of the "me along the way" in my path of life? The jury is still out on that. But, I do think people can have many homes. I'm a Jew and there is no denying that. The feeling of alive I felt while living in Jerusalem for two years is simply in-explainable. Its an inner jolt one cannot put in words. A part of me years to return there while the rest of me feels pulled towards family I know will never relocate and a professional life I know I could never recreate in a million years there.

Sure I have memories of my home life as a kid. I remember my nana, who moved in to help my dad raise us as kids, telling me what it will be like when I have kids of my own. Spending time at the playground and swing set of the elementary school behind my house on summer afternoons dreaming of the return to school next fall and the fun that came with it. I remember playing in the creek across the street from my house, catching salamanders with my brother and skipping rocks. Summers at the Cape, staying at a rundown motel with a swimming pool and spending afternoons at a beach filled with seashells. No it wasnt a fancy life, but it was home. It was cooking in the kitchen, smelling chicken soup boiling on the stove or sitting next to my dad at Shabbat services, watching him cover his eyes and sway with the tune. Home was a place with a fluorescent green door that only faded more over time and a backyard filled with forested land and a barely-there vegetable garden and a rotted porch that we sunbathed on as kids. It was a place I felt safe and one where I daydreamed about my life before me. But that home is a place I left a long time ago. In fact, its a place we no longer own or return to. Does that mean I no longer have a home? Can I never go back there again? Or is it something that comes with me wherever I go?

This concept of home is playing a bigger role in my consciousness these days as we are currently looking for a new place to rent for the remainder of Steve's residency. This will be our third move in four years. Just a bit crazy if you ask me. But not exactly by choice. The first move was to the DC area for residency to start. The second move happened when we learned we were expecting baby 2 and the need for more space fast was evident. I also started working from home and the little livable and workable space we did have was less than modest. Our hopefully third and final move of residency is due to the rising cost of our complex that blows my mind.

A lot of our discussion has turned towards the question of where do we go next. Not in next for the rest of our lives when Steve starts applying for jobs in two years, but next as in next month, August. We've been looking like mad in our current neighborhood with choices few and far between and a place we simply could never afford to buy in once we are done with the schooling. We've also explored joining a neighboring community with a lot of rental options and the possibility of buying something comfortable when all is said and done should we choose to stay. I think for us, its just a hard sell leaving a place we've grown in to and up in for four years. So many friends we have made along the way and two children we have raised from birth in front of our eyes.

Which path do we choose has a lot to say with how we define home. Is it truly where we reside, in our own internal place of residence? Is it our neighborhood and Jewish community who supports and cherishes us through every life cycle event (death of Steve's dad, birth of our two kids, etc.) or is it a place in our past we can never recreate but can only hope to come close to for our children? A lot of our scoping of neighborhoods, backyards and synagogue options has begun to focus less and less on me and Steve and more and more on our kids. Where can they have a bigger outdoor space to run around far from traffic and close to home? Where can we make services with varying schedules and find lots of school friends for our kids to spend Shabbat afternoons with. I'm tired of leaking ceilings and noisy lobbies. I'm tired of staring out at parking lots and hearing laundry carts roll up and down the hallway. I'm tired of rent increases of 10% or parking policies that take advantage of young families or seniors in our community.

Its clear its time to move and to relocate somewhere a la carte for another two years. Here's to hoping our new home offers some quiet and relaxation with friendly faces of new and old. Some day, I hope to unpack all those boxes jammed way up in the small closet we call a storage space and find a home for our things we find so dear. Will that truly be our home or will it be just another place we hang our hat? I think that home is what you make of it and inside, I hope it just becomes a place, like the feeling I had inside when I met Steve on December 2, 2000, that just feels right. The place I/we were meant to be and the place we can truly come into our own. Something I guess we will only know when we get there. Maybe its something that has been with us all the while, or maybe its a place in our minds. Either way, one things for sure, a move is in our near future and where we will end up, nobody knows.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time is Running Out

Realizing I am already at the end of June with only two months left of this lovely blog project has put me in a quandary. I still have so many things I would love to do in my final months but not enough time to fit them all in.

To be honest, I am also somewhat relieved that fitting all these adventures in around working and school time will soon come to an end. But I do hope to be able to pick a few things to incorporate into my weekly lifestyle to find that "me" time I have been missing for so long.

Take for example this month where I was exposing myself to my fear of deep water. Kayaking was a wonderful experience and proved to be just the right opportunity for me to explore my love of water and fear of small boats. I tried to organize paddle boating downtown and actually walked right by the place but the family schedule didnt allow for the excursion. I guess in hindsight, taking a 3.5 year old and a toddler on a mini-boat that they both would attempt to jump out of is probably not the best idea. But it looked both so scary and so much fun. Perhaps another time.

I also wanted to learn to drive a friend's family motor boat and try to water ski. Something that also didnt pan out but maybe will make a future appearance as an add in over the next two months.

My list of remaining ideas include: white water rafting, yoga-lates (thats yoga and Pilates in one), becoming fluent in Hebrew, traveling to New Zealand (and a score of other places for that matter), mosaic art studio classes professionally, zumba class and the slew of things I was turned down for during the year: volunteering at the aquarium and zoo, serving as a park or forest ranger, bartending and more.

So what will next month hold? Hopefully whitewater rafting and some rough rapids either in CO or WV. I hear there are great places in both. And August still undecided but Im taking recommendations for my final frontier. I forgot to mention in the middle of this all, we are planning a move to a nearby abode so on top of this, I am also contacting moving companies, dealing with realtors and finding the shock of relocating once again (albeit local but still) yet another adventure to pile on top.

Hopefully things will iron out smoothly and some calm will return to my life once again. I guess thats probably an unrealistic hope with two kids under the age of four but some calmer waters on the horizon, I suppose, is fair to request.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guest Blog Post for Mayyim Hayyim from Self Care Month

A Moment to Myself

Women go to the mikveh for many reasons. For most, it is seen as a monthly ritual to purify oneself in living waters, mayyim hayyim, after menstruation and preparation for physical reunification with a spouse. I think many women look at the mikveh as a monthly chore, another appointment to fit in to an already busy life, and the last step before they reunite with their husbands.

As someone who came to Jewish observance in college, I always associated the mikveh as a secret kept between Jewish women, the place everyone knows you go to, but no one asks about. In fact, I always find it the biggest surprise when I run into a friend at the mikveh. Your eyes meet each other, perhaps smile and nod, and then go back to your own space.

I view my visits to the mikveh as an encounter with nature, a time for me to pencil myself into the weekly hustle and bustle and immerse in rainwater. I admit, between working, traveling, caring for the kids and fitting in holidays, I often find the scheduling of an appointment grueling. But I find that if I can just make the time to go, once I get there, I can finally relax and focus on the moment. A time to care for myself—not just in a physical way but in both a spiritual and emotional manner as well. In fact, I no longer fear the need to visit a mikveh when I am on vacation or visiting family. I enjoy researching new communities, finding out-of-the way mikvaot and making the time to escape the family retreat or hotel of a foreign city to explore into the night. Some of my fondest memories of travel occur on my visits to mikvaot around the world.

It was one of these vacations that recently brought me back to my hometown of Boston and Mayyim Hayyim. To visit a mikveh so gentle on the eyes and calming to the spirit is refreshing. Every aspect of the mikveh was well thought out and planned to be a relaxing experience, from the building design to the fluffy towels. Users are invited to open the bor cap and let in the rainwater directly prior to immersion. I just took in all that surrounded me. A deep breath in and a minute to myself. It’s like stepping into another place in time where everything you’ve been rushing to or from just stops.

To me, the most powerful moment of my immersion experience was being allowed to spend a few minutes alone in the waters by myself. I was left surrounded by the stillness of the night and holiness of my act. It was as if time was standing still and I could finally quiet my mind and focus on coming closer to myself.

Jen Singer works in environmental consulting and lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, Steve and their two children, Ma’ayan and Aviv. Follow Jen on Twitter @jenluftigsinger.