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Give Them a Break, Okay?

It’s getting a bit unnerving the way the media is grabbing every opportunity to  find fault with Donald Trump’s family.  I know that President Trump has many quirks, all great fodder for cynical writing. I know that he argues and gets defensive and twitters and tweets and all that.

I get that. And I’m not going to debate that here.

But can’t the media give his family a break? Why does the media have to poke fun at his wife all the time?

In my opinion, the Ralph Lauren blue dress she wore to the Inauguration was beautiful and classy.

But instead of leaving it at that – a beautiful first lady in a very appropriately chosen dress – the media has to rip it apart and analyze it.   They write that  she “channeled” (code for copied) Jackie Kennedy’s blue outfit back in 1961.  Like they know what was on her and her designer’s mind.

Now, I don’t remember what Jackie wore back then (I was only 1), so I did a search  and my impression was that the only thing the two outfits had in common was they were both blue. Melania is a woman with class in her own right and she is not trying to mimic Jacqueline Kennedy.

But the media already has decided that she did. And so it becomes fact.

Then there’s the son, Barron. From the facts I’ve read about him, he seems like a smart and typical kid. He seems pretty cute to me. On the night of the election he was tired and seemed to struggle to stay awake. Big deal.

The media has to rip him apart. At the election three months ago, he wasn’t smiling and seemed tired and bored. Hello, it was late. One time a kid is bored and tired and suddenly everyone is making up stories. Playing the game of Dr. Google.

Suddenly people are inventing – no, diagnosing  things about him that are just untrue.

A famous celebrity and someone else actually wrote false things about him having a certain neurological disorder. They have since apologized and hopefully retracted (but not before Melania threatened to sue), but this is wrong. Children of politicians are supposed to be off limits to rude comments.

Today I saw a clip of him playing peek-a-boo with his toddler nephew at the inauguration. To me, that’s a perfectly appropriate behavior for  a kid his age. I think all the Professor Googles can put their diagnostician hats away.

It’s none of these people’s  business. It’s none of anyone’s business to diagnose another person’s child, or to project what’s going on in their own life onto someone else’s life.

It’s none of anyone’s business why the First Lady is keeping her son at his NY school till June. That’s her  prerogative to decide, and frankly, I respect Melania for that. She’s putting her motherhood before her position as First Lady. I think that’s admirable.

Another thing – while I’m on the topic of ridiculous things that the media writes about is the green outfit that Ivanka wore the day before the inauguration. I read in a particular article that the green symbolizes growth, change and moving forward. And, then the writer  went on to say that green also signifies jealousy.

Maybe someone can enlighten me as to what the point of that article was?

And finally, the mystery gift that Melania gave to Michelle Obama before the inauguration was received awkwardly according to the press and now the media is up in arms and pointing out that Michelle must have disliked receiving the gift.

Instead of just saying “oh, isn’t that lovely that she gave a gift to Michelle,” people have to analyze and overthink things.

Whether it’s a beautiful dress at a special event, a young child’s fatigue or boredom, or a gracious gift given to another politician, I really wish the media would just take some things at face value.

I know there’s a fascination with the family of the president but can’t people just give them a break already?

 

 


No More Complaining About the Weather!

In NY where  it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer, people don’t really talk much about the weather. Over there, where the leaves shed from trees in the fall and the flowers bloom in the spring, nobody talks much about it. They don’t complain. They don’t boast.  They are grateful for the pleasant seasons and are quiet when the not-so-good climate changes come around.

The only time someone might bring it up is if they address a practical concern such as how to dress for the weather. Or someone might grab the topic  as an anchor in order to politely redirect an unpleasant conversation, as in “Ummm, how’s the weather down there?”

But here in Los Angeles, we talk a lot about the weather.

When it’s sunny, we boast and gloat. When it’s chilly — that means 60 degrees or below — we complain.

And when it rains – and boy does it rain in a typical winter of December through February —  the conversations begin in unison while putting on boots, rain jackets and other gear.

girl-with-umbrella

 

As we bundle up, dramatically pulling a scarf around neck, we share  with friends how we either love — or hate– the rain.

And then came The Drought. No rain for five or six years. Yeah, a trickle or a tease here and there. And maybe a few short ten minute showers, but for the most part? Nothing. Nada. Grass turned brown. The air was dry. The reservoirs dried up.

We conserved water. We set our sprinkler timers to spray water one or two times per week. Or we ran the hose around the lawn for a few minutes only. We took shorter showers, loaded larger and fewer washing machine and dishwasher loads.

Instead of chatting calmly to each other about the weather, we listened to the experts warn us: If we used too much water from our starving reservoirs, we’d be fined.

We silently hoped, wished and even prayed for rain.

Now, after five or so years, we  finally have some serious rain.

And…something interesting happened.

People stopped complaining.

For one, it’s no longer politically correct  to whine about the nastiness or draft. These days,  no self-respecting Angelino after experiencing the drought would complain about rainy weather.

But the real reason we don’t complain about rain anymore is that we’re happy. We genuinely appreciate that rain, the freshness, the feeling of water coming from a higher Source.

Once we lose something we miss it.

And then if we are lucky and blessed enough to have that lost thing or experience returned to us, we value it. We know that good things in life are not to be taken for granted.

We realize that there are some things in life that we just cannot take for granted,  can’t control or hold onto forever.  At the end of the day, we don’t have control over every facet of our destinies.

We can lose stuff in the blink of an eye. We saw that with the rain.

We may have personal instances where we lose things in our lives and then are fortunate to have those things returned.

A lost item is found. Someone without a job finds a good one. An ill friend is cured.

A stream of bad fortune in life is followed by some happy occasions: An engagement, a marriage, a new baby.

Bad times  become good. Things in our lives improve.

When I broke my ankle three years ago, I was in pretty bad shape.

Buzzzz…ohhh. it tickles

For the better part of a year I dealt with surgeries, bed rest, and pain. Finally, after almost nine months, the physical therapy began. And when I was once again able to walk, I was thrilled.

As the pain lessened, and my limp lessened and then disappeared, I felt gratitude for every step I take on firm ground.

Till today, I wear comfortable shoes and have banished most high heels but I don’t care. Three years after I broke my ankle, I remember the pain and anguish I suffered. And I will (almost) never forget to be grateful  for the miracle of a working ankle.

Nowadays when it rains here in the Hollywood, you’ll hear people saying, “isn’t it great?” or “don’t you just love this weather?” Or  “Oh, yes, G-d knows we need it,” or “We prayed for this.” Because even if people hate cold weather no one would express that during these days of rain after drought.

Let us look around us at all the blessings we have today. Things are far from perfect. G-d knows, our country has its arthritis and its bones are aching. Many are without jobs. Families and friends have stuff that’s going on in their lives that makes things hard for them.

But let’s open our eyes and ears for the good that comes our way. When we do get those showers of blessings, let’s embrace them.

Let’s sing in the rain how happy we are.

Let’s show empathy for those who have less in some areas. Let’s have courage to try to improve the lacks in our own lives.

Just yesterday I heard the radio announcer predict rain for today and the weekend and although I was tempted  to vent, complain, kvetch and rant, I stopped myself.

Instead I say:

Bring on the rain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Conversations With Grandparents

 

It’s  Chanukah and we’ve had a few family get-togethers with all grandparents (my husband and me!) and great grands (my mother-in-law), plus a few aunts and uncles and cousins. I always enjoy being with family, especially when the various generations get to mingle together on the holidays. During holidays, some grandparents reminisce about their past. Others are more quiet about their histories and need to be drawn out and engaged in conversation. And finally, there are those who try to reminisce and no one really listens. Or even worse, no one asks.

As a child, I was one of the few who had  grandparents. Most of my friends’ grandparents had passed in the Holocaust and my friends’ parents emigrated to the US to start new families.  My grandparents each survived the War and traveled to the U.S. with their children – my parents – in the late 1930’s and early 40’s respectively.

Many of my friends tell me that they didn’t grow up hearing stories about the Holocaust from their survivor parents.  Aside from the stamp that their parents  had on their arm indicating the years in concentration camps, there was little proof that they had experienced atrocities. These survivors were reticent to share their horror stories with their children and grandchildren.

And then there are those who do talk about their experiences. In his later years, my father-in-law who passed in 2001, freely shared stories of how he and his brother escaped from Poland and other interesting stories. My husband and his siblings lapped up these stories as well as those still being told by my mother-in-law who is well into her 90’s (may she live till 120).

Children ask a lot of questions but adults don’t always want to prod. They may have the dilemma of how much to probe, to ask, to engage in conversation. They may wonder: Do the elders really want to talk? Are their memories really accurate? Is this act of eliciting reminiscence really for their catharsis or therapeutic benefit? Or is it for us – so we can record it all for posterity?  How do we know if we are being sensitive to their needs?

This is the subject of a book that I’m reading now called The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey H. Konis.  Mr. Konis recalls his Grandma Ola whom he adored and spent a lot of time with, but after her death twenty years earlier, felt regret at not getting enough information from her about his family’s history.  His father never asked questions and he repeated the trend of not asking anything, despite having spent a lot of time with his grandmother. And so, he set out to write this book which is a recollection of his thoughts on his grandmother combined with what he did know about the Holocaust and his conversations here and there with his father. He weaves together all the warm and loving memories about his grandmother.

The book’s  title is somewhat self-deprecating if not self-critical. He wishes he would have asked more, started more conversations and he has a fantasy that his grandmother might have poured forth with story after story.

Notwithstanding his not having war discussions, the author had a most loving relationship with his grandmother.  His Grandma Ola –who actually was his “real” grandmother’s sister, raised his father after the war because the actual grandparents died in the War before his father turned nine.  Grandma Ola found her little nephew hiding on a farm in Poland and brought him  to America to raise him as her own.   Thus, Grandma Olga (“Ola”) was the only grandmother Mr. Konis  knew.  As a young adult, Mr. Konis spent time with Grandma Ola when he was in law school, living in her apartment which was close to his school. She doted on him, made sure he was comfortable and gave him the space to study, party, and be his own person.

Many of the elderly who went through the Holocaust do not want to relive their past. My own father (RIP) and my mother (till 120) were/are Holocaust survivors. Although their stories may be fewer and less dramatic than those of my in-laws as they did not experience concentration camps, they did not regale stories of their past. The only thing I remember is my father telling us bedtime stories about his childhood in Antwerp before the war. A few years before his passing, my brothers recorded him as he spoke on tape about some of the more fascinating escape stories – leaving Belgium, France and coming to the USA.

The opportunity to interview our elders – both informally and informally – are many but often we don’t grab the chance.  Either we think they aren’t interested in talking, or perhaps they really are not interested. Or maybe we aren’t asking the right questions to get them to talk and share.

Bottom line is that many of us go through our lives without having these important conversations with our grandmothers, grandfathers and even our parents.  Later we may regret those missed moments and conversations.

I think the message of Mr. Konis’s book is that we ought to delve into the situation with our elders and find out what and how much they are willing to share. If they are willing to share and reminisce, then we take out a pen and paper and write down what they say. Pull out the tape recorder or  video camera and record them talking. Make a collage or scrapbook using old pictures. Interview them, tape them and give out a CD to the cousins.

But if they are not willing to share, accept that reality. Enjoy their presence and glean your own stories from the time you had with them. That’s what Mr. Konis did and his story “Conversations We Never Had” is a testimony to his great love and memory of his time with his grandmother.

 

 


Should Age Be a Private Matter?

A few  nights ago our family was invited to the100th birthday party of my mother-in-law’s cousin.  To me, the celebration of his becoming 100 indicated that he and all around him were grateful for his blessings of a long life.

It was a time to announce his age to those who were there. Something that is often private was the topic of the event.

My MIL has lots of friends around that age, including someone from our synagogue  who turned 100 a few months ago and celebrated with a party in synagogue on Shabbat. Oh, and did I  mention my MIL’s best friend, Anne who turned 102? That was a milestone which our family and Anne’s children celebrated at a restaurant.

Until about 6 years ago, my mother-in-law’s age was private. No one seemed to know her age and if they did they certainly didn’t discuss it.

After that, her age was officially public knowledge and no longer a taboo subject.

So I’m wondering: Why wait till you’re 90 or 95 to announce your exact age? I think it should be something to boast about when we are still in our 30’s, 40’s and beyond.

I guess this belief stems from my childhood and how I was raised.

The adults in my life always discussed their age. I had two sets of grandparents growing up and I knew all of their ages as a child. And that’s not just because I was a nosy kid who asked a lot of questions! (although that may have something to do with it.)

But seriously, when my maternal grandmother was in the hospital and not feeling very well the last year of her life, she maintained her sense of humor and shall I say, brutal honesty.  When the doctor came in to examine her and asked her how old she was, she said, “90 1/2,” in a decisive tone of voice. No one was going to leave out that half a year that she was proud of.

Every year one of my sisters writes a poem using my mom’s age that year as a takeoff for a theme. That poem gets emailed to all the cousins and friends by my mother herself.

So I grew up with the adults around me treating age as a number denoting an accomplishment.  Nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Another birthday means we have arrived. And thank G-d we have more time on this earth to accomplish things.

Still, age continues to be a taboo subject in some families and cultures. It’s still considered impolite for children or adults to ask one another how old they are. I get that.

But I wonder whether the hiding of one’s age or considering it not a topic of conversation in polite company contribute to unhealthy messages about our aging bodies and souls.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to be open about one’s age, because it helps us grow and move forward emotionally. I believe that when we pretend to be what we are not or forget that we are 56 (that would be me!), maybe we won’t take care of our health. We may neglect ourselves and skip mammograms or colonoscopies or bone density exams or other checkups… because we think we are still 25 or 35.

By contrast, when we focus on the positive aspects of growing old such as having more wisdom and experience we embrace our age.  Rather than getting depressed when we reach a new decade or big number,  I do think it’s better to reach a place of acceptance.

That celebration doesn’t have to be in the form of a party or getting gifts. It can be in the simple acknowledgment of our moving forward. Our growth. It could be a time to take stock of what we’ve achieved the past year or years and what we want to achieve in the next year. A time for gratitude and prayer.

Children are proud of their age because it denotes being more grownup and having more privileges. To them every fraction of a year counts. My young grandson has been keeping track of when his 5 1/2 years became 5 3/4 until he turned 6.

We don’t have to have that kind of glee for a new age or fraction of an age. And some people choose to keep it private. Whether we admit it or not, we feel our age. Every. Single. Day.

But instead of seeing that as a negative, let’s see it as a reminder of our blessings.

So the next time the subject comes up, be proud of your age. Whether you are 20, 30, 40, or 50 +, let’s celebrate our birthdays, not just with a party and lots of cards.

Oh and by the way, my birthday is coming up soon in a few months and I’ve been reflecting as I reach that number and as I watch others have birthdays. It could be this post is my way of working through my unconscious anxieties about the new number. Or maybe I’m just reflecting on a common societal trend of age and privacy. I don’t know.

All I know is that I  pray that we can all embrace and celebrate our birthdays by having our cake and eating it too. That means being grateful, taking care of our physical and emotional health and reaching out to loved ones.

 

 

 

 


How the Election Made Me More Tolerant

The other day I was mad at a certain person in my life. Really upset. I was ranting and raving and venting to my husband about it.

Then I thought about it and slept on it. The next day I woke up, went about my day and thought about it. I started to realize that the other person has a difficult situation in his/her life and that’s why he/she is acting that way. And I started to understand where they were coming from. I wasn’t mad at that person anymore. Wow.

I believe that this election fever and overall stress gives me a chance to practice my skills of switching gears and seeing things from another point of view.

This Election has brought out the worst in many of us. People are bickering online and in person, on Facebook and on Twitter. Relationships have suffered as voting has morphed from a basic right and privilege into an unpleasant phenomenon of political arguments, fights and de-friending on and offline. Nobody wants to discuss who they are V-ting for (the V word) for fear of repercussions – both real and imagined.

And yet, in spite of the bickering these days  we can find some common ground between us.   Whether we’re voting for Trump, Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, a write-in random candidate, or none of the above, we all agree on one thing.

We are  completely stressed from the whole thing and we can’t wait till it’s all over.

There are many anxieties that we share and misery does love company in this case. We can comfort each other, knowing  it will eventually be over at the end of Election day. And yet.  We fear that things will drag on. We have nightmares of a repeat Gore-Bush situation of the hanging chads and recounting. We are tormented by the chances that one candidate may protest the result and maybe there will be a big ——-

Stop! Stop! Stop!  It’s no use obsessing about it. I mean that’s all we’ve (me!) been doing the last few months and it’s time to put an end to the negativity and prepare to move forward

It’s time to look at the bright side of all this. It’s time for ME to see the silver lining from all this and how everything happens for the best.

It’s time for me to realize that there is a Destiny or G-d or a Higher Power out there that is protecting us from horrible things. It’s time to do my best and have some faith.

It’s time grow from all this.

First, it’s time to be a little easier on myself. So what if I flip-flop every day and can’t make up my mind who to vote for because I like his or her stances on the issues – or because I just can’t stand the OTHER candidate. So what? Right?

Here’s my process: I listen and read everything I come across. I do lots of research. And I decide that I’m in favor Candidate A and I’m totally for him/her. I mean I think she/he is aligned with all or most of the values that I believe in. And not only that, I’m convinced that the other candidate is the epitome of evil.

And then – I go to sleep, wake up in the morning, read a few articles and voila, I’m thinking “Hey, so and so really represents my view of how things can be better – based on my values and what I consider to be important for a President.”

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

I start to challenge my previous decision. I realize that there is a whole other way to look at things. And I make my decision to (maybe) vote for the other candidate.

This cycle repeats itself several times per week. It’s been somewhat annoying because as Election date is upon us, I’m still undecided. And I’ve even pondered voting for a third party candidate or not at all.

I’ve been thinking about this flip-flop tendency of mine and been pretty upset with myself over it. And then it hit me the other day that maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s actually a sign that I can see two sides of a situation, empathize with it and be able to argue both sides of the debate.

Through this election I learned that I’m fickle, somewhat gullible. Or maybe it’s just that I’m open-minded or tolerant? Hmmm. To me things are not always black and white, and that characteristic is more evident this election.

After this election is over, we will still have our relationships with friends (hopefully) and even if the issues of the election will be behind us all, we will still need to reach across aisles to feel another person’s pain and experience.

Understanding another’s viewpoint is important. That’s what I learned from this election. I see Hillary’s viewpoint and I see Trump’s. I get them both. I just have to decide which one I’m willing to give the job of President.

I’ve not made my firm decision yet on that. But one thing I’ve decided is that for better or worse – I can’t stay upset at people for very long.

And that’s something I think we all should vote for.

 

 


A Tribute to My Father on his YahrTzeit

What do you say when someone asks you for information that is readily available on the Internet?

Google it! That’s code for “Look it up. Figure it out. You can do it….”

My siblings and I reminisce that my father would encourage our independence in learning new things, by telling us to  “look it up.”

In honor of  the yahrtzeit or anniversary of my father’s passing two years ago, I write this blog post. This one’s for you, Daddy.

Shalom Stern, or Shalom ben Shlomo (the son of Solomon) Halevi (a descendant of the Levites) passed away after a diagnosis 14 years earlier of Parkinson’s Disease. My father passed on September 28, 2014 but the Hebrew date falls on today’s Hebrew date which is the day after Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year). Today we lit a candle that lasts for 24 hours and my brothers recited kaddish in my father’s memory.

My father was a paradigm of punctuality. Descending from German ancestors, his motto was “a place for everything…everything in its place.” This time of year which precedes the holiday of Sukkos has a theme from the book of Ecclesiastes which reads, “A time to mourn, a time to rejoice…..a time for everything.” Similarly, my father believed that there is a time for everything and he stuck to a sensible daily schedule in his life.

My father was born in Antwerp, Belgium May 27, 1926. He attended Cheder (traditional Jewish elementary school) there along with his sister. He had a relatively uneventful childhood with his parents, many cousins and friends in the little town where they lived. In the early 1940’s,  the political situation changed and they left their home and moved from country to country, town to town, living over the next few years in France, Portugal, Cuba, followed by the U.S.

IMGThis is my paternal grandmother

According to stories we heard from my father and my aunt, “everything was an adventure” during these unstable times. Yes, they were afraid but it didn’t cripple them. They trusted their parents, prayed and continued on with their  daily activities and schooling in each place that they lived. Time to be afraid and time to move on. My aunt recalls saying the prayer “Shema Yisrael” in her bed as the war planes were flying in earshot. My father spoke about his countless stories of escape and survival into a recording and one of my nephews created a CD for all the family which I cherish.

When my dad came to the U.S. at age 16 (1942), he attended high school in Brooklyn and learned the English language rapidly. After high school he continued in with his Jewish studies in a local yeshiva while attending Brooklyn College to earn a degree in Economics. In 1949, my father met my mother and they married that year in June. He went into business while my mother stayed home with the children and together they raised a family of six children. They were the matriarch and patriarch of  many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

dadyoung

My father had a very disciplined and hard working nature. I was proud to have such a “perfect” father who was so smart, wise, kind, learned and accomplished. On the other hand, there was this pressure to keep up, to do things correctly. My husband spoke at a small memorial meal that we sponsored in my father’s memory last Shabbos (Saturday). One of my husband’s key comments was that he felt that our father was someone to look up to, to emulate and to aspire to be like.

He had a meticulous schedule in which he rose early, prayed, studied Talmud, ate breakfast, went to work and then came home at the same time each night. Looking back, it seems kind of idyllic in some ways. The predictability, the security and all that. At the same time as I said there was this pressure to do good work. It was sort of an unspoken expectation of “You can do it. You will do it.” Each one of us siblings has differing interests. But, we each try to do our best in whatever we do.

daddyThis is my father speaking at a family event in the final year of his life.

My father learned and studied Torah deeply and often could be found in his study poring over books either alone or with one or several grandchildren. Even in the last days when his PD had progressed to its worst symptoms of not being able to talk above a whisper, my father enjoyed listening to stories about Torah. This energized him. I believe this means my father was a very spiritual person.

Additionally, in his life, my father was active in founding a girls’ high school in our community and he gave charity to many institutions around. My father had a witty sense of humor, enjoyed being around people and socializing in the free time that he had. He liked traveling, people and words.

momdadMy Mom and Dad

Just this morning, I asked my brother a question and my brother’s return text to me was “as Daddy would say, ‘look it up!'”

I recall my father’s study with his unabridged dictionary and huge atlas along with many encyclopedias and books surrounding him, we always had to resources to “look it up.”

As we come out of the two intense days of the New Year and move forward into the 10 days bridge until Yom Kippur, I make that my new mantra. Whenever I struggle with something, I will think of my father and how he used all his abilities to look things up, to figure things out and to grow. I will remember his motto of a time for everything, a place for everything.

Whether I’m studying, reading, learning, blogging, working or socializing, I will be mindful of doing things carefully and properly to the best of my ability at the appropriate time.

My father was a tough act to follow – but definitely someone to aspire to. All in the right time.

May his memory be blessed.

daddymatzeivah

 

 


In-Law Boundaries Then and Now

IMG_0115

When I was expecting my first child, I once overheard my mother-in-law sharing with a friend of hers that I was pregnant – in the early months. I was so upset; I thought she had violated my privacy. Looking back, I know what I was thinking, but I also know what I wasn’t thinking.

I wasn’t thinking about the other side of the picture. I wasn’t realizing that all in-laws want is to be a part of their children’s life. So she slipped and shared with her two friends about my upcoming event. Big deal.

Boundaries  with in-laws were always a thing, except we didn’t call them that in the old days.

If you crossed boundaries or were over-involved with your kids and in-law kids, you were a meddler, a doter, and interfering parent. If you talked too much, you were a yenta.

When I got married we had a particular preference with our parents and in-laws (which was hardly ever followed because we didn’t enforce it) was that they call before popping in. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and that’s the way it was.

Back in the 1980’s there were no cell phones, so by making that rule I was basically saying to my mil or fil that if they were driving down our block and wanted to stop by they’d have to go home and call us. Which was kind of ridiculous, I think now.

In fact, I look back at those days and I’m a little embarrassed at how unreasonably I acted. I mean, I know what feelings I had that motivated me to be kind of tough and strict in some ways. But still, I think I overdid things a bit.

Lucky for them, my in-laws weren’t pushovers.  And they were smart – they’d be just in the neighborhood and just had to stop by and why bother calling from a pay phone or their home phone? They’d just stop by in the evening for just a minute.

And I would be upset (understandably) and make a big deal (by venting ridiculously  to my husband).

Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t visit my children  without calling first. That goes for my kids who live locally and those who live faraway.

How many times have I driven by my children’s house and wanted to stop by? All I had to do was call or better yet, text and bingo. I would be told “not a good time,” or “Yes, that’s great, come on over.”

Calling or texting to ask for permission to move forward into their turf is really easy now.

It’s easier for us to resist barging in at any hour at our kids’ home. So who am I to criticize my in-laws who had a different set of tools to work with in those days? It’s all about seeing the other side of the picture.

But today, we have other challenges to deal with, things that our own parents, grandparents never even thought would be an issue.  We have social media and the personal computer, and smart-phones each of which lends to lots of sharing and posting. The truth is that our children hate dislike prefer that we don’t share indiscriminately.

And I confess that I don’t follow that rule very well. In the same way that my in-laws would “just” stop by for “just” a few minutes to visit when they had the time or were “in the neighborhood,” in the same way I post a picture “just” on Facebook for “just” this once when I “just” have a great photo to post.

It’s hard for me, and it must have been hard for my in-laws. We parents want to share the good stuff about our grandchildren. And the pulling out of the pictures from our little purse just doesn’t cut it anymore these days for some reason. (that’s what my grandmother did with her friends back in the day!)

Look, with in-law relationships as with any relationship, the key is to do our best. To try to place ourselves in their shoes and understand how they feel. To remain true to our own feelings and needs. And to keep the communication lines open.

With a good dose of understanding, communication, and perspective about the other person’s situation, things can usually work out very well.

 

 


13 Resentment Ridders

stress2photo

A few weeks ago, lots of things were bugging me.

I mean, isn’t being resentful part and parcel of being human?

Let’s see: Whether it’s anger at the person who pushed ahead of you in line at the grocery, or frustration with your rebellious teenager’s attitude, or exasperation at the inexperienced and clueless teacher of your second grader,  (not sure why I’m bringing up situations from my life fifteen years ago — this is interesting), we all feel (or felt)the big R of Resentment in our lives. Don’t we? (Please don’t be quiet here, I need validation.)

It could be our mother-in-law (now I’m being honest!), or our daughter-in-law (never happens to me because mine are wonderful – truly), or brother, sister, best friend, sister-in-law, cousin, colleague, neighbor….anyone  annoying us.

Maybe all of the above at one time, or just one at a time. You know, one day the guy at the post office rubs me the wrong way (it happens)  and the next day my boss says something and I’m venting to to my husband for an hour.

Next, the grandchildren come over and they  leave stuff lying around on the den floor and I go berserk, because I hate clutter. You get it?

By the time we’re grown up (that’s middle aged when we finally feel grown up) we’ve figured out this relationship stuff already.  Or should I say, I’ve figured it out and am here to list you 13 things that I remind myself when I begin to feel that itch of resentment at anyone, everyone or no one.

So, if all else fails and you just cannot please some people no matter what you do, stop turning yourself into a pretzel and remember the following things.

These things don’t automatically stop me from feeling resentment, but they take the edge off the anger or whatever is bothering me.

  1. TRIGGER BUTTONS: Identify what trigger that person has pushed. Some people seem to push our buttons and it’s not they are trying to be mean or rude, but it’s more like we have certain sensitivity buttons that are being pushed. The title of the button is usually a character trait that we don’t like and we fear that we have it – such as  inadequacy, selfishness, foolishness.
  2. CHILDHOOD REMINDER: Ask the question to self: Self, what about my childhood does this remind me of? Is there something similar (kind of like deja vu) in my past that was upsetting and this reminds me of?
  3. CONSIDER IT A STYLE: People have idiosyncrasies or in other words, styles, cultures, ways of doing things. For us it’s weird, while for them it’s just their way of doing things. Knowing that can help ease the annoyance.
  4. KEEP DISTANCE BUT KEEP PERSPECTIVE. Sometimes if a person or situation is so toxic, you may have to keep distance from it so that you gain your equilibrium and feel better. Still, keep perspective that you may find a time to revisit that person or situation. But for now, distance is best.
  5. IS THAT A BEHAVIOR I HAVE ALSO? Sometimes it’s the annoying things in ourselves that we notice the most in others. Hard to admit but true.
  6. KNOW NOT TO DO IT TO OTHERS. It’s always good to know the stuff that we don’t want to do to others. Seeing something upsetting can remind us never to do such a thing because we then know what it feels like to be on the receiving end.
  7. BECOME AN OBSERVER. I’ve recently gotten better at people watching. When I just calmly observe and take myself out of the picture, “stuff” stops bothering me.
  8. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. This is an old cliché but it’s really true. Most of the time (like 99% of the time), things that others do is not about us. It’s about them. Knowing that can really help deal with it, because we are reminded that there’s nothing we can or should do.
  9. HAVE COMPASSION. It’s always a good thing to feel compassion for someone who is consistently annoying
  10. DO NOT GOSSIP. Enough said.
  11. KEEP BUSY, MOVE ON. No use obsessing and fretting over what can’t be changed. Move on.
  12. LET GO/PRAY. I’m constantly surprised how this always helps and it does
  13. Listen to some favorite music.

Have a peaceful day!   Oh – and don’t forget the Serenity Prayer.    17207-Serenity-PrayerAnd here’s a picture that will induce serenity!

peaceful

 


Who’s the Boss Here Anyway? (and lessons I learn as a Grandma)

When my kids were little, my husband and I  faced many parenting stresses. Through it all, we felt that we were in control of our children’s lives and were the conductors on the train that our kids were traveling on.  Major and minor decisions – from what school to send them to, to where they would go to camp, to bringing them to play-dates, to dealing with negative issues that arose, to taking them on outings, travel, buying them new things, everything was our department.

As the children got older, we involved them in discussions according to their ages and developmental levels. We might have scoffed at times at the overwhelming reality of too much on our plates, but there was a constant sense of purpose, busy-ness, and important-ness in our daily lives.

And that position of control felt comfortable for us. It felt important. Smart. In charge. As if we were responsible parents.  And it’s a feeling that we got used to having.

Fast forward many years.

Our children grew up  and moved out and onto yeshiva and/or college out of town.  One by one, they married.

All that control and decision making power now fell from our laps right onto  our adult children’s shoulders. We were told – directly or indirectly; passively or aggressively – to back off. The only exception was when they wanted our advice and we happily gave that to them when asked (and at times when not asked).

We were no longer the bosses of our children’s destinies. We were dethroned.

chair-of-tutankhaman

Okay, it took some getting used to and I kicked, screamed and had a few tantrums (to my husband or anyone who would listen), but overall I accepted my new position.  I mean, I felt the hurt when things didn’t go my way, and was  annoyed when they did things differently than I thought was the “right” way.

When my oldest grandson was about five, I compiled a collection of magazine articles I had written since he and the others were born. The articles were  on empty stage syndrome and other middle-aged topics, so I added some fresh material and then wrote a book about being a grandmother. Within that year, I held book signings and other events and a friend of a friend asked me to lead a workshop at a well-known synagogue not far from my home. The audience was a group of synagogue members who were  vibrant and active seniors. After my presentation which included readings from my book and sharing some personal experiences as a new mother-in-law and grandmother,  someone raised her hand and asked the following question:

“What do we do when our grandchildren don’t thank us for the gifts that we give them? And why don’t their parents – our children – teach them the proper thing to do?”

I could hear others in the group mumbling comments in agreement with the questioner, and a few called out some other transgressions that their adult kids did with child rearing. Apparently, this was a hot topic, one that many in the group related.

It became immediately clear to me that this theme of non-grateful grandchildren was a topic I wasn’t at all prepared to discuss and advise about.

I wanted to relate to these women’s situations but I really couldn’t understand all the angst. At the time, I didn’t get the big deal if the child doesn’t say thank you. A thought occurred to me that many of these women were grandparents of older grandchildren than my pre-school aged grandsons. Some had grandchildren who were 8, 9 or 10 and others had teenage grandchildren.

I offered them empathy as best as I could. And then I gave some generic advice along the line of how we have to keep our mouths shut even if we think the adult kids are raising their kids with poor manners.

This led to some more sharing as the group offered some other examples of how poorly their adult kids were raising the little ones these days.

But I left the group feeling confused.  In my mind, this wasn’t the most successful event I had led. I felt I was not on the same page as these more mature grandmothers and I certainly didn’t feel that I had offered them concrete tips in the areas that were important to them.

Fast forward four more years. I now have (G-d Bless them) grandchildren who range in age from almost nine years old to almost six months. I’ve had countless experiences where I had to choose between expressing my opinion one time, several times or many times (one time wins!), arguing with their decisions or keeping my mouth shut (keeping mouth shut wins!)

But in the earlier days most of our interactions were with our adult children.

For example, where they sent the kids to school or what synagogue they chose to pray in, or where they lived, or how they spend their money or choices they make or friends they have —- all these issues have been between us and them.  I practiced the cardinal rule of zipping up my lips. The best thing to do (unless they ask for our input) is to keep quiet because it’s really up to them. Not us. Their business, not ours. A tough pill to swallow sometimes but the truth.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from one of my grandchildren and for a reason that I can no longer fathom, I found it to be lacking in appreciation.

What? Me, who four years ago couldn’t understand the need for kids to express appreciation, was having a problem with this? Yes. True.

And not only did I feel disappointed in the letter, I expressed it to him on the phone. Looking back now, I’m thinking, “What was I thinking? The kid wrote me a letter and I’m complaining?”

Well, needless to say he told his Dad who shared with me that the child was pretty insulted.

Gulp. I messed up.

After talking it over with the child the next day on the phone and patching things up,  I realized an entirely different – but related lesson.

Even our kids have don’t have control over other people – their growing kids! That’s right. While we think we can tell our kids what to do because we have control over them and they have control over their kids, it’s all just an illusion. The only ones we can change are ourselves. We knew that already, right? But

So for those senior grandmoms who complained that their adult kids didn’t teach their progeny how to show appreciation, my response would be (four years later in case any of them are reading this!):

We are not in control. Our kids  are not in control either. Everyone does his or her best to teach their kids how to act and be. At the end of the day, the kids eventually have minds and hearts of their own. Only we can influence our relationship with our grandchildren through our kindness and acceptance.

If you want to give gifts, give them. If you don’t want to give gifts, don’t give them. Nobody wants a gift with strings attached.

The key component in any relationship – including the grandmother/grandchild dynamic – is warmth, understanding and acceptance. No preaching and no expectations.

Letters, conversations, warmth. Those are worth more than formal thank you’s from young children and teenagers.

And that’s my lesson of dethronement – we’re no longer in control and we never were. Not even when we were young moms and dads raising our kids.

And as a grandmother, that realization is very freeing today.

 


A Humble Confession by an Ex-Non-MIL

You know those annoying non-moms who think they know everything about motherhood? For sure you do; everyone does. We’ve all come across them in our most insecure and shameful moments as parents. Just when we need the most encouragement — because one of our kids is having a tantrum, or talking back to us, or being unruly, or making a scene at a public place like a zoo or park — these know-it-all non-moms vow out loud to never be the kind of mom we are.

And then when these NM’s become moms, guess what happens?

Actually I don’t know what happens because I’ve never done a longitudinal study following  non-moms into their eventual mom-hood. But I’m willing to bet that if we tracked those woman and interviewed them years later, we’d find some pretty overwhelmed and possibly not-so-sure-of-herself types. Just my guess. Nothing scientific here…just some good-ol’ deductive thinking.

Well, I was a know-it-all and high-horse type of person but not about motherhood. I was that way about MIL (mother-in-law)-hood. When my kids were little and I’d see  MIL’s say or do things to their DIL’s, I’d wonder how they could ever be so insensitive. For example, when a MIL gave her adult children (gasp) advice, I’d think she was being intrusive and completely out of bounds.

When a MIL worried about her adult married kids’ financial situation, I thought to myself how it’s really none of her business.

And when a MIL called too often, I thought to myself that when I become a MIL to my sons’ wives, I will be really careful not to do any of those things.

And you know what? In the beginning of my MIL-hood, I was pretty careful. In fact, I became a pretty caring MIL. I probably did refrain from much of the behaviors that my own MIL and other normal people do when they become MIL’s.

And then something happened to me.

I grew up.

I grew into MIL-hood and relaxed my inhibitions. Maybe it was due to old(er) age or just plain lack of energy but my attitude became, what the heck? I’m the mother (and yes, mother-in-law) and I’m going to say what the heck I want to because I already wrote the book on being a mother-in-law and….

I relaxed my standards because I’m human. And I goof sometimes.  As my adult children grow into more mature adults….and to parents of not just babies or toddlers but of pre-school and elementary school children, I find that I’m becoming slightly more involved.

More outspoken. Entitled. Opinionated. Yup. All the horrible things I vowed I’d never say or do, I find myself saying and doing.

I mean – hello! We have opinions too. Right? Maybe that’s it – as we get older, we fear becoming invisible and so we assert ourselves and our opinions more.

When the grandkids were babies, it was easy to hold back from expressing the opinion of how to burp the baby, or whether the baby should be bottle-fed or nursed…or whatever the monumental decision was. I mean – who cared about that?

As the grandkids got older, (and we got older) we feel the need to compare and contrast how they do things with how we did things.

And sometimes we see things in different ways than we saw them when we were the parents. Maybe it’s that we kind of sort of “forget” what it was like being a new mom? Could it be that? Is it the old(ER) age factor? Like having those senior moments (I talk about them in my book) where we selectively forget how it was to be a young and busy mom and we just shoot our opinions from the hip.

In our old(ER) age, we say something, rather than put ourselves in their inexperienced shoes and just let them figure things out themselves.

Sometimes I have discussions with my husband about stuff and one of us says to the other “Nah, don’t make an issue. It’s none of our business.”

To which the other one promptly goes and makes an issue. Big time. Just because.

See? It’s hard. It’s tough. So never say never. You just never know when you’ll be in the exact situation as someone else and maybe – just maybe – you will react as they did or do.

So-  now I’m here to express that I  have sympathy for all those MIL’s – including my own — in how she raised me.

Yes – you read that right.

I know this is huge that I’m writing this after writing a book  all about my insights on being the perfect grandmother and mother-in-law.

I know this may even ruin my credibility as an author because, hey, how can I basically take back all I said about being conscientious and just change my mind with the click of a publish button on a bubby blog?

Well, bubbies and Omi’s, I’m doing it. I’m here to tell you that I now do all those annoying things I vowed never to do.

I ask too many questions.

I hate noise. I get upset when they play ball in the house.

I sometimes contradict the parents in front of their kids.

I tell them to bundle up the kids. I comment on their or their kids’ clothing (not always favorably).

I worry if I hear them arguing.

I post every last letter and drawing on my kitchen wall and Facebook page (even my own MIL didn’t do that last one! Yay her!).

All of it some of the time. And some of it all of the time.

Bottom line is I (and all my MIL friends) try our best. We really do and that’s what counts.

So – my message to all the future moms out there –

Never say never.

You just never know what kind of mother you will be. Don’t make promises about how you’ll be because even when you become that role, and follow your vows to the Tee, you will evolve over time into another role. Another stage. Another season.  And just what you thought worked for the previous stage, just doesn’t work anymore.

And then one day you may find yourself doing all the behaviors that you vowed never to do. And that will be pretty embarrassing.

Because all your ranting and raving about how you’ll never do or be this way or that way got turned on its head.

And aside from the embarrassment here’s the biggest problem: you may just have to confess on your blog or write a whole new book that contradicts your first book. Nope. Not worth it.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

 


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