Friday, April 22, 2005

A PESACH JOURNEY

It’s the season for Jews to bring family and friends together around the table. Pesach/Passover requires a very interesting process of preparation. The emphasis of the holiday is one of cleansing. While this manifests by the clearing of certain foods from the home, it also takes one on an introspective journey.

While I do not run a strictly observant Jewish home by any means, I believe I do run a traditional home. The spirituality of Pesach is where it’s at for me. The idea of getting down and into the deepest and darkest corner of a closet to find a piece of “Chametz” is in itself a form of meditation and introspection. It is in those moments where I find the means with which to go inside of myself. In those quiet, solitary places, shifts take place, I let go, I gain clarity and I make space for the new.

These past few weeks have been very interesting for me. I don’t know if it is because it was recently my birthday and my planets might have aligned in a particularly unique order, but there has been a wave of realization passing through my life. In a very gentle and subtle way, I feel like profound things have happened. I am aware of a new inner peace, I feel like there are just some things that I now know, which I might have been confused about for the longest time. There has been a subliminal surrender.

As I have had a thought, so the universe has responded with something that has made me stop and say, “wow, that is exactly what I have just been thinking about!” For no glaringly obvious reason, for the first time in close on 7 years, I suddenly started “hearing” myself with anything concerning my stepchildren. Suddenly, as if never before, I became aware of how so much of my time and energy is spent on them. By time and energy, I don’t mean in terms of hands on taking care of them, as they are now 16 and 20 years old and pretty much do their own thing, but more in terms of how much I think about them, what they do or particularly don’t do, what my husband does or does not do in response to how I think everyone should be behaving. The light suddenly went on. I honestly GOT in the true sense of the word, they are whom they are, they will do what they do, and so be it. I experienced a sense of freedom and relief, like I have not done in a very long time. I have tried for so many years to be the perfect stepmother. In that same moment, I got that I am the perfect stepmother, if I wasn’t, they would have a different stepmother. I saw that in spite of how hard I try to offer them the fruits of my life experience, they would never embrace it, as my birth son will. Enough trying! I reminded myself how firmly I believe that there is no such thing as ‘trying’. You are either doing something, or you are not. In a conversation with my cousin later that same week, I shared these thoughts with her and she told me how when she was at a similar stage in her life and wanting to know she was being the best mother she could possibly be, someone wise had said simply this to her, “just be clear of your intention and know that one day they will hear your voice. You may not even be there - but your voice will be clear to them and bam - It all changed for me!”

I had shared with my cousin how the only time I see Daniel in a light where he appears to be anything less than the magical being I know him to be, is in our disagreements about his children. As I really don’t want to see him in that light, because he is not that person to me at all, I need to shift my focus. The universe could not have presented me with any better proof that I have successfully made this shift, than in the words my cousin shared with me. Although this conversation took place on Yahoo Messenger because we are in two different countries, the moment was so intense for me, which I just burst into tears. Tears of great relief, tears of that incredible feeling I get when I really surrender and relinquish all control. I have also come to learn that when I relinquish that control that is ironically when I am most in control. Control of where I want to be, how I want to be, and without concerning myself with the ways of others.
There is a school of thought that says the history of the Jews can be summarized to one brief sentence, “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” I wish everyone a meaningful and happy Pesach.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

TRICK QUESTION

This story popped into my mind today for some reason. A few months ago, Pingy went missing. Daniel and I were out for dinner with friends. Alex called to say she had noticed the dog wasn’t in the house and was not sure what time she had escaped out the front door.

As Pingy is so small, she gets most her exercise running up and down the stairs in the house, jumping up and down to get on and off my bed and playing in the garden with Ross, always under supervision. Rarely does she get taken for a walk on a lead. There has therefore never really been a need to have her wear a collar with ID tags etc.

In addition to the door-to-door neighborhood search, I called our local police station to ask them if they had perhaps picked her up or even noticed her cavorting through the streets of the borough. The Officer on the phone promised they would let us know if they found her.

It was a miserable sleepless night of worry and angst. First thing Sunday morning we sent David out to again go door-to-door to check with the people in our immediate vicinity if she had perhaps arrived on any one of their doorsteps through the night.
One of the neighbors who had not been home during the original search told David that a Police Officers had knocked on her door asking if the dog was hers, the day before.

On getting this news I immediately called back to the Police Station.

“Hi, I called last night to check if any one of the Officers had perhaps seen my little dog. I left my number but didn’t hear anything. Apparently she was picked up. Could you tell me where she would have been taken?”

“Oh,” said the Officer on the phone, “you mean one of our Officers picked her up?”

“Yes, so I was told by my neighbor. Apparently he had knocked on her door to ask if the dog was hers.”

“Well if she was picked up then she would have been taken to the Animal Care Center.”
He gave me the details of where it is and what I should do to retrieve my dog. He went on to say, “Ma’am, why didn’t anyone call you to tell you they had picked her up?”

“Um, well Officer, I am really not sure that I am the person to answer that question.”

Miss Pingy

Sunday, April 10, 2005

STARS AND STRIPES

The consultant who had run a Tupperware party for her some years ago recently contacted my friend Jodi. Being the lovely lady that she is, Jodi undertook to host another party. She called me and said that she was doing this, and that as the stairs in her home make it really difficult for me to hang out there, how about we share hosting the party and have it at my house?

I though this was a great idea and felt that having a Tupperware party was one of those things that every self-respecting woman should do at some stage of her life. It was one thing I had not done and as my 45th birthday was approaching, I thought this was something that was long overdue. It was interesting to me that everyone seemed surprised that we had known about Tupperware in South Africa. Not only did we know about Tupperware in South Africa, as a result of our knowledge of it, and exposure to it, every single piece of plastic in our kitchen is referred to as Tupperware, even if it is clearly a Glad or Ziploc container!

Jodi and I proceeded to send our invitations out and we were really looking forward to the day. My other lovely friend, Alyson, responded to the invitation with this note in my mail box:

“Dear Dawn,
It is my firm belief that once you have a Tupperware Party, you automatically become a true dyed-in-the-wool American. This great American institution should allow you to immediately qualify for citizenship – no questions asked!”

Around the same time as the Tupperware party, we received notification through the mail that the time has come for us to present ourselves for fingerprinting. This brings us up to almost crossing the finishing line in the process of completing our immigration. The next step is physically receiving our Green Cards.

The documentation informed us that we were to report to the Federal Building in Newark at 9am. Other people who have been through this process advised us to be there at least an hour ahead of our scheduled appointment. We left the house at 7am all feeling really excited. It is not often that we get to hang out with either one, let alone both the teenagers (sorry Alex, I know you are actually 20!), so this was starting to feel like a family outing, more than a serious errand!

We were fortunate enough to get a parking right outside the building. On excursions like these, I make use of a wheelchair because it just speeds up the process and I don’t end up feeling physically exhausted. We joined the line, already, at this early hour of the morning, extending out the building. It was freezing. I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the department could make some kind of alternative arrangement during the winter months. The building is undergoing renovations so maybe it would have been possible to erect some kind of covered section to keep the wind out. The line did however move fairly quickly, and our next stop was in the foyer of the building. Once inside, I noticed a sign on the wall, printed on a letter size piece of paper, that said, “If you need wheelchair access, go to the next entrance for the elevator.” Hmmmm, perhaps this sign might have been more effective if posted at the entrance to THIS building? In the very cramped space, we started turning around and working our way back out against the flow of people coming into the building and those huddling up in the cold along the sidewalk.

We went to the next building and approached the reception desk. There were in fact two elevators, the doors to one of which were open but entrance was prohibited. Daniel went up to the man at the desk and the following conversation took place.

I need to insert a coding system here first:

This color and size print indicates a slightly raised tone of voice.
This color and size indicates a tone of voice that gets you thinking you might end up as a statistic in the news tonight.
This color and tone convinces you that you need to turn around, and get the fuck right out of this clearly unstable individual’s way.

Ok, here goes ….

“Hi, we are here for fingerprints,” says Daniel.

The elevator is not working,” says the guy at the desk.

“My wife is in a wheelchair so she needs to use the elevator.”

The elevator is not working.”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

I keep telling you over and over that the elevator is not working.”

“I hear you, but what about the other one?”

It doesn’t go to that floor.”

“Ok, thank you.”

I at this point am getting ready to reach out to grab David whom I instinctively feel is about to leap over the counter and cause the screamer some serious bodily harm. Before that happens though, Daniel whisks me off and we leave the building.

We made our way back past the people in the line and Daniel parked me in the lobby. He and David followed the line up three flights of stairs and managed to get someone to attend to them without really pissing anyone from the line off by jumping to the front like that.

They ran back down the stairs and started whisking me off back to the dreaded screamer. I must admit I was terrified of them having to talk to him again. By the time we got there, the lady from upstairs was waiting for us. The screamer immediately started telling her that one of HER co-workers had come in earlier and was “fucking around” with the elevator and broke it. He was of the very strong opinion that if they didn’t want to come to work, and were not grateful for their jobs, then they should have stayed at home. He made it very clear that they had no right to come to work and then “fuck up” the elevator!

The lady went back upstairs with my documents and told Daniel, Alex and David to follow her. She explained someone would come down to attend to me. “Remember how much I love you,” I said to him before he went through the door to climb the three flights of stairs again. I did think there was a chance the screamer might have done something to me while I was there, parked like a lemon in my wheelchair!

A few minutes later, a man came through the doors and was being followed by a very elderly woman and another gent. I heard them talking amongst themselves and from what they were saying, I realized he was about to enter into the same conversation we had had with the screamer when we first arrived.

I made a quick decision to extend a random act of kindness and also thought that if one more person asked the screamer about the elevator, he might scream the building down. As soon as the man was within my hearing range, I got his attention and explained the situation to him and suggested he waited for the lady who would be coming down to attend to me in a few minutes. He thanked me and went to explain this to his really old mother and the other gentleman.

As if nothing of the sorts had happened before, the screamer suddenly transformed into the perfect Mr Nice Guy. He came around from behind the counter and pushed his own chair over to the really old lady and offered it to her. He then explained to me that he had put a second call through to the elevator company and that the repairman would hopefully arrive soon.

Another lady from upstairs came down and took my fingerprints and the rest of the family followed behind her very soon. Again, they had been whisked to the front of the line that had started outside the building that then continued through the lobby and up three flights of stairs.

All in all, the inconvenience and abuse had worked in our favor. We were in fact in and out of the building within an hour. Anyone who has been exposed to the lines you stand in when going through an immigration process here, will confirm that we did this in record time.

The lunacy of the whole experience had me a little overwhelmed so I did not pay attention to the kind of details I am usually quite good about noticing. Had I known the names of the two ladies that had assisted us, and the screamer, I actually would have sent them some Tupperware as a thank you!


Saturday, April 09, 2005

DREAM ON

Around this time last year, I started thinking about the advantages of moving Ross from his current Elementary school to a Jewish Day School. I contacted the school and asked them to send me some information in the mail. When I received it, I read all the wonderful things about the school, and somewhat nervously, skimmed over the page that listed the fees. I noticed that there was a committee for financial assistance and as is very often the case with me, I made a limiting decision that it was all financially unaffordable. As the year progressed, we became more and more concerned about some aspects of Ross’ school experience.

To us, going to school and getting an education is not only about the academics. There is a social aspect to the experience that is equally important. Ross is a very sociable child. Other kids like him, they take to him and they enjoy his company. There has never been an issue with him not having friends at school, and there has never been a parent/teacher conference where problems with socializing have ever been discussed. From the feedback received from teachers, I feel I can confidently describe Ross as a well-adjusted, popular child.

In First and Second grade, it is still pretty much up to the parents to initiate play dates and activities for the kids. When Ross started at his school, I was concerned about the fact that he had gone to a private nursery and therefore he was at a disadvantage of starting First Grade not knowing anyone in the school. All of the kids he was in Kindergarten with were going on to other schools. The kids going into First Grade were mostly moving up from the Kindergarten attached to the school. It took Ross a relatively short time to identify the kids he was more friendly with in his new class, and at that time, I started contacting Moms to set up play dates.

Interestingly, I would always get a positive response, but the calls were never reciprocated. It soon got to where unless I was consistently calling, Ross would have no kids to play with on the weekends. The summer vacation last year came and went, and I did not receive a single phone call from a parent to set up a play date. This has continued to present time and in the last few weeks, the situation just came to a head for me.

A recent string of events, all related to my own activities and socializing, have made it clearly evident to me that we as a family, are not, and never will be considered part of the community in which we live. In spite of all our efforts to integrate, the fact of the matter is we are living in a small American town that does not embrace new –comers.

We are fortunate that we have a child who knows how to occupy himself. I think that regardless of your age, there is an art to being comfortable with being alone. Fortunately both for him and us, Ross is a child that can do this. He has an amazing ability to play by himself without getting bored. This however is no way to grow up. It is so drastically far removed from everything we experienced in our childhoods and from everything we envisioned for him. It breaks my heart as I watch him weekend after weekend, playing by himself other than when our lovely neighbor Jessica comes over to play with him, or invites him over. Jessica is two years older than Ross, but they get on really well and have a good time together.

Rightly or wrongly so, it just got to a point for me where I could no longer be the only Mom phoning to make plans for the kids to get together. Friendship, be it that you are acting on your own behalf, or on behalf of your children, is a two way street.

Motivated by wanting to change this situation for Ross, Daniel and I set up an appointment to visit the Jewish Day School. I reminded myself that only by going there to visit the school, would I be able to create the possibility that could ultimately result in Ross being enrolled at the school for the new year.

We received a wonderful welcome and within 24 hours had made application for a tuition grant. Within a week this was approved and yesterday we took Ross to the school for an interview and a tour of the facilities. He was very well received and the Guidance Counselor and Principal thought he was a lovely kid. They described him as being “confidant, articulate and an old soul”.

Given that Ross would stand to lose nothing by leaving his current school, and would have everything to gain by getting a head start by joining the new school now, instead of waiting until September, we decided to move him over at the end of this month.

This morning I called the principal of his current school. I explained that we had decided to move him and that his last day would be April 29th. I went on to tell her that I had some documentation requesting the school forward his records to the new school and she explained that I would have to get a transfer card as well. She put me on hold while she checked with the Secretary when I could collect the documents. As the school closes for Spring Break next week, she advised me to collect the necessary documents on Monday 18th. Once all these logistics had been discussed, she said, “we will miss Ross, he is a lovely young man”. I thanked her for that and she said goodbye.

I sat with the phone to my ear and listened to her put her phone down, and I was completely shocked. Maybe my expectations are way too high, but I find it really strange that she did not see fit to ask why we had decided to take Ross out of the school. I had really thought she may have said something like “has there been a problem that we might not have been aware of?” Unfortunately this was not the case. The call had ended, and the principal of the school saw no need to extend her time on the phone with me to establish why we were choosing to take Ross out the school!

We know that the move to this new school will open new horizons for Ross. A formal Jewish education is a wonderful gift to be able to give him. We are also confident that this move will open new horizons for us as much as it will for him.

If this is what living the American dream is all about, I guess we had better just dream on!

My favorite place in our town.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

IF ONLY

At the risk of sounding naive, I wish there was a way we could capture the peace that seems to emanate from those moments where the madness of the world seems to stop, and come together, even when only for a fleeting moment.

 
-->