Friday, March 24, 2006

TIMING

One of the many things that really works for me about Ross’ school is the system of getting the kids from school. Those kids who are not eligible for the school bus get picked up by parents. The majority of the kids do go on the bus so there is not a high volume of moms in their cars. Those that are, wait in line, in the car and drive up to the door where there are several teachers and older students who escort each kid to their moms in their cars. This is especially good for me as I am spared the challenge of negotiating snow and ice on the ground by not having to get out of my car.

Very often I sit and watch the moms who all know each other well. They wave and greet each other. Some of them get out of their own cars and join friends in their cars until it is time for the kids to come out.

There have been many days when I have thought to myself that I wonder if I will always be the new mom on the block by virtue of the fact that we are not Americans. This combined with the fact that Ross only joined the school toward the end of second grade keep us feeling new at the school.

In my mind I play out the different scenario of Moms driving past me and waving frantically at the joy of seeing me again, then getting out their cars and coming to me shouting, “Howzit – I’m coming to your car now!” I imagine and quite honestly, long for what would have been my equivalent South African experience of this very routine scenario. As basic as it is, it has a profound way of making one feel part of, or distant from the whole.

On Wednesday, I went to get Ross having forgotten that one of his after school activities was starting that day. I saw the lady from the front office approaching my car so I rolled down the window on the passenger side. It was cold and windy so she opened the door and said, “Mind if I jump in?” No sooner had she said it and she was in the car and I rolled the window back up. I really like Anne so I very much enjoyed the visit and chat which lasted no more than 5 minutes. I turned on the cd of the book I am listening to and got comfortable for what would be the 40 minute wait for Ross.

The next thing, I see another teacher walking toward me and realize she is actually coming to talk to me. Again, I roll down the passenger window and she leans into the car and says, “Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else. I have a meeting with a parent and she drives the same car as you. I thought it was her.”

“No problem.” I say.

“Who is your kid?” she asks.

“Ross, in the third grade.”

“Well I teach in the middle school so hopefully I will get to know more of you soon.”

“That will be lovely,” I say, “I look forward to that.” She leaves.

There was a lot of activity at the school even though it was well past dismissal time as it was the week of their Book Fair. I saw one of the Moms from Ross’ class coming out of the building and while she didn’t stop to talk to me, she waved and shouted the equivalent of a “Howzit” in the form of, “Hi Dawn, how you doing?”

In the few minutes that passed until Ross came out the building, I realized that I had just experienced the scenario I had been dreaming of while waiting in the car pool line over the last few months.

Why then, was there a knot in my stomach and why was I feeling a sense of frustration more than elation?

Perhaps it was because on this particular day I had no other appointments due to my workload at home. I knew I would drive up to school both in the morning and afternoon, and spend no more than the usual 5 – 10 minutes dropping Ross off and picking him up. No-one ever comes to the car so I felt it was safe to spend the day pretty much in sweat pants and my NOT TO BE WORN IN PUBLIC, EVER, NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES sweatshirt. I had no makeup on; I was in a state that I call ‘not fit for human consumption’.

I couldn’t believe that on this day, of all days, I had to have my dream come true. I would like to think that everyone who interacted with me walked away thinking, “You know, she is such a cool person, I really need to spend more time with her,” rather than what they would have been fully entitled to think, “Holy crap, doesn’t that foreigner know how to get dressed in the morning? Doesn’t she know that’s not how we do things here? Perhaps it’s different in Africa or Holland or England!”

Always show the you in you that makes you the you that you are.
- Chidinma Obietikponah

(For the benefit of my South African readers particularly - In "Americanese" we get our children from school and our dog fetches the ball in the park.)

pic – thanks www.jengray.com


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

WAS THIS REALLY NECESSARY?

My much loved and adored doggy is having a hard time at the moment. I think she is starting to show signs of aging and has little episodes that send me and Daniel into a flat spin but basically they amount to nothing.

One such incident occurred on Monday morning when she appeared to be unwell. From the previous post you understand that getting her to the vet is not a straight forward procedure for me. Daniel was scheduled to leave for Chicago in the afternoon and the latest appointment the vet could offer me was at a time that was really not convenient for me or anyone who might be able to assist me by coming with to the vet.

The lady on the phone told me that the appointment schedule for the day started at 10am. I spoke with her on the phone just before 9am and she said that if I could get there before 10 it would be good, but if not, for a fee of $95, we would be put in as an emergency appointment and be seen ahead of those pets with appointments. Simply put, the privilege of jumping the queue/line was going to cost me $95.

While this is a hefty amount, I looked at the logistics for the day, and I was prepared to pay it for the convenience of having Daniel go with me. I also didn’t want Pingy to have to wait until the end of the day before being checked out by the vet.

We got to the clinic at about 9.45am at which time we were the only people in the waiting room. We saw the vet, Pingy was given some medication, and we were back at the reception desk by 10.15, at which time there was a patient in the waiting room busy on her cell phone. I was not aware of her having a pet with her. By the look of the contents of her wide open briefcase, I thought to myself that she might even be a pharmaceutical rep. People usually go in with their pet to see the vet.

Daniel politely asked the receptionist if it was really essential for us to have to pay the $95 to jump the non-existent line. The shock that registered on her face took me by similar surprise. She was genuinely shocked that Daniel dare to question this. She said to him, “we have appointments scheduled from 10am.” He looked over his shoulder to the waiting area and said, “There was no-one in the waiting room when we got here and it doesn’t look like we have delayed anyone.” She moved over to her computer, wiggled the mouse, and her body language indicated that she was checking the appointments. She looked at Daniel over the top of her glasses and in that uniquely ‘Welcome to New Jersey, now go home!’ kind of way said to him, “Would you like to come back here and check our schedule for the day?” Right about now my blood started to boil. “That won’t be necessary,” he replied.

I left there feeling genuinely upset about this. There is something distinctly shallow about this attitude that suggests you can have anything you want depending on what you are willing to pay for it. I am learning more and more how this society is motivated by nothing more than the mighty D.O.L.L.A.R. and there seems to be a very small number of people who notice how self defeating this attitude is.

Call me old fashioned, but given that we have been using the services of this clinic for over 4 years, combined with the fact that we were there two weeks ago, and we are scheduled to have Pingy spayed next Tuesday, might it not have been a great opportunity to extend some kind of customer appreciation gesture our way? I couldn’t help thinking how differently we would have felt if she had just said something as simple as, “I will reduce the emergency fee as there was actually no-one ahead of you.”

This is when you want to have the courage to say, “Stick your nice day up your ass, lady” – well sort of, even if only just for a moment!


Sunday, March 19, 2006

SUPPORT

I sat down at my desk today and tore off the 18th from my page a day ‘Dr Phil’s Family First’ calendar. I am enjoying his words of inspiration.

Today’s message is, “Actively support one another every day. Make it a family policy to give one another at least one supportive remark a day – more is better – but a minimum of one per day.”

To a loving and nurturing family, this might seem like the most basic if not obvious thing to do. We all know how important and valuable it is to nurture each other with positive feedback and acknowledgement. I started thinking about those people, children in particular, who are deprived of this kind of input in their lives. I started thinking about the general difference between help and support. Is there even a difference? I think there definitely is.

Asking for help is one of the biggest subliminal challenges I deal with in my life. Circumstances have put me in a situation where my survival depends on being able to ask for help, and to allow myself to be helped. It is one of those life lessons that are very similar to trusting that if you say, ‘No’ to people, they will still love you. I have learnt over the last 9 years that people will not think less of me if I have to ask for help.

I very much believe that it is not fair to expect people to guess what your needs are. We don’t know what’s inside each other’s heads so it is really not fair to make people wrong for not giving you what you need from them. If you want something or need something from someone in your life, you have to communicate it.

A few weeks ago my dog was acting really strange. I was concerned that she might have picked something up at the doggy hotel she had stayed at while we had been away in Toronto. Daniel was away on business and I had to get Pingy to the vet. This is a difficult undertaking for me on my own. I can’t pick her up off the floor. She is nervous in the car and needs to be held and getting her in and out of the vet is also difficult for me. The only appointment the vet could give me that day was around 6pm which is a busy time for all my friends with kids, and homework and dinner, etc.

My friend Jodi’s son works at the clinic where I take Pingy, so I called Jodi to ask if he was going to be working that night. When I told her what was going on, I didn’t even have to get as far as asking if Seth was working. She basically told me what time she would be at my house to help me with getting Pingy to and from the vet.

While this might not appear to be a huge gesture, for me, it really is. By understanding what the difficulties were for me in the situation, she assessed for herself that I needed someone to go with me and she was instantly forthcoming with the support I needed, without my even having to ask for it. For me, that is exactly where the difference comes in. As much as I know I could have asked her to help me, the fact that she relieved me of that and was forthcoming with the offer, just made the whole process so much easier for me to get through. I felt immediately unburdened and relieved knowing that I would get Pingy well taken care of.

I am sure Jodi probably didn’t even give it much thought. That’s the kind of person she is. She just gets on with that which needs to be done. For me though, this routine situation had become an issue in my day and my friend just made it all ok by extending unconditional support and the bonus gift was that I didn’t have to ask for it. That for me amounts to ‘give one another at least one supportive remark a day’ in the best possible way.

Ross took this gorgeous pic of Pingy before rushing out the door to school one day this week. Adds new meaning to the word "shnoogly"

Thursday, March 16, 2006

CONTRASTS

In the Jewish religion, it is customary to honor the memory of the death of a family member on the equivalent date they died, according to the Jewish calendar. This is called ‘Yahrzeit’ (roughly translated – year time – or time of year). My brother died on March 17th, 2003. This year, the equivalent date fell on Monday, March 13th. This was also the Eve of the very festive Jewish Holiday, PURIM.

When it comes to religion, nothing is truer than the saying. “Different strokes for different folks.” The irony of it all is that in the name of G-d and faith and belief, there are such strong differences of opinion. My family’s religious experience is far more tradition based than halachic (the by-the-book laws). Growing up I observed my parents lighting Memorial Candles in memory of their parents and siblings. This is in fact a tradition based observance and it is not required by halacha to be done. Some people do it on the Yahrzeit, some people do it on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and some people do it according to the secular calendar date.

During the last three years since my brother’s death, I have lit many candles, for different reasons, on different days – not only for him, but for many other people whom I have loved and lost. There are moments and there are sometimes whole days where my brother is on my mind and in my thoughts. He is always in my heart. When those moments move me strongly enough, or when they extend into days – I light a candle. Clearly that person is “around” me – I can feel them, so I like to acknowledge it by lighting a candle.

The day of Yahrzeit for my brother is a day that I can’t possibly find adequate wordage to articulate my mother’s pain with. It is a day, not unlike any others, where there is so little I can do to ease her pain – other than by giving her the space to get through it the best way she can. As much as I would love to see my mother shift into a space where she might one day celebrate my bother’s life rather than mourn his death, I had to accept that she chose not to come with us to Temple/Shul this particular evening. In her enormous generosity, she was totally accepting of the fact that we would not be able to see her and she wished us a happy holiday and hoped we would go on to have a great evening, especially Ross.

I was comfortable with my feelings and we went to Shul in the true spirit of the holiday. This is a holiday which my brother would totally get into the spirit of, with ease! He was bold and silly and fun and festive, and he was deeply connected to his heritage. While he went through life making choices that resulted in a life he didn’t deserve but did create, there were certainly many years when he did make good choices. This is the person I remain in touch with. This is the person I smile about and ache for when I think of him.

Sitting in Shul, listening to the story of Purim, I was reminded of a trip I took to visit my brother and his family in Amsterdam when I was about 17 years old. My flight from Johannesburg was via London. The flight out of Heathrow was delayed for several hours and when it came to boarding, I could not find my boarding pass. I turned my large handbag out completely and stuff spread out all over the floor. At that stage of my life, my body was fully functional. While down on my haunches rummaging through the most outrageous volume of objects from my handbag, a gorgeous man came over to help me gather everything up and put it back in my bag. I found the boarding pass, thanked him and headed for the gate.

During the short flight, this man came to look for where I was sitting. Of course the seat next to me was vacant and he asked if I would mind if he sat down next to me. I remember hanging on every word he said. I found him to be enchanting. On closer inspection, I saw he was actually older than I had realized on first meeting him. He was going to Amsterdam for a few days and then on to Morocco for a folk dancing retreat. Did it get more romantic than that? I wanted to go with him to Morocco.

During our conversation he mentioned his travel companion was in fact blind. I was amazed to learn that the man traveling with him moved about with such ease to the extent I had not realized his blindness when seeing them together in the airport and while boarding.

He went back to his seat for the landing and I said goodbye and wished him well on the rest of his journey. While waiting for my luggage at the carousel, he again came to me and asked if he might contact me over the next few days. I was happy to give him the phone number and explained that as I was staying at my brother’s house he should not call too late in the evening. This was not my first time to Amsterdam so we made an arrangement to meet the day after next at a point in the city where I knew how to get to.

I parted company with him in quite a hurry as I was so excited to see my brother and couldn’t wait to get to the arrival hall. The next evening, the phone rang and the surprise in my brother’s voice when the caller asked for me was obvious. He immediately switched to his “big brother bordering on father” voice when he called me to the phone. It was Jon reconfirming our plans for the next day. At this point I got really excited but tried to act quite blasé about the whole thing. I knew what was coming.

“Who was that?” Willie asked.

“Jon, the guy I met on the plane. You saw me talking to him at the airport.”

“So, how did he get your number here?”

“I gave it to him.”

“What the fuck for?”

“Cos I am meeting him in town tomorrow and he wanted it so we could do what we just did on the phone – reconfirm and make final plans. I’ll ride in with you and be back in time to come home with you. OK?”
“Are you out of your frigging mind? This is not Jo’burg where some little prick is going to pull up in an Alfa at your front door and take you out for coffee! He has to bring his passport here and leave it here until you get back.” He was actually starting to shout.

I shouted back, “Are YOU fucking mad? If you think I am going to ask him to do that, you are mistaken. I will come into town with you, I will meet him, I will come back to come home with you and that’s it. RELAX!”

I really do remember this conversation as it took place. We reached for our cigarettes, drew hard on them, and exchanged fierce glances. The lecture about the hazards of meeting up with someone I didn’t know went on for a good half hour. I decided the best thing to do was keep silent. He was tough to argue with and I did realize that he was just being protective. He had left home to make this move to Amsterdam when I was 10 years old. He was 14 years older than me. I was after all his baby sister who had grown up without him being there to watch it. At an age where I felt like a gladiator, no-one was going to stop me from going on this date.

We drove into town in complete silence the next morning and before getting out the car, I assured him that I would be safe, that I was more than capable of spotting a potentially freaky man or dangerous situation and I promised I would find a pay phone at regular intervals and call in to confirm I was still on the planet. There were of course no cell phones yet.

The most magical day unfolded for me. One, as you can see, I have remembered for all these years in explicit detail. Jon showed me some drawings he had done of the view from his hotel room and they were just gorgeous. I was stunned at what a superb artist he was. Even I could see his talent and it was amazing.

What brought this story to mind during the Purim Play put on at the Shul, was that at a special moment in that magical day, Jon turned to me and said that I was what he would imagine Queen Esther to be. I smiled and thanked him, but it was only on this night that I got the full impact of what a compliment he had extended to me.

When we were saying our goodbyes, Jon, who was from Canada, told me that he would one day make it as an artist and he would be sure to send me an invitation to his first exhibition. I smiled as I recalled Willie’s response to my telling him about this and what an incredible artist this guy was.

“Of course he is!” he said. “You meet a hippie on a plane, on his way to Morocco and you’re in love. Why didn’t you just phone me from Morocco?”

“You’ll see,” I said, “this guy will make it, and he WILL send me an invitation.”

Jon most certainly made it, and he kept his word. Some years later an invitation arrived at my home in Johannesburg to his exhibition at a gallery in Toronto. He had a very unique way of spelling his name, so a few months later, while watching the TV show COSMOS, I knew that the artist listed in the credits was him.

The memory of this wonderful experience pays tribute to the love I have for my brother and the many magical people who have crossed my path. Some are here, some smile down on me from heaven.

While sitting in Shul, I knew that Willie and my friend the Rabbi, Ady, were at the best Purim party of all and I knew that as they watched me sit with my husband in his full fire fighter regalia and my son the Clone Trooper, they were happy about the way I was remembering them on the Eve of Purim, Willie’s Yahrzeit 2006/13 Adar, 5766.

Party on, Dude!

Willie and me - 1996

Favorite pic of my brother and sister from 1988.

Monday, March 06, 2006

AN ENCORE KIND OF DAY

We had the distinct pleasure of spending the day with our neighbors yesterday. When you have lived in as many different places as we have, finding good neighbors can be a rare luxury. From our last place of residence in our home town of Killarney, Johannesburg, through 5 towns in London, a house boat in Amsterdam and a town house in Zoetermeer, we really did have to wait to get to New Jersey to have the bonus of neighbors that we love. Stan and Alyson are friends, the uncle and aunt neither of us have on hand, and for me, Stan is the Dad that I don’t have on hand either. Our age differences have not stood in the way of us forming a loving, fun, meaningful and rewarding relationship for all of us.

We headed off for NYC yesterday and made the obligatory brunch stop at the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton. I love diner food and after securing an extra couple of pounds on home fried potatoes, we climbed back in the car and headed for NYC.

Stan was very impressed by the fact that I really do have a Parking Angel as no sooner had we identified the theater, did a car pull out of a parking space directly over the road from where we needed to be. While this might not seem like a big deal, this is a rare find in New York, even on a Sunday. I have no clue why, but something as mundane as designated disabled parking does not exist in NYC (as far as I have been able to find out).

We went into the smallest theater I have ever been to. We sat in the second row from the front and much like the parking space, those four seats clearly had our names on them from the time the booking was made as they were the last four available on line for that date. When I went back in to try get additional seats, it came up as sold out. The theater doesn’t offer reserved seating so it was great that we were that up front.

As far as the show itself is concerned, all I can say is that if you live in the area, and enjoy Jewish humor, this is a show not to be missed. “25 Questions for a JEWISH MOTHER” is 80 minutes of the most enchanting roller coaster ride of emotions that I have been on in a very long time. Judy Gold is a fantastic performer and she got to the heart of some really serious issues through intelligent and hilarious humor. What a perfect mix.

After I had been to get Ross from my Mom, we all got together again to watch my Superbowl television event – the Academy Awards. I had great fun playing paparazzi with my digital cam and the tv. Results of this can be seen here. We ordered in Pizza and our equally delicious neighbors provided brownies, fruit and ice cream for dessert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and it was a perfect note on which to end a perfect day.
Some further information on the theater is available here.

Stan

Alyson

 
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