home for the holidays

Home for the Holidays: Parenting in the College Years

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My last two blog posts covered far-reaching trips I’ve recently taken to Africa and South America.  When people asked me what our plans were for this holiday season,  I think they were expecting a more exotic reply, but I was happy to answer, “A good ‘ol family staycation…”  The two kids that are still in college requested that we don’t go anywhere this year, and John and I were more than happy to oblige.

The lack of plans allowed them to spend time with high school friends as well as for us to visit with other families in Boston.  Yes there are dentist appointments in the mix,….  but here are some highlights of our staycation:

·      Home cookin’…..  after months at college, the kiddoes are craving family classics

·      Lighting our menorah – first time in a long time kids are home for all nights of Hanukah

·      Shabbat dinners – Jack, our son in the workforce and Emily, his girlfriend, will be able to join us on 12/30!

·      Fires in the fireplace

·      Chinese Food (when we’re not home cookin’)

·      Family squash /yoga / soul cycle

·      Going to the movies – “Lalaland” was great, next up “Office Christmas Party” and “Star Wars”

·      Playing hearts at the kitchen table

·      Rocking to The Roots at the House of Blues

·      Going to the TD Garden to watch the Celtics and the Bruins

Best of all, time for reading – I’m reading Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh – which I am loving.  Jennifer will be joining our book group for a special dinner party in early January !!

…AND writing!  I set a goal of finishing a manuscript by the end of 2016 and I’ll be damned, with some late nights, I am going to make it!  So after you wet your appetite with EDEN, you shouldn’t have to wait too long….

If you are enjoying your own staycation this week, I would love to hear your highlights…

Melody Beatty’s daily meditation in Journey to the Heart for December 26 gets to the core of it:

 

We search for sacred spaces, spiritual

experiences, and truths.  But the holiest

places are often found when we spend

time with people we love.

May your home be the sanctuary you crave.

Love and Peace in 2017

possibilities

Patagonia: Stay Open to the Possibilities

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On a recent vacation to Patagonia, I took a day off from hiking with the friends I’d traveled with to go horseback riding. Who could resist the beauty of the animals, the gaucho culture, or the wide open, expansive landscape?  I’m not an experienced rider, but talked my way into a group that included a marvelous horsewoman from Seattle and a charming Brazilian couple.

This experience was a reminder that you never know when you are going to meet somebody who inspires you, and that role models are everywhere if you just stay open to new possibilities. Carol is in her late fifties and  traveled down to Chile in order to help her son (ex- Facebook) and his wife and their new baby move there.  After settling them in, she started traveling alone – first spending 7 days camping and hiking “The W” in Torres el Paine. Then she came to the lodge where I met her where she’d been on riding excursions for 6 days.  She told me stories of her and a friend riding her three horses 500 miles through the Cascades and into Canada. She told me about her future travel plans in Chile and Argentina.

She also talked about her other grandchildren back in Washington who she’d taught to ride and built tree houses for. After a morning of her wild stories and infectious laughter, I commented “You must have the coolest kids.” A big grin spread across her face and she said, “Well, my grandkids tell me I’m the coolest grandma ever.”

When the gauchos gave the signal, we’d go from a walk to a trot and then to a gallop. I stayed behind Carol and tried to do what she did. Her only words of advice as the horses picked up speed were, “Just don’t fall!!”  It was exhilarating, thrilling, and downright frightening. I loved every minute of that day.  I was grateful to meet Carol, whose sense of adventure and wanderlust inspired me, not to mention her moniker of “coolest grandma ever”.

I love meeting strong, independent women, especially strong women who travel to far off places alone.  Carol is the type of woman who says, “YES!” to life.  I’m smiling right now just thinking about her.  Sadie, a character in my novel, Edenwas an accomplished horsewoman as well.  Maybe if she lived in 2016, she would have been more like Carol….  instead of… well I don’t want to spoil it for you.

As Eden approaches its publication date and gallies are now in hand…  Jeannie is exhilarated, thrilled, and also a little bit frightened…  but she’s holding on tight!

hurricane

Rhode Island Research: The Great Hurricane

Over the course of writing my book, which took many, many years, it would always be sort of cool and sort of weird when the events in the story came into confluence with reality.  For example, working on the Fourth of July scene when it actually was the Fourth of July, or writing about Becca’s journey to the Willows when I myself was traveling by train.  Fiction and reality could get mixed up in a crazy and fun way inside my head and the writing and editing process would take on a special clarity, a certain obviousness (of, course this is the way it happened!)

I write this blog post, having just experienced a spectacular weekend under the glow of the full harvest moon.  On Saturday night we watched the yellow/orange orb rise slowly in the sky.  For the past three days, the high tides have been extremely high and the low tides have been extremely low.  The yellow jackets buzzed around the garden frantically knowing their time was almost up. This morning, the rains came.  The wind might not be blowing, but it is coming down hard and the skies are grey.  I can’t help thinking about Bunny and Becca (characters in my book you will just have to wait for!!), on that afternoon, seventy-eight years ago, this week, when the great Hurricane of 1938 took them by surprise.  The full moon, high tides, and high winds all converged to create tidal waves that destroyed whole towns across the northeast, hitting southern Rhode Island possibly the worst.

Last night as my husband flipped through the channels, waiting for the Red Sox to come on, he accidentally came across a special on Rhode Island PBS about survivors of the hurricane.  It included surprisingly vivid film footage of the storm as well as the destruction in its aftermath.  I was transfixed by how frightening it must have been.  The loss from the storm was tragic, but what I couldn’t help thinking as I watched the black and white film of  waves, bending trees, and homes disappearing into the surf was how scary. How scary to experience what have must felt like the end of the world in 1938 without help on its way and without immediate communication with the outside world. The hurricane scene in my book could have been even more frightening and still would never have been an exaggeration.

And then as if I needed another poke from the universe, when turning to Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart this morning I read:

September 19 – Weather the Storm…. Just as nature plays out her storms, sometimes with violence, sometimes with gray days, sometimes with a gentle cleansing rain, we have storms in our lives, storms in our soul.  Storms are a part of life, part of growth, part of the journey….

Does Melody know what hurricane season is like on the east coast? If not, she certainly knows about scary.  Storms are part of the journey and so is overcoming them.  The most important thing to remember is that storms don’t last forever; they come into our lives and eventually leave.  They are usually tumultuous, but relatively short, and the human spirit has, time and again,  just as it did in the months and years after the ’38 Hurricane,  found the fortitude to rebuild.

 

 

 

daughter-in-law-hood

Daughter-in-law-hood

Have you read the Book of Ruth? Ruth is the ultimate daughter-in-law in the Jewish Bible. Even after her husband dies, Ruth remains with her mother-in-law, Naomi, refusing the request that she return to her own people. Ruth adopts Naomi’s religion and travels with her to the land of Judah. Ruth and Naomi have a special bond of friendship. Ruth is depicted as the first convert to Judaism in the bible and interestingly, it is from her line that David, the great king is descended.

A convert to Judaism myself, I feel a connection to Ruth. Not only is she the first convert, but a revered and important figure in the history of the Jewish people. To me, the story of Ruth is a testament to Jews always welcoming converts and was partly responsible for me publicly owning my new religion.

Besides being a convert, Ruth is a true friend and source of support for Naomi, her mother-in-law. In Eden, Ruth is the consummate daughter in law to Sadie. She stays by Sadie’s side even after Robert dies, and coincidentally it is her son that is the family’s financial savior, purchasing the home, and keeping it in the family.

Being a daughter-in-law to people who have no daughters of their own, I also feel that connection to Ruth. In my case, it was not my mother-in-law who leaned in me for support, it’s been my father-in-law. I am his surrogate daughter. Even in this modern age, when my husband is willing to pitch in on an equal basis, there are things his father just feels more comfortable coming to me for. Is it because I am a woman? Because I am more comfortable talking about emotions and relationships? Because we share the vocation of writing? Because he just assumes I’m more available to help with domestic and medical matters? We have a friendship and share points of view that are not shared by my husband.

Being a daughter or son-in-law, is often a delicate dance. I certainly stumbled and mis-stepped in the beginning, but figuring it out, and disproving the caricature of in-law as “out-law” has resulted in one of my most satisfying relationships.

inheritance

Inheritance

What gets passed down in a family is an important theme in Eden.  What do we inherit? Money, possessions? Possibly, but usually not without angst.  Behaviors and opinions are also passed down, for better or worse. The obvious things like physical traits are easy for the outside world to see.  What is not apparent are our feelings about ourselves, what we like about ourselves and dislike about ourselves. We inherit recipes and histories, oral and written. We inherit a way of doing things, a set of expectations, approval and disapproval. We inherit love, we inherit disappointment. The estate planning and the last will and testament is the least of it!

As we mature and find ourselves wedged in the middle between aging parents and children coming into adulthood, it is a logical time to think about some of these things.  As our closets and basements and attics become depositories for family heirlooms, it is a time to think about how the intangible heirlooms will also get divided up.

Is inheritance a privilege or a responsibility?  Is the younger generation beholden to its elders? Some will walk away from everything, while others will accept their inheritance with gratitude and refashion what they receive to work in their lives.

Matriarchy

Matriarchy

During my lifetime, the closest thing my family has had to a matriarch was my grandmother, not in the fact that she “ruled” our family but she lived until she was 96, was elegant and stately and was greatly admired by the generations that came after. She was my father’s mother, and come to think of it, she probably was the only one who could influence his thinking with a subtle nod of approval or disapproval.

The first matriarch of the Meister family in my novel, EDEN, is Sadie (Sarah). In the book of Genesis, Sarah, wife of Abraham, was also the first matriarch. Sarah was venerable and beautiful, and it is from her that all Israel is descended. But in true Old Testament fashion, Sarah is also depicted as an imperfect human. It is said that Sarah was a prophetess and knew the way things should play out, but when she insisted Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness, it probably wasn’t her finest hour. One can just imagine her in a jealous snit, putting her foot down with Abraham. The subsequent matriarchs in the book of Genesis are Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah who go on to birth a nation despite their human frailties.

It has always been comforting to me to study Genesis in that it emphasizes that the holiest figures in the Jewish religion are just regular, imperfect, people. And although the book is not without its patriarchs, it is first and foremost a book of matriarchs. The insights of its wives, mothers, and midwives, who often made things happen behind the scenes are responsible for the flourishing of the Jewish people. In addition, the book’s themes of familial struggle, including sibling rivalry, jealousy, and rebelliousness are those that we recognize in our own families today. And although, it is sort of discouraging to think that humans have had the same weaknesses and relationship issues for ages, I find it a consolation.

Patterns in families repeat themselves, in Genesis as well as in real life. The pattern of unplanned pregnancy repeats itself for three generations in the Meister family of my novel. A wise matriarch once said that one shouldn’t be defined by the surprises in her life, but by the way she responds to those surprises. So, possibly, as we evolve as people and as mothers of a people, may we learn from history and try to do a little bit better in our lifetime.

mother and daughter

The Mother – Daughter thing

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I remember how painful our arguments were. Worse than arguments, they were downright fights, awful to even recall now. As a daughter I failed at the mother/daughter relationship. But as a mother, I am getting a second chance. So far I would say it is going pretty well. Annie is 19 and heading off to college in the fall. She is strong and intelligent and driven and caring. My mother would be so proud of her namesake. I am so proud of her. She is kind in a way I never knew how to be. She is by no means perfect, and can have plenty of attitude as any teen might, but she and I are very close. We laugh about the myriad ways I have ‘ruined her’ as in set her up for emotional trauma later in life, but the important thing is that we laugh about it. If I can get this relationship right on the second go round, it will be the greatest accomplishment of my life.

naming

Naming

My youngest child, my daughter, is named after my mother just as I was named for my grandmother. I never got a chance to ask my mother specifically what her motivation was when she named me or what her mother’s reaction was to the tribute. She’d let me know that naming me had been stressful, she had come up with two names that got shot down by both my father and her father before, Jeanne, her mother’s name, stuck. When my grandmother died, two years later, at the age of fifty-four from ovarian cancer, my mother, still so young herself, suffered a brutal blow, something she never quite recovered from and I knew even as a little girl that asking questions about my “GiGi” might unleash an emotional churning that was best to avoid.

When I was pregnant for the third time, my husband and I discussed many name possibilities. I was led to believe I was having a boy (because of a slow heart beat) so didn’t really focus on girl’s names. Truth be told, I was happy being the mother of boys. Mothering boys would allow me to dodge the minefield of mother/daughter sparring.  So as unfamiliar as a family of boys was to this female only child, I was more than happy to take it on.

In the delivery room, however, when I was presented with a baby girl, I sort of lost it with excitement. Turned out I’d been in denial with that ‘I’d be happy to have only boys’ stuff. I guess down deep I did yearn for a child I could relate to as a woman. Absolutely over the moon, so full of hormones and emotion that my heart completely took over, I sort of surprised myself with the decision to name her, Anne, after my mother. It just seemed liked what was supposed to happen.

Even though I never asked my mother about the motivation behind my naming, I can tell you what I was thinking when it was my turn. Naming our daughter after her grandmother was an expression of love, not just love but also honor and respect to a woman who didn’t always feel that I honored and respected her.  With that one act, I was finally able to express what I had never been able to put into words.