Family life in the Easter/Passover divide

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On a few mornings during this past week, my 4 year old daughter Neve has crawled out of bed and asked, “Is today when I can’t eat bread?”

When I say, “No, that starts Friday night, when Passover begins,” her whole body visibly relaxes.

It’s more than a little comical. Neve’s (admittedly very narrow) eating life focuses primarily on things not kosher for Passover: bread, dry cereal, and hummus. This is a girl who often eats slices of bread as a snack, so the thought of going without her first food love for several days is clearly causing her a little, well, tsuris.

In the past, only Joe kept Passover – since he’s the official Jew and all, in addition to being an adult – but last year, we took a step toward easing me and the girls into this holiday tradition. The compromise? We left bread items in the house, but none of us were allowed eat any of it when we were at home during those 8 days; and when the girls ate at school (and I ate at work), or out at a restaurant, all Passover bets were off.

This year, though, we’re trying to go all in. The girls are intrigued by the idea of gathering and selling our Chametz – though Neve keeps mistaking that word for “hummus” – to a neighbor and then buying it back after Passover; I am, too, since I’ve never done this before. And in this post-layoff time of upheaval and transition, I’m making a more concerted effort to be a little adventurous, and thus keep depression and self-doubt at bay. Continue reading

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Eulogy

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The last piece of advice I ever got from my father-in-law, Roger Grekin, came a few weeks ago, when he learned I was training for a half marathon.

“Don’t be afraid to stop along the way, if you need to,” he’d said.

I’m going to apply that advice to this eulogy as well.

But I’d recommend this advice to many of you this week, too. Facing Roger’s sudden absence, many of us have had to find the courage to stop our lives and our work and just absorb the loss, and mourn one of the wisest, gentlest men I’ve ever known. A kind of humble genius who would spontaneously sing tunes from “The Music Man” and “Guys and Dolls,” and pluck out “If I Only Had a Brain” on the piano at nearly every family get-together.

When he spoke of his professional life, Roger stressed the importance of connecting with patients, and carefully listening to them. And it seemed that every committee ever formed around him wanted him to join, precisely because Roger was, in his way, the world’s most humane intellectual machine. At work, and personally, he’d absorb all the information on offer, never losing sight of the forest for the trees, mull it over, and then tell you what he thought. And he was pretty much always right on the money.

The tragic irony of his disease [a rare form of skin cancer] was that Roger was someone who was almost unnervingly at home in his own skin. He was so self-possessed, I think, because he KNEW what a wonderful life he had built for himself. All he wanted was what he already had. He was still utterly smitten with his wife of 50 years, Linda, who made the phrase “his other half” a literal truth. He loved being a father to, and spending time with, Joe, Josh and Emily, and he shamelessly adored and spoiled his 6 granddaughters. He loved spending time with his siblings, and his mom. He loved being a doctor, and being a teacher. He loved his friends. And he loved living in Ann Arbor.

As many of you know, Joe and I dated a long, long time before getting married. (You could probably ask Linda for the exact number of years and months.) But I remember the precise moment when I felt officially initiated, and absorbed, into the Grekin family. Continue reading

The power, and limitations, of memory-laden objects

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we'd come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib delivered to our room.

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we’d come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib that was delivered to our room.

January 9, 2014 marked the five year anniversary of my mom’s death.

And perhaps because we’re programmed to mark anniversaries that end in a 5 or a zero as more significant than others, I found myself honing in on objects and memories from the time of her death.

The squeezy plastic frog that has Holiday Inn stamped in script on its stomach, which arrived with a crib in our hotel room in Terre Haute. (My mom was buried in nearby Clay City, Indiana.) Lily, 8 months old at that time, loved the frog and often held it in her little hands, and I felt ridiculously grateful for this small gesture.

The snug, plain white ankle socks that I borrowed from my mother’s dresser drawer, in North Carolina, because I’d packed our bags in such a rushed, harried state that I’d packed no socks for myself in the coldest month of the year. These same socks are rolled up in my dresser drawer now. Pulling them onto my feet always makes me remember the trip. How we didn’t make it in time to see her alive on final time, despite our best efforts. How her life ended in the time when we were all hurtling through space toward her hospital room. How I knew, upon returning to the Asheville Airport’s car rental counters from the bathroom, that she was gone, simply by the expression on Joe’s face as he walked toward me. How, based on reports of my mother’s condition shortly before her death, I quickly decided that her timing may have been for the best. That the relatively casual, “How are you?” phone conversation I’d had with her days before would serve me well enough, since it ended with, “I love you.” Continue reading

Ice cream and existentialism with my 5 year old

icecream1While walking Lily to a nearby ice cream parlor for an after-dinner cone this evening, her words took me by surprise twice.

Once, because I heard a sentence I might utter, word-for-word, coming out of her mouth.

Let me back up for a second. Lily had been a couple of months overdue for her annual check-up, and Neve was due for one as well, so I made a dual appointment for them at the pediatrician’s this afternoon. Weirdly, they assumed each other’s personas when the doctor arrived in the exam room: Neve was a distracted, restless chatterbox, and Lily became watchful, quiet and serious. (It was a bit like “Freaky Friday,” with both body-changers being kids.)

Because I’d noted this, I asked Lily, on the way to get ice cream, “You seemed nervous at the doctor’s office. Were you scared of getting shots?”

Lily nodded, and then, she added, “Well, I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I was more” – she paused as she considered her word options – “concerned.”

Oh. My. God. It was like she’d turned 32 in front of my eyes. (Which was only too fitting, given the conversation that followed.)

I was reeling a bit from this little-sage pronouncement when she followed up with, “I wish babies could stay babies.” Continue reading

How this shlubby, un-athletic kid ended up being a runner

I earned this finishers' medal at the Dexter-Ann Arbor 10 K this past weekend. Yay!

I earned this finishers’ medal at the Dexter-Ann Arbor 10 K this past weekend. Yay!

The other day, I thought about why I run – while running, of course – and my thoughts splintered off in myriad directions.

Initially, this frustrated me. Why couldn’t I define running’s pull on me more definitively? There’s a good reason for this, though: my reasons for running, and what I get out of it, have evolved and changed in the same way that I have over the course of 42 years of life.

My first brush with running came in fifth grade – a hard year for me. I sprouted large breasts I didn’t want; began menstruating (and had no idea what the brown stain in my underwear was or meant); had acne on my back; stank from body odor; had no friends, and thus wandered the playground alone at recess; and while I my school shuttled me to a “gifted” program once a week, what I really wanted was to be athletic, despite being painfully uncoordinated and slow. Though everyone seems to remember being picked last for teams in gym class, I really was – and I couldn’t even blame my classmates. They didn’t want to lose.

Neither did I, of course. And I tried my hardest, whatever the sport. But whether the game of the moment was softball, kickball, relays, dodgeball or basketball, I sucked.

Then my gym teacher announced a program with a hopelessly square title: Run for Fun and Fitness. With each mile you ran on your own, outside of school, she’d place a small sticker dot next to your name – which was on a long, green-and-white printout list of students, taped on the gym’s cinder block wall.

At that age, I loved visual symbols of achievement (I was that girl who earned 10 badges during my one year of Girl Scouts). They helped counter my lack of self-esteem in every area but academics. And besides, I told myself, unlike the gym class games that invited my classmates to despise me even more, because I failed to perform at a certain level, running was something I could do by myself. I wouldn’t let anyone down, no matter how slow I was.

So, at my request, my father measured out a half mile marker from our house that I could jog to, and then run back. Though my pace could be categorized as “plodding,” I ritualistically stopped at that halfway mark to catch my breath, and I even stopped once between that point and home, too. So I struggled. This was not something that was going to come easily. (It still doesn’t, after all these years and miles logged.)

But not being scrutinized by my peers, or even adults, while I clumsily ventured into running freed me. I got to experience an endorphin rush (though I couldn’t identify it), and feel kind of athletic and virtuous (albeit temporarily). Though all the other things happening to my body made me feel powerless, running made me feel strong. Continue reading

How a toy gun and my 4 year old (unwittingly) helped me process the Newtown tragedy

The toy that led me to have a talk with my 4 year old that I didn't want to have.

The toy that led me to have a talk with my 4 year old that I didn’t want to have.

One week after the Newtown tragedy, I came downstairs, still in my pajamas, and saw a silver toy pistol on our kitchen table, in the place we normally set down meals for our four year old daughter, Lily.

Sitting in her chair, wearing white tights and a white dress with blue polka dots, Lily declared, “I’m taking it to preschool.”

“No, sweetie,” I said, shaking my head firmly, a chill in my voice. “You’re not.”

“Yes, I am,” she replied, stubbornly. “For show and tell. Some of the boys bring guns for show and tell.”

“I told her she couldn’t take it,” my husband said, bustling about the kitchen, getting everyone’s breakfast. But my mind was already racing. How could I explain Newtown to a four year old when adults – myself included – were having an impossible time processing it themselves? I’d naively thought I could avoid the whole conversation. Lily wasn’t in elementary school yet, and kids her own age wouldn’t necessarily have stumbled upon the story.

But it was like the tragedy refused to stay in the shadows, shoved under a rug. Continue reading

Contending with a midlife crisis and pre-partum depression simultaneously: An existential double whammy (or, “Is That All There Is?”)

During the month that this blog lay dormant (and we attended a dozen different events), my general mood and outlook regarding the future took a swan dive and pretty much, on a day-to-day basis, remained 20,000 leagues below the sea.

This is no coincidence, surely. Blogging, and having people read and respond to what I’m writing, is therapeutic and always makes me feel good about the parenting perspectives I’m throwing out into the world, no matter how small my “audience.” Yet when I’m honest with myself, my low-grade depression wasn’t just about missing my creative outlet; it was also a larger wave of “Is That All There Is?”-ness. One that was temporarily threatening to drown me.

Now, for those who don’t know me that well, this is not typical – despite the fact that I’ve long assumed my place in the ranks of neurotic writers. (Yes, the minute any of us hear of the professional/artistic successes of friends and peers, we’re among the first to sincerely, excitedly congratulate them – and THEN we lock ourselves in a closet for several rounds of “Why aren’t I achieving things like this?” self-flagellation.)

Generally, I’m somebody wants precisely what I have. Strong, fun, committed relationship with someone I adore, who prioritizes me and our daughter and makes me laugh? Check. A job involving things I love to do (learning through research, talking to fascinating artists/people, and writing)? Check. A quirky, cheerfully painted old house in a neighborhood that hosts block parties and is footsteps away from a small downtown? Check. Good health? Check. And co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family members (including crazy little Lily) who play a positive role in my life? Check.

So is my problem simply a self-indulgent luxury of white, middle class existence? Which is to say, have I become one of those annoying people whose “problem” is that their dreams came true, for the most part, and now they just don’t know what to do with themselves?

I’ve been tempted to dismiss my ennui this way. It’s an easy explanation, with the added bonus of having a built-in, guilt-riddled “get over it, crybaby!” sensibility. But as is usually the case, things surrounding this funk were, I think, more complicated than they originally appeared. Continue reading