Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time Warp

We're home after a wonderful weekend in Ottawa for Winterlude.  We skated on the Rideau Canal, the world's largest skating rink.  We ate lots of beavertails and maple taffy.  Beavertails, by the way, are not made from beavers.  They are a flattened form of fried dough spread with butter and more.  Sean prefers the Killaloe Sunrise, a beavertail topped with sugar and lemon.  For Sean, hold the butter.  This year my decided preference was for maple butter.  The hot maple butter is topped with a swirl of chocolate sauce.  So much dripped onto my gloves that I could live on them for a week.  Keren discovered banana chocolate, which is only available at the shop in Byward Market.  Gavi sticks with straight chocolate spread, Nutella actually.  Jesse is the stand out.  He started the standard cinnamon sugar; ate half of it, and passed it to me.

Jesse would rather eat maple taffy.  This year we asked the secret.  First boil down the maple syrup until it is just thick enough that it will just pour when warn.  Spread over crushed ice; add a stick, and yum!

On Friday we had a private tour of the Diefenbunker, http://www.diefenbunker.ca/, built to protect the Canadian government from attack during the Cold War.  It was interesting for all.  The adults favorite piece was a sign in the cafeteria that said "You're lucky to be alive... So, just eat it!"  Every parent agreed that if there was a fridge magnet with that phrase we'd all buy it!

Special comments from children:
     (Picking up an ashtray)  "What's this glass thing?
     (In the Government Room, pointing at the desk blotter) "Why is there cardboard on the table?"
      "Did they really have a smart board?"
     (In the war room, looking at a rotary telephone) "How do you dial this thing?"
     Of course they were also amazed by the computer that fills a room, but has less power and memory than a laptop.

It's a great place to visit.  Gavi & I checked out all the rooms we missed after the tour.  Gavi had about 10,000,000 questions.  Wow!

Sunday afternoon we were walking back from Byward Market when Keren decided she was hungry.  We tried to tempt her with more beavertails, maple taffy, or hot chocolate.  Unfortunately, all Keren wanted was meat!  For a good fifteen minutes, Keren whined for meat. "I want meat.  I waaant meeeeeeaaat."  It was amazing.  I've never seen a child whine for meat.  Specific foods, yes, but general meat, never.  When asked if she wanted a specific thing, Keren replied, "Chicken... or cow."  It was a problem.  We travel with our food, and keep everything dairy for ease.  Home today she had brisket for breakfast and chicken for dinner.

It was a wonderful weekend!  Now, laundry, dishes, and back to school.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Children and Imbeciles

There is a saying; "God watches over children and imbeciles."  Today the imbecile was me.  I wrote last night that getting used to the end of a deployment takes as long as adjusting to the beginning.  One of the things I lost during the deployment is my focus.  It hasn't come back yet.

This morning I got the kids off to school in their carpool.  I went back to the kitchen.  I took out a frying pan and two eggs.  I sprayed the pan, and turned on the burner; then, I began to empty the dishwasher.  After a minute or two, I cracked the eggs into the pan.  Something wasn't right.  The eggs didn't seem to be cooking.  I glanced up from the dishwasher, and realized I'd turned on the wrong burner.  On the hot burner was a pyrex baking pan.  I moved quickly to the stove, turned off the burner, and moved the pan.  BIG MISTAKE!  As I let go and stepped back, the pan exploded.  I had time only to yelp before I was surrounded by glass.  Amazingly, not a sliver hit me.  a starburst of shattered glass surrounded me.  I stood shock still for a moment, and then, began to hyperventilate.  Luckily, as I began to get light headed, the smart part of my brain kicked in.  I grabbed a bag from a cabinet to breathe into.  My breathing calmed.  My head cleared.  I began to take in the damage.  I was lucky twice over.  There were needle-like two inch slivers of glass on the stove, counter, and floor.  But beyond that, I realized the larger pieces had been hot enough to burn the linoleum on the floor, hot enough to melt into the mat we keep in front of the sink.  I wasn't cut.  I wasn't burned.  The largest, hottest piece of glass landed on a trivet on the counter.

Most of the glass is cleaned up.  The eggs are dumped down the sink (there was glass in the pan).  My breathing is back to normal.  I'm taking a break from life to catch up on missed tv and to edit my blog.  Eventually I have to finish cleaning the stove.  Eventually I have to shower and get moving onto my day, eventually.  For now, I'm taking a break.

Welcome Home

It takes about a month to adapt to a deployment.  There's a new schedule, a lot more for the parent at home to do, and getting used to the missing presence of the deployed military member.  What's really odd is the month it takes to adapt to the end of the deployment.  There's a new schedule, a new new balance of stuff to do, and a new presence with whom to negotiate space.

When Sean first came home we just walked around with smiles.  Sean, the kids, me.  We bumped into each other and laughed.  Over that first week, we also realized that the schedules we'd so painstakingly set up (you may remember, I am NOT a morning person!) don't work the same way with us both home.  When Sean is not here, a little piece of my brain overrides the tendency to hit the snooze button.  I may walk through my morning with eyes only half open, but it somehow worked.  With Sean home, he's up and getting the kids moving on his schedule.  I have to drag my sorry self out from under the covers with more effort each morning.  I have to beware of the inbound monkey (stuffed animals that fly between Gavi and Sean on a regular basis).  It's hard to do with a brain that's only half awake.  During the deployment the kids would wake and dress quickly to get to the computer to see Sean.  Last Thursday I reminded Jesse of this.  I suggested it might be nice if Jesse did the same thing to see Sean in person before Sean left for minyan.  Jesse was unimpressed with my logic.

Since Sean is a morning person, he always got the kids' lunches going in the morning.  He immediately went back to that.  Thanks, honey!  Unfortunately, he also had no idea what the kids liked for lunch.  Kids' tastes can be very fickle, and 3.5 months seems like an eternity in kid foodland.

Sleeping is still difficult.  I have never slept well with Sean gone.  I am a light sleeper to start, well sort-of.  Any unusual noise wakes me, such as a kid coughing.  A fire truck could go screaming by the house, and I would blissfully sleep through it.  I always said that if Sean deployed I'd have to learn to live without sleep.  By the end of the first month, most nights I literally fell into bed, averaging about 5 hours sleep.  Bronchitis made me sleep more, and exhaustion is a powerful sleeping drug.  Of course, stress and the kids' illnesses towards the end meant I counted over three continuous weeks of not sleeping through the night.  This has improved since Sean's return, but I still wake two to three times a night.

I assumed that when Sean returned we'd fall back into our comfortable sleep patterns.  Ha ha. Not only did we miss each other consciously, but, it seems we missed each other sub-counsciously.  We have a fabulous king-sized bed.  It means we have plenty of sleeping room.  Still, after 17.5 years of marriage, we tend to sleep with some physical contact, usually a hand or leg, but we also spread out into our own space.  Sometimes when one of us would return after traveling we'd try to sleep cuddled up.  It wouldn't take much before we'd shift back to our normal positions, still in contact, but on our own sides of the bed.  Since Sean's return from the deployment, it's as if we've been trying to occupy the same space.  Even in our sleep we seem to seek out each other's physical presence.  The result for me is I sleep in slightly odd positions, waking with a sore neck or a sore back.  Sean, of course, sleeps soundly with nary a care in the world.  Even as I type, he is sleeping next to me.  Together we occupy about a third of the bed.

One of the best pieces is simply watching the children.  They are happier, calmer, but they also have to adjust.  They each have their shtick.  Jesse can talk for hours without taking a breath.  He wants to share everything he learned, and more!  He needs to make up for 24-7 of Sean not being here for 3.5 months.  Keren just likes knowing her Abba is around.  She is calmer and happier, but doesn't seem to need the constant mental or physical connection.  Gavi is the fun one to watch.  He is trying to make up for all the lost time wrestling, throwing the flying monkey, and the simple physical relationship he has with Sean.  Stuffed animals fly constantly.  Soft "whacks" are shared every time Gavi walks past Sean.  There is giggling and laughter, and a buoyancy to his step that was missing.  Still, Gavi somehow needs reassurance.  Unlike the absolute acceptance of Sean's presence that Jesse and Keren share, Gavi sometimes still needs something; that something is time.

When a service member deploys the general wisdom is not to change anything too dramatically.  Oops. While Sean was gone I cut my hair (about 4-5 inches).  While Sean was gone I painted (with help from my parents) three rooms, one being our bedroom.  I replaced the bedroom mirror, and changed the art around.  There are three new pieces of art in the kids' bathroom.  Two of the pieces are newly framed collages frm my mother, a third is a piece my parents gave me.  Jesse's bathroom finally has art on the wall.  There are three pieces on new furniture in the house, although Sean ordered them, so I don't think they count.  I tried to rearrange the furniture, but was waiting for two pieces of art to be framed, so that had to wait.  The art was finally finished last week, and I rearranged the living room and dining room this weekend.  Saturday night I removed some of the art from the wall, moved tchotchkes, and packed up etrog boxes and hanukiyot so I could remove the shelves they were on.  Sean came home after minyan motzi-Shabbat to find me pulling nails and spackling.  I couldn't do it all when he was in Okinawa, but I got to do it while he was out.  There's more art to frame, and more to hang.  Now, if only I could find the right color for the living and dining room walls, the perfect area rug, and some drapes.

Although Sean's deployment was cut short, there are still things to fix.  Due to the heavy snow and ice this winter we have a leak in the roof.  We discovered it tonight.  It's dripping through a light fixture onto our enclosed porch.  The electrician comes tomorrow, and the roofer will be called in the morning.  The stones of the steps have suffered greatly this winter with the freezing and thawing.  These things were on the list to fix/replace, but we'd hoped for a few years.  Oh well, it's all part of home ownership, and I'm grateful it didn't happen during the deployment.  Our tv did die, sort of. It has a short, and the power only goes on via the channel button. The remote won't work because the signal isn't being picked up, and so there's no way to get the input set to video.  We don't have cable in our bedroom, so it's essentially useless.  It is interesting when it suddenly springs to life, usually in the middle of the night, and usually in French.  I've unplugged it for now.  Soon, Gavi and I will take it apart to check it out.

Finally, an adjustment has been our social life.  I was busy enough.  The kids and I had frequent havurah events, and I got together with a few friends throughout the deployment.  On days when I had no where to run, I was happy to simply be home.  Sean clearly missed our friends, and, although we had two Saturday nights in a row out, plus friends over last Sunday, he was ready to run out again motzi-Shabbat.  It didn't happen, but friends were over on Sunday again, so he'll survive.

It took a month to adapt to the deployment.  It will take at least that long to adapt to the welcome home.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Favorite Mitzvah, part two

            I’m sitting in class counting the minutes until the end.  My head is pounding; I’m exhausted; all I can think about is heading home to bed.  However, this is not an option.  Tonight is mikveh night, and one does not delay in the performance of a mitzvah.
            Class ends.  The cold November wind whips through me as I step through the revolving door.  Walking to the subway, I dodge pedestrians with each step, buffeted by the crowdedness of the rush hour sidewalk.  I run down the station steps just as the train pulls in.  Jumping, I squeeze into the crowded car.  The crush of the commuters weighs heavily upon me.  I’m thinking of home, of the warmth of the apartment, of my husband and son.  I am frustrated that all that will have to wait.  Ritual supersedes, and tonight is mikveh night.
            At Seventy-ninth Street I squeeze out of the train, barely making it before the doors close.  I dash the two blocks to the mikveh.  Head down, straining against the wind, I barely notice the beggar standing in the cold.  I am buzzed through the double doors, pausing, for the first time, to consider the sad necessity of this security measure in Manhattan.  I am shown to a shower.
            I close the door behind me, placing my backpack on the floor.  I unpack my toothbrush, floss, comb, and other toiletries, all the while looking in the mirror.  With each item I remove from the bag, I somehow look less tired and angry than I did moments before.  I read the prayer on the wall asking God to guide me in my taharah, in my spiritual cleansing.
            Along with my clothes, I shed the tension from my body.  The room is warm, and I stand for a moment, allowing the last of the November chill to leave my body before beginning my cleansing.
            I step into the shower.  The hot water pours over my head, running down my body.  I wash, reaching upward as I rinse, as if to God, allowing the spiritual impurity to run down the drain with the day’s accumulated grime.
            I stand there an extra minute in the shower, eyes closed, feeling the warmth fill me, contemplating the waters of the mikveh.
            I am ready.  I sit, thinking of nothing, as I wait for the attendant.  A knock and the door opens.  I enter the room of the mikveh.
            The attendant checks my hands and feet.  I remove my robe.  Running her hands over my hair, she checks my back for stray hairs, inquiring about my son.
            “How old is he now?”
            “Almost eight months.”
            “You brought a picture this time?”
            “Of course.”
            I am in the mikveh.  The waters lap at my shoulders.  They are warm, like a comfortable bath.  I could stand here for hours.  I dunk, feeling the waters close over my head.  As I surface the attendant declares, ”Kasher”.  I recite the blessing, and dunk again.  Again, “Kasher”.  “Yehi ratzon milfanecha, Hashem Ehlokeinu, vaylokei avoteinu…”  “May it be Your will, Lord our God, and God of our ancestors…”  A final dunk; “Kasher”.  Suddenly it’s over.  I climb the steps, up, out of the mikveh.  The attendant places my robe around me, and I return to my room.
            I dress, a lightness to my movements.  Refreshed, I step out into the crisp air, my hair still damp on my neck.
            As I walk to the subway, I see the man I passed earlier.  This time, looking in his eyes, I hand him some change, and spend a moment talking to him.
            “Good luck.  Try to stay warm.”
            “Thank you darling.  God bless you.”
            I smile, feeling He already has.

I wrote these words in November 1997.  I have had wonderful mikveh experiences, and a few not so wonderful mikveh experiences.  I have used the ocean off Key West, FL and Hickam air Force Base, HI.  We once drove three hours for a mikeh from Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, kids in tow.  I have dipped in the Delaware and other rivers.  One night the heater was broken, and I dipped in frigid waters thinking of generations of women who had to break through ice to observe this mikveh, and wondering if they did it for themselves, or simply because they never thought otherwise.  I have accompanied brides and converts. 

My first mikveh experience was in Cedarhurst, NY.  Days before my wedding, it was actually Sean who drove me to the mikveh.  The attendant was so thrilled to have a kallah, she ran out to the car to give Sean candy to bless us with a sweet life.  The month after my wedding, I attended a mikveh at a bungalow colony in Kiamesha, NY.  The hasidic group that summers there sets it up, and rooms are divided with bed sheets.  I dressed the part, but was still clearly not one of them.  Even so, everyone there celebrated with me, offering blessings for many healthy children, nachas, and a sweet life with my hassan.  When I would leave the mikveh in Israel, after a long day of classes, many in Hebrew, I would come out refreshed, speaking in Hebrew, no longer tired and drained from the effort of functioning in two languages.  Sean would say it was like I was a different person.

Mikveh has been glorified and vilified over the centuries.  It has been used as a weapon by both genders, but it is also used for healing, and to represent life.  It is a return to the waters of creation.  For me, it's a blessing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "Rejoining Party"

Weeks before Sean left, between crying jags, Keren began to plan what she called our "Rejoining Party".  In her words, "It's a party for Abba's rejoining of our family."  Shortly after Sean left Keren began to make the menu for the party.  It said "Chocolate, Coffee" because those a foods Sean likes.  As it became clear that Sean would probably be home early, Keren made her guest list (I admit I suggested a couple of people, but Keren had the ultimate say-so).  Keren's requirement for those invited- first she only included people who were local.  After all, they had only 3 days notice.  Second- Keren included only the people she said were "close to our heart".  The menu grew beyond coffee and chocolate.  She enlisted the help of a few friends to bring a couple of dishes.  Thank you to Bev for kugel & mousse.  Keren knew she could count on you for cooking.  And thanks to Debbie because "you're so good at the junk food" for the chips, salsa, and guacamole.

It was a lovely open house.  Jews being Jews, many friends brought more food.  We drank some wonderful Japanese whiskey, and simply enjoyed being together as a family, not just us, but many of those "close to our heart".

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

And So It Begins...

About 8:50 this morning I heard the garage door open.  Sean and Jesse were returning from minyan.  Jesse was glad to wake up at 6:45 AM for minyan if it meant a day off from school.  Sometimes he makes me proud (Okay, most of the time).

By 8:57 Jesse was knocking on my door to complain.  "Gavi is on the Wii."  "It's only 9 AM Jess.  You'll get to watch the tv."  He wants to watch 1776.  He watched it recently after a conversation about the American Revolution, and, as with many things, he is now obsessed.

By 9:04 Keren had come in to see me.  "Can I go on the Wii?"  "Yes, Gavi's on it."  Tears and whining began.  "He's been on it for three days."  I really don't believe it's been three days.  After all he has been at school and karate.  He has eaten meals, done homework, and slept, and today there is homework yet to be done, a project due tomorrow.  There will be time for Keren to play and Jesse to watch.

I can hear the scraping of the snow shovel outside my bedroom.  Sean is shoveling.  I am torn between wanting to help and enjoying the warmth under my blanket.  For now the blanket is winning, but as I like the entire driveway shovelled, I will soon leave this warm nest to go help.

Postscript- I did get up to help.  I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt.  As I reached for my socks the garage door closed.  Sean had finished, and was returning to work.  He shoveled the entire driveway, both sides.  I got back under my warm blanket.

Snow Day

Another winter storm has come through.  Prayers of a snow day have been granted.  This is not the first storm, but it is the first snow day.  Looking out the window it does not look much worse than those that have come before.  I am not complaining though.  As much as I enjoy shoveling, and as much as I have found the good in the quiet of pre-dawn, sharing the world with only the snow plows, I am content this morning to lie in bed.  With no alarm to wake me I have slept past sunrise.  This is certainly my preference to wait for the sun.

Today's snow day was officially called before the end of the middle school day yesterday.  While it seemed premature as no snow was falling at the time, there is a need in every child, parent, and teacher in cold climes to have a snow day.  It is a childhood memory held dearly.  As much as it can be inconvenient for working parents, a snow day is a gift of time, a day for snow man making, snow ball fights, and sledding.  Snow day memories seem somehow more special.  Jesse remembers the last looking out our window watching the snow fall.  The memory is almost a poem.

Of course it doesn't always turn out as planned.  In February 2007 a water pipe burst at the kids' school.  We spent part of the day sledding at Cedervale Park, and Sean spent part of the day at the hospital with Keren.  But broken legs heal, and many a better day has been spent since.

Today the is homework to do, but also movies to watch, games to play, and a snowman calling to be made.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Favorite Mitzvah

Many of those who know me know of my love of the mitzvah of mikveh.  For me, it is a very spiritual act.  I have referred to it as my monthly appointment with God.  Once a month I spend an evening focusing on me.  During the day I think about the creative and procreative nature of the human body.  In the evening I take time out to care for my body in a way I do not normally get to, especially as the mother of three.  I retreat to my room.  I give myself a backward manicure, removing all nail polish, trimming and buffing my nails.  I bathe and shower, taking longer than I normally dare.  Some months I give myself a facial.

I don't know when I decided that I would go to mikveh each month.  By the time the mitzvah became relevant in my life it had been long decided.  I think it was a bit of a shock to Sean when I told him (although to his credit he never said so).

If you speak to Sean or me about mikveh we will both praise it as a mitzvah.  For Sean it is certainly more sensual and erotic.  The Talmud states the reason for women going to mikveh is to keep the relationship between a husband and wife like their honeymoon.  It's an interesting idea.  When Sean first entered the US Naval Reserve, sixteen years ago, Sean's mom said deployments led to multiple honeymoons.  If you maintain the right attitude, absence can make the heart grow fonder.

There have been times when my mikveh observance was not so convenient.  One year Sean's & my travel did not coincide favorably with my attendance at the mikveh.  It was often frustrating.  But I believe that over the years mikveh has strengthened our family.  It affects our relationship positively, and I have recommended and taught mikveh strongly and frequently throughout my rabbinate.

Our first day with Sean home we drove the kids to school and made a shiva call.  Throughout Toronto we saw friends.  It was a lot of fun to watch everyone's reaction as Sean appeared.  Thanks to all of you who sent us home to "become reacquainted" with each other.  It was nice that so many of you sent us home.  For us, driving around Toronto and running errands was one of the ways we were getting acquainted.  Mikveh was almost a week away when Sean returned.  It meant that those first days were spent simply spending time together.  It's amazing how much we had to talk about considering we spoke most days during the deployment.  For a week we talked.  For a week we looked at each other.  For a week we got to just be together.  Also for a week we were not trying to steal time away from the children to be together.  A look across the table was sufficient and could be shared in a room where the normal chaos of life with children ruled.

For all of you who sent us home.  Don't worry.  There's always time for that too.