My Dad’s Voice

1 Mar
My dad, July 1985.

My dad, July 1985.

“Then, why do you write about your mom and not your dad?” my son asked recently during one of our occasional reflective conversations. Our original discussion had gone off on a tangent, as often happens late at night and/or when he has an impending homework assignment. This tangent involved an analysis of parent/child relationships and how I had a close and loving relationship with my dad. Stumped, at first, to find the right response, I gave the very typical, “Good question” and then proceeded with an answer that I knew I would expand upon in this blog. After all, I only once focused completely on my dad a few years ago when I wrote about him on his birthday. And, today, his Yarzeit, the 26th anniversary of his death, is certainly a good day to celebrate the time that I did have with him and the relationship that, I’m sure, we each treasured.

As I explained to my son, I think that the innate female bond that I had with my mom also created typical and maybe even exaggerated tensions. And, I imagine, that the same might be true with dads and their sons if it’s a gender thing. So, naturally, there were times I felt more support, praise and “material gain” from my dad. It was easy to please him. My mom was a prolific and expert cook. And, since my dad could not even boil an egg, making him the simplest sandwich resulted in great gratitude.  I remember standing in the pre-teen department of East Brunswick’s Bambergers begging my mom for a white and pink sweater that I, of course, thought would change my life. She said she had reached her spending limit, but, to avoid my potential terrible tantrum, she agreed to call my dad. Using the salesperson’s counter phone, she attempted to confirm the purchase denial, but was told to let me have this one additional item. It was much more than this. My dad was the instigator of Sunday “I don’t know where we are going” drives. He would love to take us on short mystery drives. And, he was the one who announced one year just before Christmas, “We’re going to Florida next week. Be packed and ready for the drive.” I look back on photos and memories of my college graduation and I can guarantee that my dad’s smile was bigger than anyone else’s.

One of my most poignant and telling stories is a request my dad made just days  before he died suddenly at age 59 of a pulmonary embolism. My parents called from their Florida vacation to check up on me and I told them that I had just gotten back from a visit with my (now husband) boyfriend and his mom’s cancer was quickly consuming her. My dad’s response was immediate, “When mom and I return to NJ, we must meet her. I would really like to know her, especially since it seems like you and Scott might be pretty serious.”

I am sure if I wanted to, I could write about the bad times. Neither of my parents were close to the perfection I sometimes describe. The truth behind my blog is the feelings I am left with. For me, this pollyana-esque journal is more natural and satisfying.

As I’ve often noted, I find a similar theme as mine in so much of what I read and hear. I just started reading Orphan Train and in the prologue, the narrator says, “No substitute for the living, perhaps, but I wasn’t given a choice. I could take solace…or I could fall down in a heap, lamenting what I’d lost. The ghosts whispered to me, telling me to go on.”

I am lucky to have the whispers of both my father and my mother.

She is a Light that Still Shines on Me

10 Feb

Phyllis Danzig

It is exactly 20 years today since my mother passed away. I have had many thoughts over the last few days about what I would want to write to commemorate her. Twenty years is a long time. If you’ve read my posts before, you know that I have a pretty easy time focusing on the positive and celebrating my mom.  But sometimes (and I know you’ll understand), I get mad and maudlin that she’s gone at all.  I was having one of those moments while watching the very special and wonderful Beatles 50th Anniversary Show last night. And, just then, John Legend and Alicia Keys sang, “Let it Be.” Those of us who thought the Mother Mary in the song was the Virgin Mary, found out that we were mistaken. Paul McCartney was inspired to write the song when he had a dream about his mom speaking to him.  “He also said in a later interview about the dream that his mother had told him ‘It will be all right, just let it be’” (Wikipedia and multiple sources).  And, that is just what happens to me over and over again. Even throughout the last twenty years, just as she did during the thirty years we shared, my mom whispers to me. She doesn’t always tell me to let things be. Sometimes, she tells me what action to take or how to react. I have written about the risks (http://wp.me/p1lBgS-6V) she encouraged me to take and how I still “listen” to her. I am just so glad and so fortunate that I can still hear her voice and feel her wisdom.

Watching the show last night and thinking about the crazy 1960’s, I realized I do not know much about how my mom felt about The Beatles.  I do not think she was crazy about them. I know about some of the music she liked (http://wp.me/p1lBgS-6V), but not a lot. I would love to know her reaction to the Feb. 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan show, which incidentally, happened when she was about 6 months pregnant with me! I know details about where she was (Bloomingdales in NYC) and how she reacted when JFK was shot and she was a few months pregnant with me, but nothing about The Beatles.

I do know that, especially now, I am grateful to Paul McCartney for putting into words the feeling I have had for the past twenty years. One of the ways that I have coped with being a motherless daughter is by letting it be.  It is so true that

“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary (Phyllis) comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be…”

(http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/letitbe.html)

And, I am very lucky that because Phyllis Danzig was my mom, “There is still a light that shines on me.”

The Aromas Still Linger

3 Feb

roasted soybeansI’m so glad to back to writing after another hiatus. My break from writing is not due to any change in how often or how intensely I think about my mom. I should really keep track of the number of times I read (in books, magazine/newspaper articles, other blogs, etc.) sentiment similar to mine: No matter how long my mom has been gone (now 20 years), she is very much a part of my daily existence. And, so when I saw a recipe for roasted chickpeas recently, http://bit.ly/chowcpea, I felt compelled to write about my mom’s roasted soybeans.

Back in my July 7, 2011 post, http://wp.me/p1lBgS-3K. I wrote “As I have become increasingly obsessed with quinoa, I keep flashing back to the time that my mom first roasted soybeans. It was 1980: I had just turned 16 and she had just quit smoking. To help herself, she became vigilant about not smoking and living a healthy life.” It is true that her healthy snack made me very sick since, at the time, we did not realize that my peanut allergy extended to most legumes, including soybeans. If you have ever smelled freshly roasted soybeans, you will recall being coerced into eating a handful simply because of the aroma. So, as I ate her fresh-out-of-the-oven salty soybeans, my mouth felt the typical allergic itch and I soon realized that “healthy” or not, this snack would be placed on my tantalizing and inedible list.

For me and, I imagine, for most daughters (and even sons), our mom’s food interests and cooking are some of the most memorable, inspiring and even eternal connections we have to her. Recipes are often passed down to many generations. I have written about and, even more importantly, passionately spoken to my children about my mom’s specialties. It’s not just her secret for sweet chicken soup (parsnips), but the meals we shared and obsessed over that help keep her in my everyday thoughts. And, just as I am writing this, I realize that yet another recent experience brought back warm and delicious food memories. My family spent a few days in NYC over this past Christmas holiday and after the typical Christmas movie outing, we stopped into the TickTock Diner. My daughter ordered and relished their French Onion Soup (without the glutenous bread). I immediately reminisced about the lunch my mom and I shared during a day we spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We each ordered their French Onion Soup and, either because we were starving or because it truly deserved the accolade, we rated it the best we’d ever had. Soon after, my mom topped theirs by making her own.  She even served it in the classic crock-bowl. So, after we got back home from our NYC adventure, I found a recipe, bought the ingredients and made the new best French Onion Soup my family has ever enjoyed.

This brings me to ask YOU and hopefully help you recall some of your mom’s special recipes or delicious food adventures you shared with your mom. Please share!

A New Loss

26 Aug

I am finally finding time to write, but must interrupt the regular format of my posts with sadness as our family has lost one of its great matriarchs. I use this word with purpose, especially after reading this definition: “A highly respected woman who is a mother” (“Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, 2000. Web). My husband’s Aunt Helen became my aunt from our first family event. She epitomized the “Other Mothers” I am grateful to have had; as I wrote in my post, http://iwishmymom.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/other-mothers/.  Even one week before she succumbed to non-smoker’s lung cancer at age 86, she shared her wisdom and positive spin with me. While I think I was one of her biggest fans, I realize that her entire family and her friends tie for first place in that category. She was also a fan of each of us, always interested in and supportive of our endeavors. I appreciated her subscription to this blog. She read it and commented to me as an “other mother” and as a regular reader.   I am glad that she and my mom had the chance to meet. My mom, being a great judge of character, immediately liked her. Her daughters, son, grandchildren, brother and all of us nieces, nephews and cousins have been inspired by her and will miss her greatly.  As Aunt Helen, generous and selfless, would have wanted, we are not dwelling on our loss.  She would be glad to know we celebrate her and carry on with strength and optimism.

Just a few weeks later, I watched a dear friend, my husband’s stepmother, grieve as her mother passed away.  She had the great fortune to enjoy a very long and wonderful relationship with her mom who died at age 92. Yet, losing your mom, at any age, is so difficult.

I have actually debated (with myself, in my head), if I would find losing my mom harder had she lived longer. As silly as it sounds, I think maybe I’d be even more spoiled, more used to having her around. I might not have learned to make certain decisions (right or wrong….) on my own.  I would have become more dependent on her advice, help, etc. I wonder, would the adjustment to life as a motherless daughter and parent, be more difficult if my mom had lived another 20 years? So, when a relative or friend experiences this loss, I sometimes think, “Oh she has it so much harder than I did.”  And, then, I almost get angry with myself as I realize that A. I had it really hard. When my mom died, I was filled with agony. I could  not have imagined a more painful period of time. My adjustment was not easier than anyone else’s.  B. What I would have done or would still do to have been granted more time with mom. It would have been wonderful to share even one more day with her. And C. It’s all so personal, unique and unpredictable. We cannot measure the suffering we experience when our mother dies. No one’s is easier, better, harder.

It just is.

What If….

11 May

I imagine you have worked on plans to celebrate your mom or yourself tomorrow. Mother’s Day can seem like a “holy day of obligation.”  Either we must treat our mom and/or mother-in-law to brunch or we must enjoy a day our family plans for us. Of course, there’s nothing we’d rather do more than celebrate motherhood, being mothers or having mothers. But, it can seem forced and fake. I’m torn. On the one hand, it’s nice to have an excuse to make special plans, buy or receive special gifts and celebrate. I like almost any excuse to celebrate. But, on the other hand, what if the celebration causes stress or, worse, exhaustion!

Growing up, we used to joke that every day should be Mother’s Day. Maybe there is some truth to that—why wait until the second Sunday in May to celebrate one of the most important people in your life?

I hope the day is filled with fun for you and the women you celebrate. It should be a  wonderful day, but perhaps there are other days of the year that you (would) actually appreciate time with your mom more than this one day.

On this Mother’s Day weekendI would love your response:

If you are fortunate enough to have your mom in your life, but you were told you could spend only one day of the year with her. Your choice, which day would you choose?

Or:

What if  your mom who passed away could be in your life just one day of the year, which day would you choose?

Is there a specific day of the year that you need your mom more than any other day? Or a day you did or do enjoy her company more than any other day?

Which day strikes you as a day you really need (or wish you had) your mom? And, of course, why?

Rather than write my answer, I truly want to hear from YOU.  I look forward to you sharing your thoughts.

Thank you for reading my blog and contributing.

Speaking of Sex…

28 Apr

Were you a fan of Dr. Ruth Westheimer? If you have not heard her voice since the 1980s when her radio show, Sexually Speaking, was one of the most risqué and popular, click Dr. Ruth’s Youtube Channel . If you’re too young, did not live in the New York area in the 1980s or just did not tune in, click the channel anyway— you’ll understand the point of this post after watching her introduction.  I had the most fortunate experience this past Friday night when she spoke during my Temple’s Shabbat service. Dr. Ruth is as spunky and full of good advice as ever! And, she is 84 years old! I always admired her. After learning more about her past and about the tremendous work she has done, I am just in awe.

As I sat in Temple, mesmerized by her presence and giggling as she told heart-warming and humorous stories, I could not help but wonder how I ever felt comfortable listening to her sex advice as a teenager and even more astonishing–  with my parents in the car!! Did you listen to Sexually Speaking alone? Or, with others? Either we were intrigued enough to overcome embarrassment or she made the subject of sex tolerable, or both. Not only did she give explicit and seemingly sound advice, she normalized a taboo topic.

I would actually like to try an experiment and I’ll let you know if I do: listening to her give advice with my teenage children present. I can just imagine being in the car with my 16 year old son (my age when her talk show was becoming popular), and turning to a radio station featuring Dr. Ruth talking about various sex positions. My son would turn red and immediately change the station.  I cannot as easily predict my 19 year old daughter’s reaction.  I think she would be less embarrassed, but still not at all interested in listening together.

The best thing about the Dr. Ruth’s mission is that she tried to make situations better for couples and individuals. She wanted people to be happy. She thought good sex was a key to happiness (no more comments on that—phew, I certainly don’t want to stray from my blog’s main purpose….) and I bet she did save some marriages.

Most engaging for me, was her theme this past Friday night. To avoid any disrespect on the Sabbath, she refrained from explicit talk during the service (she did promise more open and less edited conversation after services ended). The advice she wanted to give was more about her life than sex. She emphasized the “Chutzpah” needed to find happiness and success. Her accomplishments, she said, were due to her seizing the moment and taking risks. She implored the younger generation to find opportunity, take advantage of offers and take chances. These are messages my mom endorsed. During her talk, I thought about my mom and the similar advice she gave.

Our Tunes

14 Apr

I have recently rediscovered and re-worked my Itunes music and playlists. I have my own varied and incongruent collection of favorites and sometimes stop to wonder, why? Why do I like this song so much? That question plus the influence my children’s music selection has on mine, led me to want to know more about what music  my mom loved throughout her life and even predict what she would be listening to now.  And, that is part of my quest in writing my blog: first, wishing my mom was here to share everything and every day. But, since I can’t change that, I so often wish I knew more about my mom. I wonder about the little things that either I should know, but never paid attention to or the things I never thought I wanted to know—after all, how many young children or teens really care what their parents listen to?

My mom’s playlist: I can only add one song and one genre. That’s it, that’s all I know for sure. I recall her listening over and over to Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy’s Indian Love Call.  My dad’s parody of the youoooh-ooh triggered giggles in all of us. Did you or your parents listen to this 1936 song which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame recently—in 2008! I wish my mom could have known that her song has this permanent honor!  Music touches each of us in such unique and personal ways and that  matters more than the recognition. Yet, I can’t help, but wonder—my mom was only 5 years old when this song was recorded. What drew her to the song? Did she watch the Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies? I might just have to fill the next rainy weekend with old movies.

Later in her life, I know my mom was drawn to country music. I can recall long car rides (perhaps on one of those College Road Trips ) when she would find a country music station and tell me which songs she liked. I have found myself repeating her exact explanation for liking certain songs—they tell a story.

Another thing I know for sure, is that my and my mom’s playlists would not have nearly as much overlap as mine and my children’s.  While some of my extended family members (my mom’s sister’s family) are musicophiles with vast knowledge about and discerning taste in classical music and show tunes, I am like the “black sheep” of music, without a consistent genre or style.

Currently, my playlist favorites which are also part of either/both of my children’s music collection include:

  • Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us and Same Love
  • Fun.’s Some Nights, Carry On and It Gets Better
  • Queen’s Somebody to Love
  • Beyonce (too many to list)
  • The Dave Matthews Band’s If Only and American Baby
  • Eric Clapton’s Angel
  • and many more!

I must share, separately, songs/artists/albums that my daughter introduced me to and that I love listening to:

  • John Legend
  • James Morrison
  • O.A.R.
  • Corrine Bailey Rae
  • Les Miserables
  • Dream Girls
  • The Music of Nashville, the only one I know would also be on my mom’s playlist!

Would my mom like the stories told by Macklemore and Fun.? Would we go to a concert together, maybe Barbra Streisand? As different as my mom’s and my playlists might be, she selflessly took me to my first concert, David Cassidy at the Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Arts Center). I did not take my daughter to her first concert, Brittany Spears at the Prudential Center. But, we did share a really special night – John Legend  at Radio City Music Hall. And, now she’s obsessed with the music festival, Ultra, which is not likely to become a mother/daughter event!

I am intrigued by these connections: mother/daughter music taste and influence. At the very least, having some commonality in music boosts (or is a result of) mother-daughter bonding. I am grateful I have enough “music” history with my mom to write this post and, of course, I wish my mom could hear my playlist now—and I, hers!

February – Bitter and Sweet

21 Feb
Grandma Phyllis with Jordan.

Grandma Phyllis with Jordan.

February 20, 1989 was one of my mom’s happiest days—the day her first grandchildren were born. She had endured the saddest year, grieving my dad’s death just one year earlier, March 1988. The arrival of twin grandsons lifted her spirits and truly changed her outlook.  She was forever enamored with them. She had a new purpose—helping my sister and obsessing over these two, most adorable boys, Jordan and Aaron.

Grandma Phyllis and Aaron

Grandma Phyllis and Aaron

When I get sad thinking about how she did not get the chance to know my children and they were jipped out of having her in their lives, I picture her with Jordan and Aaron. My mom’s bleakest year became her brightest. The announcement of my sister’s pregnancy, the discovery she was carrying twins and even her subsequent bedrest,  relieved my mom’s malaise and gave her a new purpose. Sure, she was worried about my sister for 9 months, but that was healthy and therapeutic.  Their birth gave her new, awesome grandmotherly duties! She loved these boys so much that she even shed her dog anxiety and  warmed up to their Border Collie, Kiwi.  I was shocked and thrilled to see her invite my two-year old nephews to bring Kiwi over for a playdate. She helped my sister and entertained Jordan and Aaron even during her chemo. Playing with her grandsons provided more good therapy than any drug she received. When my children ask about her and when I find myself telling them stories about her, I really do feel a sense of gratitude that I got to see my mom become a grandmother. I know that she was and would have continued to be a great grandma!

Five very short years later, just ten days before my nephews’ 5th birthday, my mom died. Our happiest month, February, became bittersweet and very sad. I was sad that my nephews’ birthday celebration had to be postponed as if that really mattered at the time. In accordance with their nature then and now, they adapted and coped. They did not complain about the long New Jersey stay. Some five-year olds would not have been able to understand. Fortunately, they were probably just young enough to not have their birthday forever marred by our grief.

This year, I did not write a post on my family’s funereal February 10th, the anniversary of my mom’s death. I find solace writing about her any day of the year, but certainly prefer this day over Feb. 10th. On this day and during this month,  I accept the two necessary parts of life—death and birth, bitter and sweet. And, I am thankful for my sweet sister and the joy she and my brother-in-law brought to my mom’s and my life. Happy, Happy Birthday Aaron and Jordan!

It’s all Greek to Me….

21 Jan

I continue to be amazed by how many new situations I encounter which make me think of my mother, passionately miss her and be even more impressed by her. Some things seem so simple to me, like deciding to join a sorority in college. Well, at least I thought my daughter’s interest in joining a sorority was normal and expected, after all, I joined Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) my freshman year at Rutgers University.

Sharing the news that Sandra planned to “rush” at University of Miami drew a myriad of opinions accompanied by comments including, “Oh really. Why would she do that?”, “I didn’t have any interest in my college’s sororities,” “My daughter never wanted to do that,” as well as “That’s great, she’ll love it.” I was surprised at receiving the negative reactions. The intention was not to be condescending, of course. Perhaps these opinions were derived from a lack of familiarity with college Greek life or were based on what they have seen in movies and on television.

So, I thought about how my mom supported my decision to pledge a sorority despite her complete lack of experience with one. She did not attend a 4 year college and even if she had, I do not think she would have been a sorority girl. When I pledged, my sister was already a senior at Swarthmore College which had banned sororities.  I am pretty sure that my parents’ only concern with the whole Greek thing was cost and interference with my school work. After I assured them that neither would be an issue, they seemed infected with my excitement. I know that my mom was thrilled to bring me her old black silk taffeta dress to wear to my first sorority formal. She might not have been the sorority type, but was proud to have the appropriate wardrobe!

Raising children has helped me to be non-judgmental and tolerant of others. We make decisions for ourselves and our children that might conflict with what we thought we would do and/or what “everyone else is doing.” I emulate my parents’ compulsion to raise my sister and me as individuals.  While I am sure not all of their rules, decisions, etc. were right, they were at least based on their own beliefs and standards. And, I know they would be proud that they taught us to make thoughtful and independent decisions.

Of course, since I did truly enjoy my sorority days, I am all in favor of Sandra pledging. Interestingly, I am not disappointed that she did not pledge ZTA (on the other hand, that would have been really neat—she’d be a legacy). Sandra is the ideal sorority girl—she treasures her friendships and desires that sisterhood camaraderie. She is so full of energy and enthusiasm—she loved all of the quirky camp traditions and will be the first to memorize her Delta Gamma songs, handshakes, etc. Sorority gatherings will fuel her need for socializing 24/7.  And, she even considered the various sorority philanthropies in making her sorority choice since charitable work is important to her.  I am really proud of her and I know that my mom would be too—she would swoon over her granddaughter and all of her adventures, including this latest one.

She Told Me So

26 Dec

I had a great, serendipitous moment last weekend when I was perusing Parade Magazine and stumbled upon one of my mom’s pet peeves.  I happened to see Marilyn Vos Savant’s column (http://bit.ly/RgC8WI) and the question, “My friend and I disagree about whether it’s okay to use fabric shears to cut wrapping paper…Can you settle this for us?”  I recalled (fondly now since my annoyance over these admonishments has diminished over time) the reprimand my mom would give if she thought we were using the “kitchen scissors” for fabric or the “fabric scissors” for paper, etc. Ms. Vos Savant explains the actual scientific reason for making sure that the fabric scissors’ blade does not get dulled by cutting paper.   I actually never doubted my mom’s scissor-use guideline and have always tried to use scissors for their published purpose.  In fact, if you have read many of my blog posts, you would know that I often feel my mom’s presence in my life  because I follow many of her lessons.

This little tip sparked a reminiscence of more good tips from my mom:

First, one that my family notices and questions – using your wrist not your hand to check someone’s forehead for fever. Every time my husband uses his hand to check for warmth, I actually recoil, thinking about my mom’s method. And, I just googled this to find that Yahoo Answers! agrees with her (http://yhoo.it/WHFsJC ) — not that I doubted her, I just wanted a second opinion.

Second and more controversial:  Drinking warm liquids to stay cool in the summer. I can recall the exact street corner in Red Bank, NJ where we had this conversation. My mom was treating us to drinks on a hot summer day and asked for hot, not iced coffee. Her reasoning might have been off, but her method works. She emphatically explained that your warm body has to work harder when it reacts to an icy liquid and the “hard work” makes you hotter. I’ve always wondered about this and just googled it too. I found an interesting and almost opposite explanation, but it still gives the same end result:  feeling cooler on a hot day.  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/07/11/156378713/cool-down-with-a-hot-drink-its-not-as-crazy-as-you-think .

Third, tons of cooking education.  Recently, after giving my good friend advice on cooking chicken soup, she  was impressed and asked how I knew the “insider tips.” When I told her, “Oh, easy- my mom taught me…” she complimented my mom for both her practical knowledge and ability to impart it to me!

Little things like finding that column, especially when I usually recycle Parade Magazine without even opening it, give me a warm reminder that my mom is still an influence in my life. I have admitted before in my blogs that while I do genuinely miss my mother for all of the usual melancholy and sentimental reasons, I also selfishly miss her help. Thanks to her, I do know how to boil water faster, dust top to bottom, check for expiration dates and much more (http://iwishmymom.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/expired/).

I am so sure my mom would have continued to share even more expert and useful tips. And, given the opportunity, Marilyn Vos Savant would endorse them!

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