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Going for Gold

29 Jul

“If it wasn’t for my mom, I don’t know where I’d be….” is a sentiment I must borrow from Ryan Lochte, the swimming champion currently competing in the Olympics. I stumbled upon the Proctor & Gamble videos, Raising an Olympian  and soon found myself mesmerized by the interviews with current Olympic athletes and their moms.  I write this blog because I am thankful that my mom created a “safe place” for me, just as the triathlete Paula Findlay’s  mom did for her.  Beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh-Jennings’ praise of her mom filled me with nostalgic feelings of my own mom and inspiration to “want to be a lioness for my kids.”

My mom certainly never intended to raise an Olympian and neither did these moms! They did what most of us moms want to do: they helped their children make the most of their talents and skills. Well, then, of course, one thing led to another and there they are in London!  Actually, I made it to London too (for college study abroad in 1985) and I do have my mom and her sister (one of my dearest “other mothers”) as well as my dad and uncle to thank for that.

The fifteen minutes I spent watching these videos provided some of the best parental advice. I only hope to be affected by the moms’ recollection of their goals and parenting styles. Kerri Walsh-Jennings’ mom takes more pride in the “wonderful human being” her daughter is than in her athletic accomplishments. She helped her daughter dream big and play to win, but also helped give her stability and balance. The British runner, Jessica Ennis is lucky to have a mom who saw her desire to compete and helped nurture that desire. It sounds like Paula Findlay’s mom’s glass was half full. She put a positive spin on the tough times while giving her daughter “freedom to flourish.” Ryan Lochte’s message hit me the hardest. While his mom helped him persevere, he also felt that “If she had a tighter leash…I might have hated it (swimming).” I am already hearing him as I want to tell my son or daughter what to do next….

Not all moms can or should raise an Olympian. And, certainly many Olympians and world-class athletes come from broken and dysfunctional homes. I have written about the risks my mother encouraged me to take, the lessons I learned from her, and the many interests and skills I have because of her. I credit both of my parents with allowing me independence and fostering self-esteem and my desire to achieve my goals. They were proud of my accomplishments as long as I strove for the gold medal in whatever I chose to pursue.

I hope you will watch some of these videos that inspire gold medal mothering and I would love for you to comment on your favorites.

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Grandma and the Mall

22 Jul

I wish my mom knew how much her wisdom still inspires me. While I did not have the chance to admit to her that she was right about the tan (and obviously still need to be reminded), I think that she must have seen my powder cover-up as a sign of guilt and acknowledgement.

Of all the things I wish my mom was here for, being a grandma to my children tops the list. She would have kvelled constantly. I often think of how much pleasure she would have had from being their grandma. Fortunately, I did get to witness the wonderful relationship she had with my nephews from birth to age 5, when she died. She was thrilled with everything about them.

I must have had this on my mind when I was walking through Livingston Mall the other day. I spotted a few young girls walking with women who appeared to be grandmothers and immediately thought of my mom. As much as I wish my mom was here to do that, I’m not sure she would have. She did like to shop, but usually in an antique store and/or with a mission or purpose. She was never a mall walker or window shopper. Unlike her, I am. I love to wander through the mall especially during the summer when I have more free time. Later in the week, I observed more girls and grandmas strolling in the Mall at Short Hills. I imagined they had finished lunch and were carrying bags of clothing they chose together. Some held hands—forcing me to smile at their special moment.

As I watched them walk by I thought about my trips to the East Brunswick Mall with my Grandma Lena, my dad’s mother. She made a big deal date with me at least once every few months. Sometimes one of my parents would drive us to the mall, but often we took the bus which stopped right near her apartment. I was always eager to go with Grandma Lena, partly for the window shopping, but mostly for the shirt she would buy for me. I also loved making her happy with this somewhat selfish, activity. And, she loved getting dressed up for our outing. She would tell me, in advance, what she planned to buy me- usually a simple shirt or sweater and never expensive. Of course, it was not about the gift,

So, I wonder, what activities would (or does) your mom enjoy with her grandchildren? Does she take them to the mall? Museums? Parks? Did you engage in similar activities with your grandmother? Just as I did during my mall trip, I’ll live vicariously for a few moments.

Summer Tan

16 Jul

Confession #1: Attempt to conceal a suntan

 

My father’s work centered on exporting Ban De Soleil which did not provide enough sunscreen and helped me tan….

I wish my mom I hope my mom did not know about all of the times that I hid my tan. Honestly, I think she must have been able to see through the J & J Baby Powder I often applied on the way home from a too sunny day at the beach. Her adamant anti-tan stance was certainly strong and right. Although, as a teenager—or even young adult, I never acquiesced and always argued against her anti-tan campaign. This is definitely on the top ten list of “Things I Swore I Would NOT Do When I Became a Mom, But Now Do with Conviction.” Except, I recently got caught falling into that old, bad tanning habit.

Confession #2: Being tan again

I was inspired to write this particular post last week when a kind, unassuming woman who seemed to be about the same age my mom would be (80 ish) commented on my tan. I was waiting for my son when she walked into the doctor’s waiting room, smiled at me and said, “Oh, what a pretty tan you have.” How could she know that her comment would incite guilt. I  had not even realized that I have a noticeable tan. I looked at my arms and saw my soccer mom’s tan. It makes sense that the sun’s rays have pierced through my sunscreen given the many hours I’ve spent on the sideline.

I felt my mom’s reprimand from years ago and replied, “Oh thank you, but I think I’d better be more careful when I watch my son play soccer.” Not intending to play devil’s advocate, she interrupted my confession and continued to compliment my “lovely color.” Then, she re-directed our discussion to questions about my son and his summer soccer. Soon I was entranced and enjoying the attention and her interest in me and my son.

Confession #3  This post is not just about the allure and danger of being tan

One of the reasons I started this blog is my husband’s observation 16 years ago. He noticed that after returning from playing with my daughter in Taylor Park, I would often have a story about older, grandmother-type women I met. I would gush, “Oh she told me about her children….she takes her little grandchildren to the park…she can’t wait to see her daughter’s new baby…..” Sometimes they gave unsolicited advice that I imbibed—I hope you don’t give her too much candy…make sure you set rules…enjoy each moment….Of course they oohed and aahed as they exclaimed how adorable my daughter was, how smart she seemed, what a good jungle gym climber she was…. Scott put this all together with a spot-on summation: through these women, I was able to experience the mom/grandmother relationship I so desired. These “other mothers” , provided a glimpse into the life I imagined I’d have with my mom. My experience last week gave me a few moments with an “other mother.”

I wish my mom knew how much her wisdom would inspire me. While I did not have the chance to admit to her that she was right about the tan (and obviously still need to be reminded), I think that she must have seen my powder cover-up as a sign of guilt and acknowledgement.

There’s No Place Like ________

8 Jul

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. No place…..”* I am sure that many young campers empathized with Dorothy in the past the few weeks. I hope, by now, sleep away camps are filled with young children who have turned that phrase around and feel that there’s no place like camp.

Last summer I wrote about “Those Summer Days” (https://iwishmymom.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/those-summer-days/) of my youth when I was sometimes thrilled to be at our swim club and sometimes overwhelmed with boredom, but never, ever envious of children at sleep away camp. In fact, the one summer I did attend sleep away camp, I suffered with extreme homesickness for the entire two week session. I can still feel the angst and sadness I endured when my parents said goodbye and drove off to Niagara Falls. “How could they leave me and go so far away,” I wondered over the ensuing 14 days of misery. I must have been almost delirious because I cried and screamed, “I need the nurse…let me see the nurse” as the Camp Sacajawea nurse attempted to comfort me. Eventually I settled into the camp routine, accepted my predicament and even decided to enjoy camp. The postcard my parents sent from their trip made me sad, but also gave me hope that they would return.

As I hear stories of homesick campers, I wonder if my mom had a difficult time leaving me or if she drove off with that all-knowing parent confidence that I would endure and even triumph over my fears. And, I wonder why I was so homesick. Was I just too young to go to sleep away camp? Would I have thrived there if my parents had waited to send me? I do not think I was overly attached to my mom and I had watched my best friend leave for sleep away camp without any hesitation. I should have been able to adjust. My mom had the right intentions—why wouldn’t I enjoy the same camp that my sister (2 ½ years older) liked the year before?

Even after my own children became day campers, I questioned the necessity of this all-day and sleep-away camp experience.  I never even liked day camp (I was one of those children who couldn’t learn the camp bus songs. Fee Fi FoEeeny meeny desoleeny was too confusing for me), but I knew that my daughter needed to have summer days full of scheduled activities. After first refusing to even tour Willow Lake Day Camp, she agreed to meet with the director. A few minutes later, my seven year old baby girl wanted to sign up and started counting the days until camp started. And, nine summers later, she is now a counselor helping first and second grade girls cope and even thrive while sleeping at Camp Poyntelle for 7 weeks. She is distracting them, helping them miss and write to their parents without too many tears. I am so proud of her and think back to how her first grade leap to Willow Lake paved the camp road for her.

Contrary to my daughter’s desires, my son has chosen to stay home and play sports each summer. He happily attended a week long  sleep away camp for a few summers, but chooses playing a sport over leaving home. How fortunate that two siblings who each wanted very different summer situations have been able to have what they desired. How nice that after my 2 weeks of misery, my mom knew to wait until sending me away again.

Why do so many of us choose to send our children to summer camp without first understanding what they really want or need? Is it because that was what our moms did for us? Do we base our childrens’ summer plans on what is best for them or for us? How do we know whether we should push our children through a spell of homesickness? How can we help our children fill in their own blank, “There’s no place like ____________.”

*Baum, L. F. The Wonderful Wizard of Ozz. New York, NY: HarperTrophy, 2001.

Who is Rich?

21 May

I am, according to Psalm 128:2 in The Old Testament. What matters, my Grandma Ray taught me when I was very young, is that you are rich if you are satisfied with what you have. My mom’s mom, Rachel Shapiro Tabak, was a very special woman who lived to be 93 years old.  I was reminded of this particular phrase/lesson this past Friday night as my Temple’s Cantor spoke during his retirement service/celebration. After 45 years as an exceptionally inspirational clergyman at Temple Shaarey-Tefilo Israel, Cantor Theodore Aronson gave those at services yet another  lifelong lesson.

Grandma Ray’s philosophy and attitude had a great impact on me. She was an inspirational “other mother.” I am sure I did not appreciate my own mother telling me to be satisfied with what I had. She is the one I bugged to buy me another pair of designer jeans, another sweater…. How often are young or teenage girls satisfied with the “things” they have? But, when my Grandma quoted the Bible, I listened. She made sense. “Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) ‘You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.’” (from http://www.shechem.org/torah/avot.html) My Grandma made me feel good—like I was in charge. I could be whatever I wanted to be.  If you enjoy the life you created, if you do your best to create a wonderful life, you can feel good. She never went into that much detail, all she had to do was quote the Psalm and I understood. My Grandma had a very hard life. She fled Eastern Europe in the 1920s, following her husband to America. After a difficult, almost impossible journey via Cuba, she settled in with her husband who was already in New York. She continued to have personal and financial struggles. I am not really sure how she was able to endure the hardships she had. On paper, she was never even close to being rich. But, what was in her mind and heart made her a billionaire.

This saying puts the onus on us to create a life we love, no matter what we have. How many “rich with money” people do you know who are not really rich? I could feel “poor” because I don’t have my parents. I am deprived of their support. I could feel entitled to pity. But, I don’t feel poor. I feel fortunate for the parents I had. There are many worse alternatives. I know that.

“Other Mothers” (Post from Sept. 1, 2011- http://wp.me/p1lBgS-4f) are all around us, they can be our grandmothers and clergy. I really must credit my Grandma Ray for empowering me to accept reality, the lot I am given, and do the most that I can with it. I appreciate Cantor Aronson. He is grateful for the richness he feels. And so was my Grandma. And, thanks to people like them, so am I.

If She Could Teach Me Now

6 May

Singer Sewing Machine

I readily admit that sometimes my longing for my mother is triggerd by my own needs—wishing she could do something for me. Rather than feel guilty about this selfish desire, I rationalize that the nature of  the child/parent relationship is about what we do for each other. Right now, in my teenagers’ lives, I do so much for them. I do not expect a “pay back,” but I hope to experience some reciprocity. More importantly, it is a goal, however idealistic, that as parents who do many things for our children, we ultimately teach them to do these things for themselves.

Why is it, then, that I did not learn how to sew?

That is the need I had/have that got me thinking about how much my mother did for me and how much I did not want to learn some of the skills needed to fend for myself. My mom was a master seamstress. She made curtains, slip covers, clothing and even doll outfits (see Barbie’s Runway post).  She altered clothes to make them shorter, longer, etc. I do not wish to create clothing, all I want to do is sew a simple hem. My mother saved us all time and money. I can remember her sitting at our dining room table with her old Singer Sewing machine fixing something for my sister, father, or me. She wanted to teach me the basics and often asked me to sit with her and learn. But, in keeping with typical teenage culture, the more she asked the more I resisted. I recall responding with the all-knowing, “I’ll never have to do that myself.” I remember thinking how boring and tedious sewing looked. And, now I wish for the ability to do more than sew a button onto a shirt. How smart it would have been to learn to sew a simple hem. Almost every pair of pants I buy needs to be shortened.  When making a decision to buy pants, I add the $10 – $12 tailoring charge and figure in the time it will take to be fitted and to pick up the pants. Sometimes those qualifications make the pants not even worth buying! I fantasize, “If I only knew how to sew….I could wear these pants tomorrow… and they’d be a real bargain!”

There is even more I could have/should have learned from my mother, including basic handyman skills and shopping for antiques. She could hang any frame on a wall, drill holes and hang shelves as well as find valuable antiques and sell them in her shop. And, this is just a partial list of skills she had and wished to share, but that I refused to learn.

What I wonder is what special or even ordinary skills you learned from your mom. Which of her talents did you take for granted or refuse to adopt? If you could be her apprentice now, what do you wish she would teach you?

Michael Bloomberg Doesn’t Go Home Much Anymore, Do You?

25 Mar

As I read a recent New York Times article, Mayor’s Ties to Hometown Fade, But for a Few, They are Still Felt, I wondered why this observation is newsworthy. After all, I thought, I have visited my hometown only a few times after my mom’s death. Why is it so unusual to stop visiting your hometown after it is void of your immediate family?

Unlike some people who are disappointed that Bloomberg does not visit his hometown, Medford, Massachusetts anymore and unlike others who (in comments entered after the article was published) do not care if Bloomberg visits any town, I thought his devotion to his mom and donations to the town are admirable. In a 2009 biography, Bloomberg admitted to not liking his hometown. He found it boring and uninspiring. Yet, he did visit his mother who remained in town, living in the same house he grew up in until her death last year. When approached to donate to the Medford Arts Council, Bloomberg gave $25,000. He has given even more to the public schools, a local orchestra, a hospital and a sports complex. He has even donated over one million dollars to the town’s synagogue. He did not stop there. He started a fund for the town’s public library. Due to his suggestions, Medford residents and New York City corporations have given generously to the library, certainly a project that wins my approval.

So, after reading about Bloomberg’s continued dedication, albeit financial, to his hometown, I was impressed. He has very strong, perhaps eternal, ties to Medford.

Unlike Bloomberg, I have very fond memories of  my hometown. Like Bloomberg, after my mom left Old Bridge, my ties to Old Bridge quickly faded. In fact, I have gone back only a few times, most recently when I found out about a neighborhood reunion at our pool club. Unlike Bloomberg, people who still live in Old Bridge did not pine for my connection and I certainly would not have expected them to.  It was great to see both the people who still live in Lakeridge West and those who returned for the reunion. Since I still live in New Jersey and, even more relevant, since I work in a school district only 20 minutes from Old Bridge, I do find out about what’s going on there. I have driven through the town a few times and I always love to look around and see what has changed. I might not have reason to return to Old Bridge again and that’s really okay.

All of this makes me wonder, what ties, if any, do you have to your hometown? Do you keep up with news about the town? If you no longer have family in your hometown, do you still visit?

Citation:

Grynbaum, Michael. “Mayor’s Ties to Hometown Fade, But for a Few, They Are Still Felt.” New York Times. 03 19 12, A14. Print.


							

Honoring My Aunt Joan

18 Mar

I was reluctant to write a post about the very recent death of my Aunt Joan, my father’s sister. She requested and had a very small funeral on March 13, one day after her death—there were just 10 of us. I’m sure she did not want to draw attention to her demise from emphysema.  My sister and my aunt and cousins (from the “other side” of the family) shared sentiments and sadness via phone calls and e-mails as we grieved. As I thought about her and our relationship, I recalled mentioning her in a few posts and even giving her a spotlight when I wrote about my Other Mothers . I soon felt compelled to share my thoughts about her and honor her with a post.

After a complicated kinship with my aunt: living in the same neighborhood for most of my childhood, sharing holiday celebrations, family feuds that lasted years, we settled into a comfortable and reciprocal relationship. After my father died, I could not wait to sit with her and make sure I knew details of his childhood and early adult years. At age 23, I was eager to have adult conversations with my dad, to get to know him on a different level, but it was too late. Aunt Joan was the perfect substitute. And, she enjoyed reminiscing.

We continued weekly phone conversations until just a few weeks ago. While I was growing up, she had the unfortunate distinction of being obstinate. She did things her way, the right way. As her disease progressed, she seemed to become more mellow and positive. And, she gave advice with compassion and without judgment. If I told her I was frustrated with my son’s random and unruly behavior, she told me how my cousin acted as a child and what she did. She provided that “motherly wisdom.” When she told me about some strange health issues, I asked her if the doctors conferred with each other on her medication. She later credited me with saving her life because the doctors had mistakenly prescribed medications that should not be taken together. I provided that “daughterly care.”

While she was distraught over my mom’s illness and death, she did not heed my mom’s request that she quit smoking. That remained a sore point during my mom’s last few years. Her diagnosis of emphysema 8 years ago gave her no choice but to quit smoking and shocked her into the reality of what she had done to herself. I am glad she did not choose to be angry at herself and instead just accepted the fate she brought on.

A few weeks after starting my blog, I told her about it. Honestly, I was nervous she would be offended that I chose to write about my mom and not her brother. Since she never became comfortable with technology, I printed and mailed her the posts I had written. Her response overwhelmed me—she loved what I was doing. She immediately understood the need I had to explore my bond with my mom. Her mom, my Grandma Lena, lived to be 93 years old and she still thought about and missed her every day.

So, another void opened with this passing of one of my “other mothers.” I almost did not write about her and now I can’t stop. This is just my point, we sometimes wait too long to think about people who have been a part of lives forever and the impact they have had on us. Yet, it is never too late to appreciate them—and even write about them.

Another Celebrity Inspiration: Clive Davis’s tribute to his mom as he eulogizes Whitney Houston

20 Feb

I must first admit that I was glued to the television yesterday to watch Whitney Houston’s funeral. For the past 8 days, many people, famous and not, have praised her voice and her songs.  Ever since she entered the music world, when she and I were both 16, I have been entranced. I was more obsessed with following her funeral than with many other celebrities who have died. Perhaps it’s because we share our age and New Jersey that I am particularly intrigued by her. I thought it was really neat that we were pregnant around the same time and years later her daughter attended the same day camp as many children from my area. I love the story one friend told about Whitney following the camp bus to make sure her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, was okay.

While watching and listening to the songs and speeches during the funeral, I thought of Whitney’s daughter and mother. And, then, Clive Davis gave a speech filled with deep understanding. I was struck when this older, very famous, successful and powerful man spoke about his mom dying at the age of 47, when he was a teenager. He said, “I’ve felt my mother’s guidance and she’s helped me throughout my life.” He told the audience and emphasized to Whitney’s daughter that his mom is always with him even to “this very day.” In sharing his personal history, he comforted Bobbi Kristina in a warm and endearing way. This motherless son expressed exactly how I feel as a motherless daughter.

It is a tribute to incredible parents that they can continue to guide us after they have died. Instead of letting anger or defeat get in the way, Clive Davis, a destitute orphan, found his mother’s voice inside of him. Without parental support, he attended NYU and Harvard Law School on full scholarships. He spoke about being a father figure to Whitney and, after reading about him, it seems like he has taken that role with many artists.

During this eulogy, he spoke directly to Whitney’s daughter advising her to always be proud of her mother.. He told her to remember that “She’ll forever be looking after you and will never let go of your hand.”

I love that thought—that even after your mom has died, she will hold your hand. That, in essence, is what I feel and why I write this blog. I am grateful to have had an incredible mother who, I feel every day, is looking after me. I hope that you feel the same or can create that feeling with someone in your life.

 

Citations:

“Clive Davis Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story – Biography.com.” Famous Biographies & TV Shows – Biography.com. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. http://www.biography.com/people/clive-davis-20740991.

“Whitney’s “raising the Roof” in Heaven, Clive Davis Says – Celebrity Circuit – CBS News.”Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. 18 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com.

 

How Kim Kardashian Inspired this Post

10 Feb

Strange—coming from someone who does not watch reality TV and knows very little about the Kardashians. Yet, somehow I stumbled upon a story about Kim reaching out to John Edward, the psychic, to communicate with her dead father, Robert Kardashian. Triggered by the story, my son asked me, “If you could ask your mom one question, what would it be?” I found Kim’s quest and my son’s query apropos since today is my mom’s Yahrzeit (18th anniversary of her death) and the one year anniversary of my blog.

Like Kim, or maybe to avoid a difficult decision, I replied to my son that what I’d really like is to have a conversation. One question would not be enough. But, what if that’s all I had, what would I ask? I truly feel stifled by this limitation. I have so many questions. Lately, I wonder what my mom’s childhood was like. I remember some stories she told about walking home from school and living near The Bronx Zoo. There are the mundane things I want to know: What did you wear to school? What was your favorite subject? Who was your favorite teacher? As I brainstorm, I wonder, do we really think to ask these questions while our moms are able to answer? And, I have serious questions about my childhood and her mothering: How did you endure my tantrums? What did you worry about the most while I was a teenager? And, then there are the questions about parenting, how did you decide when to give me an open curfew?  Did you know what went on at parties (not sure how I’d respond….)?  And, there are the philosophical questions—what do you most regret?

The real question I’d love to ask my mother is to have a lunch date with me. We did not indulge in enough leisurely lunches. Simple lunches. More than dinner, eating lunch out, a ladies’ lunch, is a treat. I’d ask her to got to Coco on Main Street because they serve Hale and Hearty soup and I remember her stories about eating lunch at Hale and Hearty in Manhattan. At lunch we could talk about the mundane and the heavy. We’d have the conversation I so desire.

I’d want to tell her that as time goes on and as I raise my children, I become even more certain that she and my dad were amazing parents.  I would ask questions, but really just hope for reassurance and guidance. I started this blog to express how much I am still influenced by my mom. I enjoy exploring our relationship, remembering details and imagining what could have been. I am grateful for your interest. And, I would love to know what question you wish you could ask your mom. And, if she is part of your life, maybe you can still ask.