Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on mortality

My grandmother passed away on Monday.

She was 96 years old. She lived on three continents. She raised two children and had six great grandchildren. She survived World War II. She worked as a neonatologist when the survival rates for preemies were dismal. She raised us when my parents had to work. She was always in the kitchen, cooking, or fretting about food. She had recipes which said to "add enough flour for the dough to take it in," and "knead until the texture feels right". She cooked by feel, and she fed from her heart. She spoke up her mind, and it was not PC. She had wonderful stories of studying for exams at a cemetery across the street because her dorm room was too noisy. She was super emotional, drawing people into her emotionality and getting them to feel what she was experiencing.

In her last years, when dementia kicked in, and then slowly her body deteriorated further and further, it was clear where things were going. I was honest with my kids about her condition, but since we do not live near, they did not see her recently. When I told them that she passed away, I had all three older ones run off crying in different rooms. I was unprepared for such an emotional reaction. One child told me that he wished I did not say anything about her passing, ever. Another said that he wishes someone else would die in her place. A third was just crying because everyone else was crying. 2 yo came to sit with us, unsure of what just happened. One boy wanted to go to the funeral. I had to inform him that we will not be going, as I cannot fly with a 3 week old baby. My daughter suggested driving, and I had to tell her that I'm not driving with a 3 week old baby, either.

When we hear about a late term miscarriage, we are sad. When we hear of a child dying young, we are sad. We are sad for the potential that never happened, for the parental hopes and dreams that are crushed.

When we hear of a young adult, we are sad. That person was just starting to live, spreading the wings. They had the whole life in front of them, and are no more.

When we hear of a someone dying in the prime of their life, we are sad. When we hear of someone dying in their middle age, we are sad. There is family to consider, spouses and children, elderly parents.

But even when we hear of someone dying in the deep old age, we are still sad. There are no friends attending the funeral, there are no age mates to reminisce about the deceased. There is comfortable existence of someone who was always there, but now that lull is gone.

We are greedy. We all want to live forever, to save the contemplation of death for another day. We all want all those we know, all those close to us, to be switched for someone else. When death does come, we all want to "do something", so that we can focus on the rituals and avoid thinking about mortality. So we arrange meals, drop off food, help with household tasks.

We are, and then we are no more.

I have been a nervous wreck right before my grandmother passed away. Maybe it was a spiritual connection getting severed, maybe it was the stress of hearing how things are deteriorating and being unable to do anything. Maybe it is being hormonal after the birth of my daughter. The newborn is named after my grandfather. Maybe it is feeling that by naming my daughter after my grandmother's husband I unleashed the memory train. He will not be forgotten; he will live on, so she can go.

With five kids, I have a new worry. It might sound delusional, but in not such distant past, not every child made it to adulthood. Many did not live to have offspring. When you have one or two children, you have the luxury of assuming that this is it; the odds have been beaten, the statistics are in your favor. We in the west believe in 100% baby, 100% of the time. With five kids, the statistical odds of everything being just dandy change. It is plain impossible that nobody will end up in an accident, or be perfect, or just simply be OK. Somebody will have a problem, Somebody will get hurt.

These are not pleasant thoughts. These are not the thoughts that I want to focus on. Yet now, helplessly sitting miles away from a funeral that has to happen because everyone's time to die comes sooner or later, I am flooded with this feeling of time marching on, and life unfolding.

May we know no suffering.

May we experience only simchas (joyous events).

May my grandmother's neshama have an aliyah.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Today is Mother's Day.

Today my husband is on two calls: one during the day and another overnight.

No, we did not celebrate with breakfast in bed. Yes, he got the baby changed and dressed so I could finish my breakfast at the kitchen table.

No, I did not get a bouquet of flowers. Yes, I got a bunch of weeds hand-picked by my daughter.

No, I did not get picture-perfect brunch. Yes, I got cupcakes made from scratch by 9 yo. I also complained on Friday how I'm falling on my face and chocolate would be a nice pick-me-up. My hubby pulled out a box of Godiva truffles. He anticipated what I would have liked, but he decided not to wait till Sunday to hand them over.

On Shabbos, he was also on call, and there was no childcare in our shul. My husband took three older kids to shul with him. 2 yo was in pieces about being left behind. I kept telling him how we will go to shul later, once the baby wakes up. We walked, while I pushed the stroller with the carseat. 2 yo stopped to examine every rock, every flower, every leaf, every bird. The walk that normally takes twenty minutes took us an hour. I was starting to get impatient, but I bit my tongue. This is his exploration opportunity. How often do we take walks at the pace of a 2 year old? How often do we literally smell every single rose bush? How often do we pause to acknowledge the ants? I was patient with him, especially since he walked and did not complain that his stroller is occupied by the baby.

(I was not so patient once we rounded the corner to the shul only to be greeted by my exiting family. We missed everything, and now we had to turn around and head back home. I left 2 yo in care of my husband and rushed back, trying to get home before the baby would wake up).

I was patient today when 9 yo was searching for an activity to do with me, special for Mother's day. He wanted to do a hike; just the two of us. I demurred, since I'm tied to the baby and my husband can be called up anytime. He settled on cupcake making. I sighed internally: I know how these baking things go; they are all nice and dandy until there is a spill and then the baby wakes up, and you are either rushing, or putting everything on hold. But I decided to be calm and patient about it. 9 yo really did everything himself (with some assistance from his sister). He got out the ingredients and the mixer, halved the recipe, measured and mixed. He ran out of patience when it was time to fill up small muffin cups. I was rewarded with cupcakes.

What motherhood taught me is patience. The baby will fall asleep eventually, the children will sleep through the night eventually, they will walk and talk eventually, they will say "please" and "thank you" eventually, and they will learn to read and write eventually. It just takes time. I used to worry and freak out a whole lot more about a whole lot of things. Having all these tiny human beings around allowed me to focus on what is important.

To all moms out there, no matter how young or how old: I wish you the gift of patience.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

May I, if you please?

"I'll take a quick nap, honey. It will only be 20 minutes."

Guess which gender uttered this statement?

If you guessed female, you are right. What guy ever apologizes for taking a nap? Which guy even asks to take a nap? Guys just go and lie down, and then you find them, sleeping.

Our sweet baby girl made her appearance on Tuesday morning. She is healthy. As with my previous labors, I ended up laboring through the night, after being up and taking care of the kids all day. Luckily, I got a short nap in the afternoon, and a bit of sleep in the hospital bed while being monitored. But overall, I was running on a sleep deficit. This baby slept pretty much the entire first day, and I slept, too. I even joked with my husband how being in a hospital feels like a vacation: all I do is sleep, eat, read, relax. So quiet, and so different from the hectic life at home.

But then those newborn nights started. She was up and up and up. And I was nursing and rocking and walking and bouncing. Changing diapers. Patting the back. Nursing in bed, ignoring the spit-up stains taking over. More yelling, more responding, more taking care of a tiny human.

I have been taking it very easy. My wonderful friends took care of dinners for my family for the next two weeks. I have not been cooking, or cleaning. I firmly adhere to the rule of not driving anywhere for the first week postpartum, not because it is contraindicated, but because it increases the amount of running around and stress. I have been focusing on just nursing and taking care of the baby, spending the rest of the time with 2 yo and 5 yo.

Newborns are exhausting. Not sleeping during the night is also exhausting. So why am I apologizing for taking a much needed afternoon nap? Why am I begging to watch the baby so I can sleep? Why are we, as women, conditioned to justify our actions?

My husband had no problem at all with my nap. He did not issue the permission grudgingly, or indicated in any way that I need to explain myself. So why the apologetic tone?