Passover minus the struggle

Passover came and went this year. We were in it for every moment of the holiday but we didn’t struggle. It simply passed through.

Passover is my favorite holiday and for some reason this year, I was thinking about all of the ways I love the holiday, how it makes me feel, what it makes me remember. I have been doing lots of reflecting lately, communing with old memories, thinking about the passage of time. Passover makes me feel small, thinking about the time spent at my grandmother’s dining room table, and it makes me feel cared for, watching my parents extend hospitality to our family, regularly setting a table for twenty or more and making extra room for last minute guests.

In present day, the week had a few high moments mixed with mostly mundane days. It was a week of juggling family and work. Our girls were on school vacation and I was managing a major work deadline and our backup childcare is a Jewish institution (who was also closed half the week). We were running from one place to the next, constantly pleading with the girls to let us get some work done, and squeezing in the Seders even when our plans were foiled.

It was a reminder that I’m in a phase of life where I have little control over what happens tomorrow. After a month of midnight vomiting, spiked fevers, and one strep diagnosis, I didn’t put much stock in making plans one day in advance. Making Seder plans weeks in advance? Hilarious! In the end, a last minute fever at our house and croup at my sister’s house completely derailed our joint celebration. It was strange and adult to call things off on account of sickness but as I told my sister, “Some years, you do what you need to do.”

Stranger than the adjustment of plans, I kept sitting with this idea that we have entered a phase of life where the people managing the ceremonies and rituals are the people raising the littlest children. For my sister and me, this is certainly the case. I don’t remember how and when this happened when I was growing up, but there was a time when we spent most holidays with my father’s parents and then a time when we hosted my mother’s family. I don’t think there was a definitive moment when my grandmother decided she capitulated the host role, but slowly over time, hosting became more difficult and eventually she moved to our hometown and was done with it.

I had this moment during Passover where all of the memories of the holiday wove themselves together and all of the hopes for the future flashed before my eyes. I held them both together in the same moment and it was a beautiful thing to consider–the idea that we celebrate this holiday as part of a long continuum of people who have performed rituals and kept traditions.

In keeping traditions this year, I was proud of my girls who were remarkably composed for the entire week. It was a week of teachable moments: describing the dietary restrictions and patiently explaining how different families have different rules about the holiday. Abstention is a difficult concept for children to understand. They almost never questioned rituals or complained, and they seemed to understand that in observing the holiday, we were carving a Passover and non-Passover time of the year.

And on Monday night, we decided to end our holiday. If it was over in Israel, we were ready, too. The girls picked the meal: fresh pasta and red sauce and a delicious loaf of bread to celebrate the end of a holiday week.

I think about the blessing my dear rabbi friend once invoked at the end of Passover–though we often say next year in Jerusalem, I am simply thinking ahead to next year, where my girls will be, where my family will be, and I can’t wait to assemble people and show them hospitality in celebration of freedom.

Posted in being jewish, blogging, everyday life, family, kids, lessons learned, vacation, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

She would have been 70….

Back in February I bought my daughters each a pink hyacinth plant. When my mother was alive, she did the same for me all through my twenties. She was obsessed with spring flowers because their arrival on the scene coincided with her birthday at the end of March. As crocuses poked out of the ground, she would treat herself to pink tulips and make sure we had a sign of spring blooming on our kitchen counters.

She died a few weeks before we closed on our first house. Every subsequent year, I became a little more obsessed with planting new bulbs, expanding the reach of the spring flowers in the beds that flanked the front steps. These bravest of little flowers mystify me every year with their ability, despite challenging odds, to return. They know what to do, they simply push, move up, towards the sun.

She has been gone for ten years.

She would have been 70, she would have been 70. Those words have been swirling all month, and as her birthday approached in late March, words organized themselves into a sentence. And in the quiet moments of the last few days, that sentence has run in a loop through my mind.

I cannot bend my mind around the way the time space continuum has tricked me into believing so much time and hardly any time has passed. When you lose someone suddenly and before their time, you have to marshal all of the memories you ever had and then imagine all of the memories you might have had, and hold those together in a coherent story because the physical relationship with that person is over.

I have had a decade to unpack how I feel about this loss. When I realize how much time has passed, my next instinct is to mourn her loss all over again. To drudge up the lost time and the foregone connections and the things I’ll never know because so much of my life hadn’t happened yet so I didn’t bother to ask about hers.

I have worked tirelessly to reframe my mother’s death in my mind. I refuse to wish she was here or to bemoan the things she’ll never see because that doesn’t change the fact that she’s gone. And honestly, it makes me sad. Of course, I wish she was here. But her presence would defy logic because she’s gone. That won’t change.

I draw no strength from feeling low. I have tried to focus on the things about my mom did for me to make me into me. And while we may have bickered or disagreed about some things, she did some incredible things to build me into the person I am today. I don’t know if she had a personal philosophy but she has helped me build mine.

“You and your sister are the most important things I have ever done in my life,” she told us ad nauseum as children. Until I became a mother, I had no idea what she meant. And years ago, I admitted that one deep regret I harbor around her death is not being able to tell her how much knowing that meant to me. I look at my own girls and think about how she looked at us, and sometimes I feel like it’s her eyes seeing them and not mine. And I am so relieved to know that she saw us the way I see them.

“When you enter a room, you make an impression,” she told me once. She could have been giving me generalized life advice–as moms are wont to do–but I always thought she meant that I was someone who could make others see me. When I was younger, I was self-conscious about my height. Knowing that people saw me, I wanted to hide worrying I stuck out in all the wrong ways. I’m older now, and I wear my height fine. Whenever I am about to enter a new space, I invoke her words, straighten my shoulders, and enter with purpose.

“Being a mom is lonely sometimes so be sure to make friends,” she told me once when I was younger. She loved being married but I know she loved the relationships she had with a small group of women. She met many of my friends over the years, and she adored them. I have followed her advice and added to my village since them. She would love the women I have found as a mother. They are sharp and smart and supportive and loving and I know those new friends would have loved her, too.

“You and your sister just have to work it out,” she told us over and over again when I am sure she fielded call after call mediating territory between the two of us. When we lost her, we lost our mediator and it took us some time, but she would be immeasurably proud of the team she raised. My sister and I had to have a long talk several years ago. I remember pacing the floor, tracing the floorboards with my bare toes, laying out hurt feelings and frustrations and worries. And we agreed that we’re taking our family forward because we’re a team. And to this day, we can bicker and even argue but we work it out because that’s what she told us to do.

“You are relentless,” she admitted many times, often sighing deeply at how exhausting I was being. I have only begun as a woman of almost forty to embrace my Type-A tendencies. I imagine as a little girl, a brooding adolescent, and a driven young adult, that I was an exhausting force. I know now how much I expect from myself and from the people around me and to be in that orbit is surely taxing to others. She never gave up on me, even when I was simply too much to take.

“Life is not fair,” was her most common refrain. It wasn’t fair when her life ended and there have been countless injustices, great and small suffered since. And yet, that’s it. There’s nothing left to argue.

She would have been 70. And all I want is for her to know I’m okay.

I’m better than okay.

To know that somewhere, someone loved you–even if you have love in your life. To know that someone valued you even before you could love them back. To know exactly how someone perceived you and that you had nothing unsaid between you.

I am indebted to her.

*****

We live in a different house now. It took me a year to find our spring flowers, and without them to mark the coming of spring, I felt a little lost. I could not find the right place to put bulbs in the ground and got lazy last year after I picked up spring flowers at a garden show. It seems I neglected a whole pot of bulbs.

Last weekend, my husband, in closing things down for winter, called out to me in the house, “Rachel, you have a whole bucket of bulbs here. They’re sprouting.” Though I had finally picked a spot in the yard for them to live, I never put them to bed at the end of last season.

Sprouting, growing, even without soil around them, without the cushion of something familiar or comfortable. It was remarkable.

They are relentless.

Posted in advice, blogging, everyday life, family, kids, lessons learned, love, marriage, motherhood, thinking, women | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The March 2017 Update

The whole world had a stomach bug for months all winter. But not the Weiner household. And I knew our day would come: I just didn’t know our day would be almost a whole month.

I’m being a little dramatic. March was a long time, though. We had snow days, snow delays, and so many sick days. More kiddos vomited more times in one month than we have seen in their entire lives.

But now it’s April. The first quarter of the year is OVER!

Here’s where things stand after three months:

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: CHECK. 16 total visits.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: Mostly CHECK. I prepped envelopes for the first two months of the year so I was less organized in March. I missed one week and had to double up the last two weeks after I ran out of singles. I did get to see the girls use their saved allowance money to buy something new and it was awesome. It’s taking a few weeks but the payoff on this allowance endeavor is happening.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: NOPE. It’s not that I’m not a kind person. I just can’t get my act together.
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: NOT EXACTLY. I did read two articles from a Sunday NYT Magazine. So that’s something.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: We went to the library for the How To Festival this month. Because of visits in January and February, we are swimming in library books.
  • 2 Yoga classes: No progress here. Motivation growing to get this off the ground in April.
  • Read 2 books: 1/2 accomplished! I am constantly reading and finished March by Geraldine Brooks this month. If only reading half of several books counted for one whole manuscripts. Sadly, no.
  • Write 2 blog posts: YES! Two posts–one essay squeaking in under the wire on the last day of the month. Read more:
  • Choose outside: NOPE. It was too snowy and yucky.
  • Savings: No movement on this yet.
  • 1 date night: YES! Husband and I went to a few events together, including the school auction and a wine tasting event. Not the same as a romantic dinner but better than nothing.

Other goals:

Need to get moving on some long-term goals like the guitar playing and the language learning.

April, April, April….

 

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Podcasting

I downloaded my first podcast in 2011. I was in the car with our youngest driving somewhere on maternity leave. Our youngest was a little baby–maybe less than two months old and while I had friends with babies to meet up with, I found times when I felt kind of alone.

My first podcast was The Joy the Baker podcast with Joy Wilson and Tracy Benjamin, food bloggers and best friends. I fell in love with them. Their conversations felt like chats I would have with my sister. They kept me company weekly while I did the dishes or took a walk with the baby.

I used to voice memo my daughters. I took photos and videos, too, but voice memos have proved to be my favorite medium for documentation. Something about the sound of their voices, the little baby sighs, giggles, the confused lyrics and jumbled words sung and spoken as toddlers. My mom recorded us a few times and I always loved hearing our teeny, tiny voices echo back to us. The girls and I still listen to voice memos and smile and laugh. And unlike photos or videos, where I’m not part of the action, in a recording, I felt like I was part of the memory. And my voice was not so terrible.

So when a friend asked if I wanted to take the book project we’d be dawdling about on and turn it into a podcast, I said yes. I did not pass go, did not collect two hundred dollars. I was in, full stop.

On the night we made a beta recording to test out equipment and get used to the format, when it was time to start recording, we looked at each other blankly.

“Who is going to do the opening stuff?” I asked.

“You can do it,” he replied.

I paused, took a breath, and started, “It’s a Tuesday in New England…”

The opening patter rolled right out of my mouth.

“Where did that come from?” he asked.

I shrugged, saying, “I guess I’ve just been waiting a long time for someone to ask me to podcast.”

That first recording was 18 months ago.

Truth be told, I’m a born talker. Ask my parents and they will tell you that my little sister didn’t start speaking until she was almost three because I took up all of the air time.

There is something about the podcast medium for me. Many podcast devotees will say that they love hearing a story–that was what drew people to Serial when it aired a few years ago. The packaged radio show is nothing new, but now access to technology has unleashed this flood of content. And for someone who loves to talk AND loves to listen, I’m hooked. I learn by listening and seem to retain more of what I’ve learned by listening.

Our podcast, Boy vs. Girl, has an archive of over 60 episodes. Wehave been podcasting weekly for over a year and we’re experimenting with new ways to tackle the same material. But the year and a half of learning about how to capture voices and stories, it’s not limited to Boy vs. Girl for me.

I created a sample podcast for a contest last year. I didn’t win, but I worked on my submission harder than I worked on any term paper in college (or graduate school). And I saw an opportunity to create something for a higher ed audience and have been working on that for a while, too. And I set a goal for myself in 2017 to capture voices from my family and start working on an oral history.

The medium is limitless.

In podcasting, I have found a definitive voice and viewpoint, something I have always struggled with in writing and in advocacy. I learned to be more forceful with the case I was making, with the evidence I provide, with the drama I use to convey my ideas. I have learned to be less measured and more passionate. Podcasting is a special medium–you can’t rely on body language or facial expressions to reach an audience. It’s just you, the microphone, and your voice.

Every week I fall in love with another new voice. This month, podcasts and their hosts are encouraging listeners to tell their friends and loved ones about podcasts in a social media campaign #trypod. I thought I’d document what’s in my earbuds and encourage others to do the same.

Old standbys:

New content:

For news and commentary:

I seriously subscribe to all of these shows. And I listen to all of them. Ask my husband. In my free moments, I have one going while I do the dishes, fold the laundry, drive in the car. I look to these hosts and personalities for news and perspectives and information and ideas. And I am constantly inspired, overtaken, arrested, and surprised by the content they create.

I wonder, sometimes, how the little podcasts like ours survive in this wide sea of content. And then I think about how voices and ideas bring us together. And more than blog essays that touch us, voices feel like they are our friends. They fill our spaces and keep us company. To think I could do that for someone else in the world is humbling and exciting.

And I know we’re doing that even if we’re nowhere as big as the big time podcasts like This American Life. Just this week, when our latest episode wouldn’t download, we heard from a listener in South Africa who said she was disappointed not to receive this week’s episode because Matt and I have become standbys in her life.

It’s all I could hope for.

 

Posted in blogging, everyday life, gender equality, lessons learned, media, podcasting, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Finding my resistance

We have all been asleep. I have been asleep. I admit it fully and without reservation. I have always considered myself liberal and even progressive. But I was completely naive to think I would never have to fight for something that mattered to me. The world has felt a mess for weeks and I am getting numb to the frustration and the helplessness I feel.

I have spent the initial days of the Trump presidency in complete paralysis. I have made calls and written notes and shared social media posts. I have stayed in tune with local social justice organizations and tried to make it to meetings. I went to a Women’s March event. But, I also made the mistake of letting the unrelenting flow of calls to action and the pace of narrative sharing intimidate me into thinking that somehow I am not doing enough. Everyone’s resistance is difference–there are so many things to care about, so many ways to show your support. I feel pulled into a million different directions. I have to keep reminding myself: There is no one right way to resist.

Many activists, especially those with a long history of involvement in social and racial justice movements, lament the post-election bump in advocacy work. More recent advocates express outrage that not everyone is doing something–truth be told people have been “doing something” for a long time. In any event, it can feel like you’re doing it wrong or you’re not doing enough or you don’t know how to get into protesting or resisting and so it feels futile.

Resistance for me means knowing as many things as I can. I am more in tune with current events and political analysis than I have ever been in my entire life. It feels masochistic but I feel uneasy if hours go by without checking the news. And I don’t want the filtered, mediated version of the press conference or the hearing: I have become obsessed with primary source material. I suffered through many confirmation hearings, senate floor debates, the unbearable Trump press conference, and committee discussions. I would prefer to hear the content and filter it myself or at least understand the full picture of what’s happening.

Learning, sifting and filtering information for myself–this is my primary act of resistance. I feel equipped to counter false narratives and alternative facts.

And this month, I have put my resistance strategy to good use. Our school district’s education budget is under fire and the superintendent of our school system has proposed serious reductions. And I did what I do: read, digest, listen, and think. And tonight, I took a step towards resistance–and not in a small way. At a huge public forum, I was inspired to hear people share their personal stories (as I always am in these settings) and I waited to address the Board of Education and Town Council. And instead of saying the easy things, I asked them to reconsider our existing neighborhood attendance lines. It’s an unpopular stance but it is a conversation we will face as a district in the next five years.

In response to the state of our country and the maddening pace of political life, it would be easy to withdraw altogether. And focusing on your own community or family is important, but it cannot take the place of situating what happens locally in the national and international context. Retreating to your own enclave might be necessary–retreat can be a form of self-care. But for those with knowledge who could be helping the resistance, retreat is not an option.

I fought the inertia. I am finally in motion. Politics are politics are politics and I remain optimistic that one antidote to injustice is knowledge.

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The 2017 Plan: February update

I love the start of the month because it feels like days and days are stretched out in front of you, and everything that could go according to plan just might.

And then whoosh, it’s over. I’ve barely started to date things 2017 instead of 2016 and already it’s March.

So here’s where things stand after two months:

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: CHECK. This past month I actually noticed some small moments of growth in the gym. Moving up in weights, more stamina. It was satisfying to see.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: CHECK. I prepped two months worth of allowance envelopes back in December so we will see if a calendar reminder is enough. The girls are getting into a groove of saving, too.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: I did accomplish ONE (total) act of kindness–sending socks to my cousin and my sister. My mom used to buy our socks and now to show we sometimes surprise each other with socks. It’s something but I really need to plan in this department.
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: NOT EXACTLY. I may need to make this more actionable for myself. I am in a reading rut after a productive month of January and am in the middle of many articles and books but not closing the deal on any one of them.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: We had two library trips–we hadn’t been to our main library in a long time and the girls loved everything the children’s room had to offer. So regular library trips will be easy now.
  • 2 Yoga classes: I went to one barre class. Barre is this pilates meets ballet meets yoga. It was not something I would rush to do again but it was a fun workout. Not the meditation I needed but great stretching. I also loved the coffee with my friend afterwards.
  • Read 2 books: NOPE. This is where I feel most disappointed. I spent two weeks trying to start Lolita, this month’s assignment for book club. I couldn’t get into it (I wasn’t alone) and it derailed all of the good January reading inertia. So I switched gears and started reading some other things. I will probably get through several more books next month.
  • Write 2 blog posts: NOPE. February was a tough month politically. By the time I organized any thoughts on one topic, another major news story broke. I spent the month consuming and processing news. I did lots of writing this month (an op-ed, public hearing testimony), just not that much sharing. The result: several drafts close to finished which means I will have lots to share or pitch this month.
  • Choose outside: YES! Went for a snowshoe/walk with a friend
  • Savings: No movement on this yet
  • 1 date night: YES! Husband and I went to see La La Land after I mistakenly booked a sitter for an event that is actually in March. So super for us!

Other goals:

  • Invited to contribute a book chapter for a project on alt-academics
  • Story pitched was rejected but had a productive conversation with storytelling friend about it and feel ready to rework and pitch again.
  • Self care: mani and pedi to celebrate a dear friend’s 40th birthday. A nice upshot: I have kept my nails looking super nice!

March is already looking busy. We celebrate my daughter’s 8th birthday and reflect on what would have been my mother’s 70th birthday. We have lots of events including the first Girl Scout dance where I get to be a VIP, too!

In like a lion…..

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The 2017 Plan: January update

All month, I had my plan in mind. I feel security having a plan.

Then there was inauguration. The world feels off-center. Off center is an understatement. It’s more like an alternate reality.

I feel pulled in a million directions but am still plugged into my plan.

So here’s where things stand this first month:

Things I want to do weekly:

  • Exercise 4x a week: CHECK. I used to exercise to relieve stress. My work is less stressful and now I realize I’m exercising to protect my family in case society breaks down. No, really. I can throw stuff.
  • Give kids weekly allowance: CHECK. I prepped in advance so it’s going smoothly. Still need to discuss budgeting.
  • Do one act of kindness each week: NOPE. It’s been a busy month and I know I probably did little things for friends and loved ones but nothing that was intentional.
  • Read one full length article in a magazine every week: KINDA. So I am basically always reading something. I have tried to sit down and read a longer analysis but it feels like there is no time for that right now.

Things to do every month:

  • Regular library trips: Made it once with the girls. A tantrum made the trip short-lived.
  • 2 Yoga classes: NOPE.
  • Read 2 books: YES!
    • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  • Write 2 blog posts: YES
    • New year’s Post
    • Agnostic rallier
  • Choose outside: YES! Went for a snow hike with husband
  • Savings: No movement on this yet
  • 1 date night: YES! Snuck in a double date plus dinner with husband

Other goals:

  • Got my guitar to make good on learning some new songs
  • Donated blood (done until April)
  • Started Duolingo: Still working on the basics of French.
  • Pitched one story
  • Did my first organ donation talk

So it was busy. February is a short month but I’m determined to make it count.

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