Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Missing Christmas

Sometimes I wonder what it is about this holiday that I find lacking in my life. I have recently come to the realization that Christmas holds no religious significance to me. Now, before you all decide to vilify me, let me clarify that I am Jewish. So of course, Christmas would not have any such religious significance. Yes, I used to be Christian, and yes, I used to celebrate Christmas, but there is nothing in the religious aspects of the holiday that I miss.

So what is it? As I sat here at home, today, watching absolutely nothing on television, including movies I've seen a hundred times, listening to my husband and my daughter argue with each other (as well as a three year old can argue, I suppose), I tried to remember what it was about the holiday that I liked so much and what was missing. The first thing that comes to mind is the tree - there is something about the Christmas tree, all decorated and sitting in a corner somewhere, lights twinkling. There is the anticipation of seeing the gifts piled underneath, wondering what is in those packages and waiting to be able to open then. From there, you can migrate to various decorations and holiday decor that simply do not appear in a Jewish home. So maybe it's those things that I miss. Of course we don't have a tree, but I still have my wreaths, done up with dreidels and gelt, and I have my Winnie the Pooh holiday village. I have some blue and white lights up, which helps. So maybe it's not the decorations, although there is something to be said about sitting in a completely dark room with no lights on other than the tree.

My main memories of the holidays center around the tree decorating (which usually took place on Christmas Eve), the gifts under the tree, and 2 family dinners. On Christmas Day, we would always go to Grandma Norton's. On the Saturday after Christmas, we would go to Grandma Wolf's house. Both dinners were usually filled with alot of people, although the Wolf house was generally much fuller. As I got older, and into high school, the numbers at the Norton's dwindled. When we moved into the house in Jefferson, suddenly the dinner got shifted and we had it at mom's house instead. Still the tree and the gifts and a crazy dog or two running about, but at mom's. The Wolf house was generally full. My dad was one of 11 kids and at one point, all of my aunts and uncles were married. I'm one of 26 first cousins (or maybe it's 24, I can never remember.) At least 10 or 15 of us grew up pretty much around each other, and back in the day, we were all usually at Grandma's house for Christmas.

These days, holidays are small. Even with Rob's extended family, the most we have had at a gathering is 9 or 10. That's nothing compared to the 40 or 50 that could sometimes be found at Grandma's house. It's hard to explain, but there's a certain comfort in the underlying hum of the chatter of that many people, of the ripple of laughter that seems to flow through the house. And who can forget the smell of all of that food. I remember that it was always up to my mom to bring the cookies, and so we would load up several large cookie platters and take them over They'd be placed in the basement, on the top of Grandma's sewing cabinet, for when we did gifts. (The tree was always in the basement, and so that is where everyone gathered after dinner.) Combine the smell of the tree, whatever had been on the stove all day, and add to it the smell of the fireplace (if we could convince someone to light it), and you had the makings of Christmas.

These days, holidays seem somewhat empty, probably because the family is so far away. I have come to learn that my mom doesn't have the same memories of the holidays that I do, and apparently was never much for the family gatherings. I knew she never liked the Wolf gatherings much (or at least, that is how it looked, when she would find a nice corner to deposit herself in and spend the evening there), but I at least thought that she liked her own family gatherings. Maybe it's because her parents are gone, but for some reason, she has no feelings whatsoever about family dinners.

So it was just us, Rob and B and I, hanging out at home. I went to the grocery store, just for that human contact, and to rekindle some of those old memories too, of something for dinner that had inevitably been forgotten, of the quick trip to the store for the whipped cream or the cranberry sauce, or one more potato. We had our candles and a few gifts, because Christmas happened to fall during Hanukkah this year, but it wasn't quite the same as waking up early in the morning to run downstairs and check out the loot under the tree.

I struggle with this whole thing, once a year. Then the decorations get put away, the lights all wound up, and the cookies all eaten. The ache goes away a bit and I moe on to Valentine's Day and Passover, and into the summer months. I forget for awhile that the family is so far away, as we get wrapped back up in life. For some reason, it is really only at this time of the year that I long for those days when I couldn't walk 6 inches without tripping over a cousin, or an aunt or uncle, when we would snuggle in bed trying to warm up, waiting for Santa to come. I'm not sure why, but I'm working on it.

In the meantime, I try to replace the family gatherings with the gatherings of friends, with holiday parties, and with lots of food and cookies. Someday I might figure this thing all out.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mommy Milestone #532

Well, maybe not 532, but somewhere up there. As mommies, there are milestones, moments by which we mark the passage of time, the aging of our angels. Getting pregnant is the first big one, of course, easier for some than others. Then there is passing the glucose test and from there, I'd say delivery was a pretty big milestone. If you decide to breastfeed, being able to do so without it hurting, or getting your little one to latch on is a mark. Changing your first diaper fits in there somewhere too.

There are cute milestones for the babies and cute milestones for mommies, pictures to take, laughs and hugs, and little wobbles... and then there are those less than picture-perfect milestones, the slightly dubious ones that make you chuckle inside, shake your head and wonder what you signed on for (but you press on.)

My best friend emailed me once with one of her "milestones," when her son was about 18 months old. He had been all stopped up for a day or two and couldn't poop. (See, as mom's we suddenly gain this ability to talk about poop as easily as talking about what is for dinner.) Anyway, he was straining, hard. He was sitting in his little chair, crying and completely uncomfortable. So she picked him up, laid him on his changing table and helped nature out. She got the wonderful job of reaching up (with the smallest tip of her little finger, of course), and helping him push out the "blockage." viola! Mommy milestone. Not necessarily one that we'd broadcast from the hilltops, not necessarily something we would take an ad out in the papers for, and probably not something we'd tell all of the relatives at the next family picnic, but a milestone.

Having heard that story and a few similarly "fun" stories from friends about their milestones, I couldn't wait to see what curveballs my little one would throw at me. We had the usual, explosive diarhea, spit up, throwing food, etc., and Friday morning was another one. A little before 5 a.m., I heard a tiny voice - "Mommy! Mommy, I need you!" Rolling over to look at the clock and wondering what the heck could be going on at 5 a.m., I practically fell out of bed and wandered down the hall, trying to rub enough sleep out of my eyes to at least see the floor. When I got to B's room, she was sitting up in her bed and said, "Mommy, there's something in my bed." I thought it was a pull-up full of water having exploded again (that has happened before, looks like of like packing foam- very wierd), and I thought she had an accident. So we went into the bathroom to get cleaned up. As she sat on the potty and I soothed her rumpled feathers, I realized that there was something on her shirt, that ended up on my finger. Taking a closer look at it, I realized that it was macaroni. She had macaroni and cheese for dinner, and a light bulb came on (in my head, not in the bathroom because it would have hurt my eyes.) I took a closer look at her shirt and realized that the poor thing had gotten sick and tossed her cookies all over her bed.

Figuring this out, we finished up on the potty, went back into her room and changed her jammies and her sheets. She felt a little warm and I put her back into bed. Later that morning, when getting ready to go to school, she didn't want to eat breakfast (which is completely unusual for this kid, believe me), and I ended up having to pick her up early from school because she was sick. From there, the early-morning-throw up-in-bed milestone would turn into a sleeping-on-the-couch-all-day sick day, and from there to a daddy milestone of projectile carrots, but that's another story.

In 10 years or so, I will be preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. I doubt that I will tell the story of when she was 3 and woke up in the middle of the night sick, and how we got her all cleaned up and back to bed. But I will remember the milestone, and someday I'm sure I'll tell her the story (and maybe even embarrass her just a bit in front of her friends -or dare I say it, a boyfriend?)

For now, I get to hang out and wait for the next bloody knee from the bicycle, or other dubious milestone. I'm just hoping to avoid any trips to the emergency room. That one, I'm pretty sure I would not look back on fondly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Searching for Snow

So it's cold outside. For Southern California, it's incredibly cold. People are wandering around here bundled up like it's the great Northwest. Weather people have been going crazy, talking about the winter storm that's "blanketing" Southern California. Are they nuts? It was 46 degrees last night and all anyone could talk about was that the Santa Clarita Valley might get snow. It was supposed to snow down below 2000 feet. We're right around 1800 feet, I think, give or take. It was barely raining. Are you kidding me?

But it's cold. It's funny that when I was in Ohio, and in Rochester, we had this thing called "wind chill factor." Over there, it's so cold that you don't notice the wind chill. Whether it's 10 below or 30 below with the wind chill, you just know that you shouldn't be outside and you stay in. You light the fire, you stay warm. I didn't give it much thought until today, when I was walking across the parking lot at the preschool. My thermometer in my car said it was 50 degrees, but it was windy and man, was it cold. Wind chill.

So, here I sit, bundled in my boots and sweater. I laugh at myself because in Rochester, or Jefferson, 50 degrees was cause for celebration. At 50 degrees, we would have been outside in our shorts and t-shirts, running around the back yard, claiming that Spring had arrived. Here, where the blood is thinned and the constitution not quite for hearty, we cover up and run for the fireplace. I chuckle, as the populace gets caught up in the "will it or won't it?" quest for snow. I laugh because I got caught up in it. I woke up this morning when my alarm went off, trying to look out the window to see if there was snow. I guess you can't get past the excitement of seeing snow on the ground. Maybe it's an east coast/ midwest thing, but I got caught up. Then I remembered that it needs to be BELOW FREEZING for it to snow. duh. I think the weather-people have forgotten that. Maybe someone should remind them? Weather 101?

So I sit and wait. Maybe it will snow, and maybe it won't. A few years ago, on New Years Eve, I was on the golf course and it was about 70 degrees. I remember calling home to Ohio and laughing because I was on a golf course in the sunshine and they were bundled up in front of the heater. Much as I like sweaters, I think I like the sunshine and golf course better. Bring on the sunshine. Last time I checked, this was Southern CALIFORNIA!

Friday, December 12, 2008


I had a grapefruit for breakfast this morning. In the grand scheme of things, that's not very exciting, I know. But when you consider all that the smell of grapefruit conjures up for me, it becomes more interesting.

Back home in Ohio, the local FFA (Future Farmers of America) held a citrus sale every fall. A week or two before the Christmas holiday, the gradefruit and oranges would come in. We would always get a box of each and for a few weeks, have lots of oranges and grapefruit in the house. Each morning we'd have a 1/2 a grapefruit, sprinkled with sugar, for breakfast with our cereal. Mom would use the oranges to make cookies.

When I cut into the grapefruit this morning, as juice squirted out all over the knife, I was instantly transported back to the kitchen in that little farmhouse. The linoleum on the floor was cracked and peeling back under the sink and by the stove and the oven. The shelf under the window was piled high with dishes and the silverware tray. Stacked in front of the shelf was all sorts of boxes full of dishes or Tupperware, along with a large bin of flour and another one full of sugar. The dishes were stacked in the old white cabinets on the fourth wall, right where the back door opened up. The bowls were old melamime, and olive green, and just a hair bigger than the grapefruit. If those weren't available, there were the standby Tupperware pastel cereal bowls.

The smell brings back more than the kitchen, with the cold of the floor seeping through our socks and the cold air flowing in around the back door and the poorly sealed windows. It brings back the feel of waking up in a cold house, because the fire in the wood burning furnace had gone down. It brings back the sound of mom (or dad) down in the basement, stoking the fire and putting in more wood, and the creak of the stairs as they would climb back up. We'd sit in our room, shivering under the covers and burrow down for one last snooze. It brings back the holidays, the smell of the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, and the excitement of waiting to see what Santa would bring. It brings back the dining room table, and crawling around behind mom's sewing machine and various projects to get to "my" seat, or around dad's pile of magazines on the other side. Sitting next to Candy, with Trix across the table next to Mom (when we would all be eating breakfast together.)

It's funny how a scent will sometimes remind you of someone or a time and place. I can't seem to smell a grapefruit without instantly being back in that kitchen, shivering while I cut one for breakfast, sprinkle it with sugar and carry it into the dining room to sit down and eat, looking outside at the snow all over the ground, and waiting for the house to warm up. I'm instantly back to the excitement of the season, waiting to see what Santa will bring and the fun of decorating the house for the holidays.

Of course, this morning, I was sitting down next to a very curious 3 year old, who was asking "why" at every turn, or "what," and I explained in every possible detail, my grapefruit to her, and why I was eating it, and why I was squeezing the juice out of it and why I was drinking the juice and why it was pink and why.... and why... and why. :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Years Gone By

I was sitting in my car this morning thinking about being the Mom of a 3 year old. Where did the last 3 years go? Then I put on a sweatshirt this morning for the Avon 3-Day walk. I stopped for a minute to try and figure out when I got the shirt, and realized that it had to have been either in '98 or '99, which was 10 years ago! Where did the time go? How is it possible that I have owned a piece of clothing that long? (Of course I have sweatshirts that are older, but go with me here.)

That got me thinking. What else can I mark time with? How many more things are so far in the past that they are becomming fuzzy with age and difficult to remember? Ah, the memories. Let's see...

As of November, Rob and I have been together for 10 years. Yup, that's right, 10 years. As of August, I have been in California for 12 years. 9 years ago this month, I was sworn into practice with the State Bar of California (no, I'm not sure I've learned anything of note in those 9 years.) My best friend Jen and I started hanging out in Health class in the 9th grade, fall of '88. That was 20 years ago! I've experience more of my life with her in it than I did before I met her. Nice, eh?

8 years ago I was in Cincinatti with Rob for Jen's wedding. We went to the Louisville Slugger factory and bought bats.

6 years ago I celebrated my first Hanukkah as a married woman, and had a party in our little condo in Sherman Oaks.

Three years ago this week I gave birth to B, and 3 years ago at the end of this week (I think it was on 12/7), I went back into the hospital, into ICU for post-eclamptic seizures. Fun stuff.

16 years ago I was a freshman in college. Yikes!

20 years ago I celebrated what would be the last Christmas with my dad. This is an interesting one. Dad died in March 1989. It will be 20 years that he has been gone this coming March. At the time, I would never have thought about it being our last holiday together, and I would have never thought about soaking up the memories - such that they were- to keep. You see, Christmas over the preceding 2 or 3 years had been nothing, if not interesting. The previous Christmas (when I was in 8th grade), my dad decided that he did not want us to open our presents. He had a fit on Christmas morning when we wanted to open them. So we didn't, and off we went to Grandma's without opening any presents. When we got home, we bugged and begged until he got upset and yelled at us to go ahead and open them. I remember my sisters and I looking at each other at that point, wondering if it was worth it to open them, for fear he would continue to yell at us. We ended up diving into the stack, and then he refused to open anything that we had gotten him. Very bizarre.

I can't remember if it was that year, or for a few years before that, he refused to let us get a live Christmas tree. It was tradition in his family to go out on Christmas Eve and get the tree out in woods on our property. When my aunt was home from the Air Force, she would take us out and we'd get one for our house and one for Grandma's house (next door). If she wasn't home, we'd go out with Uncle Rodney and Uncle Paul if he was home. It was usually a fun time, tromping through the woods covered in snow (or sometimes covered in mud and water), and then dragging our finds back to the houses to be put up. For some reason, one year dad decided that we couldn't go get one. He gave no reason, just said "no." And in those days, you didn't question his "no." I think the first time he did it, it was a few days before Christmas and we thought he was joking. We thought that we'd wake up on Christmas morning and find a tree, all decorated. We didn't. To get past that, we took a holiday fabric, stuffed tree that my mom had made and put it on a box covered with a red piece of fabric, and used that. The treeless- Christmases went on for a few years. At one point, I think Trix opted to defy the word of Dad and went out and got us a tree. I can't remember if that was his last Christmas or not. I'd have to go back and look at old pictures (if there are any) to see what we did.

It's unfortunate that those are some of my last memories of him. A holiday where he trampled on our spirits and on our joy, for some unknown reason, because of some hidden reason in his own mind. I vaguely remember happier holidays, but they are mired down in the cobwebs of the unhappy ones - memories of him yelling at us about cleaning the house and doing dishes, memories of him making us chop and haul firewood before we could open presents, memories of him just being angry for no apparent reason. I try to focus on the happier times, those that I can remember. I try to remember his laugh (I have a few pictures of him laughing) and I try to see past the unhappy times. It's been so long that I can't remember what his voice sounded like. I can't really remember ever getting a hug from him (But I do remember the belt or yardstick across our butts when we didn't listen quick enough), and I am pretty sure he never told me that he loved me, and if he did, I can't remember.

I guess I take from this what I can - a resolve that Brooklyn will grow up with happy memories of the holidays, that Brooklyn will know that I love her and if anything ever were to happen to me, that Brooklyn's happy memories of me would heavily outweigh any unhappy ones there might be. I try. I guess somewhere in my mind, I know that he tried too. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Simpler Times

I think I blinked and suddenly it's December. Where did November go? Oh yeah, it was lost in the after-Halloween shuffle, evaporated in online holiday shopping and disappeared in a 2-week trial that I still have not recovered from. It's gone, and into December we must go.

As I was driving to work this morning, after driving my Birthday-girl to school (yep, as of today, I'm the mom of a 3-year old. YIKES!)... where was I? Oh yes, driving B to school, listening to the all-Christmas radio station (Thanksgiving to the 26th, gotta love it), I was reflecting on life before Hanukkah. Well, that's not fair, of course, because I still do Christmas with my family, and deciding to celebrate Hanukkah (i.e. converting to Judaism) wasn't really the change in the seasons for me. It was that whole becoming an adult thing that did in the holidays.

Life was so much simpler as a kid. The only responsibilities I had between Thanksgiving and Christmas were to write the perfect letter to that jolly man in red, and to pray (and pray and pray and pray) that the Barbie Dream House or Pink Corvette were under my tree on Christmas morning. I must have been doing something wrong, because the corvette and dream house never materialized under the tree, but you get the idea. As I got a little older, I had to worry about buying gifts for friends and family, but never anything that major. I remember a few years when we were little that my Grandma took my sisters and me to Ben Franklins, a little discount store in our hometown. I'll never know how she did it, but she let us wander around the store and pick out little gifts for each other and for mom and dad. I still remember the package of gumballs that Trix and I got each other, shaped like an actual gumball machine. We thought we were so cool.

I say that life was simpler then, and maybe it was. Then again, maybe it wasn't. After all, there were those years when Dad, for some inexplicable reason, refused to allow us to put up a Christmas tree. There was the year (I was in the 8th grade), when he refused to let us open our gifts Christmas morning. We went off to Grandma's house in old clothes (we loved wearing any new clothes that Santa brought us on Christmas day), and we had to wait until about 8:30 that night to open our gifts. Even then it was a fight to get him to let us, and then he sulked and pouted and refused to open his gifts. I know what you're going to ask, and no, I have no clue why he did that.

After dad passed, there were a few Christmases that were really good. We lived in town, and on Christmas Eve, Trix and I wandered down the street to Jess' house. There ended up being about 15 or 20 kids there, juniors and seniors (and a few little brothers and sisters), and we played board games and just hung out. (And I think one year we built a drum set.) No parents, just hanging out, with the snow softly falling outside. Then after midnight (or 1 or 2 a.m), we'd wander the block and a half home. By then Mom had gotten everything wrapped and put under the tree, and we'd peek through the stack to see if we could figure out any of our gifts, before we wandered upstairs and went to bed. Those were good Christmases.

Christmas in Rochester was pretty good too, if you don't count my begging to be paid early so that I could afford gas to drive home, or my bumming $20 off of Adam, the bouncer at one of the bars where I worked, again, to put gas in the car. I worked, alot, during those years, but even with Victoria's Secret and the 2 or 3 bars where I waited tables and tending bar, I couldn't make the ends meet. But I still managed to get gifts for friends and family, and one year, even had a holiday party with a bunch of friends, at this random apartment that I shared with a few other girls. Those were good times. Simpler times.

My first Christmas in LA was not good. I didn't have the money to fly home until January, and I was living with a very odd family. Aside from cooking their Thanksgiving dinner (because the mom had absolutely no clue how to stuff and cook a turkey), they were looking to me for Christmas dinner as well. And then my Grandma Norton passed away. I had to hoof it home quick and ended up getting there the day after Christmas. I think her funeral was on the 27th. Still weird. I don't think my mom likes Christmas much these days either.

I think it was at that point that Christmas started to get complicated. Not because of the holiday itself, but just because of life. The carefree existence started to slip away at some point, and here I sit, a parent, responsible now for someone else's joy and excitement at the holidays. Now I have a mortgage and property taxes and credit card bills. And I still have to put gas in the car, although I'm not driving 3 hours to get home in a car loaded full of presents. Now I try to get a plane ticket, but even that's not simple anymore. Now I have to buy 3 tickets instead of 1, and prices are much higher than they used to be.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go back to that time when I didn't have all of the worries that tend to drag along with the "holiday spirit." I can still picture the quiet darkness of West Jefferson Street, with the trees tall and silent lining the way, and the street lights shining down through the snow, falling softly onto the snowy street. I shiver thinking about the cold, and remember curling up on the couch in a blanket when I got home. My favorite time of the holidays was late at night on Christmas eve, with all of the lights in the house turned out, except for the tree, and the candles in the windows. I miss that time. The carefree attitude of those days is certainly gone, and my mom sold the house and there are no more candles in the windows.

Then again, there's nothing quite so fun as watching B get all excited. I still listen to Christmas music and this morning, she was trying to sing along with "Do You Hear What I hear," too darn cute. It's hard sometimes to look back, and to see all the different versions of "holidays" that I've had. I long to return to some of those times, seemingly so much simpler than what I have now. But I wouldn't trade B for anything, and I know that she will love this time of year as much as I do. My job now, I guess, is to give her those times, so that she can look back in 20 or 30 years and remember them fondly. I hope that she won't have any holidays (or any other times) that she looks back on and wonders about, like I do. I guess that's my responsibility now. Not so much the bills and the presents and the wrapping, but the memories.

And yes, she does want the Dora bike and the princess vanity set and the Aurora that she saw at Mickey and Minnie's house that is as big as she is. But we'll get to that.