family

Oxymoron & the Holiday Concert

By definition an oxymoron is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.

 

Secular: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.

Christmas: the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25. (italics mine)

 

Thus I give you: Secular Christmas

 

There is no such thing as a secular Christmas.  I should think one wouldn’t be wanted if what is being celebrated is the very foundation of the religion.  “Reason for the Season” and all that.

Santa Claus represents Christmas.  No matter how commercialized the figure has become, his entire basis of being is Christmas, the religious holiday.  Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick appears at no other time of the year other than Christmas Eve, which apparently starts the day after Thanksgiving these days.

A Santa hat represents Christmas, not winter.  Ask any kid.  And any adult who says otherwise is attempting to skirt the issue or possibly from The Netherlands.

Now, before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, let me say this; I was born into a family that celebrated Christmas, they still do.  My daughter Nenè celebrates Christmas.  There are many Christmas songs/hymns that I truly love.

I am not antiChristmas.  I repeat, I am not antiChristmas.

What I am is Jewish and a supporter of equal representation in public institutions that are supposed to be separated from religion in the first place, at least here in the States.

I will also add that Bashert and I love our son’s school.  It is a public school that prescribes to the International Baccalaureate system of world inclusion; global thinking.  It’s one of the few remaining public elementary schools in our area that has a fine arts program and full time foreign language program. The principal is a fantastic woman, educator and administrator who stands up fiercely for her teachers, students and school.  The teachers are wonderful and creative (many of them have won teacher of the year several times over).

So why bring this up, this secular Christmas?  I’ll tell you why since you asked.

This was the description given to Bashert by Yoda’s new music teacher in regards to this year’s school holiday concert.

Don’t worry about your Jewish child being excluded because we are only singing secular Christmas songs.  Not secularly themed songs about winter time, but secular Christmas songs.

And by the way, Yoda will need to bring a Santa hat for costuming.

Excuse me?

That’s pretty much tantamount to me telling your Christian child that he needs to bring a kippah to school so that he can participate in our High Holiday concert, but its okay because we are only going to be singing prayers that the Jewish religion is based on.

The crux of the matter lies in the blatant disregard for our son’s significance and the simple minded arrogance that assumes that it just okay to have everyone conform to the same belief system.  Really, what harm is wearing a Santa hat, while singing Christmas songs, right?

In real life I work for a multinational corporation and yet every Monday and Friday now until Christmas, I am being forced to listen to Christmas holiday music via the satellite feed.  Every year I have to write an official letter reminding the powers that be, that as a multinational corporation we need to be mindful that not all cultures celebrate or appreciate the holiday of Christmas (the same music plays when someone is placed on hold).  And every year I get the same response that it was agreed upon that the music would play during the prescribed times only.  Big whoop.  I’m just the Jew in the ointment spoiling everyone’s holiday cheer.

I guess what it all boils down to; arrogance, assumptions and significance.

Every kid matters.  Every kid deserves to be seen as significant.  Every kid deserves respect.

Perhaps if we started really practicing this at Yoda’s level, I wouldn’t have to write a letter every year.  But until that happens, Yoda won’t be wearing a Santa hat during any song at the holiday joy night concert and I will keep writing my letters each year.

Perhaps someday, in his lifetime Yoda will see the true spirit of this season.

And maybe all of us won’t have to suffer the effects of Christmas music burn out two days after Thanksgiving.

Mondays with Yoda

On Mondays, well most Mondays, since I don’t work Sunday night I take Yoda to school.  It’s a great opportunity to catch up on our conversations.  This morning we started with a discussion about chemistry then we turned toward a more anthropological slant.  Here is but a snippet of the 30 minutes before we left for school:

Biscuits and Chocolate Milk:

Me: Ah, the wonder of chemistry. (Said while taking the biscuits out of the oven.)

Yoda: What’s chemistry?

Me: The mixing of things to make new or different things.  Like your chocolate milk, the chocolate and the milk mix to make a solution, but the milk stays milk and the chocolate stays chocolate.  But with the biscuits, we mix flour, salt, sugar, yeast, baking soda and water together then add heat to create something new.

Yoda: So its the baking soda that makes it rise?

Me: Partly.

Yoda: I love science.

Kittens:

Yoda: Why is Ruthie so wild?

Me: Kittens play wild and bite stuff to prepare them for hunting their food.

Yoda: You mean like rams and sheep and stuff?

Me: Well, I was thinking more of mice and rabbits, but okay.

Prehistoric Animals:

Yoda: You know they’ve found thousands of bones in the tar pits.

Me: Yep.  Big ones and little tiny ones.

Yoda: Even the mask of a short-faced bear.

Me: Yes, it’s really amazing what they have found in that asphalt.

Yoda: Sabertooth Cats (not Tigers), got stuck in the La Brea tar pits because they thought the buffalo and mammoths stuck in there would be easy prey.  Same goes for the grey wolf.  The gooey stuff isn’t like quicksand, you don’t sink, but you get stuck.

Me: (I’m thinking Tar Baby effect.)

Yoda: Sabertooth Cats hunted in packs so that they could take down large prey.  After all, they only weighed about 60-70 lbs so it took several of them to bring down a gigantic mammoth.  Their long teeth were only used to deliver the killing bite, you know to get all the blood and stuff.

Me: Yuck.

Modern Animals:

Yoda: A lion might could take an elephant, but an elephant’s trunk is hard and could knock the lion out with one swipe.  Lions like to hunt sheep and rams, but will take them away from the cheetahs in the area.

Me: Really?

Mummies:

Yoda: I know a lot about Egypt.

Me: You do?

Yoda: Yes, they make mummies.

Me: Like me and Momma?

Yoda: (Giggles) No, like the dead guys. They are covered in oil, salt and sugar then wrapped in toilet paper and they put them in a giant box. They even take their eyes out, but they still rot. If you left them in the giant box for say, oh, 18 years and then opened it up you would see that their eyes are taken out and that they may have a cut open head and stuff like that.  Sometimes the toilet paper gets all mushy and tears up and you see parts of them sticking out.  It just freaks me out.

Me: Does sound kind of freaky.

Yoda:Yeah, it just freaks me out.

Monday conversations, gotta love ‘em.

Trick or Treat

Don’t be scared on Halloween,

For things are seldom what they seem.

We look forward to Halloween every year at our house.  Bashert revels in coming up with unusual costuming choices.  Last year we were all Lego blocks.  One year, Bashert and I were Moses and the Burning Bush – we took home a prize for that one during a Purim Festival later next year!

Costumes are homemade and pumpkins carved by hand in these parts. No flimsy, expensive, store-bought stuff here.  Nope, made from scratch all the way.

Our Lego outfits; cardboard boxes, single serving cereal bowls and duct tape.  White karate uniform, rubber boots, cowl made by Gram, a light saber and voilà, instant Jedi warrior.  The good ol’ cardboard box served well for the present Nenè came wrapped in one year.

This year Yoda is a gangster – not a gangsta’, but a true 1930’s Enemy Number One gangster complete with pinstripe suit, shiny shoes and space blaster.  Hey, when its homemade you make do sometimes.  Bashert and I are not dressing this year, although I think she would make a really good gun moll.

There’s a wonderful neighborhood just down the street from where we live.  The main avenue that runs through it is closed down and an off duty cop keeps watch.  We hit the street before dark so as to avoid the rowdy teenagers and scarier aspects of the holiday.  The whole street really gets into the spirit, either dressing up their homes or themselves – sometimes both.  It’s an old fashioned block party.

Sometimes Yoda brings a friend, as he did this year.  Two gangsters making away with all the loot they could carry.  Bashert and I ran into friends and acquaintances all up and down the street.  We stopped off at a friend’s house for a short visit for Yoda to play and take stock, while we grabbed a quick snack ourselves – they always have great food and company.

The boys gave out before the houses did, which is just as well.  We usually find long forgotten Halloween candy buried in the closet months down the road.  For all of us, its more the process than the result.  Its still the wonder of a holiday where people give you treats only for putting pride aside and dressing up in anything you want from fairy princess to wicked witch.  How great is that?

So next year instead of dreading coming up with a costume for your children or yourself, take on the challenge and celebrate the magic.  Here’s to cardboard boxes!

Happy Halloween!

A Full C Note

Today is my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

October 18, 1911.

My older brother Stravos, the first grandchild, called her Mama, following our mother’s lead.  It was never changed so our grandmother was Mama from then on out.

All of us have our own memories and images.  Those who lived with her directly have different images than those of us who just visited.  The children have different images than the grandchildren.  All of that is the way it should be.  We are all correct and wrong, just as our children and grandchildren will be about us.

This is a true story that gave me a little insight into my grandmother.

 

The Place at the Table

 

Girls were raised up right back then; Ginia, the eldest by two years and her mother’s namesake, helped cook and clean, while Annie Caroline had to set the table.  Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

Her mother made Annie set the place each night.  A plate in front of an empty chair.  Empty, negative space in the tableau of the family.   What did Annie think about as they calmly passed the butter beans around and over that empty plate?  What small talk took place to fill that void amongst the quiet clinking of silver to china?  “How was your day, Frank?  Anything interesting down at the train yard?”  “Nothing much, Harriet dear, how was your day?”  “Please pass the beans.”  Did she want to scream?

Not quite five years old and sitting next to a ghost.

My heart aches for the little girl, who had to set that plate.  My grandmother.  Mama.  The sister of the boy who carried her father’s name.  Two and a half years younger than Annie, two year old Francis died during an influenza outbreak in 1916, one day after his second birthday.

Her mother said she wished Annie had died instead.  My great-grandmother.  Mar.  The matriarch of the family I love.  Annie was four and a half years old.  I wonder at the despair that would drive a mother to wish her child dead.  Was the promise of a son so much better than that of a second girl?  Annie, the spare child; the real extra place at the table.
Her brother gone and her mother mad, was Annie allowed to cry or mourn?  Was the plate a punishment for being the stronger of the two?

Girls were raised up right in the time of my mother, too.  She was the cleaner and has no stories of setting the table.  My mother, the third to bear the name.  Mom.  Mama never told her of Mar’s words.  Possibly, it was too fresh, too touchable to set before Mom.  Or maybe the warm, crusty, but yielding Mama the grandchildren knew was too much a hard baked fortress to her children.  The distance to the plate was still too narrow, two fingers from the edge.

Mama took me in when my brother was born.  For six weeks, I was Mama’s.  I was Mama, too, displaced by a younger brother.  Another plate at our table.

Mama offered sustenance, succor and security to my parent’s second daughter, the one who bore her name.  Perhaps, the seeds were sown during that time for her revelation to come.

Fifty years had improved our family’s mortality.  My brother survived his rough arrival and my mother recovered.  I’m told that months after I was returned to my mother, I would still grab my things and get ready to leave with Mama after she came to visit.  I had staked my heart’s claim.

Mama told me of her mother’s words, while sitting on the front porch of her home.  It was set before me in a moment of time right for the revealing.  A moment between a second daughter to a second daughter.  She was seventy years old.  I was twenty.  I never knew Mama had another brother until that moment.  Her words rang flat as she told the story.  Sixty-five years later her mother’s words still served her memory.  How could she sit there so calmly snapping green beans and tell me her mother wished her dead over another?  Did Mama still feel the emptiness and hunger for her mother’s love?  In my youth and shock, I couldn’t find the right questions to ask for more.

Mama never mentioned the plate or Francis again.  It, and he were put back in the cupboard with the rest of the mysteries of her life.

I treasure the moment Mama gave me that afternoon on her porch.  A gift and memory written on my heart as indelibly as the recipe card for her famous macaroni and cheese.

Girls are raised up in this day and age, too.  My daughter.  The fifth to bear the name no longer lives in our house, but there is no negative space set at the table by my son, her younger brother.  There will always be a place, but no empty plate to pass over. Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

 

Mama passed away in 1989, only 78 years old.  And while her absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, there is never an empty space at our tables. Her place is filled with the laughter and kind thoughts that time and memory create.

 

Happy Birthday, Mama.

 

 

 

Lunch with Yoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ambience of the dining establishment

Left much to be desired.

 

Walls of cream and pastel green punctuated with

Primaries did not whet the appetite.

 

A selection of cheery, primitive art attempted to

Counteract the cheerless interior.

 

The lighting flattered neither

Food nor guest.

 

Classical music poured out of tin speakers,

Adding salt to wounded composers.

 

The maitre’d was surly, sour and

Bitter in her greetings.

 

She slow marched each party to their table

With enforced silence.

 

And although we were seated in a reserved section,

The other diners were a bit intrusive.

 

The meal itself reminded me why

I usually make my own.

 

The rice-undercooked and bland.

The vegetables-overcooked and bland.

 

The beef I’d ordered had a strange relationship

With a certain Dr. Salisbury.

 

Dessert.

The unnecessary death of a good peach.

 

I closed my eyes to offer a prayer

For this dining misfortune.

 

Grace found my companion and

The smile on his face before he left for recess.

Suckers or how we just ended up with a three-legged cat

We’ve always maintained special relationships with our various vet’s offices over the years.  They have provide excellent medical services for our menagerie of pets and we have been gullible enough to take the oddities that show up in their offices.

Shit Dog came from a vet’s office, as did our late, neurotic lab/dachshund Elisheva.

Our latest addition to the family came through the modern marketing marvel, FaceBook.

Pictures had been posted on Thursday or Friday of this week of a kitten that had been brought in to our vet that week.  I tend to be a curmudgeon toward pictures of cute animals, but something about this one caught my eye even though I didn’t look that closely.  I didn’t even read the captions.

We found out later that a good samaritan turned her in to the vet’s office after finding the injured, three month old in the street.  The samaritan couldn’t keep the kitten due to some unusual living circumstances, but managed to scrape together some funds to help pay for the surgery the little girl would require.  I think that is the definition of samaritan, isn’t it?

We weren’t looking for an addition, we have three cats and Shit Dog still.  Opportunities had come up before, but I just didn’t want to take on yet another animal.  We lost our cat Shai a couple of years ago, Elisheva this year and our cat Boaz and Shit Dog are on the short list now.  It’s tough to think new when the old are in such shape and the younger two are a bit onery (Southern for slightly ill-tempered).

But on Saturday when Bashert asked if I had seen the photo, I caved.  I said let’s go ahead and call to see if she’s been placed yet.  In our house that means we’ve adopted another one.

What I didn’t realize is that the surgery that the kitten had gone through was to remove her right front leg.  She suffered extensive nerve damage to the leg through what we hope was accidental means.  While Bashert was talking to the receptionist, I took another look at the three photos posted.  Sure enough, the poor thing had lost her leg all the way up, including her shoulder.  At that point any doubt was gone.  Suckers through and through.  She would be ours.

We went straight over to the vet’s to meet her.

On the way over we were already bouncing names around.

The tech brought her in a room for us to visit.  Bashert and I instructed Yoda to sit quietly and let her come to us.  Given that sitting still is a challenge as yet unmet by Yoda, we didn’t know how it was going to work.

Hesitant only at first, the little girl dove right into our hands, purring and insisting we give her love.  She didn’t flinch or run from Yoda’s excited vibrations.  She leapt up to the seat next to Bashert and cuddled into her lap.  She claimed us.

I was surprised when they said we could take her home that day.  The stitches looked ominous to me and she was still on twice daily pain meds.  I worried that in her fresh post surgery state, she wouldn’t be in any shape to be introduced to our resident beasts.

There was no need to worry.  This little girl can hold her own.  Our three full grown cats, 14 and 9 years old respectively, are walking on egg shells.  There’s been lots of hissy fits, but mostly they are avoiding each other.  I give them about two weeks and they will build up a tolerance for each other, that or split the house into their respective territories.  They’ll work it out.

Shit Dog has made his business to get close, but I think only because this is the only other animal in the house that is smaller than he – we have large cats.

We took about two hours last night to come up with a suitable name, at least the one we will call her according to T.S. Eliot.  We narrowed it down to four possibilities and then had Yoda pull one of those out of a hat.  We thought that an equitable solution since we all had our favorites of the four.

Her name is Ruthie.

Resilient, faithful, kind and good, friend and companion to Naomi, wife to Boaz and great-grandmother to King David.  I think the hat chose wisely.

Welcome to the menagerie Ruthie.

Ruthie

Boaz

 

You Know Who

Winnie the couch potato

Fat Pooh

 

Mea Culpa – Hear ye, hear ye

In my world of recollections, I have assigned nom de plumes to friends and family to 1. give a little distance and 2. have some fun. Well, as fate would have it, at least one assigned name has not been welcomed. (She also reminded me that she gave up the chance to take the win to tend to me when I broke my ankle  – the game was still on. – Thanks, sis! 🙂 )

It happens that my sister, erstwhile known in these pages as Raquel, has requested, due to reasons that shall remain hers, that I rename her character.  In our lively conversation, it was revealed that she has a great pirate name.

So hence forth, let it be known that my sister shall be called Calico Nell.  That is until another is requested – I am quite flexible and hopefully you, dear reader will be as well.

This piece is also a call to any of my other cast of characters. Hear ye, hear ye!  If ye should want a different pseudonym for yourself or need an explanation as to why I chose a certain moniker then by all means come forth.  I shall entertain all comers.

So far my cast includes:

Mom

Dad

Mama: my grandmother

Tricia: my aunt a.k.a. Bad Dancing Jenny

Bashert: my partner

Yoda: my son

Nené: my daughter (of various spellings)

Calico Nell: my sister

M’pudi: her husband, my brother in law

Epic: my nephew, their son

Noël: my niece, their daughter

Stravos: my older brother

Money Penny: his wife, my sister in law

Ernst: my younger brother

There are others to come, so let me know family and friends.  I welcome you to my little world.

Where CRS meets ADD

“Where are my keys?”  “I can’t find my shoes!”  “Why are all the cabinet doors open?”  “Where’s my phone?”  “Have you seen the t.v. remote?” “Why is there a wet towel in the sink?”  “Why do we have six boxes of ________?” “I have an idea…”

Welcome to my home.

Living in a house where it is normal to find your child sitting on his head while watching t.v. is a bit of an adjustment for some. Its just another day in our house.

We are a house of ADHD.

Over the years I’ve become accustomed to various, almost empty containers returned to the fridge, while the entire pot of roast sits languishing on the counter overnight.  I’m used to the linen closet that was full on Monday being devoid of fresh towels by Wednesday.  I’ve also become inured (well, almost inured) to finding the sink that was emptied of dishes that morning filled to the brim with dish ware later that afternoon.

Incomplete conversations are a speciality in our house.

“I was talking to Money Penny the other day and she said that Stavros…did you see that tree?”

“What tree?”

“That tree.  The one shaped like a pirate with the parrot on his shoulder standing next to a treasure chest?”

“No, I did not see that tree.  Where was it?”

“Over there.”

“Can you be a bit more specific?”

OVER THERE, by the green fence with the spikey tips, surrounded by English Ivy, that looks like snakes crawling up a wall.”

“Oh, that tree (insert snarky sarcasm).  No, we passed by too quickly.”

“Never mind. That’s why Stavros can’t make it to the party next week.”

“Excuse me?  Why can’t Stavros make it to the party?”

“I told you just a minute ago why.”

“No, you started to and then we were talking about the tree.”

“Wasn’t that tree great?!  I’m going to have to come back with my camera and takes some photos.”

Becoming accustomed to all this does not mean accepting.  Oh, no, my brain bubbles over.  My patience is sucked dry so that it turns inside out.  I sigh; I scream; I mumble incoherently to myself and Shit Dog. I call my therapist.

I tried joining a couple of support groups on line, but all they did was whine about their “dear husband’s”  or “dear wive’s”.  There never seemed to be any practical advice on how anyone, let alone a same-sex couple, was to stay sane and together and maintain any kind of balance in the roller coaster ride of a life time.

Once I got passed the, “Oh, wow, there are other people like us” effect, it wasn’t much use.  It just added another layer of frustration, so I gave up and I ate cake.

Now, I’m no total innocent in all of this.  For example, there was a time when I adamantly denied ever entering a Schlotzky’s deli.  I could have passed a lie detector test, I was so convinced.  But all it took was for me to take one step inside and lo and behold I had been there before.

Growing up, whenever someone couldn’t find anything around the house, the universal cry was, “Have you checked Halfc’s room?”.  I tend to collect things.  And I can be messy.

I am also horrible remembering people’s names.  I’ve worked with some people almost ten years and if they don’t have their id badges name out, forget it.  Its all-embracing “hey you” time.  This frustrates Bashert, who can remember intimate details about people from  first grade.

Speaking of frustration, they get put out with me, too.  I don’t always get it or I seem to blame all things on their disorder.  Since I can’t see things through their eyes its their prerogative to voice that dissatisfaction.

For me, stress, sleep depravation and age have all amounted to what’s referred to as associative ADHD (a proven phenomenon) or as my family calls it CRS – your basic Can’t Remember Shit.

Where my tendencies and acquired traits leave off and their ADHD picks up can be a fine line at times.

I have added to my resume ‘finder of things lost in obvious places’ and ‘tester of hard hats’, as I can often be found in the corner banging my head in frustration after being asked “what did he say?” during movies and missing the next entire segment of dialogue.

I have also added ‘appreciator of creative thinking’.  Yoda has created the universe many times over in our living room out the most mundane of articles and he has written, illustrated and occasionally performed, imaginative stories about dinosaurs and dreams to entertain Bashert and me. He is an incredible mimic, who can pull off almost any accent he hears.

Bashert creates works of art that decorate our home and other’s.  She invents marvelous and ingenious ways of teaching kids to further their artistic potentials.  She gives people imaginative and workable ideas about how to improve their companies.  Her ‘Sweet Chair-ity’ last year was amazing in how she wrangled all those artistic egos and business people. And she throws one heck of a party!

Just a small sample of Bashert's quilling

Yoda and Bashert can also think very quickly.  Their thoughts are like gazelles to my plodding elephant.  I often get lost in their mazes of synapse firings and leaps, but I hang on and hopefully, end up in the same place or in the close vicinity.

There has been many a time when I’ve flopped down exhausted at the end of a day when I have done practically nothing except try to keep up.

My family’s ADHD may drive us all a bit nuts and lead to exhaustion on many levels, but  it also gives them passion, drive and creativity out the wazoo.

Would they have accomplished what they have, Bashert in particular, if they didn’t have ADHD? Probably.  But it wouldn’t have been the same.

It wouldn’t have been the same at all and that would have been a shame.  So we shall continue on valiantly, losing toothpaste tops, checkbooks and keys, creating beauty out of chaos and building a world with a slightly different view.

Oh, look a baby lizard….