Do you have any idea how many posts I’ve written and deleted today?
I wrote a post about some of my home-improvement work that I’m doing, but it was kind of boring.
Then I wrote about my experience with curbside pickup at IKEA and Canadian Tire. It was okay.
And then I remembered that today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and suddenly just posting a normal, everyday post felt a little too oblivious, somehow.
So I wrote a long post about the Holocaust and the vicarious trauma I feel, even as someone whose grandparents weren’t there at all. By the time I had finished writing it, I was feeling anxious and teary, and wondered what kind of trigger warning I could add to it so as to not cause someone else that kind of distress.
And now here I am, to tell you that I have no intention of posting any of those today. I’m just gonna leave this here and do some deep breathing, because I still feel kind of off.
So that’s it. I remember the Shoah. And education is vital… but maybe with just a little less vicarious trauma for the next generation, hmm?
Back to normal tomorrow… or as normal as I ever get, anyway.
I thought I’d be sad when I finally weaned my last baby. I loved breastfeeding them and couldn’t imagine every wanting to stop. But one day I realized that whenever E was ready to stop, that would be fine with me. I thought I’d be sad, but I wasn’t. Nor was I happy. I just was. E was weaned, and it was okay.
I thought I’d be sad about not having a baby in the house anymore. I love babies — the baby years are my forte when it comes to parenting. We had nine straight years of diapers, sleepless nights, babywearing, and peek-a-boo. I thought I’d be sad, but I wasn’t. Our family was ready for new experiences, for being able to go places without a huge stroller or a diaper bag, for having toys with tiny little choking-hazard parts strewn around the house, and it was okay.
I thought I’d be sad when I couldn’t lift my kids up in my arms and carry them around anymore. But they got heavy and my arms got tired, and I found that I enjoyed walking hand-in-hand with them or watching them go on ahead, strong and independent. It was okay.
From the moment our first child was born, we heard this message from all sides: “Enjoy it while it lasts!” “I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.” “One day you’ll miss these times!” Everyone implied that as we moved on from the baby phase we’d be bereft. It was as though we were supposed to mourn our babies growing up. And indeed, I cried when our oldest outgrew her newborn-sized diapers at four weeks old.
Many years ago I was talking to a friend about how I felt after my miscarriage. I described having this awful empty feeling in my belly where the baby should have still been. “But Sara,” she asked me, “did you have that same feeling when your belly was empty after giving birth to a living baby?”
Did I? Probably, but the emptiness in my abdomen was nothing compared to the fullness in my arms and my heart. It was a transition, not a loss, and it was okay.
It’s probably in my nature to feel thankful and content with what I have now. Do I miss high school? High school was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never replicate, but I love this time in my life, building a home and raising my kids. Do I miss the newlywed days when Mr. December and I lived downtown and could just decide, at the last minute, to walk across the street for dinner and a movie on a random weeknight? A little. But If we had that, we couldn’t have this. Life changes; the world changes; people change.
My favourite neighbour, Olga (may her memory be a blessing), often said that things would happen “in the fullness of time.” I love that notion. I think that when things change before their time — when someone dies suddenly or too young, when a pregnancy ends in anything other than a live birth, when anything in life gets snatched away without something else arriving in its place — that’s when shock, pain, and grief set in. But in my life, there’s usually a bit of serenity and grace around big changes. I’ve been able to let go of what’s over and embrace what’s coming.
We finally buried my aunt today. When I say “we,” I actually mean “The ten people who were allowed at the grave, the nearly two hundred people who joined in on zoom, and I, who was standing in a school parking lot on the other side of the fence from the cemetery.” The last time I was at that cemetery was about a year after my grandfather died. At his funeral I gave a speech. As I stood in the parking lot today getting sunburned, I thought about what I might have said about Aunty Leah had I been given the chance.
When I was three months old, Aunty Leah took me down to the ocean just behind her house, and helped me “swim” in the tidal pools.
When I was four (or so) years old, she assigned me the job of pasting the Gold Bond stamps from “Big B” (grocery store) into the stamp book. She left me to it and came back to a garbage pail full of single stamps. “Why on earth are you throwing these out?” she asked. “They didn’t fit on the line, so I had to take them off before I glued the others in,” I responded. Then Aunty, exasperated, taught me that it was, indeed, possible to use stamps that weren’t all in one strip to fill a line, and that the overflow from long strips could be used in the next line. It seems stupidly obvious now, but I truly hadn’t thought of it.
When I was nine, my Mum made some comment about my crooked tooth (yes, singular. They were all straight, except for this one tooth that was perpendicular to the rest.) I was particularly sensitive about it; I ran crying from the Shabbat table. Aunty followed me into the kitchen and told me about how parents sometimes say and do things that aren’t intended to be hurtful, but somehow end up that way. She shared some of her own perceived parenting misses. She taught me that even adults make mistakes and admit them.
When I was eleven, Aunty and Uncle came to stay with us while my parents traveled to Norway and Sweden for a conference. Over those three weeks Aunty taught me yoga (I still think of her every time I do a Sun Salutation) and the importance of doing a “dry run” (in this case for carpool, but it’s applicable to many things.)
Many of these stories make Aunty Leah sound like a sweet, empathetic soul. She was, but you wouldn’t know it at first sight. She was scary. I mean, every kid and some adults were scared of her, probably because she always spoke frankly. If you were doing something she didn’t like, boy, would she make sure you knew it! She opined about everything, including the reluctance of Torontonians to respond to a simple “Good Morning!” Growing up and living in Barbados, which is (or was) a perfect illustration of how the village raises the child, she didn’t hesitate to teach her sons’ friends such things as how to blow one’s nose properly.
Aunty taught me that it’s possible to disagree with someone and still love and be proud of them. When I was twelve, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah by chanting the entire Torah portion and the Haftarah (for those who don’t know, that’s a lot of material, and many B’nei Mitzvah do less.) After the service Aunty hugged and kissed me and said, “Mazel Tov, Lovey. You were wonderful. But you know, if you were my daughter, you wouldn’t have had a Bat Mitzvah.” Feeling cocky, I shot back: “Guess it’s a good thing I’m your niece and not your daughter then!”
Aunty taught me the importance of maintaining friendships. Every time she came into Toronto, I’d watch as she pulled the stool up to the kitchen counter, opened up her phone book, and started calling everyone she knew in Toronto. It was always, “Hello! It’s Leah. We’re in Toronto and I just wanted to call and say hello…” now it seems like a quaint thing to do — long distance calling is relatively cheap and everyone is just a Zoom call away — but for much of Aunty’s life, that was the way to keep in touch with your long-distance friends.
It wasn’t just when she came to Toronto, either. Aunty had friends all over the world. I suspect it was her tendency to talk to everyone, coupled with her frankness, that let her make friends easily. Once you were her friend you learned how generous, hospitable, and loving Aunty was to everyone in her sphere.
I had many examples of good marriages growing up, most notably my parents’, but also Aunty Leah and Uncle Benny. It was clear to everyone that they adored each other. It was also clear that they argued on occasion and that Aunty would snap at Uncle. And despite the exasperation, you could always see their love underneath everything else. Five years ago we celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with a big brunch party; the looks they gave each other as they danced to “The Anniversary Waltz” are etched in my mind.
I have so many memories of Aunty Leah that I could fill a book. When we were together for Pesach, she showed me how to make raisin wine; Her banana bread was the first food Mr. December and I ate together right after our wedding ceremony; We swam distances together in the ocean and she taught me how to position my tongue so that I wouldn’t swallow salt water. I could go on and on, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop here.
The last time I spoke to Aunty was on Pesach; I phoned to say Chag Sameach and she told me stories about how the average Bajan was reacting to COVID. She asked about the children. I asked when we would see her next, and she said it was a bit up in the air and depended largely on Uncle’s health. “Goodbye, Lovey,” she said before hanging up, “I’m looking forward to seeing you next time.”
There won’t be a next time, a fact that makes me cry whenever I contemplate it. But there were so very many times in the last forty years that Aunty and I saw each other and laughed, ate, swam, and talked together, and for those times I am very grateful. Her memory will be a blessing, just as her influence in my life has always been.
From a homeschooling perspective, today was pretty good. E actually attended a couple of her Zoom classes and enjoyed them; N did all his math and cursive writing; K had some trouble focusing, but she did her best and, best of all, she did it independently. Actually, so did N.
Today was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. In non-pandemic days I would have sent my children off to school dressed in blue and white, where they and their similarly-clad classmates would have ceremonies and parties. They would be folk dancing, singing songs, and eating Israeli treats.
I have traveled to Israel on 15 separate occasions. I’ve been there as a teenager with my family; as a young adult with my peers; as a young adult leading my peers; on a bible study trip with my Mum; and together with my husband. I loved the country from the moment I stepped off the plane for the first time at age sixteen.
What made the biggest impression on me in that early trip? The realization that in Israel, I was in the religious and cultural majority for the first time in my life. I could go into any restaurant anywhere and not have to ask, “Does that dish have pork in it?” (This is no longer strictly true, but twenty-four years ago it still was.) Sitting in a food court in some small-town mall I could hear idioms that came from Jewish texts and liturgy. The country’s foods, rhythms, and holidays were mine. I felt like I had come home.
Obviously, Canada is my home. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I’m raising my children. But Israel is home in a different way: when I’m there I don’t have to explain my food choices, my holidays, my sayings. I don’t have to explain myself. And I don’t have the niggling feeling that sometime, somewhere, someone will hate me and hurt me for being Jewish. I mean, Israel has hostile and anti-Semitic neighbours; that’s a given. But as a Jew there I can feel secure that the country will defend me and my right to exist, which, in my opinion, is something to celebrate.
This year we couldn’t go to a giant party with fireworks. There were some online events, but I couldn’t get myself in gear to choose one and log on. Instead we celebrated with my favourite thing about Israel (and there are many things I love about Israel, but this one is top of the list) — the food.
We made fresh pita and hummus from scratch. By “we” I mean that E helped me dump flour into the bowl and mix it with water and yeast, and then wandered off, leaving me to do the rest. K and N flitted in and out of the kitchen to see whether there were any tasty bowls to lick.
I had envisioned it as one of those activities that homeschoolers do where they learn about fractions, chemistry, history, and culture while bonding over a baking project. You can picture it, right? Good. Now forget that picture; it is NOT what happened. Nothing went wrong, but it wasn’t the homeschooling love-fest I had imagined.
Nevertheless, when our pita (some plain, some topped with olive oil and za’atar) came out of the oven, everybody converged on the kitchen and offered to taste-test it. Only half of the pita made it to our table; the other half had already found its way into our bellies. I feel fortunate to have gotten some photos before it was all gobbled up.
It feels strange, after a few days of intense sadness and grief, to have such an ordinary day, but that’s how today was. Memories of how my aunt celebrated Israel and marked Yom Ha’atzmaut (in a place with a tiny Jewish community) intruded, but they weren’t unwelcome. My aunt and my mother were raised by parents who had seen the result of the Jews having no homeland to go to; they were raised to love Israel. So was I, and so are my children — who, by the time they actually visit Israel for the first time, will already know the language, the food, and the music, and will feel at home there too.
We had an interesting conversation at the dinner table tonight. I think it started when K and N informed us that they didn’t remember some of the really fun things we did with them when they were little.
“Seriously?” Mr. December asked in exasperation. “Why do we even bother?”
This led to me reiterating my philosophy about first birthday parties: the kid doesn’t know or care, so the only important thing is to have photos with a nice looking cake and a well-decorated area around the highchair, because what really matters, as we all know, is what the children see in the photos of their childhood. When they see a gaggle of ducky cupcakes, a duck shaped balloon tied to the highchair, duck-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches, and a party hat that proclaims “I’m one!” they can feel like their first birthdays were a special event.
That being said, here’s some photographic evidence that I did some parenting today:
I gave E a few tasks this morning: as you see above, watering the seeds we planted last week as well as the plants on our windowsill; an activity with magnets where she had to find objects around the house and test whether or not they’re magnetic; and an art project involving paper towels and food colouring.
Later this evening, spurred on by the success of N’s home haircut, I agreed to cut K’s hair — she’s only been asking me to do it for a few weeks now. Sadly, she wouldn’t let me use the electric clippers on her head, so I wasn’t able to achieve professional-quality results. I’m not even sure my results were anywhere close to “skilled amateur” level. Not that it matters; by the time anyone sees her hair it will have grown out with little to no evidence of the hack job I’ve done.
Before (okay, almost before. I snipped off a few locks before I remembered to take a picture)
Mostly after. I did even it out.
A good friend of mine drove all the way from Mississauga (for those of you who don’t live around here, it’s a 45 minute drive from our home to his) to bring me sugar cookies that he’d baked. Wasn’t that lovely? I was struck by how generous it was to take the time out of his day… until I realized that with none of his three kids in the car, he got an hour and a half of blessed silence while driving here and back. (Note to self: car = isolation booth!) But really, it was a kind gesture and a delicious one. And when I can no longer wear any of my pants, I can blame him and his addictive cookies.
All in all it was a good day, though it’s bookended by tears. This morning I woke up to a very sweet text message from my cousin, telling me how much his late mum (my Aunty) loved me.
“Geez man,” I muttered, “you sure know how to make a girl cry first thing in the morning.” But it was a good cry, and a short one. And really, everyone should have the experience of waking up to a heartfelt and loving text message.
Just now when I was looking for photos of today’s activities, I came across one photo that stopped my scrolling and restarted my tears. It’s of my Mum, Aunty, and a much younger R, sitting on the steps in mum’s house. Aunty is holding a hairbrush and R’s hair is smooth and shiny. All three of them are smiling. I’m so glad I have it — photographic evidence of Aunty’s place in our lives.
Aside from the headache that I’ve had since I woke up on Saturday to news of Aunty Leah’s death, I was mostly okay today. I homeschooled my kids; I took a nap; I raced scooters down the street with E; We went for a bicycle ride. The grief will be with me for a long time, I’m sure, but the kids’ needs are immediate. Grief will have to take a back seat.
There are some kids’ needs that I’ve been putting off for a while. A couple of weeks ago N got so tired of his hair being in his eyes that he cut the front of his hair himself. Not a good look. Tonight I finally stopped procrastinating and brought out my electric clipper set. Here’s the before and after:
N wanted it shorter. I objected on grounds that it was already bedtime and he still needed a bath. He started the bath and I went downstairs.
I had just made a tea and settled down on the comfy couch to write this post when–
Oh, for heaven’s sake! E was asleep and had been for at least an hour. Was he trying to wake her up?
“EEMAAA? DO YOU KNOW IF THERE’S ANY FOOT WASH IN THE BATHROOM?”
Seriously, kid? You’re up there and I’m down here. You tell me, hmm? And while we’re at it, how about not yelling at the top of your lungs when someone is sleeping?
“Be QUIET!” I tried to shout as quietly as possible, which is an oxymoron, but also seemed to be the only thing I could do… unless you’re thinking I should have gotten off the couch and gone to him myself.
But really, why should his inability to find his own bath products in his own bathroom mean that I have to get up when I’ve only just sat down? In fact, I suddenly recalled that Mr. December was upstairs reading. Surely he would deal with N. Right? And then–
“WAAAAAAH! EEEMAAA!” That was E.
I was about to jump up and go to her when I heard Mr. December walking down the hall to her room. You know what, I thought to myself, he’s the parent too. He can handle whatever it is without me.
“SARA?” I heard his voice, “CLEANUP, AISLE ONE!”
Great. Just… great. I gave up on my dream of hot tea and joined him upstairs where the cleanup situation was nowhere near as dire as I thought it would be. Several baby wipes later, it was like there had never been a puddle of piddle on the floor outside the bathroom. E’s bed was dry. Everything was fine.
N was ready to be tucked in. We read him the riot act as concerns yelling in the house after bedtime. I hugged him, rubbed his now-velvety head, and tucked him in.
Back downstairs, I sat down with my computer again and–
“Eema? Remember you said we could cut my hair tonight?” K asked.
“Cut how much? I thought we were just trimming your bangs,” I said lamely.
“No, it’s too much work having long hair. I want to cut it to here.” She indicated her jawline with one hand.
“No. Sorry, but no. Not tonight. We don’t have that kind of time.” I said resolutely.
“Can you at least braid my hair so it’s not all knotted in the morning?”
That I could do. We watched The Crown while I braided K’s hair and my tea got cold. N seemed to think it was a good time to come downstairs for a book, and then had the nerve to say that I hadn’t tucked him in yet. I chased him towards the stairs.
“I already gave you a lovely tuck-in. If you choose to get out of bed after I’ve tucked you in, I’m not obligated to tuck you in again. Go. To. Bed!”
Back to my couch, and to my lukewarm tea which was saved from mediocrity by the shot of Frangelico I’d added to it. Back to writing this post. And finally, I was still for long enough to inventory how I was feeling tonight:
Feet – painful and tingly; Headache – barely there; Eyes – still feeling as though I’d cried through the night and not slept a wink; Brain – whirring and whirring and producing nothing. I want to sleep. I want some ice cream.
I remember the first time I really felt like an adult: it was my thirtieth birthday and I was at the Vancouver Airport with K, trying to make arrangements after our flight was cancelled or delayed or something. In the end, we had to wait around in the airport all day (from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.) until our flight took off. K was at an age where she would follow my lead completely. Unfortunately, that meant that I couldn’t sit down on a bench and have a cry like I wanted to. I had to pull up my socks, make a plan, and act like it was all fun and games.
This is what it means to be anadult, I thought. It’s when you can’t complain and whine and refuse to act, because if you don’t hold it together, nobody will.
I didn’t hold it together today. Thank God for Mr. December, who made me go for a walk outside for a while and then let me be. At some point I realized I couldn’t stare at Facebook any longer. I couldn’t really be present with the kids. And though my instinct was to fill the gaping pit inside me with food, I knew I’d regret it later. So I did the only thing I could: I curled up in bed and tried my best to sleep.
Do I feel better? No. But a few hours passed where I was asleep and insensible to the world, and that feels a heck of a lot better than being awake right now. I’m really just waiting for darkness to fall so I can go to bed again, naïvely hoping that I’ll feel better tomorrow.