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“Bad” Bananas

I am not much for dispensing marriage advice, mostly because people are so individual that the pat broad strokes that you get used to hearing often don’t apply to your specific relationship.

So instead I give you my Wisdom from Experience:

A “successful” (judge at your own peril) marriage is optimizing two people’s most unusual features in the most productive way.

It’s being able to guess at your partner’s reaction to a situation, but then adapt in a nanosecond when you realize you were totally wrong. This may happen a lot, because people are fucking whimsical. Stay alert.

Here’s one story from my marriage, circa yesterday/today.

Yesterday, I noticed we had four bananas going bad on the counter. “I am going to make muffins,” I said to myself. (NB: To myself.)  I make muffins a lot, about once a week, because the kids each take one to school every day. Not always banana (sad reason for that is coming up).

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Grab three friends and we’ve got a batch of muffins

I also went grocery shopping yesterday. We are coming into the time of year in Israel when bananas are breaking hearts all over the place. They are either hard and green or completely missing from store shelves. It is a tense few months.

So I bought green bananas. (It’s ok; we’re all healthy.)

Taxman often takes a banana for breakfast. He’s a good egg, so he eats them from almost anywhere on the banana chart, unlike me and the kids.

banana chart

Did you think I was joking about the chart? Also, this chart needs at least two more on the green end of the spectrum, if I am being honest. (Nobody eats those, though.)

Thus: I had the right number of squishy bananas on the counter to make a batch of muffins.

However, if it had been just one overripe banana on the counter, I would have wanted him to eat it ASAP. (Three – or two, in a pinch – can be a batch of pancakes, but one is utterly useless.) We have tried to freeze smashed overripe banana before, and it just never ends well; we don’t speak of it any more.

When I got down to unearthing my kitchen this morning, I discovered…all four bad bananas. Muffins are made. Kids have vittles.

monkey bananas

Sure, it’s messy, but what if it keeps them quiet for like four minutes? Then it’s totally worth it.

I don’t know if he:

a) left me the four bad bananas because he knew, telepathically
b) only saw the green bananas
c) skipped breakfast entirely
d) was concentrating on taking out the garbage

Naturally, our only communication today after 8:00 am has been about the kids’ math enrichment classes.

Nevertheless, I managed to snag some green-yellow bananas on the way home from Pilates, and I might even draw some hearts on them because the above non-incident incident is some prime family synergy optimization, you know?

Take care of your love in whatever way you do.

PS: We have been know to sing the chorus to both “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and “I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)” because we excel at bemusing-slash-exasperating our children, and if that isn’t a strong foundation for the next 45 years I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

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17 things I did right in 2017

If you’ve been here for a while, you probably know that I am not, shall we say, an optimist. I am not really a pessimist, either. I am just…pragmatic? By the age I am (42), life experience has primed me to expect certain things or patterns. So that’s what I do.

Which isn’t to say that I just allow myself to be swept along by fate or any such thing. I am trying to be an active participant in my own life. So here are 17 small decisions I made in 2017.

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  • I had weird physical symptoms and went to the doctor for testing and reassuring right away. This shouldn’t make news, right? But how many adults ignore symptoms for themselves that in their children would have them running for the phone? Lots.
    TL; dr – it seems that it was extremely typical lactose intolerance, not IBS or something dire.
  • On my gp’s advice, I cut out dairy. It was rough, because I have a thing for cheese. When I finally saw a GI specialist, a couple of months later, he said I could experiment with lactase, which mostly works. Dairy and I have come to a détente, one might say, although I am definitely not the cheeseaholic I was 12 months ago.
  • I have tried to be really strict with myself about exercising five times a week, some combo of Pilates, lap swimming, and fast dog walking, with an occasional tennis outing versus my son thrown in to keep me humble. Some days I only have time to bang out 500m in the pool (which I can now do in 18 minutes), but it feels like an investment in my future.
  • I learned a ton about how the American government works. It’s embarrassing that it took the worst president and most cruel Congress of my lifetime for me to get on that, but there you go. I probably knew some of these things in high school – that was a long time ago – but absolutely not all the ins and outs of how U.S. laws get built and passed. Lots of gratitude to Pod Save America for that.
  • I heard a lot of stories about compassion, and I hope to plug that into my own life. Yay, podcasts! (Death, Sex & Money – fantastic)
  • We started to use the library again after a long absence.
  • We stopped to pet street cats and friendly dogs. I show the Dog Rates twitter feed to my children because it makes us all happy.
  • I didn’t lie in job interviews. I can’t imagine who on Earth would want to get caught in those sorts of lies, but presumably lots of people have no issue with it. I believe it cost me a job for which I was overqualified, and it cost me a job in the final stretches of a ridiculously long hiring process for something that was not even middle management. I am going to stick with the “honesty is the best policy” program in 2018 and hope I don’t continue to get screwed over or ghosted (yes, this happened to me – twice in the same month) in the process.
  • I removed myself from uncomfortable situations when I could not make it better.
  • I tried not to feed trolls.
  • I actively sought out fiction written by non-white authors and found some amazing things. I am going to go further with this in 2018.
  • We found a way for our kids to talk to us on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s just silly family stories, but we’ve covered some serious subjects too. Before everyone goes Deep Teen and hates us for four to five years.
  • I tried to listen more and give advice less.
  • (Oh, god, not to my children. I am talking about full grown people, not huddled masses of hormones and questionable decision-making skills.)
  • I knit a couple of scarves as gifts. As a beginning knitter this was scary, but they were well-received as the extensions of love that they are.
  • I used a knitting + podcast combo to quell airplane traveling anxiety. Who knew this would work? Amazing.
  • Trying to plan for what I can control and relax on what I can’t. It is a work in progress, though. Adulting is a work in progress.

Hope things come up roses for you all in 2018.

Let’s not forget to get a new president.

 

Grit

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what we can “give” to our kids versus what they develop on their own.

In some cases you lay out all the tools you possess right in front of them and wait for them to pick them up. (Manners, I am looking at you.)

[It’s kind of fascinating, if you have the distance to look at it like a documentary filmmaker. My internal narrator is nothing like David Attenborough, though – rather someone who is light on research and heavy on sarcasm.]

Anyway, this is a post about AM. He’s 11 now, more than halfway to 12, and has more than his share of self-possession. He’s passionate about math, games, and…tennis.

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AM has been playing tennis for 2 1/2 years. His universe begins and ends with Roger Federer. He was kind of alarmed a few weeks ago when Taxman and I listed all the tennis stars we could think of, stretching back to the early ’80s. You mean, there was professional tennis before Roger Federer? (Not sure he believed us when we told him that racquets were made out of wood not that long ago.)

I used to play extremely casually from maybe age 10-14, meaning I would accompany my mom and stepdad to the tennis court as they played (also casually), or play on brick walls. I played at summer camp. I had an average forehand, a terrible backhand, and could volley decently. Somewhere along the line I learned how to serve, but could never put a lot of power behind it.

This casual approach to tennis is not something my son can understand. He’s in a group class twice a week with several friends. But class is only 45 minutes, so he shows up 45 minutes early and plays on an empty court with a buddy. Most Sunday afternoons, when he has nothing happening after school, he calls a friend and goes to play for an hour or more. After he burns through his screen time on his phone (which is restricted, BADLY), he plants himself in front of the computer to watch videos of…Roger Federer. Oh, and also Hawk-Eye shots. (The first time he mentioned these, I made a joke about M*A*S*H, but like I said, this kid is suspicious of anything that happened before 2005, so he refused to engage.)

A month ago he fell on his left hand as he was chasing a loose ball and sprained two fingers. He called me, crying, as his fourth and fifth fingers turned indigo, and we bundled him off to urgent care. Two weeks in splints. But no matter, he was back on the court the next week.

This weekend, he won his division (of 23 kids) in his tennis school’s fall tournament. He passed through the first round with no trouble, then had closer matches in the semi-final and finals. (Not real games, but scoring individual points on a narrow half-court – which actually requires a lot of control to stop from going wide.)

But here’s the thing: He’s not a natural athlete. He’s in good shape because he bikes everywhere and runs around like a lunatic at recess, but he is not gifted in this way. He’s not tall, nor exceptionally strong. Yet he’s managed to claw his way to the top tier of some athletic things. He captured the last spot on his school’s tiny track team – six 5th and 6th grade boys – and competed in our city’s road race in November.

Same for tennis: He’s put in hours and hours and drawn himself by sheer will to the next level of play. He’s not a graceful player – just fierce. He has a great forehand, but his backhand fails him sometimes.  He’s had to learn to contain himself in order to put the ball between those restrictive lines. He sometimes gets furious with himself or his opponent (though this is improving). He’s less Federer and more McEnroe, sometimes. (Ema, Ema, he would sigh, McEnroe is left-handed. I am not left-handed. My literal heart.)

He has grit. This isn’t something we taught him; he just has it. (It’s not going to turn him into a professional tennis player, though, so eventually I hope he will direct it elsewhere.)

It makes me a little jealous, as I don’t think I recall ever being on fire for something as much as he is for tennis. Does reading novels on the couch count? Does that take grit? I once plowed through Anna Karenina in four days.

So I just sit and marvel. And overlook the trail of racquets and balls and shoes that line my living room. It seems like the least I can do.

Under construction

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My city, building, as always

I have been inhabiting a difficult space, between my past and my future. The questions of “What do you want to be?” and “What do you want to do?” have never been in such high relief.

Being unsure that my skills, relied upon in various iterations of employment for 20 years, match any answers to the above questions.

I wish I could skip ahead, through the hard part, to a place where I feel confident and worthy of whatever comes my way. I don’t even know what that experience would entail, honestly.

In the meantime, I might be writing here more. I should make a “to be determined” category, because “uncategorized” doesn’t seem aspirational enough.

Being amorphous is pretty terrifying.

Pray like nobody’s watching

Two days ago, in Machne Yehuda (one of Jerusalem’s markets), I stumbled upon a simple scene that really brought home what I’m doing here.

An Orthodox minyan, a prayer quorum, was meeting for the afternoon prayer in the back of a shop selling nuts, dried fruit, spices, and candy. Despite a synagogue deeper inside the market, a whole 90-second walk away, this ad hoc group just took a quick break from work or shopping and got it done.

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It still sometimes startles – and thrills me – to realize that Israel is full of religious people doing their thing. A lot of them are Jews. (Not exclusively; I’ve seen Moslem prayer rugs in use on roadsides and sidewalks as well. Jerusalem is also home to monks and nuns in their religious dress, who regularly take public transport and shop in the markets.) This isn’t to say that the atmosphere is suffused with it; in Tel Aviv, a much more secular-seeming place, afternoon prayers are usually decently tucked away in office meeting rooms, and non-kosher food options outnumber the kosher ones.

Anyway, after spending so many years in America trying to make my outward religious expression muted in order to shield myself from confrontation or awkwardness or, god, all the explaining, it is odd that I generally don’t have to anymore. (This is partially luck, as I haven’t had to be the only religious co-worker in a firm, which has definitely happened to people I know.) At work in America, I prayed in stairwells; said the grace after meals swiftly at my desk with my head nearly tucked under my desk. I pretended to like hats as a fashion statement.

The other day I was in a doctor’s waiting room with my son, and sunset was imminent. “Did you say mincha at school?” I asked.
“Not today,” he said.
“So do it right now; you’re about to run out of time.”
“Which way do I face [towards Jerusalem]?”
I pointed him the right way, approximately, and he just did it, in a room full of a dozen people.

It is a small thing, hard to describe, without seeming like a fanatic. But I was one of five Jews in my high school graduating class of a couple of hundred.

Watching my children blending in, seamlessly, puts air in my lungs.

 

The T-Shirt Paradox

Do you ever feel trapped? Not TRAPPED like “I’m going to chew off my leg now,” but more, “Hey, this hamster wheel keeps spinning, and I’m not sure what will happen if it stops, but it’s probably not a good idea to stop, so I’ll just keep going.”

(I do enjoy a good run-on sentence from time to time.)

Tangent

I used to hate even the idea of being trendy or following some sort of herd.

I never owned a piece of clothing from Benetton (when it was all the rage) or bought Doc Marten boots (my college roommate had umpteen pairs, but unfortunately we didn’t wear the same size) or got a second ear piercing.

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I could have been so cute! On someone else’s dime! WTF is wrong with you, past me?

(I made an exception for those Banana Republic shirts with the animals on the back, for reasons I don’t remember. Who doesn’t like paying twice as much as normal for a dumb t-shirt?)

This rejection of trendy did not make me cool. It made me a dork. Sometimes people invest themselves in trends that are not worth it, but sometimes brands or styles really hold up. Sometimes you really can dress something up or down; celebrity endorsements aside, some items are just worth the money.

Now I am all about the intersection of “comfort and style and branding and fiscal responsibility and I don’t really care what everyone else thinks.” So I live in Naot sandals, buy a lot of SkirtSports gear, and am pretty devoted to my few-generations behind iPhone. So I am not on-trend, exactly, but more like chugging along on a parallel track that misses a few stations.

(PS I tried to buy a pair of Chucks, which I have never owned, in America a few months ago, but the store I was at did not carry them in half sizes. WHAT? I am definitely not shelling out money for shoes that don’t fit correctly.)

/tangent
(sorta)

Into the Hamster Wheel

So imagine my dismay when I discovered that my current fragile mental state is shared by so many GenX women. Blame it on perimenopause. Blame it on money worries. Blame it on career dissatisfaction. (Not mentioned in the article, but an astute IRL/Twitter friend pointed out that the last election has engendered mental pacing on an unprecedented level. “Oh HAI misogyny and bigotry and warmongering; we thought you were pretty unacceptable, but we see you’re back in a big way. Sad panda. I am not going to be needing this pillow, as I am never sleeping again.”)

Good thing I am fine with being in the herd now.

Say Goodbye to Your Shirts

I have a problem with my shirts. Almost all of them get tiny holes in them, about six inches from the bottom, right in front. Eventually, some holes “bleed” together and make much bigger holes. I try to reserve my new shirts, or shirts that I especially like, because I know that eventually they will be sacrificed to the “t-shirts I can only wear to bed” pile.

Because I spend a lot of time in my house, tiny holes in my shirts didn’t matter that much, but they made me crazy. Nobody else in the house was getting these holes. Was it my seatbelt in the car? Skirt buttons? Was it the washing machine nibbling only my clothes? None of these ideas made sense.

A friend tipped me off – it is our Caesarstone countertops hitting me in the gut every time I prep food or stand at the sink.

Oh.

Too bad I can’t take a pass on everything in my kitchen forevermore to save my shirts.

The Call is Coming from Inside the House

Yep.

But do I not wear shirts? Do I wear the same one over and over again until it disintegrates? Do I never wear the shirts I like the most in order to save them? Do I buy 3 of the same shirt?

I can already hear well-intentioned people thinking, “Oh, she should wear an apron!” That is so sweet. It will never work. I autopilot so many *kitchen things that adding a “step zero” will never take.

*Also life things. There is a relatively new law in Israel about re-usable bags. I have had to fling them around my house and car, literally by the dozen, so I am not caught without them.

So that’s my hamster wheel.

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This smushy face would never chew holes in my clothes. She’s too tired and has her own perimenopausal stuff to take care of, presumably.

It has tiny holes and kitchen chores. It does not have enough disposable income for a cleaning person. It does not have a full-time job.

If you’re too traumatized to click through to the piece linked above, this goes right to the heart of the matter, for me:

“The message Gen X women got was ‘You can have it all.’ … That came with better blueprints and also bigger expectations,” says Deborah Luepnitz, PhD, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia, a boomer and author of Schopenhauer’s Porcupines. “In midlife, what I see in my Gen X patients is total exhaustion. That’s what brings them to treatment. They feel guilty for complaining because it’s wonderful to have had choices that our mothers didn’t have, but choices don’t make life easier. Possibilities create pressure.”

(IT’S ME AND MY MOM, YOU GUYS!)

Possibilities. We still have them in midlife, but they can start to seem so abstract. Yes, I could go get a doctorate, but where would I find the graduate school tuition? I could switch careers—therapist? Zamboni driver?—but at this stage of life, do I really want to start from the bottom, surrounded by 20-year-olds? If I went on an Eat, Pray, Love walkabout, who would pick up the kid from school?

(IT’S ME AND MY LIFE, YOU GUYS!)

Midlife is when we need to take care of everyone else while we are our most tired, to trust ourselves when we’re most filled with doubt.

(Don’t show this sentence to someone with a new baby; she won’t be able to get out of bed ever again.)

If someone would like to meet in the virtual all-night cafe of insomnia, simmering with rage and worry, I am pretty sure they have pie.

Another American massacre due to guns is in the books, and the politicians at all levels, local to national, are telling people that thoughts and prayers is the appropriate response, not shredding the current gun policies and starting over with a 21st century perspective, outside the confines of what the NRA wants.

This sticks in my craw, but not just because I am bleeding-heart liberal who believes in strict gun control, but because I am a religious Jew and this idea of lying limp and letting God’s will wash over you (thoughts) and mentally/verbally responding (prayers) is not how we roll.

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Prayer has its place. But it is not a universally appropriate response.

(Note: I am not trained in Jewish thought; this is just a reflection of my experiences.)

So there is a concept that I’ve come to know in my almost 25 years of being religious. It’s called hishtadlus (or hishtadlut). It comes from the Hebrew verb that means, basically, “to make an effort.” The word is fancier that “to try,” in that you know you’re going to have to work for something.

I ran into this idea a lot while spending time on Orthodox Jewish infertility message boards. “We are doing our hishtadlus,” people would write. Meaning that while thoughts and prayers did not fall by the wayside in the quest to make a baby, there would also be blood tests and hormone injections; sperm counts and HSGs; egg retrievals and ICSI; phone calls and insurance fights; phlebotomists, nurses, doctors, and rabbis on call.

Thoughts and prayers, in fact, were something that you could delegate to people who were not in the thick of the fight.

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I know lots of babies that have been made this way. Thoughts and prayers alone were not enough.

The people on these message boards felt lucky that there were ways to attack infertility, medically speaking, and that it was approved in the eyes of religious authorities – sometimes with a few tweaks – and fully acknowledged that in a generation before ours thoughts and prayers, the only tools readily available then, most likely would have resulted in never becoming parents.

Failing to do hishtadlus doesn’t mean that you’ll never get what you’re seeking. (Also: Doing it doesn’t mean that you will.) But it seems to be an integral part of how you are meant to approach your life. Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we are called to implement specific changes. Prayer is one of them, but the others are giving charity and doing teshuva. Teshuva is repentance, but it has a more active component than you might think – righting of wrongs between people can require serious introspection but also verbal or written apologies, discussions, or compensation.

Whether or not the trio of prayer, repentance, and charity change our fate for the year is clearly unknowable, but you have to wonder — what if this combination of cerebral/emotional/physical modifications to our behavior were permanent, rather than being a feature associated with the “days of awe”? Would we be on our way to being better people, living in a better society?

Living at this level of consciousness is hard.

Saying “I’m sorry” immediately is hard, especially if you’re angry or sad.

Giving a lot of charity on a regular basis is going to have an impact on your bottom line.

Connecting in prayer on a deep level every day? Good luck.

But here’s the thing: 
Elected representatives are elected to do hard things. They are faced with difficult choices every day. They will never be able to please everyone, but there are people relying on them. When they take those steps back, pulling the curtain around them that says “thoughts and prayers,” they are hiding from the hard things, the hurt, the disappointments and grief. They are not making the effort. They are backing away from the fight.

I hope that the representatives who fail to make the effort will be replaced by those who are willing to try.