Thursday, April 30, 2015

You don't know what you've got till you lose it all again

As with Thanksgiving, which was lovely but also incredibly painful, there's another heavy milestone coming up.  Emma's 18th birthday is in a little over a week.

My emotions are very close to the surface these days.  Every conversation I have at some point turns to her, and I cry.  I'll go through periods of a few hours when I'm OK, and then a period of a few hours when my eyes are constantly leaking and if I breathe too deeply I'll break down.

I feel weighted down and anxious, like I've got big, cold rocks sitting on my chest.

Music is a time machine.

When I'm driving, I toggle back and forth between 80s on 8 or the classic 80s alternative station, and I get whiplash from the immediate, visceral associations that different songs bring on.

Journey's Open Arms comes on and suddenly I'm 13 years old and in the downstairs of the student union building at the American International School in Kfar Shmaryahu, Israel, doing the side-to-side slow dance shuffle that is embedded in the DNA of every American teenager at middle school dances everywhere.  I can see the table of hors d'oevres, with the last few tired sprigs of broccoli and carrots lying next to the few remaining dregs of hummus in a plastic bowl. I can see what I and everyone else is wearing, including the high-waisted jeans that, for reasons I will never understand, are coming back in style.  I feel the unfortunately chosen hairstyle that I'm sporting - bangs on my forehead, even though bangs look shitty on me and my hair has too many funky cowlicks and curls for them to sit the way I want them to.  I can smell the Old Spice wafting from the face of the nervous boy with whom I'm swaying to the music.

Then Bruce Hornsby's Valley Road comes on, and I careen 2800 miles southeast and 4 years forward in time, to a hotel balcony in Kerala, India.  My friends and I are on our school's annual "mini-course" trip - a week when the high school students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi fan out across the subcontinent to get hands-on experience in the customs, traditions and history of India - and the trip we've chosen is a week at the beach.  We do some sightseeing and partake in activities with some education value. But for the most part, our chaperones are as content as we are to sunbathe during the day and hang out at night on our hotel balconies drinking beer (we didn't drink with the teachers, but there's no way they didn't know, especially because there was no drinking age that was enforced) and smoking cigarettes and listening to music, including the new Bruce Hornsby and the Range album, which was hugely popular (and which still holds up almost 30 years later).

Against my shins, I can feel the edges of the blue sarong, interwoven with gold threads, that I am wearing as a dress.  I can feel the soft humid warm air on my bare shoulders, and smell the plumeria flowers in the trees.  I can hear the voices of my friends, laughing and talking and arguing over nothing of consequence.  I feel the butterflies in my belly and chest, brought about by the fact that this week, the boy I've been crazy about all year has professed his love for me as well.  We're sitting next to each other and our arms and hands keep brushing together.  Everything is beautiful and new and exciting, and the magic of life is spread out before me like an enormous silk rug.

Suddenly I'm back in my car in 2015, on my way to Sports Authority to pick up cleats and soccer socks for the kids.  I'm sobbing, because the rush of nostalgia - that yearning for the time in my life when everything was possible - mixes with the fact that Emma's life ended just as she was getting to that point.  My head drops and the tears fall and my breathing gets ragged.  I have to pull over.

After a couple of minutes, I take a deep breath and collect myself.  I check the rearview mirror and wipe the runny mascara from my face.  I change the radio station and start driving again, off to run my errands and then meet my children at the soccer fields.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

She's got the usage down pat. And the spelling.

One of the things my dad likes to talk about is how different his three children are, despite having been raised by the same parents with the same rules and the same amount of love.  (For the most part, re the rules.  Josh and I maintain, I think correctly, that Sam, as the youngest child who experienced parental discipline after they had already been worn down, got away with much more than either of us would have).

And obviously, we're all different people.

The personality differences between Zeke and Josie are becoming more pronounced.  She likes hard rock-type headbanger music (I've seen her jump around to Ozzy Osborne).  Zeke prefers singer-songwriter stuff like Mumford and Sons.  They still both love Katy Perry.

Zeke is very sensitive, and extremely concerned with being in my good graces.  For me to tell him that I'm disappointed in him is about the harshest thing I could say.  But at the same time, he's receptive to being corrected.  If I tell him that I don't like something he's doing and that he needs to change it, he usually will.

Josie, on the other hand, gives zero fucks about being in trouble (most of the time).  If she misbehaves, I can go on a tirade about the various ways she's pissing me off, and she'll pretty much roll her eyes at me and just wait patiently until I'm done.

So they have extremely divergent attitudes about swear words.

Neither J nor I swear in front of the kids (save for the occasional slip-up, or words like "hell" or "damn").  I know that they know the words, and probably use them with their friends when adults are out of earshot, but I hate it when I hear kids swearing.

Zeke is very conscientious.  On the rare occasion that I'm watching a grown-up movie (i.e., something rated beyond PG) when they walk into a room, Zeke will hear bad language and say solemnly, "Mama, we shouldn't be hearing language like this."  Josie, on the other hand, will soak it all in before I have a chance to turn it off.  Filing it away for later.

When we were leaving Iceland, we decided to get something to eat at the airport before getting on the plane.  The airport is kind of weirdly sprawling, so there are endless hallways and a huge duty free area.  It was hard to figure out the best place to get something fast.  We finally settled on Joe and the Juicea cafeteria-style place where you can get stuff like pizza and hot dogs (Icelandic hot dogs are the shiz) and pre-made pastas like lasagna.

The place was a zoo, and ridiculously disorganized.  Nobody could figure out where the lines began or ended, or what the procedure was for ordering something.  And getting the food took forever.  I ordered a small cheese pizza.  It took 20 minutes, and by the time I hustled back to where the kids were sitting with my parents, I was a frazzled mess.

"Geez, that was crazy.  I can't believe how inefficient their system is,"  I said.

Josie waved her arms around and exclaimed, "what's with this fucking line??"

My eyes widened.

"Seriously, can you believe this fucking line??" she repeated.  She sounded like an indignant New Yorker.

"What did you just say?"  I was shocked, but the way she said it was so perfect that it was also hilarious, so I had to keep a straight face.

She kind of shrugged and just looked at me.

I gave her the "we do not use that kind of language that is inappropriate missy" speech, while she gazed at me, looking bored.  I was trying really hard not to laugh.

Zeke was scandalized.  "Mama!  Josie used the 'f' word!  The one ends with an 'n.'"

At this point I'm biting the insides of my cheeks to keep from cracking up.  My parents, who were grinning at this whole exchange, weren't helping matters.

"Actually, the 'f' word she used ends with a 'g,'" I clarified.

"No, Mama," Josie corrected me.  "It's the one that ends with an 'n.'"

And the way she said it, I guess she was right.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Important lessons in phallology, and other tales from Iceland

We went to Iceland last week for spring break.  Me and the kids and my parents.  It was a fabulous trip in a fascinating country I had never visited before.  We learned about the Vikings and went to museums about whales and the aurora borealis.  

And penises.

Yep, there's a penis museum in Iceland (the only one of its kind in the world, apparently), featuring specimens from the various mammals indigenous to Iceland.  The kids were looking forward to going there for months.  At one point before we left, I was telling Josie about the different things we could see in Iceland, including a museum with life-size replicas of whales.

"Doesn't that sound cool?"

"Mama, I don't want to do anything until we've seen the penis museum."

Fair enough.  Luckily, it was right down the street from our apartment.

Mrs. Humpback Whale is a happy camper
So we saw specimens that ran the gamut from humpback whale penises to tiny little mouse penises, and everything in between.  They even have a human specimen (how they obtained it is the subject of the documentary "The Final Member," currently streaming on Netflix).

Josie's remarks on it were, "geez, it's really hairy!"

It's good to learn these things early.

Everything about the trip felt like an adventure.  We went on a helicopter ride over Reykjavik and saw the lava- and volcano-covered countryside, including landing on the side of a volcano next to a thermal vent, where boiling water was bubbling out of the snowy ground.

The view of Reykjavik from the helicopter.  The tall building is the Hallgrimskirkja, a beautiful church and the tallest building in the city.
A geothermal vent.  Iceland is basically one giant geothermal hotspot.
We climbed up the side of a cliff (via a built in staircase) and viewed the spectacular Skogafoss waterfall from the top.

The kids were totally down with walking up the 438 steps to the viewing platform (and insisted on counting the steps as they climbed).
We saw the Strokkur geysir erupt about 5 times (it goes off every 4-5 minutes).  Every single time it was startling and thrilling.

We hiked to a glacier.  It's amazing to think of the land being shaped and molded by these giant, heavy flows of ice.

The marbled glacier ice.  To get a sense of the scale of it, you can see a person on the right side of the photo, hiking up it.
We went to the black sand beaches of the southern coast, with its enormous, angry surf and its otherworldly cliffs and rock formations borne of ancient volcanoes.

Cliffs formed by basalt columns at the Reynisfjara beach (similar to the Giant's Causeway in Ireland).
The landscape was like nothing I'd ever seen, desolate and lunar-looking and stark and beautiful.  It felt like being on another planet, sometimes.

But then we were brought back to Earth by the inevitable crazy-small-world encounter.  The last night we were there was the first night of Passover.  Before the trip, we went online to see if there was a Passover seder somewhere in Reykjavik that we could attend, and found one run by a Chabad group.  Chabad is an ultra-orthadox Hassidic movement in Judaism, and quite honestly, I find its practitioners to be creepy as fuck, but it was the only game in town.  When we got there and I went to introduce myself to the rabbi, without thinking I reached out my hand for him to shake.  He recoiled as if I had threatened to spit on him and said, "sorry, but my mother taught me to never touch anything that isn't mine."  Ugh.  Fuck you, dude.

But I digress.  Back to the small world.

There were a bunch of other folks there, a couple of locals, but mostly people like us who were traveling and wanted to still observe the holiday - Americans, an Italian, some Israelis, and a French woman who was married to an Icelander.  After we went through the initial part of the ceremony and had dinner, we went around the room to introduce ourselves, say where we were from, and maybe say something about our own experiences or traditions with Passover.

One of the women was a retired teacher named Susie from central Colorado.  She and her husband were traveling through northern Europe to do some nordic skiing.  And so we compared notes and it turns out she knows a bunch of people in the Colorado special education world that I know, and is close friends with a woman who works in my office.  But to meet Susie, I had to go to a Passover seder in freaking Iceland.

The kids, meanwhile, had a blast with the children of the French-Icelandic couple.  Rather than sit through the seder, which included a lot of songs they weren't familiar with because I don't include them in my seders at home (Josie harumphed, "this isn't a dinner!  It's a song-over!"), the kids hung out in this little play area in the hotel outside the dining room.  The other kids spoke only French, and my kids speak only English, but they immediately established a rapport and had fun playing.

Zeke came back in and exclaimed, "Mama, I love this Passover!  I get to play with my friends!"

"What are their names?" I asked.

"I don't know," he shrugged, and headed back out to them.

We came home the next day, happy and tired, with our horizons broadened and new, nameless friends to call our own.