Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tossing the Coin: School vs. Fun?

Last week I happened upon an article about excessive demands and burnout. Although primarily focused on the workplace, I wondered if this assessment might be extended to other venues such as, say, school. This would definitely explain the local fad of taking children out of school to give them a "day off." Just to be clear, I don't mean for doctor's appointments or because they're not feeling well or for those special occasions when a relative is visiting from abroad but rather, to give junior a day to lay on the couch, eat bonbons, watch television and basically, recuperate.
I'd like a show of hands. How many parents think that their children are deserving of a "day off" every now and then? If I were to pose this question to my friends back in the U.S. of A. it would surely garner a kind of twisted, cynical "Are you kidding me?"-look leaving no room for interpretation. Just try to find a comic satirizing parents actually running away from school with their children instead of shoving them back inside! Yet here in my adopted neighborhood there are a fair number of parents that think otherwise!                           
Having rarely missed a day of school, let alone been allowed to stay home to "hang," I've tried to familiarize myself with the fundamental reasoning behind what I consider to be a positively inane practice. Here's what I've come up with: Kids are being given a "day off," commonly known as a "fun day" in the local jargon, because they've "earned it." Apparently, certain parents feel that the arduous and exhausting experience of attending school every day demands more of a recovery than the natural one that comes at the end of every week (otherwise known as the weekend) and those that come in the form of vacation days.
I did a quick calculation: Here in Israel kids have approximately 180 days off for roaming and such. Despite this inordinate margin for freedom (50 percent of the year??) a fair number of local parents regularly whisk their little darlings away from school. I suppose, in light of all the burnout noted in the press, there simply isn't enough time for "fun." Whether aged eighteen or six (even kindergartners tire of building block towers and digging plastic figures out of the sand box) children need to be "relieved" from a tiresome day at school (and all of those demands that go along with it) and offered alternative, more enjoyable, and relaxing activities such as surfing, bowling, go-carting, fishing, shopping and/or lunch with mommy.
My poor, deprived, and obviously quite envious children have never been given a "day off" let alone anything as frivolous as a "fun day" and with only a few more years of secondary education remaining in this household I can guarantee that there is absolutely no chance they'll get one. Maybe I'm just a little too square—or a lot. A look at the by-laws in other Western countries (primarily the UK and USA), as well as posted by the Israeli education ministry, reveals no inclusion of a "fun day" among the acceptable reasons to miss school. Valid reasons include quarantine, illness, and recovery from accident; required court attendance and death in family. There is one clause on educational tours and trips which could be bent to fit the scope of some of these "outings" but I'm fairly certain they aren't intended to include breakfast with mom at a café in Tel Aviv. I suppose the story would be quite different if, as in the United Kingdom, absence of school were considered against the law--offending parents fined for each infraction! It's actually quite amusing to consider how such a fine would go over here in the Middle East where a school's ability to collect annual fees is even problematic.

For the record, there was a time when I anticipated that days in the Israeli public school system would be inconsequential, unnecessary and easily skipped—a long metaphorical climb down from the ivory tower of education I knew growing up in private American institutions. I've come to understand otherwise. Fifteen years experience as a parent here and I'm continually impressed by what I expected to be a far less inspiring, entirely mediocre experience. At this point I'm even willing to admit that my children are actually being educated. I wouldn't dream of withdrawing them from school now and then to give them a break because I think that sticking it out, exactly when they don't feel like it, is part of the reason they go in the first place! In fact, I can't imagine anything more important than encouraging them to learn to cope with demands, difficulty, and effort. Would it be too much to suggest that parents take one step back and stop trying to save their children from living in a world of expectations? It's not terribly difficult to figure out that when roles are blurred, boundaries smudged and limits compromised everyday life becomes that much more difficult to negotiate.

But maybe I've missed an even deeper issue here—one which actually explains what otherwise makes no sense. The answer might just lay in the question: "Who are these days actually fun for?" Perhaps they're more about amusing and relieving the parents' humdrum lives and very little about "saving" the children. Although a mid day tête-à-tête certainly has its appeal, and might very well alleviate my own inertia, I'm pretty much unwilling to give up the pleasure of an empty house. That being said, far be it from me to ruin someone else's idea of fun. Another quick calculation provides the comforting fact that even in the longest-day scenario an astronomical 70% of each day (that's 17 hours) is still available for parental design. Imagine the possibilities and yes, let the fun begin!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Clunk. There's a sharp thud. The chassis of the car has smacked hard against the raised concrete speed bump on the road. It occurs to me in a flash: Forest Gump had it all wrong. Life isn't like a box of chocolates. Life actually isn't "like" anything. Life is one speed bump after another and how we negotiate this endless series of bumps completely determines its manner and course.

So, back to the speed bump:  There are two ways to drive over a speed bump. One can slow down, almost to a stop, essentially "easing" over the bump so that one barely feels it or, alternatively, accelerate into it, assuming that speed will lift the car into the air Chitty Chitty Bang Bang style, and nary a bump will be felt. (Oh, and there's also the non-confrontational manner of avoiding the bump entirely by veering slightly off the road. Since that doesn't really count as "coping" I've discounted it here.) A recent discussion with my son over the preferred course of action, held while careening along in his rickety 14 year old Ford Fiesta, (this type of subject matter is par for the course during our outings,) prompted my realization that the manner one chooses, slow or fast, is an excellent metaphor for one's approach to daily challenges. In the end, it leaves no middle mode, no way to just slither through, to feel one's way. You either go for it or you don't. The speed bump as a metaphor—I love it!
Of course there are bumps, and there are bumps. This metaphor doesn't extend to disease and death but rather, those ostensibly benign challenges that can be real thorns in one's side. For example, some months back I developed a problem with my right foot which has forced me to stop running. This is no small issue for this admittedly fanatical runner. Having invested quite a few years in this inane activity this has been nothing less than devastating. Every day I drive along the road and hiss at the runners happily jogging along. How come they get to run while I can't!

I have been, proverbially, "benched!" Years ago, while studying in Ann Arbor, I was quite jealous of my friends back on the East Coast. How had I choose to bury myself (quite literally in the winter) in the Mid West when there was obviously a whole lot of fun and actually, "life", going on back East. A friend of mine put it succinctly: living in the Mid West is very much like being made to sit on the bench in a baseball game. The whole team is on the field. The whole team is busy getting on with it, playing the game, while a few poor souls are stuck sitting on the bench--just watching and waiting. Harbach's The Art of Fielding, which I read while planted on my stationary bicycle since, yep, I can no longer run, confirmed that there is simply no worse punishment.

The most pathetic part is that it has dawned on me that being benched, sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is up and on the move, is kind of my present modus operandi. It extends far beyond my foot injury and well into my personal/professional life. I have the sense, daily, that everyone else is moving forward, advancing, actually going somewhere, whereas I'm stuck, and if not entirely stuck--because I refuse to be entirely stuck--essentially sidelined.  What an awful word!! It suggests other unpleasant adjectives such as dried-up, useless, wrinkled, unimportant and past one's prime. To make matters worse it's part and parcel of that ugly mantra running through my head: "Malaise! Malaise! Middle-aged Malaise!" (Obviously reading Alice Munro's last collection of short stories wasn't a good move. In fact, I think it almost pushed me right over the edge with all that gravel leading absolutely no where at all.)

In some ways I feel that there's no point in even trying to get back into the game—it might be wiser to just raise my hands in defeat and call it a day. Seriously…I mean that would probably be the easiest option…kind of like easing oneself over that speed bump. Yet maybe, just maybe, this malaise, another obstacle that must be forged in order to get to the other side, demands another approach. And ironically, I've come to this conclusion precisely because I've been sidelined. Having another perspective, an opportunity to watch that "parade" we know as life where everyone's so busy being in the thick of things, desperately advancing with their minds tick-tick ticking, has actually instigated my enlightenment. 

In a nutshell, being stuck has allowed me the opportunity to realize that this "period" really is just one among many. Life really does boil down to how we negotiate each obstacle, one by one, because they're simply not going to stop popping up and getting in our way. Exactly how we get over, beyond and to the other side, since hovering for too long isn't an option, is what it's all about. It's time, indeed well beyond time, to take one giant step forward—or rather—put the pedal to the medal. That's it. I think I've got it. I'll try it out first and let you know how it goes. Vroom.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Electronic Traces

Two weeks ago I received an email from my father. That wouldn't have been odd a few months back. But since my dad passed on two months ago this mail sent a chill through my spine. Obviously I knew he hadn't sent it. He couldn't. In fact there aren't going to be any more emails from my dad—those one-liners that always made me smile—the constant reminders that he was thinking of me. The arrival of that mail was yet another reminder that dad was no longer with me.

My father was ill; in fact, very ill. And since he'd been diagnosed, just one year earlier, I knew that nothing would ever be the same--that there would be no escape from the inevitable. Nevertheless, although his passing was imminent—it wasn't. We were prepared. Yet we weren't. And with Father's Day around the corner I find myself floundering. How can it be that he's gone when he was always here? I look around my office, in fact right here next to the computer, and he's everywhere. I have a wheel of pictures tracing our lives together from my childhood onward (a treasured souvenir from his office), and a picture of the two of us together at my second-born son's Bar Mitzvah celebration in Philadelphia. He's hugging me tight and smiling. The same pose--every time. When I click into HeyTell on my iPhone there's a partial conversation, a leftover from one of his treatment sessions at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. (He just loved all of those funky Apps. The more the merrier.) A month ago I worked up the courage to call his cell phone. I was desperate to hear his voice: "You've reached Don Goldberg…." The voice mail box has been reset. What a loss--another loss. There are so many that I've lost count.

Back to those messages from dad's iPad: since the first one arrived there have been others. Mom is sending me pictures of the friends and family she's spending time with during this especially raw period. Although it's just short of unbearable to see his name pop up in my inbox I dread the day she'll get around to changing the name on the account. There's some comfort in these small electronic traces of a life so enormous and significant. Now when they appear in my mailbox I smile. Dad's still with us.

I cannot begin to count how much my father gave me: the list includes infinite love, affection, guidance, admiration, advice, respect and friendship—the curly hair, the eyebrows, the dimples. He knew exactly how to make me feel good about myself in any given situation. He showed infinite patience when teaching me how to tie my shoes, read a clock, ride a bike and yes, drive. I know I'm not alone in feeling that he was the best—absolutely the best. My brother had hats with this logo made, way back when, to celebrate his 60th birthday. How deserving. Those lucky enough to have received his attention, affection, warmth, advice and love, were truly blessed.

The painful reality is that while my dad was always, and I mean always, there for me, he no longer is. And I have no concept of how my life will be without him. I know that it will never be the same. The immeasurable comfort of knowing that he was on my side, albeit across the world, a feeling which cushioned my every move, is gone. The carpet has been pulled out from beneath my feet. I know that I can stand on my own—that's a big part of what both of my parents gave me—but it's not something I am entirely eager to do.

Post-mortem emails are only the tip of the iceberg. My father has left traces absolutely everywhere. He's with me when I shuttle my children from one place to another, accompanying me on each and every carpool as he did from the time I was small. He's with me when I work on a crossword puzzle, write an article, or read the newspaper. He's with me when I go to the hardware store, the liquor store and the garden store. He's with me when I wipe down one of my ill children's foreheads, open a good spy novel and watch a border-line violent HBO series or a tennis match. He's there ordering a huge plate of pasta—only spaghetti and only with tomato-based sauce. He's there for dessert: a bowl of chocolate chip mint ice cream, strawberry rhubarb, lemon meringue or key lime pie. He's with me when I cheer on the Eagles or the Phillies. He's there by the Weber pot, in front of a roaring fire, changing the flat tire of my bicycle. He's camped out in the living room or the sun room with a briefcase full of papers at his feet.

My world is inundated with his presence. He's tending his garden on Andorra Road, digging a hole for a post at the beach, watering a plant at 1830. He's sitting in a booth at Madrays, ordering a draft beer in his personal mug at McNally's, enjoying a muffin and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice at the Commissary. He's having breakfast at Park, a drink at Lacroix, dinner at Marathon Grill. He's in his office, peeking out from behind a stack of briefs, framed by hundreds of post-its and lifetime memories. He's in the Square walking the dog and waiting for me to finish my run. He's all over the beach house—his beloved Jersey shore, watching those waves come in. He's standing on the tennis court here in Caesarea, arm raised in a salute as I drive by, with his friends at the club in Loveladies, legs firmly planted, tennis arm extended either far to the right or far to the left. Wherever the shot, he'll get there. He's all over the world; peeking into the mouth of Vesuvius with me, biking along a road in Bordeaux, lying in the next bed attached to matching oxygen tanks in Cuzco. He's all of Philadelphia—from Euclid Avenue to Fairmount Park, from Panama Street to Andorra Road and back to Rittenhouse Square. He's City Hall—he's Willie Penn.

And then there are the arrivals and departures—especially difficult to bear. He's pulling up to my bunk at camp, ready to take me home after a long summer away. He's meeting me at the airport; I spot his tall profile as I run down the terminal ramp with my luggage, anticipating his firm and all-encompassing hug. He's waiting for me to pull up in my car, seated on his bench on the front deck in Loveladies. He's helping me pack my bags, my cartons, the car, but he can never say goodbye. A day or two before any departure he has a hand poised in front of his stomach with fingers raised: 3 or 4 finger agita. He's anxious. I'm leaving. I'm right there with him. I share his dislike for goodbyes. He carefully avoids that final hug, saying goodbye on the phone as mom takes me to the airport, or better yet, speaking with me once I've safely landed. My father could never have anticipated the depth of the agita I've experienced over our final goodbye. And following suit, he never really said goodbye. He didn't need to; it was implicit. And instead our final moments were blessed with abundant love and a tight embrace—precisely mirroring our long life together.

Although I knew this time would come, it's not something I can accept with ease. My father was simply too important, too significant, too wonderful and too irreplaceable. I have, for certain, been the luckiest daughter in the world. I take some comfort from the fact that my dad knew that I felt that way. He lived a beautiful life--straight and true, full of love and compassion—and I am certain that he knew just how much he was treasured. And yes, he knew that I would take his loss hard. Accordingly, for him, specifically for him, I try to take strength from the intensity of his presence which accompanies me throughout the day, and sometimes into the night.

I know the importance of counting one's blessings. And there have been many, foremost among which is having had almost fifty years with the larger than life man who was my father and will always be my father—a man who will forever serve as an example of how good a father can be. I miss you desperately Daddy.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Youth is fleeting...or rather, fleeing?

Youth is fleeting. Who said that? (Longfellow, de Montaigne, Ecclesiastes??)  And I wonder how old they were when they wrote it. Probably somewhere near my age. Well, this past week I discovered that they were right. My boys were scheduled to compete in an aquathlon; a run-swim-run kind of deal. I decided, heck, I like to swim and if I have to give up another Saturday to their activities I might as well participate. I registered the three of us.
A few days passed. I almost forgot about it. And the, everything changed. First of all, a nasty winter storm came through, something we're actually getting used to here in Israel this year, and it was forecast to be nothing less than FREEZING on Saturday. Now it was one thing to start out a run in 9 degrees, but what was it going to be like getting out of the pool soaking wet and continuing on to the second run! Brrrrr. It was clear that this wasn't for me. I have not one big of polar bear in me. Next piece of foreboding news: the adult category was going to be combined with the Elite Youth category; yep, the strapping 16-19 year olds. There simply weren't enough adults to justify splitting the start times. Uh-oh… I was actually going to start out with my boys. Well, that was simply comical. Obviously I wouldn't be able to even get close to their pace. The consolation would be that there would be plenty of room in the pool by the time I got there.  And it turned out, that was no joke.

A few minutes before the start I shed my sweatshirt. The shivering started. Soon enough I was shaking like a leaf. Coach Uri was explaining the rules. I didn't care. Let's just get this thing started. I was turning blue. Blessedly it came: On your mark, get set, GO! The race started. And what do you know, within less than five seconds I was virtually alone. I turned around seeking some consolation. There it was, I spotted a few last stragglers behind me. I couldn't believe it. And I was running fast!!! In fact too fast! This was no recognized zone and my differed sharply from what my coach had recommended a few days before.

In any case, I began to feel like a train wreck: totally out of control. I'd had no previous delusions of keeping up any kind of pace with the Elite Youth but hey, just how humiliating was this!!!  It made me appreciate that comfortable "Women's start" that I've gotten used to at most other competitions. To add to my misery I began to panic: how was I ever going to know where to go? I'd never done it alone before!!

At the turn loop I saw Daniel run by, then Noah. What could they possibly be thinking? Well they were happy enough to share that information with me in the car on the way home, accompanied by quite a bit of pantomime: "How come mommy runs with her arms crooked up high in the air?" "Here comes mommy with her cane!" Lovely.

In any case, off went the Elite Youth and there I was plodding along, fast enough to realize that I was developing a nasty case of shin splints. And then the worst thing happened: I sensed that I was going uphill. Not only that, I realized that this hill was getting steeper and snaked sharply upward as it led me back to the pool. Who said anything about an incline? This definitely wasn't mentioned in the race flyer.  

My God…it was a nightmare. But I did it...I finished the first run and headed to the pool. I strolled my way down the stairs and into the pool area. It was super slippery and since I was one of the last competitors it didn't really seem to matter! I jumped in. BLAZES!!! The water was simply burning. How was I supposed to swim in boiling water? It turns out later that it wasn't boiling, that the difference in temperature between my skin, frozen from being exposed to the wintry elements outdoors during the run, and the 27 degree water, was just enormous enough to give the "impression" of jumping into a cauldron of soup.  Shades of Macbeth flashed before me; a kind of ultimate punishment to top those I'd already inflicted on myself that morning.

It didn't matter. I couldn't swim. Here we were at my favorite part and I could barely move my legs. The shin splits I'd developed during my climb of Everest had left me with horrific pains. The only plus was that, as I'd figured out beforehand, I had plenty of room. Almost everyone else was ahead of me. But still, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get my legs to kick. They hurt that much. About 300meters into the 800 meter swim I started to recover and started to move. I even managed to catch up to those runners who'd left me alone on the road during the first run.  Finally catching my breath I was able to assess the bitter facts about this competition: most of the other adult competitors were runners who happened to swim a little. It's too bad I couldn't capitalize on my own talents in the pool; too bad I couldn't get up to speed. But the fact remained—I spent most of the swim trying to recover from the run. While it wasn't my worst swim ever it wasn't nearly my best.

Oh well. I pulled myself out of the pool; no easy feat at the Wingate Institute. The pool is a lovely Olympic 50meters but the walls are incredibly high. I actually had to use the ladder. Yep, here comes the old lady!!! I made my way out, put my sneakers on and braced for the cold. WHOA!!! No amount of preparation could have prepared me for just whipped through me. The only thing that made me forget it was hearing the announcer announce the names of the Elite Youth who had already finished. Yes, finished. They were already coming in and I still had that lonely run ahead of me….lonely, and, lest we forget, freezing!

So there I was…chugging along, knowing that most of the field had already finished—finding almost every step unbearable and dreading the mountainous finish that I now knew lay before me.

Well, suffice it to say that I did it. I finished. I finished even though absolutely every second was more than I could bear. I crossed the finish line and that was it. I was officially put out of my misery. Although I'd been cheered along the way by a few friends and acquaintances, all incredibly helpful, and quite a few strangers in awe of, or alternatively horrified by, the struggling old lady, my children were nowhere to be found. They'd finished a clean 9 minutes or so before me and, after all, who really cares about mom? Adding insult to injury, a full five minutes after I crossed the finish line the announcer announced, "the four last contestants are…."and I heard my name. 

Enough said. I probably won't be doing that kind of race again. It wasn't even slightly satisfying. Maybe if they actually decide on reasonable categories and provide a few reasonable contestants I'll give it another chance but being shoved into the 40-59 category isn't for me! I've learned my lesson: aquathlons are for runners, not swimmers. I had it wrong. And no, I don't need to endure another "start" with the Elite Youth because yes, youth is fleeting…and this youth was simply flee-ing…and I didn't enjoy being left behind to consider where my own youth had gone; not to mention stuck with a nasty case of shin splints. Lessons learned. Not a bad thing in the end.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

History: Vacuum-packed

My husband is a neat freak. Actually, that doesn't even begin to describe it. His need for order seems to surpass that for human conversation, physical warmth…you name it. Now, I'm sure he'll take issue with this (and I'll definitely hear about it later) but the facts speak for themselves. We actually moved from one house to another because he couldn't stand tripping over the toys parked by the front door. Oh, and what a surprise it was to discover that adding 100 sq. meters didn't actually dispense with those toys, it just relocated them a few meters to the right--out of immediate target range.

I've lived with my fair share of "neat freaks," not to name names; all of them teetering somewhere on the border of, gulp, "obsessive compulsive." One lines up pencils and polishes tables, another just can't stand to see "stuff" scattered around the various surfaces of the house. For the record, I actually think that those "surfaces" shout: "bring me stuff"—I mean, what else are they meant for? How ironic that my brother, who constantly needled me to "pick up" during those summers we shared a house, eventually married a woman who is, shall we say, slightly less focused on order. My sister in law proudly claims that she "broke" him. I love that. But I don't know how she did it. Maybe he just loves her that much. I'm envious—despite having quite a lot of "love" in my house, I've been completely unable to "break" my spouse.

The proof of actual OCD lies in its manifestation further down the genetic line. There is simply no neater space in my house than my daughter's room. It's so tidy that any "intruders," items I find elsewhere and haphazardly return to her shelves (folded laundry, a school notebook, or an Ipod) seemingly call out in distress: "We don't belong!" Until she has actually logged each item into its precise location, everything seems out of place. Furthermore, anyone actually caught putting something, for example, on her desk, risks waking the wrath of Khan.

There are definitely benefits to living with what could be called "freaks of nature;" the obvious one being that things are usually "in place" and can, accordingly, be found. And to be sure, there is nothing more stomach-turning than a glance into one of my boys' rooms. Being a "neat freak" is not necessarily a bad thing. However, in the long run, it's probably a good thing that my daughter's the only one, of the three, to have received that "tidy" chromosome. After all, I've seen its ugly side. Indeed, the panic that accompanies disorder, for this obviously "disadvantaged" population, can be frightening to witness. 

In order to truly understand what I definitely consider a "disorder," I need to describe the various clothes' closets in our house. My husband's, not surprisingly, boasts neat piles of carefully folded shirts and pants complete with ironed pleats and a uniform profile. Not one obedient soldier is out of place. My sons', on the other hand, represent something closer to M*A*S*H; a result of their nasty tendency to just "pull out" whatever they need (GASP!!) leaving the neighboring items hanging at all angles, for the most part unfolded and in some cases (Oh No!) on the floor!!! I already described my daughter's inclination so one can imagine which closet hers most closely resembles. Mine? My closet is somewhere in the middle. Yep--stuck in the middle as always.

One of my housekeeper's primary duties, determined by my husband, is to "straighten" the closets. What does that mean? That means that she spends a good portion of each week whipping each little "soldier" into order and neatly tucking "him" back into "his" assigned location! Can you imagine? So much to clean and sweep and mop and wipe and scrub and she's wasting valuable energy lining up the folded corners of our gym shorts and button-down shirts! I don't think I have to complete the description of this insanity with a medical diagnosis. The facts speak for themselves. 

Despite this frightening situation, I think I've come a long way in increasing my husband's tolerance for "organized mess" and I definitely feel that we've reached some kind of negotiated middle ground. At least, I thought I'd made progress. An incident a few weeks back suggests otherwise. Imagine a sunny Saturday morning. I'm tucked comfortably back into pajamas after returning from a hard morning ride, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the news on line. The children are each in their individual caves engaging with whatever virtual world lies beyond their screen of choice. In swoops my husband with a pile of newly-purchased vacuum-packed storage bags and a smile similar to that of the Cheshire Cat—and equally as conniving!

For those not in the know, these bags are outfitted with a large plastic nozzle. The idea is to stuff them with clothes, attach a vacuum and then suck out all of the air. The items inside are shrunken to a fraction of their former size and occupy far less space than if, for example, allowed to sit neatly folded on a shelf. These bags are an excellent solution for those who lack proper storage space. If I still lived in a studio in Manhattan I could understand their role in my life. As it is, lucky enough to have a huge storage room downstairs, one of the fringe benefits of having moved to that bigger house, their purpose is much less obvious. In truth of fact, I think they're basically one more means by which my husband can try to assume complete control of what he obviously feels to be an untenable amount of disorder.

Within one afternoon he literally took everything we could define as "out of use but too emotionally valuable to pitch" as well as "summer clothes" and squeezed them into a surprisingly small number of these bags…sucking the air out of each and every one. At some point during this project the hamster went missing. I panicked. Maybe in his frenzy to compress, my husband had sucked him in as well. I imagined him lost within one of these wrinkled bags--gasping for air. I frantically started to sort through the unbelievably small wrinkly plastic bags (just how many pounds of clothes were crammed into each one??) and then paused. It was so quiet. Everyone was home but there was no noise whatsoever. Where were the kids? How come I couldn't hear them? Was it possible? Had my husband been so hell-bent on sucking up and shrinking everything in sight that he hadn't bothered to discriminate between animate and inanimate? Was it even possible to vacuum our three kids into these bags?

Although he obviously would have done no such thing I acknowledged the appeal of the idea. What a tidy solution to an untidy hitch! These bags could offer a way to finally manage the physical and emotional mess entailed in raising three kids!

Abandoning this fantasy, I started thinking about all of this sucking and stowing. Was life meant to be so easily packaged and controlled? By suffocating one's memories can we effectively tuck away the past? I find the present state of our storage room to be nothing less than depressing. These bags, or rather, "agents of order," have wrecked total havoc with what used to be a clammy space filled with my history: a little bit of Brown University, a race or two, high school youth group, a ski trip to Vermont, winters in Michigan. All of this was still documented in the t-shirts, scarves, gloves and jackets which I absolutely refused to throw out or give away. But where one glance inside the storage room used to reveal an assortment of scrumptious colors and textures, a visual history of my life say, post 1980, it had now become a conglomeration of tortured-looking plastic packs, yearning to be freed; or, at minimum, to breathe.

Maybe it's not that important to keep our sails trim, to pick up the pieces, to tidy the rough edges. I appreciated comedian Jonathan Ames' recent article on what he so cleverly called "kipple".  Kipple is basically everything that gets left behind: bottle tops, receipts from the post office, old school tests, a random photograph from a summer long past, a key whose lock can't be identified, a child's art project, a sock whose match is missing in action. While my mess doesn't come anywhere close to the accumulation of detritus described so hysterically by Ames, it is precisely this "kipple" which clutters my house's surfaces and drives my husband crazy. Maybe it's time to raise a protest of the sort being held in Wall Street and downtown Tel Aviv; a kind of "Take back the right to Accumulate" demonstration. After all, a life of skirting around the edges of these neat freaks has left me firmly convinced that a little clutter indicates a lot of character. As Anna Nalick sings, just "Breathe."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Triathlon Eilat 2011 or "Gone with the Wind"

Being both a competitor and a mother isn't easy. The days prior to the annual competition in Eilat were filled with making sure that everything was ready for my boys: their bikes, gear, their emotional state-of-mind! I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible. Yes, I prepared my own things, made sure to drink water, thought a bit about the race; but that was secondary. Rami and I packed the car. Three bikes, three kids. A full load. So thankful he was driving. He's convinced his presence on these trips is superfluous. If he only knew! Couldn't do it without that other calm adult in my corner! The whole trip down south was occupied by the thought of whether or not we'd get there in time for the boys' practice, not mine. It's impossible to disconnect from being a mom.

Thursday late afternoon, all is set. Daniel calls in tears. He has brought two left shoes with him. He won't be able to wear his favorite competition shoes. I breathe a sigh of relief. When I heard his cracked voice I thought something had happened to him. It was okay. It's just equipment. And everyone knows that equipment doesn't make the athlete! Or at least, that's what we tell ourselves!

Thursday night, Daniel fills up his tire: poof! The valve breaks. He's a mess. This is an important competition for him and he's very tense. We change the tire. Or rather, his big brother Noah does it. Noah is relaxed this time around. It's his seventh time in Eilat. These boys are "old hat" at this business. I decide not to touch my tires. If they were good enough a few days earlier at my Tuesday morning practice, they were good enough for another 20km. 

Friday morning. I wake up the boys and send them off. I have a few minutes on my own. Nice. Quiet. I go down to check in at the bike station. Laugh with my friends. I have plenty of time and it's not even cold! What a break!

Over to the beach. Daniel has gotten out of the water. I wrap him up. I wouldn't dare get into the water. Brrrrrrrrrrrr. I don't see Noah at all. In fact I NEVER saw him except for the one split second when he emerged from his swim. After years of watching my boys' entire races, cheering them on, having butterflies in my stomach over their competitions, all I got was one split second.

Daniel's first. Great start out of the water. I breathe a sigh of relief…Noah out of the water. Great…I’m next. Black out. To the water's edge and jump. Don't remember too much about the swim except being focused on finding the exit. Last year I targeted between Melech Shlomo and Royal Beach, leading a whole group of women astray! I wasn't going to let that happen again. I did notice that the water wasn't as cold as I'd expected and that was a GREAT thing. The swim was fine. I love swimming. I reminded myself that as I pushed forward. I saved a bit of energy with my legs. Thinking about what lay ahead. Out of the water…heard Ziv and Udi cheer me on as I headed up the path. I smiled.

On to the bike. I climbed the hill out of the station. I heard the names of friends of Daniel finishing. Where was he? He'd had such a great start. He must have already finished. Okay, focus!!! The bike. The wind. The fact is that I was so relieved that they'd cut back to 20km from the 26km we did last year that it just didn't matter. It was a little tense on the course. I tried not to let too many people pass me. I fought. I pushed myself. I looked for Noah. No sign of him so I assumed he'd been in that pelaton speeding down the hill on my way in. I smiled as I saw Guy and Shai coming the other way. Great company! And then: there was Arella! And then the turnaround. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was almost home! Time to fly. Gears didn't work at the bottom range. SHOOT!!! I stayed somewhere in the middle of the higher range and took the opportunity to fuel up on water. I'm going fast enough. It will be okay. Flew over the speed bump by the entrance to Eilat! Oh no! Landed. Phew! Headed back into town. Menachem was there alone on the side of the road, cheering me on! There is no way to explain JUST HOW IMPORTANT that encouragement is! Just when you're ready to throw in the towel…Go Caroline!!! It's like taking a sip of an energy drink!!!

I pulled into the station. On to the run. Made that one turn in front of the stands and felt as though someone had put up a wall. The wind was stiff in my face. I couldn't believe it. Hadn't I done enough? What was this? I felt broken but knew that I had to finish. I also knew that I had a good position because I hadn't seen too many women ahead of me. It was going well. I wasn't going to give up now.

NITRO-ites were all over that first corner. How wonderful was that! But I really wanted one of them to jump in and just do it for me! The run was difficult.  It wasn't as hot as I'd expected but my pace wasn't where I wanted it to be. I should be faster.  Guy was already coming back. LUCKY Guy! I wanted to be in his shoes. Okay, I'd wait for the turnaround. The wind was wild, sometimes in my face, sometimes coming from the side. When I spit I had absolutely no idea where it was going to hit!

I approached the turn and saw Shai!! Yeah!!! Shai! I continued on. I had cramping pain throughout my ribs. My torso was so tight. Forget aerobic fitness, leg muscles. None of that mattered. How was I going to move through the pain coursing through my ribcage? And then: There was Tal. Come on Tal. Pass me! Tal runs like the wind. The next section of the run I simply waited for her to overtake me. Jennifer. Zebale. Miki. We're all here. We're all together. Finally, Tal passed me on the left. That was good. Now I knew I was almost finished. Back at the Nitro corner. Nir. Tsaf. So many others! I took water, but drinking at this point made me nauseous. COME ON Caroline: 500 meters! 

I didn't know what the heck was going on between my ribs. Nir tells me there are muscles  and tendons there…never really knew they existed until Friday morning and I could have lived without that knowledge. I came down that stretch looking forward and back. Last year I was elbowed out by a woman my age, one elbow separated our places. I wasn't going to let that happen again! No one around. I was alone. Turned the corner, Rami yelling to me: GO! Crossed the line. Shai welcomed me….the ribs…unbearable! I pulled it together. Shai stayed with me. I'd done it….and yes, I knew I'd done well and that maybe, just maybe, while tipping the top of the age category at an ancient 49, I might just have made podium!

It was great. And worth it. WHAT A FEELING! Daniel met me on the other side of the stands. He'd had a cramp. His race, which had started out so well, had ended badly…Not badly in terms of the whole age group, but badly for him personally; a real disappointment. He cried on my shoulder. How painful was that. I forgot about my ribs. Rami came over. I asked about Noah. He'd had the race of his life, finishing far ahead of his expectations. What a mixture of results and emotions.

I walked Daniel back to the hotel, hearing him tell me how again, like at Emek HaYarden, his leg had cramped so badly that he'd had to stop and work it out. When you hope to be on top you can't take those extra two minutes…I passed some of my friends from the Sprint, Arella, Jennifer, Zebale. What could I have done without them? Doing the Sherox Triathlon alone during the summer didn't compare. I was surrounded by support: My husband, my children, my teammates, my coaches, my friends. How lucky was I?

Later on I checked the results: WOW! I'd showed those youngsters something!!! Just wait until next year!!!
I'll be back!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


That’s not a typo. The title for this blog really is “K”. “K” stands for just how many shortcuts we take in 2011. “K” is what I received on my cell phone, continually, this summer. “K” is short for OK, which is short for O.K., which is short for that obviously too-long-to-deal-with word: okay.

The first time I received a “letter” as an answer on my phone I thought it was a mistake. The friend that sent this message must have let it go too soon—not finishing whatever it was that she wanted to say. But then I received the same message from another friend. And soon enough I realized that “K” has become an acceptable form of confirmation.

The ever apparent, inverse relationship between rapid communication and meaningful conversation is troublesome. In an ironic fashion modern technology has enabled the streamlining of life to the point where a one word, or even--dare I say it--"one letter," exchange, can count as a full-blown conversation. I discovered this phenomenon this past summer when I received my son's cell phone bill. There were an inordinate number of text messages. The Verizon customer service operator explained that he was sending almost one hundred a day. 100! I was amazed that Noah had that much to say considering that I’m lucky to have a handful of words come my way. When I asked him about this apparently astounding "gift of gab" he explained that most of his texts were only one word.

That's it. We've managed to whittle down the English language to the point where one word--and in some cases, one letter-- counts as a bona fide response; a full-fledged side of a conversation.

I’m having difficulty swallowing this new indicator of how far we’re willing to go to hurry things along—keep things moving—get on with it. How much more quickly do we want life to go?  As it is, things speed along whether we like it or not. Although as a teenager I was champing at the bit, eager to move on—right now I’d just as soon slam on the brakes. Modern technology is bound and determined to keep things moving at an ever-increasing pace. Where once this primarily affected transportation, helping us get places faster--in more efficient ways; now it's mostly about communication.  Although I'll never be able to stem this particular tide, I don't have to like it. Maybe it's time to pause and question whether this is a good thing and whether it's something that we need to buy into and swallow whole.

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Runni recently addressed another one of the pitfalls of the explosion in technological development; explaining that the existence of multiple means of communication has actually complicated our lives, maybe even slowing them down, by demanding that we know something that should be obvious: "how" people want to be reached.  In short, since personal communication preferences can determine accessibility, we need to know each individual's preferences in order to actually contact them; to know whether they check their answering service or prefer incessant redials, prefer text messages, emails or messages posted directly to their social network. Ironically, the exhausting effort required to negotiate how to best reach another party in some cases can actually deter communication! For example, by the time I recall which friend prefers to be contacted via text, which through the phone and which through email I have little desire to actually bother with the conversation!! Sometimes I just swallow whatever I wanted to say and move on—figuring that one less comment or update won't make a difference and simply exhausted by the thought of the whole process!

Modern technological development has somehow managed to complicate what should be the simplest of tasks. Whatever happened to the basic concept: “Reach out and touch someone"? Does anyone even remember that ad? Looking for a creative way to soften the image of AT & T, emphasizing the phone company’s indispensable role in everyday American life, Ayer Advertising agency came up with that now famous tagline in 1979. At the time, no one could imagine life without Ma Bell. How amazing in light of the fact that since then, many other communication giants have risen and fallen (think Sprint) and the all-powerful home telephone, so impressively invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, has lost its allure. In my house, for example, absolutely no one answers the phone. It rings, and rings and rings--and not one of my children move. They're all aware that if someone really wanted to contact them they would have already sent them a message through the computer or via their cell phone. How different from my youth, when I raced to the phone at the first ring, hoping it would be for me! 

The multiplication of the means by which we communicate with others, most of them requiring neither physical contact, neither full sentences nor an actual voice, has virtually killed human communication—that formerly intrinsic part of existence! It is definitely responsible for our general disinterest in actually "speaking" with someone. After all, electronic forms of communication take so much less energy and guarantee us time to formulate an appropriate reply! But I for one don't think we should be so quick as to call this progress. In fact, the repercussions of the degradation of communication caused by these so-called "developments," for this next generation (to which I've contributed three young souls) are frightening. I don’t relish the idea of their living in a world where one letter stands for a response. In fact, I’ve seen the rendition of this abbreviated form of written communication in their actual, “in person,” conversations and it goes beyond disheartening—all the way to depressing.

Maybe it's time for a wakeup call. Take a look at one of those original AT & T ads. Then, in honor of the Jewish New Year, reassess who matters most, reach out and touch them.