Gratitude and a List

Gratitude and a List

Author’s note: I wrote this piece in the fall of 2011, and it was originally published for American Thanksgiving of that year. I’ve just updated a few numbers, and I’m grateful to Holly for republishing it now.

In the fall, our thoughts turn to gratitude. It’s harvest time in the temperate and sub-tropical zones, and the fear of starvation if it fails is deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. It is a time to count our blessings and articulate those things for which we are most truly grateful. Everyone has their own list, of course, but I want to tell you about an extraordinary group of people who are very close to the top of mine.

In June 1995, I became pregnant with my first child. I was 33 years old and had been living in Winnipeg with my husband for about a year. I was far away from family and friends and had not yet developed a support network in my new home. Facebook did not yet exist, but I had been keeping in touch with my distant people using ancient Internet modalities such as Usenet and mailing lists. I joined a few pregnancy newsgroups, and then I heard of due-date lists – a set of mailing lists for people who were due in each month of any year. Google was still in the future, but Alta Vista did the trick and found me a due-date mailing list for March 1996, which I promptly joined. I had no idea that this minor waste of my employer’s time would be one of the most significant acts of my life, and lead to some of the deepest gratitude I have ever known.

The emails started coming in. It seemed like a mildly interesting group of people – several couples expecting twins, either naturally or as the result of exhausting and expensive fertility treatments. Most of the members were Americans, but there was a smattering of people from around the world – Canada, Iceland, Israel, Australia, Scotland, England and Belgium. The demographic was fairly heavily skewed towards academics and computer geeks. The youngest moms were 23, the oldest 45. We traded morning sickness remedies, worried about prenatal tests, argued about natural birth versus epidurals. It seemed just like any other special-interest Internet group, and we did not expect it to last more than a few months after the babies were born. After all, what would we have in common then?

The first babies, the twins, started coming in January. Being so premature, they spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and we all worried together. Suddenly, the letters on the screen represented real people, with real pain that we could feel. Not all the preemies survived, and not all parents stayed with the list. Many people dropped out of sight in the newborn haze. Some returned later; quite a few did not. As more and more babies came into the world, we scanned our email eagerly for the latest news. Some of us breastfed, some could not, some chose not to. The Mommy Wars raged – breast versus bottle, daycare versus stay-at-home, attachment parenting versus cry-it-out. A few tried to dictate the course of the list, necessitating some harsh decisions on the part of the list owner.

It should have been enough to tear us apart, but a funny thing happened. We stuck. March96 is still going strong, over 20 years after its inception. We have experienced all the vicissitudes of life together – tragically, one young father died shortly after his daughter was born. Divorces, remarriages, births of younger siblings, the teenage years of older siblings, the care and eventual loss of aging grandparents – we have been through all of it together.

When my second son was born with a major birth defect, the love began to arrive in the mail – gift certificates appeared out of the ether, with cards signed by people I had never met. That love helped me through those dreadful weeks in NICU, the operations, the fear and worry until we knew that he was going to be fine. Several of our members have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and we have been there through their treatments. We have our share of disagreements, but we have learned how to deal with them – on the religious front, our spectrum spans Evangelical Christian to Roman Catholic, Reform to Orthodox Jewish, Muslim and every kind of unbeliever. Our political range is similar. We have learned that some subjects are best not discussed on the list, just as in any family.

The love and friendship of this group is incredibly deep, especially since some of us have still not met face-to-face. We do try to have periodic get-togethers, but not everyone can get to them, especially in recent years with the troubled world economy. Our current members range from Iceland to Australia, from Saudi Arabia through Belgium and Scotland to the Pacific Coast and Hawaii, from Canada down through the Midwest to Florida and the very tip of Texas. While most of the remaining members are women, we do have some courageous dads who have stuck with us from pregnancy to impending menopause.

One of the many beautiful things to have come out of this group is the independent deep connection that has grown among the children, now 19 years old. We set up a mailing list for them a few years ago, and they used it when they were younger. Now, true to their status as Millennials, their communication occurs via texting, Facebook and Skype. As we have all become sisters and brothers, they see themselves as cousins, and they know that they have family everywhere. I could send my child to a family in Houston or Brisbane that I have never met and know with complete confidence that he will be loved.

For that, as much as anything else, I am truly grateful. May we be blessed to love each other for many more years.


Photo Credit: Betsy Bailey
Copyright 2011-2022 Hadass Eviatar.

Feeding the Right Wolf #WATWB

Feeding the Right Wolf #WATWB

The theme for the end of June and the month of July has been life, laughter, and love. So much of all three. Yet despite two celebratory and relaxing weeks off, followed by a very productive return to work, the outside world oozes in with insidious soul-suckage. You can’t exactly go through life like a Central Park carriage horse with blinders on Fifth Avenue at rush hour, but some days it’s tempting to try. Last week’s news, without even touching on politics, featured cheerfully teary memorials for a suicidal robot and the merciless mirth of a handful of teenaged stoners who watched a disabled man drown while joking about alligators and filming his last, desperate struggles to stay afloat.

Feeling grim and cynical, I posted:

death-of-empathy
It’s good to have friends like Dave M., who immediately chimed in with empathy and a timely reminder: “We choose what we consider. Every day,” adding a link to a story about two men, the terrible accident that brought the unlikely duo together, and irrevocably changed both their lives for the better: “Homeless Vermont Man Honored for Saving Life of Truck Driver After Horrific Accident,” by Caitlin Keating (@CaitKeating). The comments section on my Facebook wall is not to be feared; it’s refreshing – restorative.

And this underscores the challenge facing us all, as told in the story of the Two Wolves:

Not just for our own health, peace, and sanity, but for the sake of those around us, we should always strive to feed the good wolf and starve the evil one. That doesn’t mean we should ignore all the evil in the world, but we should be vigilant about not letting it steal our joy or rob us of our faith in the goodness of our neighbors. And I hope that we can all be like Dave, finding the goodness when our friends seem blind to it, so we can show them where the good wolf lives, and help them to feed it when they’re too tired to carry the sustenance it needs.

I have been an inconstant participant in the We Are the World Blogfest ( #WATWB ). But Damyanti Biswas, one of this month’s cohosts, gently reminded me – and reminded me, again, as I’d requested earlier in the month – and Dave’s comments and link seemed serendipitous. I’m glad that I can share them with you, this month.

Your cohosts are Belinda WitzenhausenEmerald BarnesEric Lahti,Inderpreet UppalLynn HallbrooksMary GieseMichelle WallacePeter NenaRoshan RadhakrishnanSimon Falk,Susan ScottSylvia McGrath, Sylvia Stein. Please visit their blogs and see what they’re sharing! Do you want to help feed the good wolf? Tweets, Facebook shares, Pins, Instagram, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month are most welcome. Write a post of your own! Click here to learn more and enter your link! The bigger the #WATWB group each month, the more the joy! Hosts and participants will try to follow and share all those who post on the #WATWB hashtag, and we encourage everyone to do the same. 

Now, to end your week with a silly grin:

To My Dad, on Father’s Day

To My Dad, on Father’s Day

Thank you, Dad…

…for demonstrating the importance of education, and setting a good example;

…for letting me play with your monstrosity of a calculator – I would never understand the math (no doubt, to your everlasting frustration), but its resemblance to a typewriter surely had some influence on me;

…for your even temper;

…for taking me nice places, even when I was wearing the “Lucy” button or vying for the “piggy prize”;

…for teaching me the value of a firm handshake and direct eye contact (even if this is interpreted as some sort of sexual come-on in 26 countries outside the U.S.);

…for sound career advice, morning coffee, and commiseration;

…for always being proud of me;

…for helping me find ways around obstacles, like arbitrary age rules for Freshmen, and such, so I didn’t bloody my forehead too badly banging it against brick walls or glass ceilings;

…for raising me to believe there was nothing I couldn’t do, if I could read and wanted badly enough to do it (except maybe Chem I and Math);

…for always being there for me, and a thousand other little things (and big ones), Happy Father’s Day!

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

We mothers – we are merely rudders, guiding our children’s ships through the storms and over the turbulent seas of life – we guide them as steadily and as best we can, but we are not the only influence that determines the outcome of the journey…

Who am I today? I am a woman, a daughter, a wife and mother, a writer. I am confident with unexpected moments of self-doubt, calm with occasional thunderstorms, selfish but generous, affectionate but reserved, intelligent with a few Swiss-cheese holes in my brain, rational but prone to flights of fancy, a dreamer with her feet planted on the ground – and I see none of that as contradictory. I am my mother’s daughter.

mom-childMy mother nurtured me with love and learning. My parents married young, with the understanding that both would attend and graduate from college. Did having a baby at nineteen deter my mother from her commitment? No! She told me once that my earliest bedtime stories were chapters from her college Psych texts. If I am determined, efficient, and able to multitask, it’s because I was raised by a woman who could study, cuddle an infant, and read to her child simultaneously!

Astrologers might argue that the Pisces child, born on a Sunday, so near the pull of the ocean’s tides would naturally be gifted with creativity and a vivid imagination. But I contend that any innate creativity and imagination I possessed was nurtured by a mother who got down on the floor and played with me, allowing herself to be cast in the thousands of roles I invented for her. My love of writing was sparked when she installed a bulletin board in my room, and daily pinned a writing prompt – a quote, a photo, some whimsical item – to it, and supplied me with endless reams of paper and a variety of pens. She later insisted that I learn to type; much, much later, I thanked her for it.

SLS-Gr1-croppedI have a great appreciation for languages. If I can’t speak fluent French today, it’s not my mother’s fault! My mom’s answer to a whiny eight-year-old who cried out, “I’m bored!” was to enroll her in private French lessons at Berlitz. Latin was a 7th grade elective; my mom elected it for me. If I believed that college was just an extension of a child’s compulsory education, it was my mom’s doing – she was still working towards her Master’s degree when I was twelve! She made reading and studying seem as natural as breathing, as essential as eating. Blame my mother for the fact that I started college at age twelve – the early French lessons, her schedule of classes from Kent State lying open on the bed, and my natural curiosity combined: “Do you think they’d let me take French I?” Well, why not? With three years of French under my belt and both of my parents there to support my request, doors opened – and I was enrolled in summer school!

mom-deb-portraitOkay, maybe I can’t speak French fluently today, despite eight years of lessons – but I have learned to entertain myself! If I love Oldies, it’s because my mother handed down her 45 RPM records and a phonograph; if my tastes are eclectic, it’s because she also made sure I attended the symphony and the ballet, met Beverly Sills, saw Linda Ronstadt and The Irish Rovers in concert, and took piano lessons. If I can appreciate fine art, it’s because one of my mother’s most cherished books was Jansen’s History of Art – and because she saw to it that I got to tour the Louvre.

While my mother built my confidence and self-esteem, she took care never to talk down to me, never to sugar-coat the truth, never to inflate my ego unrealistically so that the world at large could tear down what she had so carefully built. All her life, I could rely on my mother to be a trustworthy touchstone: she was an honest critic as well as a staunch supporter. If I am happy, content with who I am, it’s because my mother never allowed me to believe that my best wasn’t good enough. If I am able to appreciate constructive criticism and learn from it, it is because I had a mother who dished it out with love.

Twenty-six years ago, I became a mother, myself. When I held my daughter in my arms, I realized the awesome responsibility my mother took on at the tender age of nineteen. For the first time, it hit me just how much I was loved. And that’s when I knew that the debt I owed her was marked “payable to my grandchildren,” and I know that it’s probably one that I can never fully repay.

july-2001grandpaWhen my mom died – on Valentine’s Day, 2002 – I lost not only my mother, but my best friend. Though she always insisted “It’s not my job to be your friend – I’m your mother,” she couldn’t help but be both. I miss her, especially on Mother’s Day, but because of her, I am strong enough to wipe away the tears, smile, and go boldly forward in my own journey of motherhood.

It’s a wild ride, with all the crazy ups and downs of a world-class rollercoaster. But I am thankful for every minute of it, and I am so proud of the people my children are becoming.

 

You

You

Hi, You.

You, you guys, you all, y’all, you’ens, all y’all… yes, YOU.

I don’t have to say “If you’re reading this…” because I know you are. Thank you for that. Ironically, that’s one assertion I can make with certainty. If you want to quibble with it, you’ll only prove it’s true.

“You” have been relegated by language and literature to second person, but “I” am commanded to put “you” before “me.” We’re in this together, you and I. Singular and unique, or plural and ubiquitous – you are right here in front of me, and you are everywhere. You matter.

And I am your “you.”

 

Unrealistic Expectations: Why Our Snowflakes Suffer Meltdown

One of the first articles I ran across, this morning, was from a woman bemoaning the fact that her children had picked up extravagant, over-the-top expectations for every holiday, real or imagined. This phenomenon isn’t as new as she thinks it is. I have slightly cringe-worthy memories of taking custom-made, white chocolate lollipops shaped like Charlie Brown’s head to school on my birthday in grade school. No one wants their child to be “shunned” for bringing the wrong treats, or no treats, but that was over-the-top and most of the kids in my class would have preferred clumsy, homemade cupcakes with milk chocolate frosting or a handful of Tootsie Pops. They weren’t going to think I was less nerdy or unfashionable just because I brought expensive, custom-made, white chocolate treats in a Hershey bar world. It didn’t make them forget to taunt me for wearing ankle socks in a knee socks era.

Valentine’s Day was a traumatic exercise in creatively and kindly saying, “I don’t know you, you probably hate me, but here’s my heart, please don’t spit on it.” And then having to show off how many (or how few) cards and candies were snagged in a pathetically decorated, brown-paper lunch sack. Ugh. It’s not always joy for the little ones, either.

Holidays should be fun, and I don’t believe in telling others how to celebrate theirs. Family traditions build special memories. But they should be extracurricular events celebrated at home, with family and friends who love us. There’s no need to turn them into competitive sport – to practice one-upsmanship against other parents that our children will feel compelled to carry on, in turn. This isn’t “liberals trampling on time-honored traditions and trying to ban holidays in our schools.” For the love of God, everyone needs a break – parents, teachers, teachers’ helpers – but most of all, the kids. And school is meant for learning; it’s not a place for trying to outdo other parents in “who can send a child into a sugar coma first.”

My favorite Easter tradition? Getting up before the crack of dawn to watch the sun come up over the lake. Quietly dying eggs. Nibbling chocolate bunny ears (the solid kind, not those crumbly, hollowed-out, giant bunnies, but the small, hard, solid bunnies that lasted all morning and well-into the afternoon). My favorite Christmas traditions: walking through crunchy snow to stare in wonder at a neighbor’s (admittedly over the top) yard decorations and lights. Baking cookies for Santa and laying out carrots for his reindeer. Singing carols at church, at midnight, while being trusted to hold a candle and not burn anything down. When you’re a kid, just getting to stay up past your bedtime is a big deal – or should be – and dressing up, going to church, singing carols by candlelight just adds to the awe. I won’t lie; I loved opening presents, too. But it didn’t have to be 100 of them.

While we’re at it, when did Christmas get to eat all the other holidays? When I was a kid, we were forced to wait until the day after Thanksgiving (not yet dubbed “Black Friday”) to hear or sing Christmas carols. The streets were decorated, overnight, magically transforming them into a wonderland of colorful lights and toy trains and tacky holiday signs and ornaments – not professional, slick, beautiful-but-soulless citywide tableaux. It felt more personal, less artificial.

We all love Thanksgiving. Why? Because it’s about family and food. And remembering to be grateful for what we have. Sharing with those less fortunate. It hasn’t yet turned into a shopping frenzy. It quietly refuses, and we love it all the more for that. We even angrily (and successfully!) defend it from the encroachment of Black Friday. It seems clear that we all need a break, and a quiet little holiday to focus on the things that really matter to us.

The problem with setting extravagant expectations is that there’s so little to look forward to, as kids grow older. This has extended to life, in general. Where our parents could reasonably hope that with a good education and a decent work ethic, we’d have a better and more affluent life than they had, our kids don’t stand a chance. With an overpriced education, precious little work experience or time to obtain it, and over-the-top expectations, they’ll need a hefty double-whammy of opportunity and luck simply to attain the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed, any time within the first or second decade of independent adulthood. We forgot to tell them about the “hard work over time” part, and they weren’t around yet, or old enough, to watch us struggle in the early stages of our careers.

Is it any wonder that “real life” is a shock to their systems? Is it any wonder the “special snowflakes” start to melt down? The only escape – the only place that can possibly live up to the hype – is in the imagination. And what ritual better stimulates the imagination, revs up the dopamine, than video games? Books would be great, but television and video games have set up expectations – and have not taught the value of patience and effort. Is it fair  to say, “Back in my day, our parents would kick us out at dawn and lock the door till dusk, saying ‘Go outside and play!'” when our kids have grown up with us afraid they’d be lost forever, kidnapped, molested, beaten, robbed, shot, or hit by careless drivers if they hung out in the park a mile or two from home or rode their bikes on neighborhood streets? Where neighbors call the cops to check out the “noisy kids playing” – and risk them being arrested or killed – or to arrest their parents for failing to supervise them? When we can see, on a map, where all the neighborhood sex offenders live among us? We’ve kept a generation or two home and fed them a steady diet of passive entertainment and carefully orchestrated extracurricular activities. They hardly know what to do with themselves, now – and they’re tired, too.

But we’ve told them they can be and do anything, and we’ve overcompensated for the confinement of childhood with treat bags and presents. Now we wonder Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy?

It’s not just the holidays we need to take down a notch.