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.

Breaking “Rule 22”: Complimenting the Dog

Breaking “Rule 22”: Complimenting the Dog

Well, this one’s going to be a bit tricky…

You see, I don’t have a dog. My husband doesn’t dislike animals, but doesn’t want one in the house. Early in our marriage, he made it quite clear that I would have to choose between a husband or a pet – and so far, for more than 32 years – he has won out.

It’s really not a close contest, to be honest. And having a menagerie of imaginary pets makes using “Your first dog’s name” as a security question quite entertaining. My real first dog’s name was Toby; that has never been the answer to a security question. Toby was a miniature poodle – so eager to please everyone! My second dog, though, was the smart one – a Keeshond named Echo. Smart and friendly. We used to joke that Echo was so friendly she’d lick burglars to death – and if she could talk, she’d say to them, “No, no, not there! Let me show you where the good silver is!”

Keeshonds were used, in the Netherlands, to pull barges. They’re compact and strong. Echo loved to pull me along on my bike, but I had to be wary: If she saw kids on the other side of the street, she’d take off at right angles to greet them, dragging me suddenly down onto the pavement.

She knew every nickname of my grandmother: Mrs. Ganz, Mom, Monna, Mrs. G, Willine – because my grandmother brought her cheese – glorious cheese – and Echo would be standing at the front door, tail wagging, to greet her. Echo’s favorite pet name for my grandmother? “The Cheese Lady.”

Echo loved snow! At the first good snowfall, she would bound across the sparkling lawn, then dip her nose into the stuff and run, making a deep groove in the snow’s surface. Keeshonds grow a thick, winter coat – like lambs’ wool – that keeps them comfy when the rest of us are bundling up in down parkas and wrapping our hands around ceramic mugs full of hot cocoa.

Despite her obvious intelligence, we never quite managed to housebreak Echo. Or so we thought. When we moved, we realized that the wet spots on the indoor-outdoor carpet in the kitchen – where she’d been paper trained, and where we thought she’d continued to “go” – were actually just being re-wetted by a leaky refrigerator. Poor Echo must have thought her humans were a few bricks short of a load, but she never complained at the injustice of being scolded (lightly, for we’d decided she just had “issues”) for accidents she wasn’t having.

My best friend and I decided, one summer, that if we were going to feed our dogs Milk Bone treats, we ought to taste them, too. We wondered which flavor was best, and we were surprised to learn that “cheese” wasn’t it. Later, we wondered why the dogs got so excited over these “treats” at all. But we taste tested every one as if it were our sacred duty. They were all quite mediocre by human standards. I wonder, now, just how awful “dog food” must be, that these were so cheerfully anticipated, like a child greets a cookie.

My stories about Echo inspired my friend, Sherri, to name one of her miniature show poodles, “Echo.”

The soulful, wistful pup in the featured image is Bruno.  He lives with my sister-in-law. I already owe his feline siblings modeling fees. Might as well dip into the Milk Bones again…

 

The Most Powerful Words We Can Say to Our Children

We lead by example. Sometimes, we lead by bad example, and “Do as I say, not as I do,” can be very sound advice to a child. But it’s not the most important or powerful phrase a parent ever uttered – it’s more of a last ditch hope that our children won’t follow in our own flawed footsteps.

I believe the most powerful words we can say to our children are “I’m sorry.” The world is full of people who are afraid to own up to their own mistakes or apologize for the harm or hurt feelings they’ve caused others. We teach our children that they ought to apologize when they do something wrong, but how many times do we, as parents, model that behavior in front of them – or more importantly, towards them?

Mom and Dad are not always right. Oh, sure, my dad used to joke, “I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong!” but he was quick to admit his mistakes and apologize for them. Not the weaselly sort of apology we hear, all too often: “I’m sorry if you took that the wrong way,” but “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” or “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have done that.” It taught me accountability at a young age, by making it clear that everyone makes mistakes and everyone has to own up and say they’re sorry. No one is above “the law.”

But why is this so powerful?

Coupled with a sincere effort at restitution – at making things right – an apology can utterly disarm the other person’s anger and resentment. A child, naturally inclined towards righteous indignation and rebellion against authority, has nothing to rebel against when a parent apologizes. It is humility and justice in action. It demonstrates that the world is, indeed, fair – at least some of the time – and that this “authority” known as Mom or Dad doesn’t set itself above what’s right and fair and just. At its most basic, it shows that an apology will not, in fact, kill you – but may make the wronged party feel much more kindly towards you, instantly. It is an exercise in empathy and compassion. Few children can hold a grudge against a parent for more than a few hours, and even a small child realizes how much better it feels to forgive. There is power in forgiveness.

For a child who grows up apologizing to adults, but never hearing an apology from an adult, adulthood becomes a powerful state of being where you can get by with hurting others with impunity. But unlike small children, other adults do manage to hold grudges and harbor resentment, anger, and even hatred when they’ve been wronged and contrition is withheld or justice has been denied them. Inevitably, there is a backlash – something as minor as being disliked by those around us, or as major as terrorism and war.

Being courageous and humble enough to apologize to a child helps to create kinder adults who don’t feel that they will be robbed of their power by admitting their own wrongs and apologizing to a child or to other adults their words or actions have hurt. The world will be a better place for it.

 

Women!

Women!

There’s a lot of rancor on the Internet, much of it centering around social justice, race, relations and equality between men and women, sexual identity, and religion. So when someone finds a way to express frustration and drive a serious point home with good-natured humor, it tends to bring down the defenses and get people listening, talking, and maybe absorbing the point in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling impaled on it.

Normally, I’d advise against reading the comments section on many news articles, opinion pieces, or public Facebook posts, but this one’s been delightful, so far – largely because it’s got both men and women participating, and everyone’s in on the joke. It hasn’t degenerated into trollish, humorless, bitter, ill will towards anyone.

Oh, sure. Give it time. But for now, enjoy!

Friday! (#FF and No Passing #FAD)

Friday! (#FF and No Passing #FAD)

Twitter has its FridayFollow, or #FF – a long-standing tradition of recommending people we think are worth following on Twitter. What’s often missing is the “why” – after all, why wouldn’t you just take my word for it?

There are lists, of course – carefully vetted lists – of people you absolutely must follow on Twitter. For example, Huffington Post has their “Who To Follow On Twitter In 2016 (If You Like Laughing)” – who doesn’t like laughing? Here’s a sneaky way to get people to share your lists: Make them #1. Here’s a list of “Top 50 Social Media Influencers You Should Follow In Twitter – 2016” – shared by #1, Guy Kawasaki. The Grio published “15 Twitter accounts to follow in 2016” – a list of “writers, activists, entertainers, experts and other folks you should follow to make your 2016 Twitter experience a good one.”

My list isn’t quite so lofty. The folks on my FollowAnyDay, or #FAD, list are not (for the most part) celebrities. Some of them would like to be. Many would love to be bestselling authors. Most will follow back and have a conversation with you – a real one – if you’ll start and prove you’re not a Twitterbot.

If you’ve been wondering what’s inspired my nascent artistic endeavors lately, the blame–or credit–goes to several people (full text of truncated tweets appears below the “Click to Tweet” blurbs – although truncated brought in more readers – more curiosity – and ended up being unintentionally funny, so I left the originals as is):

(#FF / #FAD artists @TJKruse and Carl Yoshihara https://www.facebook.com/carl.yoshihara?fref=ts who put up with my artistic smart-a**ery. Except that the plug-in censored that, not me. What is up with prudish plug-ins, these days? Seriously.)

You met Todd when I posted “Interview with Artist Todd Kruse,” and he introduced me to Carl Yoshihara. But it is Alice Gerard who has posted several sketching and painting tutorials who got me thinking maybe, just maybe, I could do this.

(#FF / #FAD @alicesbears http://sunmoonstars30.blogspot.com/ & http://alicesgrandadventures.blogspot.com/ Give this Twitter newcomer a warm welcome!)

If your brain needs a little workout, you can count on Roy Ackerman to write on topics ranging from finance to faith and ethics.

(#FF / #FAD @RAAckerman http://www.adjuvancy.com/ Always offers food for thought! Bit of an in-joke; we belong to the UBC, and I was struggling to label my posts to a particular list of categories, so I just threw up my hands and labeled them all “Food (for Thought)“)

Alana Mautone writes, in her bio: “Caregiver. Gardener. Chocolalic. Blog about flowers, life in upstate NY, autism, chickens, travel, local food, and, in my spare time, caregiving.”

(#FF / #FAD @RamblinGarden http://ramblinwitham.blogspot.com/ Another contender for #1 in the No-Niche Niche (besides me).)

Then there’s Emma. Shoot, when I met Emma, I didn’t even know she was in a wheelchair. I’d call her a versatile blogger – I particularly enjoyed her post, “Blogging is educational, who knew?” and I’m hoping she’ll share more about her journalism class.

(#FF / #FAD @FunkyFairy22 http://writerinawheelchair.co.uk/ So much more than ‘that girl in the wheelchair'”)

And now, for some of my favorite writers – entertaining, fun, funny women whose writing always puts a smile on my face. I’m not just saying that because Marian’s made me a character in her stories (and I’m lobbying for a whole novel about my alter ego!).

(#FF / #FAD @marianallen http://www.marianallen.com/ for fun reading, recipes, glimpses of Corydon, Indiana, and pictures of her resident turtle.)

(#FF / #FAD @maryannwrites – because yes, she does! And it’s fun to read what she writes.)

(#FF / #FAD @PStoltey http://patriciastolteybooks.com/ whose latest novel, Dead Wrong, is a finalist in the thriller category of the 2015 Colorado Book Awards.)

Two more staunch supporters and terrific bloggers –

(#FF / #FAD @Mitch_M – it’s a toss up which comes first: Will I have him eating sprouts or will he have me following sports?)

(#FF / #FAD @zimpeterw – my favorite conservative blogger, proving differences of opinion can be lively AND civil.)

Frankly, I’d much rather introduce you to these “celebrities to be” than to Tweet out another gossipy tidbit about the Kardashians. Well…not that I’ve ever Tweeted out any gossipy tidbits about the Kardashians, but you know what I mean.

Go get to know my friends.

Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

This past weekend, I flew to Dallas to meet my friends, three of my sisters by choice (members of the list that Hadass wrote about in Gratitude and a List) – Hadass, Debra, Ceci – and Katie, my daughter, who drove in from north Texas to hang out with us and meet her “aunties.”

Though the visit was too short, and we were missing so many of our sisters, we had a marvelous time getting acquainted, traipsing around the Dallas Art Museum, sipping wine and eating delicious food – a lot of fun for less than 36 hours!

march96-at-savor

#Austin2022! (And we’re hoping for a big “family reunion” then!)