Archive for the ‘Midlife’ Category

Change

August 12, 2013

We have Netflix and cable and pay-per-view and more remotes than I know what to do with, but for me, inside, there will always be three TV channels.

CBS, NBC and ABC. Since I grew up in New York City, that translates to channels 2, 4 and 7, which had all the good programs. Then there were 5 and 9, which showed black-and-white reruns, 11 which showed Yankee games, and 13, the educational station, which we never watched. (I was born just a couple of years too early for Sesame Street, and my parents were not Masterpiece Theatre types.)

No matter how many remotes we have, I will go to my grave feeling that “normal” is three TV stations. I suspect many other boomers feel the same way.

Which brings me to the topic of change.

We live at a time when change is, quite possibly, happening faster and more unrelentingly than ever before in human history. Big changes like industries evaporating and little changes like moving from the iPod 4 to the iPod 5.  I thought of this again yesterday when, reading the Sunday paper, I came across a photo of Marc Andreesen.

Andreesen was one of the inventors of Netscape. When I was covering tech in the 1990s, he was the just-minted wunderkind, the graduate student with a mess of floppy hair who represented everything new and cutting-edge.

And now he looks like this:

andreesen

Middle aged! (Like the rest of us.)

I have a hard time with change. I live near the geographic epicenter of technological change, and I try not to be a dinosaur, but I have a hard time with it. We are an innovative, tool-making, world-changing species but  there is also a big part of us that is designed not to expect change.

Think about how we learn to understand the world as babies – a stable, unchanging world. Would it be possible to learn about it any other way?

Parent: Ball. Say, ‘ball.’ Here. (Rolls ball to baby.) 

Baby: Baa. (Holds ball. Pushes ball back.) 

Parent: Yes, it’s a ball! Here’s the ball. (Rolls ball back to baby.)

What would happen if every time that ball came to baby, it had a different name? “No, not ball, gorphin! No, not gorphin, schminger!” What if every time baby pushed the ball, it did something else? First it rolled, but then it floated, and then it exploded? How would we learn to function in the world? How would our primitive ancestors have survived if everytime they plucked the same purple berry it was different – one time tasty, one time sour, one time poisonous?

Some of us – if we are lucky – have stable childhoods. That was my case. No divorces, war zones, plagues, bankruptcies, deaths. My family lived in the same apartment from the time I was two until I was grown; I went to just two schools; we celebrated holidays the same way each year. Even climbing the ladder of school, the continuities outweighed the changes – different teachers and subjects every September, but the same structure to the day, many of the same classmates, the same rules for what was prized or punished.

A lot of human history was pretty unchanging too. Millennia of nomadic societies. The middle ages. If you lived in medieval Europe, you probably spent your life entirely in one village. Your parents were shepherds, so you were a shepherd.  “Change” amounted to the rare arrival of a stranger in town; a new overlord demanding more tithes; a good harvest season or a bad harvest season.

In my life these days, the most unchanging thing may be my cat.  He changed a lot in the first six months of kittenhood, but now our life with him is completely unchanging. We feed and cuddle him; he finds funny places and positions to sleep; sometimes he brings us dead mice. That’s it. And that will be it, more or less, for the rest of his life. Technology is constantly changing, consumer products are changing, industries are dying and empires are dissolving, but the cat remains the same.

The requisite cat photo / By Ilana DeBare

The requisite cat photo / By Ilana DeBare

Parenthood is not like pet ownership.

Many of us go into parenthood thinking it will be stable. We think,  “Okay, my wild youth is over, now I’m settling down and having kids.” And sometimes — especially in those first few months with an infant, or during the 11th inning of a Little League game — it does seem as timeless and tedious as the Middle Ages.

But kids grow. As soon as you’ve reached equilibrium with one stage – “okay, I know how to handle a toddler” – they have moved on to an entirely different stage. You find yourself trying to take a ten-year-old to the zoo. Just six months ago they loved going to the zoo with you! And now they would rather be buried up to their necks in a hole with molasses and red army ants than look at elephants, or for that matter look at anything, with you.

This summer we’ve had Daughter home with us for three months after her freshman year of college. It’s been delightful. She is happy to be home, happy with her adult life, happy to be with us. She volunteered to cook dinner once a week. She even asks to play games with us in the evening!

And this won’t last. In two weeks, she goes back to school. We’ll have her home for winter break, but after that… summer study abroad. Internships and jobs in New York. It’s unclear when she will be at home for such an extended period again.

Those changes — kids growing up, adults growing old — aren’t unique to our era. But all the other modern changes added on top make things feel overwhelming sometimes.

How much of my desire for stability – my refusal, deep inside, to accept that there are more than three TV stations – is a quirk of my own upbringing? How much is hard-wired into us all as human beings?

And how much might be generational? Will generations like my daughter’s — raised with technology turning itself inside-out every year or two — have any less of a gut yearning for constancy?

Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies –

Oops, not that kind of boat. Picture yourself on a boat, yes, but more like punting on the Cam, just floating lazily down a quiet summer river. You’ve got an old-fashioned Polaroid camera. You’re taking photos of the shoreline, trying to preserve the views you love the most.

But it takes time for you to click, and for the camera to whirr and process and slowly spit out an image.

By then you’re long past the scene in the photo.

It’s gone.

Searching for chametz

March 16, 2013

This is the time of the year, right before Passover, when observant Jews go through their kitchens and get rid of any foods with even a trace of chametz, or leavening.

We don’t do that. We keep kosher for Passover to the degree of not eating foods with leavening during the holiday, but we don’t go through the search-and-destroy mission. We just let those boxes of pasta and bags of flour rest quietly in the cupboard, backstage for a week.

This afternoon, though, I felt compelled to clean out our pantry.

It had reached the point of irritation: Whenever I looked for something, I had to pull four other boxes out of the way to see if it was even there. And I figured, now that we are empty nesters, there are probably a number of teenage foods that we really don’t need to stockpile any longer.

It was a little surprising.

I pulled everything out and found eleven — eleven! — cans of Trader Joe artichokes. Five cans of Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup that expired in 2011. Two jars of Ragu tomato sauce that expired in 2009. Four cans of “lite” and regular coconut milk  — although I have never in my life cooked anything with coconut milk. And so on.

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I think there are a few things going on here:

  • Groundhog Day in the Pantry. Your shelves are so crowded and jumbled that you don’t know what you have. So at the store, you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts.” Then you add them to the jumble and don’t see them. So next week, you’re at the store and you see the cans of artichoke hearts and you think, “Hmmm, I bet we need some artichoke hearts….”
  • The Cupboard of Good Intentions. The person I aspire to be when I am in Trader Joe’s is different from the person I actually am. In Trader Joe’s, I imagine myself as someone who makes dinners with coconut milk. Or corn-and-pepper relish. Or Mojo Cilantro Sauce. Or bean threads and pad thai and star anise. While in reality, when it’s 6 pm and I’m tired and hungry and want to get dinner on the table, I just hurl vegetables into a wok and dump on some soy sauce.
  • Laziness.
  • Inertia.
  • Time. Or — like a Jackson Browne line that is in my head a lot — “be aware of the time going by, in the end it’s a wink of an eye.”

Here is the strangest thing I found in the cupboard:

IMG_0780

The expiration date was 2008…. but gosh, no one had been eating strained apricots in this house since maybe 1995.

I happily got rid of a bunch of packs of revolting teen-beloved ramen. I got rid of all the expired organic lentil soup. I kept one can of lite coconut milk since, well, you never know. Change happens.

It’s shameful to look at our trash can, now filled with cans of uneaten food. But the food banks don’t want expired items. And I’m leery of eating stuff that expired two years ago.

Now what’s left is the dreaded Water Bottle Shelf. If  you go to enough charity fundraisers or bike marathons, you tend to accumulate water bottles.

IMG_0784

But if wasted food is terrible, wasted plastic is probably just as bad. Maybe worse. Who knows, it may take even more natural resources to make a plastic water bottle than a can of organic lentils.

Perhaps the water bottles are my version of chametz — something that is not kosher, not in keeping with what God wants.

We shouldn’t just get rid of this batch of bottles; we should also stop accumulating more.

Family traditions, my traditions?

December 7, 2012

What happens to family traditions when your family goes away?

Well, “family goes away” might be stating things a bit too strongly. But this is our first winter with our daughter away in college, and holidays feel different when there is no child in the house.

Even if for the past couple of years that “child” was a big, independent, less-than-optimally-communicative teenager.

Take Chanukah, which arrives this weekend with its usual single-candle blaze of glory. Normally we would make a Big Deal of the first night of Chanukah — festive dinner with relatives or friends, lots of presents, latkes, chocolate gelt, dreidels. Most years we would end up making latkes on two or three different evenings for different configurations of friends and guests. And we always made sure to buy at least eight gifts, and we had big gift-opening hoopla every night.

This year? I do not want to cook a single latke. I will be completely fine if I don’t eat a single latke. Okay, I’ll eat some when we get together with our chavurah in late December, but other than that…. meh.

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I'm free at last / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last / Photo by Ilana DeBare

I don’t want to open gifts every night either. I’d like to open gifts on the last night, when Daughter will be home for her winter vacation. But other than that, I don’t really care.

What I do want is to light the candles and say the blessings. Just a nice straightforward little candle-lighting at dinnertime with Sam. (Followed by watching some Jon Stewart re-runs?)

In one sense, this is completely reasonable. Chanukah is a minor holiday in Jewish tradition, which mushroomed out of its historic proportions in the past 50 years as American Jews tried to come up with a counterbalance to the glitter of Christmas. Lighting candles with a minimum of fuss is probably closer to the traditional Chanukah than what we’ve been doing in our household for the past 18 years.

But there are other times when the issue is murkier. Take Shabbat. When Daughter was home, we lit candles and said blessings on most Friday nights where we were all home together. This fall, when Sam and I have been home on a Friday, it’s felt slightly weird lighting candles with just the two of us.

Part of me felt, “Why are we going through the motions? It’s just the two of us.”

Which raised the question… were we just lighting candles to educate our child? or were we doing it for us also?

That question is more nuanced for me than it might be for some people because I was not raised with much Judaism at all. My family had a Passover seder and lit a menorah, but we never celebrated Shabbat or belonged to a synagogue. So the Jewish traditions I carry out are ones that I’ve consciously chosen as an adult, rather than ones I inhaled with my childhood air.

But back to that Shabbat moment of to-light-or-not-to-light….

I lit.

I skipped the white table cloth. But I lit the candles, even without Daughter.

And there are really two reasons for that. One is that as adults, we need to take care of ourselves — regardless of whether we have kids around or not. I don’t want to be someone who lives on TV Dinners because there are no children to cook for. I don’t want to be that old lady who lets the house go uncleaned and unrepaired because she’s the only one living there. We need to nourish ourselves as well as our children.

Shabbat is a kind of nourishment, like a home-cooked meal, an occasional massage,  a bouquet of flowers from the farmer’s market. And that brings me to the second reason — I do want to keep Shabbat as a part of my life. I care about it and believe in it. So I lit.

But clearly that’s not true for every Jewish tradition. Some are falling by the wayside.

Building a Sukkah? We did it for about ten years when Daughter was little. Now? Forget it!

Latkes? Can live without the oil, the mess and the calories.

Shabbat? Big Passover Seder? Chanukah candle-lighting? Those are keepers.

What about you? Any changes in your family rituals or traditions if you’ve had children leave home? And what does that say about your values and priorities? 

Empty nest, two months in

October 15, 2012

After putting up with a year of my anticipatory angst, you might be wondering, How’s it going with that Empty Nest? 

And after about two months I can answer… really well!

Here are the visible changes in my life:

  • Got rid of the station wagon and bought the Chevy Volt (which I love – but more on that in a future post).
  • Started taking an intense 90-minute bike/row class at the gym at 6 a.m. three days a week.
  • Cooking more “adult” foods — bok choy, kale, chard, cauliflower.

Stinson Beach – an empty nest weekend walk / Photo by Ilana DeBare

  • More free time on weekends — autumn without kid soccer games! — for birding, hiking etc.
  • Ability to take a vacation in the middle of the fall, not on school schedules.

The biggest change, though, is not a visible one. There’s an entire part of my brain that was tied down and now is suddenly free. It wasn’t taken up with major worries, just a constant drone of minor stuff — when will she be home from school, is she done with her homework, should she be going to bed, should she be waking up, what’s the status of the college applications, what are her plans for the weekend, etc.

It felt like a computer with a DOS program running steadily behind Windows — you don’t see it, you don’t hear it, but it ties things up and makes everything run a little more clunkily. For eighteen years. And now suddenly it’s gone! Wow!

(In other words, my brain went from PC to Mac?? Am I now insanely great?)

There have been other changes that are more nuanced. They have to do with relationships:

The Alice in Wonderland Marriage

My marriage seems more intense, as if it had inflated, Alice-in-Wonderland style, to fill a room.  I suddenly feel more dependent on Sam. We’ve gone from a household of three to a household of two.

Before, if he went out of town overnight for work, Daughter was still around — most likely busy, or staying out late, or closed up in her room video-chatting, but still around for a good-night hug or requesting a lift to BART. Now when he is gone, there is no one but me and the cat. It’s a little unsettling to feel this dependent on him.

The Assembly Line Has Shut Down

For the past 18 years, our marriage has been intertwined with a huge, all-consuming Project — raising a child. Even when we went out for dinner by ourselves, this was always there at the table with us. Now suddenly the Project is gone.

Returning to my computer analogies, imagine if the Apple workforce showed up one morning and were told they should keep on working, but they would no longer be manufacturing Macs or iPhones or iPads.

You look around and think, Um, now what are we supposed to be doing? Why are we all here? 

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

I’m newly conscious that I don’t have that many strong, current, one-to-one friendships. I have a zillion Facebook friends, including some very old, very dear friends from my teenage years with whom I have marvelously reconnected via the Internet. I have blog readers. I have co-workers. I have people I see at synagogue. But I don’t have as many nearby, frequent, get-together-and-laugh-until you-pee female friends as I had in my teens and 20s and early 30s.

Basically — confession time, a little post-Yom Kippur al cheit here —  I let my own friendships slide when I became a Parent. I wanted to spend my free non-work time with Daughter and Sam. And we were constantly socializing in child-centered formations — school potlucks, soccer weekends, dinners with parents of Daughters’ friends. There were lots of people with whom I spent lots of time, but never really developed a meaningful individual relationship. We related through our children. And now those children and those potlucks and soccer weekends are gone.

That just heightens the unsettling feeling of dependence on Sam. And you read those articles about aging and how people with close friendships stay healthier and live longer than those who are isolated. Aak! I don’t want to be an 80-year-old cat lady alone in her house.

So resolved: I will put effort into reviving and cultivating individual friendships.

—————-

All told, I can understand how marriages fall apart when the children leave the house. (Even more, I suspect, when spouses retire and suddenly find themselves together at home all day.)

Now, Sam and I are not going to fall apart. (Don’t worry, Dad!!) But there is subtle recalibration that needs to happen — even with all the positive changes, the freedom, the opportunities, and the knowledge that Daughter is happy and healthy and doing what she needs to do.

I do need to add this as a postscript. The sense of freedom, of losing that DOS program of worry in the background of my brain, is only possible because Daughter is happy and doing well.

The empty nest would be a completely different experience if it were empty because a child had gone AWOL, or was floundering or making dangerous choices. That isn’t our situation… fortunately.

Dropping off the college freshman

August 27, 2012

I thought I would cry when we said goodbye to Daughter in her dorm room, but I didn’t.

I  was too exhausted.

Move-in day came after a week of visiting various family members back east. I love them all, but three different houses in nine days — two beach communities and one city — is a lot. Then there was the expedition to Ikea in New Jersey followed by two separate trips to a three-story Bed Bath & Beyond on the Upper East Side that made our little Oakland BB&B look like a malnourished Dickensian orphan. It was the biggest BB&B I’d ever seen.

(Until we ended up at yet another BBB downtown that was even bigger, but I’ll get to that later.)

I’d never pictured taking a child to college in a taxi, but in true New York spirit, that’s what we did. Sunday was move-in day not just for Daughter but for approximately 5,000 other NYU freshman. Considering the numbers, the university did an impressive job of organizing things and keeping order, with move-in times allotted by floor number and vast hordes of cheerful house elves – oops, I mean student volunteers — directing people where to go. But it still took three trips by elevator to get all Daughter’s stuff up to her 8th floor room, with a twenty-minute queue for each elevator trip, preceded by a queue to get her room keys, and followed by another queue in a building about eight blocks away to get her student ID.

Sam with our daughter’s Stuff / Photo by Ilana DeBare

I had worried that Daughter was bringing too many clothes and would look like a spoiled princess to her roommates. But it quickly became apparent that her Everest of stuff was just an average mountain, or maybe even a foothill: We weren’t toting any microwaves, coffee makers, cross country ski poles, big screen TVs or wheeled duffels the size of Great Plains bison.

But there was time to remedy our failings. NYU was running continuous shuttle buses from its various dorms to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond (yes, the downtown mother ship). And these weren’t little vanlike shuttles – they were inter-city-size Greyhound style buses, the seats filled with freshmen families and the luggage compartments jammed with their BBB shopping bags.

One of the buses from NYU to Bed Bath & Beyond / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The buses turned out to be so crowded that we couldn’t get on, so we hopped another cab to get last-minute necessities like a shoe rack and a bin for under-bed storage. The BB&B was festooned with Welcome NYU Students banners, purple-and-white balloons and baskets of free candy;  signs announced that it would stay open until midnight; employees had been drafted from corporate headquarters to help handle the swarm of parents and students. We scrambled for our merchandise and joined the columns of freshman families trekking across Greenwich Village with big plastic shopping bags of stuff. It felt like ants leaving a picnic. It felt like a middle-class looting spree. It was a vast, decentralized transfer of millions of cubic feet of housewares from Bed Bath & Beyond to 5,000 individual dorm rooms. It was the free market at work.

It contributed to a bizarre day. So much frenetic motion, buying, schlepping. So much high emotion swirling through the throngs of parents and freshmen – 18-year-old excitement and nervousness, 50-year-old heartache and pride. Toasters and shoe racks became surrogates for care-taking: Our children will be on their own in the big scary world, but at least they will have buttered toast and orderly shoes. 

By the time we returned to Daughter’s dorm and assembled the shoe rack and filled the underbed storage bin and made one final shopping run to the Strand bookstore for old National Geographic magazines to decorate her room, all three of us were ready for Sam and me to leave. We were utterly exhausted. Daughter wanted to hang out with her roommates. We said a quick goodbye. We didn’t take a photo. I didn’t cry. (Sam did.) We retreated to a nearby gelato store and collapsed in a corner and devoured about 1,200 calories of creamy fortitude.

My friend Ellen was dropping off her daughter at college over the weekend too, and wrote as her Facebook status, “Labor pains.” It’s an apt metaphor. I spent a lot of the past year anticipating this separation – thinking “this is our last soccer tournament,” “this is our last Halloween,” and so on. Just as my body took nine months to prepare for Daughter’s arrival, my mind was taking nine months to prepare for her departure.

Then the past week felt like the end stages of pregnancy, when you are so physically uncomfortable that you just want the damn baby to arrive already. By Sunday, after a week of seeing relatives, Daughter was desperate to be around teenage peers.  Sam and I were desperate for our own bed.

Labor pains, yes, but also relief on both sides that move-in day was finally here.

Now after a 3,000-mile plane ride we’re home, minus one child. Things are different but they’re not. It’s easy to imagine she’s simply away for a day or two: The house is quiet right now, but she’s out with friends and will be back late tonight. She’s at sleep-away camp for a week. She’s upstairs in her room with the door closed, happily ignoring us. 

But tonight after dinner, there was no one to unload the dishwasher, which had been her chore. I can’t count how many times over the past few years I had to badger her to unload the dishes, or growled at her sudden disappearance and grumpily unloaded them myself. But in fact, the vast majority of the time she did unload them. And it made household life a little bit easier.

Sam and I looked at each other over the racks of clean dishes as it hit both of us: Now there is nobody except us to unload them.

Not even anyone to badger or growl about.

It’s a Volt!

August 11, 2012

About two months ago I wrote a couple of posts about my dying station wagon, the opportunity to buy a post-mommy car, and my waffling between a

  • Prius (familiar, safe; every single resident of the Bay Area has one; I’ve always owned Toyotas) and a
  • Chevy Volt (cool technology, green, cutting-edge but… AMERICAN??!).

Stork from babyclipart.net; composite image by Ilana DeBare

News flash: It’s a Volt!

I spent the afternoon at the Chevy dealership yesterday and, after listening to more Classic Rock than I’ve heard in the past ten years combined, made my downpayment.

It hasn’t come home with me yet. I asked the dealership to hold it until we return from taking Daughter to college. I couldn’t bear the idea of this shiny new car sitting unattended for ten days under the Icky Sap Tree in front of our house.

Long before yesterday, the dare-I-buy-an-American-car question had become a non-issue. I went for a ride with one of my haircutter’s clients who LOVES her Volt. I heard about my neighbor’s friend who LOVES his Volt. Then, after I did my Volt-or-Prius blog post, I got a bunch of comments from complete strangers who don’t even live in the Bay Area but own Volts and LOVE their Volts.

I started to think they should have named this car the Chevy Cult.

In any case, there were enough rave comments flying around that I stopped worrying whether its American-ness meant that a Volt would be a poorly-made, piece-of-junk lemon.

And I love the idea of not having to buy any gas. My daily commute is six miles round-trip. On weekend errands, I do maybe ten miles. So with the Volt able to travel 35 miles on a battery charge, I’ll be able to go for weeks — maybe months — without entering a gas station.

I also want to support the development of better, more environmentally-friendly auto technologies in the U.S. A Prius is good on gas mileage and would have been cheaper, but I see my purchase as a personal vote for support for those people in Detroit who are trying to be forward-thinking. The future of our auto industry depends on this kind of ability to look ahead and innovate.

I sat on the decision for long enough that I got used to it and it was no longer scary. (A tried and true approach of mine for big decisions. Ask Sam how long it took for me to decide to marry him.)

There was also a little shove of impetus last week when Daughter couldn’t get my 17-year-old station wagon to start. Between the missing hubcap, stolen radio, power steering fluid leak, anti-lock brake system trouble, crack in the windshield and now iffy starting, it was pretty much time to get off the dime and buy the new car.

Now I’m actually excited. Over the car itself but also some of the minor features. Like – duh – a working radio. (Welcome back NPR!  Now I can stop singing Mamma Mia out loud to myself while I drive.)

Or like the dashboard electronics that tell you how much air is in the tires. No more rolling around in the dirt of the gas station with a tire gauge!

Now, just a couple of weeks until I pick it up and bring it home. Do midlife transitions get any more obvious than this? Day one: Leave child at college. Day two: Bring home new car. Maybe I should just park the darn thing in her bedroom.

I’ll give it a couple of months and let you know if I become a card-carrying member of the Chevy Cult.

Graduation

June 10, 2012

Last Thursday, my daughter passed her driving test. On Friday, she graduated from high school.

Now we enter two months of limbo — done with high school, not yet starting college. None of her friends have very organized plans for the summer. A lot of them are “looking for a job” — which, in this economy, and with them just starting to look in mid-June, means they will be babysitting. It’s as if both kids and parents used all of their mental energy and organizational capacity making it through the college application process and senior year and finals and graduation and now… oops, here’s the summer.

The New York Times had a front-page story on Sunday morning about students at high-achieving high schools using prescription stimulants like Ritalin to improve their SAT and exam performance. Really interesting (and disturbing) story, estimating that as many as 30 percent of kids at some schools are abusing prescription drugs intended for children with conditions like ADHD. Not to get high, but to get the test scores necessary to please parents and teachers and get into prestigious colleges. And these are the “good” kids — the star students, the student council presidents etc.

The Times story focused on private schools in New York and public schools in affluent East Coast suburbs, but suggested this is a national trend. I asked B. if she had heard of such abuse of “study drugs” out here in Oakland and San Francisco. She said no, and sounded genuinely surprised. Maybe her school — which has a less academically pressured culture than some other private schools — is uniquely immune? Or maybe this hasn’t hit the Bay Area yet? “Things are more mellow here in the Bay Area,” B. suggested.

“One more bullet we dodged,” I thought. Along with anorexia, drug abuse, cutting, promiscuity, binge drinking, clinical depression, running away from home… the litany of hazards afflicting teens from otherwise safe and privileged communities in our weird, affluent country.

Because that’s one significance of graduation. Yes, graduation is a recognition of academic achievement, and of life transition — no longer a child, now (more or less) an adult.

But it’s also recognition that we did it — shepherded our small charges past the various shoals of childhood and adolescence.

They didn’t electrocute themselves by sticking their fat toddler fingers into wall sockets. They didn’t wander off into traffic. They didn’t eat poisonous berries or small plastic Legos. They didn’t get kidnapped by strangers, abused by priests, date-raped on Quaaludes by entire high school football teams. They didn’t catch meningitis or Lyme disease. They didn’t get shot by gangs. They didn’t get shot by police who assumed because of the color of their skin that they were in a gang.

They didn’t steer the car off the Bay Bridge while learning to drive. (Yet!)

They dressed ad nauseum in pink Disney princess gowns and clutched Barbie lunch boxes, but didn’t grow up to be Snooki or Kim Kardashian.

Exhale!

Happy graduation!

Simcha

May 16, 2012

I am SOOO excited!

This weekend is my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah service, and it has turned into a huge family reunion. For a long time, we thought my 88-year-old father would not be able to manage the trip from the East Coast. Then this spring he and my stepmother decided to give it a go. And when he decided to come, his sister in Orange County decided to come too. And then her kids (my cousins) decided to come. And then their kids, even the college-age ones, decided to come! And then other cousins on the East Coast decided to come!

This is the biggest DeBare family gathering in about 15 years. It’s happening after some sad losses of aunts and uncles in my parents’ generation. We’d all kind of assumed that my dad and his sister would never see each other again in person because of the rigors of cross-country air travel. And now, in about 24 hours…. everyone will be here in one place.

Over the past couple of months, my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah preparations have reminded me what a great institution this is on a variety of levels. Certainly as a way to pass Judaism on to the next generation, and also as a way to provide teenagers with validation and a sense of accomplishment that goes deeper than having the most chic clothes or biggest bling or hottest figure.

But also simply as a life cycle event. People tend to travel huge distances to get together at births, weddings and funerals. But why limit it to those three occasions? Especially when no one remembers their own christening or bris… and no one gets to enjoy their own funeral.

And then today I was thinking about the word “simcha.”  Simcha is Hebrew for happiness or joy, related to the word sameach or “happy.” But it is also used to refer to celebratory occasions like this one. “Is anyone having a simcha this week?” our rabbi typically asks at the beginning of Shabbat services.

The word simcha is much more fitting for what is happening this weekend than “celebration,” or ” family reunion,” or “festive gathering.”

We are having a gathering, yes, A celebration, yes.

But what we are really having is joy.

Blogging at work as well as home

May 13, 2012

Yikes! It’s been two weeks since I’ve written anything here, a clear violation of the one-post-each-week goal I set when I started Midlife Bat Mitzvah two and a half years ago.

By way of explanation, I feel like I’m drowning a bit in social media right now. Probably 2/3 of my new job at Golden Gate Audubon involves social media — putting out our monthly e-mail newsletter, managing our Facebook page and Twitter feed, and managing our web site. Plus I have just set up the organization’s first blog, Golden Gate Birder, which you can view here.

The blog has taken up a huge chunk of time over the past two weeks, from working with our computer consultants, to corralling staff and volunteers to contribute, to writing some opening posts myself. But it’s also very exciting. My goal is to have a mix of personal reflections on birding and nature, news about local conservation issues, and reviews/info of use to birders. We have some very talented writers among our members (check out Phila Rogers’ post on “Birder or birdwatcher?”). And the blog gives us space to explore ideas that are too long for a Facebook post, yet not urgent enough to take up space in the newsletter.

One thing I’ve realized as I juggle all these social media is how great it is from a visual point of view to do communications for Audubon. Many nonprofits have important missions but humdrum imagery.  Think about editing a food bank newsletter — lots of pictures of people putting canned food into grocery bags! Instead, I get to play with wonderful bird photos like this one that I used in an email inviting members to our annual Birdathon dinner:

An excited Western Snowy Plover at Crissy Field – Photo by David Assmann

Another thing I’ve realized is how this blog prepared me for my Audubon work. I started Midlife Bat Mitzvah mainly as a way to process my thoughts about my adult Bat Mitzvah and other life transitions. But it also turned out to be useful professional development for this social media-driven era.

Golden Gate Audubon’s web site and blog are built on the WordPress platform, the same one I use here. So the mechanics of creating and editing posts was familiar — more complicated than what I’d used before, but similar. Midlife Bat Mitzvah also gave me a comfort and fluency in blog writing style that has helped me get Audubon’s going. Meanwhile, Audubon’s email newsletter relies on web-based software from a company called Vertical Response, which is unrelated to WordPress yet shares conceptually-similar editing tools.

In short, I felt like I was in a midlife, mid-career limbo back in 2009 when I started this blog — finished with the imploding world of print journalism, but not sure what else I could do.

And it turned out that the tool I chose to write about that limbo, this blog, has helped me climb out of it.

Do-it-yourself empty nest blog post

April 15, 2012

This week it became apparent that the end had arrived for my 17-year-old Camry station wagon, the mommy car I bought when my daughter was 18 months old. 

The blog post seemed ready to write itself: Another sign of transition to en empty nest. Feelings of sadness, astonishment, mortality. Et cetera.

But I feel like I’ve written this same post about a dozen times so far this year. First rule of blogging: Don’t be tedious or whiny. 

So I figured: If people know what I’m going to say already, why not let them say it for me? Here goes — fill in the blanks to create your own empty nest blog post —  

Yet Another Empty Nest Blog Post

As a young adult, I fantasized about little flashy sports cars like the _________. As a good environmentalist, I drove little high-mileage cars like the __________. 

But when I became a parent, I needed a vehicle that was more ________. I envisioned ferrying bevies of children on field trips to _________  or camping trips to _________. With only one child, a minivan seemed like overkill. So we bought a white Camry station wagon, the kind with a back area that could be turned into two rear-facing seats to carry a total of seven passengers. 

The Mommymobile, almost old enough to vote / Photo by Ilana DeBare

It was huge. It was bulky. We nicknamed it the Great White ___________. The first few weeks when I looked at it in our driveway, I couldn’t believe who I had become. I was suddenly a suburban ___________. I wasn’t a person anymore, I was a Parent. And that felt so wrong! I was supposed to be someone who HAD Parents, not someone who WAS a parent.  That big white stationwagon was a symbol of all the _______  I felt about the transition to parenthood. 

Well, I got used to it and the station wagon did a sterling job for 17 years and 140,000 miles. Field trips, ski trips, camping trips. Trips to the Oakland Zoo, Fairyland, the Monterey Aquarium, Marine World. (That’s before Marine World got all __________.) 

Then last week the computer that runs the _________ gave out. I was told it would cost $3000 to replace it. That crosses the border into “time-to-buy-a-new-car” land. 

And since B. is going off to college in four months, the next car won’t be a station wagon. It will be smaller. Probably a _______ or maybe a _________, since I remain the good environmentalist.

I can’t help thinking that this is the first in a series of downsizings over the next couple of decades –- smaller car, smaller grocery bills, eventually a smaller house and someday leaving houses entirely for a _________. 

The parenting period of my life is ending.

Even scarier, the expansion period of my life is ending. 

I don’t want to be morbid, and I know there are lots of upsides to this transition, but I still feel __________.