Thursday, October 27, 2016

Reflections on the High Holy Days

I know I don't write much about faith here, but it has become more important to my daily life as I continue to grieve. I so naively believed that grief would end with the unveiling. Oh how much I had yet to learn. The tide doesn't stop just because no one is there counting it. The grief washes in and out, like the tide. And right now, the tide is high. 

Fall renewal

I started frequenting our library as I have worked to get more self care time in. I decided that reading would be the easiest. It isn't, but I've always loved it and a few extra minutes here and there is great. I went with the intent of finding a book recommended by my synagogue for the High Holy Days. Nearby on the shelf was a Life's Daily Blessings. I felt drawn to it. After flipping through, I found that each day has its own inspiration with a Jewish twist. I read today's, which was on "Sacred Speech". Essentially, G-d can realize all things across time at the same moment, and can connect two people. Words and thoughts are not static. They are not moments in time. We write it down and then the moment is captured permanently. Rabbi Olitzky wrote here "It is the acknowledgement of God's presence... that brings these words to me, that allows me to hear them, that permits them to enter my soul. Otherwise they might just be suspended in time and I would be unable to hear them at all."

In the weeks following Yom Kippur, a passage from the new Reformed siddur is still sitting with me and after reading this I immediately went back to it.

I love the synagogue and community I have found here. I grew up in a beautiful and intimidating conservative shul. I didn't go to Jewish day school and I always felt behind. Although the most spiritual Jew is rarely the one who knows the most about the prayer, I wasn't given the tools to understand the depth and breadth in front on me. The prayer books offered Hebrew and English, and for some important prayers, transliterations. But rarely real-time information on context and depth. You are meant to pray the way that the book says. I understand it and respect it. Heck, it was the only thing I knew for a long time.

The Reform prayer book however offers many tools to allow people to get what they can and want to out of the experience. I appreciate that. And in that spirit, in addition to the normal vidui (a confessional prayer that is one of the hallmarks of Yom Kippur), it included a poem for a personal vidui. I read it last year, but I forgot to go back to it. I didn't need it last year. This year I do. The traditional vidui is a list of actions we admit to God that we have done. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are marked with apologizing to our fellow (wo)man before apologizing to God. And I like the idea of also apologizing to ourselves and marking a fresh look at self kindness.

I found this here, on Rabbi Barenblat's blog (the author).

Personal Al Chet
I need to speak these words aloud and to know that the universe hears them.
I get caught in old patterns and paradigms; I am stubborn and hard-headed.
In the last year I have missed the mark more than I want to admit.
Forgive me, Source of all being, for the sin I have sinned before you
By allowing my body to be an afterthought too often and too easily;
By not walking, running, leaping, climbing or dancing although I am able;
By eating in my car and at my desk, mindlessly and without blessing;
By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced;
By not praising every body's beauty, with our quirks and imperfections.
By letting my emotions run roughshod over the needs of others;
By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth;
By revealing my heart before those who neither wanted nor needed to see it;
By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely;
By dwelling on what's internal when the world is desperate for healing.
By indulging in intellectual argument without humility or consideration;
By reading words of vitriol, cultivating hot indignation;
By eschewing intellectual discomfort that might prod me into growing;
By living in anticipation, and letting anxiety rule me;
By accepting defeatist thinking and the comfortable ache of despair.
By not being awake and grateful, despite uncountable blessings;
By not being sufficiently gentle, with my actions or with my language;
By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;
By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;
By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.
For all of these, eternal Source of forgiveness
Help me know myself to be pardoned
Help me feel in my bones that I'm forgiven
Remind me I'm always already at/one with You.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Water in a Cupped Hand

I don’t know how to hang on to these moments. These little moments, some already gone. We can’t go back in time. I try desperately to be here, in the moment, now. But am nostalgic already for when this won’t happen anymore. Will I come back to read these notes? I hope so. I try to journal to hold on and reflect just a minute longer. But nothing matches how it feels…

When she lays her head on my chest as I sing her a song goodnight. We rock in the chair, her belly full from one last bottle, the green lights from the sound machine lulling us both down.

Or her morning coos. If I’m lucky, I can get at least a cup of coffee in me, but hopefully my yoga and a shower before she yawns and stretches and talks to herself. I can let it go until the chats turn to yells. But as soon as she hears the nursery door open, she starts and turns to see who it is (almost always me). And then the biggest smile crosses her face, no matter which of us go to grab her. She streeeeeetches, and then clambers to the side of the crib so I can lift her up.

Our morning sips, bottle for her and coffee for me. Snuggled up on the couch as we make eyes at each other. She babbles her baby stories and tells me about her dreams, and I tell her about the plan for our day.

Breakfast is almost always yogurt and cheerios, eaten in courses, and I always get yelled at when I’m not giving the yogurt fast enough.

Little hands, grabbing my legs and my shirt, trying to climb up my leg, while I’m trying to get ready or make dinner. It is sweet, and I love that she needs me. And I try to appreciate that instead of focusing on the space that I sometimes need.

But she will also self-entertain. I sit here typing as she feeds herself Cheerios. Or I can have a real adult conversation with Hubs while she plays in her playroom. Oh, it’s better when we play with her. But even a few moments when she is in there, content and alone, and I can sneak a peek at my apps or adult conversation or even, amazingly, start dinner (although rarely can I finish it uninterrupted).

Baby sighs. Baby hands. Squishy baby toes. Baby breath. The kisses she blows me when I leave her at daycare. Even the way she reaches for the binky as soon as I put her in her carseat (only allowed in the car and at naps, but she knows where and when she gets it).

She dances. She claps. She waves hello and goodbye. She tells stories in her baby babble so emphatically! She loves everything about the cats: their toys, their food, even petting them.

She is curious, and silly, and loving, and amazed by the world around her. And she is almost one.

As parents, these moments slip through our cupped hands as if like water. Our hands are left wet, touched, but not full. I never understood, how could I have understood, before you came into our lives?

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Breakup Letter to My Doughnut

Today, I start my next round of Whole 30. I failed at my third attempt last month. While I gained so much physical and psychological progress from my successful round, it still takes an immense about of planning and drive to complete one. Between buying a house, moving, and chasing Knish around, I was not in the right space. But instead of aiming for moderation, I have channeled my stress into my favorite past time - eating. Eating to evoke memories and feelings and back tracking on all the progress I made in the thirty days. I was eating to feel good but none of it was working. So I have written this as my mental jolt as I prepare for the next thirty days. Food and emotions are so closely linked, and I need to practice eating as fuel for my body, not eating to fuel my feelings.

Dear Doughnut,

This is our last encounter. Long gone are the days when your sugary, pillowy body would jolt and fuel my morning. Now I'm left instead still hungry, with sugar tummy, and even more lethargic. And yet, still wanting more.

I remember first meeting you as a treat on sick days when my dad would pick me up from school. The sugar was an easy treat for us both, we could bond over it, and it made us bot ha little happy. But, it turns out, it was never the doughnuts that really did this.

I remember summers when I worked at a fancy bakery. But it was far more satisfying to stop at the Mom & Pop doughnut shop at 5:30 am to a freshly fried still hot doughnut than any of the fancy cheesecakes at my workplace.

Doughnuts, you dot my memory, sporadic and poignant, as a trusty snack along my path of growing up. This change is not you, it's me.

I have changed while you have remained exactly the same. It's okay to admit when we are growing apart.

I need more. I need protein and vegetables, and dearest Doughnuts, you cannot change enough to be these things for me and honestly, I wouldn't want you to. I know you'll always be here, but I just don't like you like that anymore.

I know my daughter will partake, after all growing up is finding balance and tasting treats. But my special Friday treat is no longer that. Not due to too many Friday indulgences, as they were getting more and more infrequent, but because you don't taste special anymore. You are nostalgic and I remember how I felt when I was with you as much as I remember how good you used to taste. But now I need to separate these. You will never taste as good as you do in that memory. And I need to be able to remember those feelings without the food.

Yes, food is a strong sense to our memories, can trigger memories, and is so much a part of who we are. But I don't need to eat you to remember those times.

I know other people still love you and I know that you will continue on your journey to bring joy to so many others. But you're not right for me and I need to start doing something about it.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Whole 30 - The Next Steps

So I did it. The trendiest "diet". I folded. This process has one of the highest failure rates of all diets, and has the biggest sweep of mixed results I've seen. When my friend first did it, I thought she was a little crazy. I heard all the things she was saying, and it really sounded like she had joined a cult. But then... I started listening. And really taking in what she said. And if Whole 30 were a cult, I can safely say that I am deep in it. But it's as much as a cult as paleo is.

But here's the thing. I feel great. I did the 30 days. I did the reading, and the research, and the prep. I ate, and planned, and prepped. Rinse and repeat. Gluten free, dairy free, no legumes, no alcohol. Clean food. Simple food. Eat "whole" food for a month. And I feel better for it. With a little prep and research, I was even able to attend a wedding, baseball game, and brunch with friends.

I learned a few things and I'd like to share here.
(1) Is this even right for you? 
Do your research. Read the book. Read the blogs. Look into the community. This isn't right for everyone. And I wouldn't even recommend this for most people. Why? I felt like crap. I was eating crap and had an unhealthy relationship with food (and I'm still processing that). I felt like I desperately needed a reset, because I certainly wasn't sleeping or working out more with that baby lying around a precious baby to raise. Plus, with my immune issues getting worse by the day, something needed to change.

(2) Cravings
I learned that I am successful with an "all-or-nothing" approach. Can you stop at just one cookie? I cannot. Honestly, saying "No, thanks" is so much easier for me than "Well, maybe just one." It's never just one. I'm not satisfied with one. If one is good, ten must be better. Can you tell addiction runs in my family? To put it another way, it's easier for me to just never buy the Oreos than try to portion them out over a month. If portion control and "just a little" are satisfying for you and actually keeps you on track, then you can stop reading right here. Continue on your merry way in your life of moderation. Be successful. But that is not me. And if I questioned it before, I am absolutely convinced now. These 30 days have practically eliminated my sugar cravings because I am eating balanced, filling meals. But again, I admit, this isn't right for every body.

(3) Gut Feelings
See that pun? Did you? I'm cracking up. But seriously. My gut feels so much better. Not that I was having a flare before, but I was coming down off the pregnancy high and my body was settling again and it was... rumbly. But nearly all my symptoms disappeared during the program. I have not and will not discuss even coming off my medications, but I feel in control of my body again. It's empowering and it keeps me going.

I won't share my scale change, but the program is big on Non-Scale Victories (NSV) and big one for me was the change in my skin. Same face, no make up, no filter. The change in the redness is amazing, and I need less and less make-up. Imagine that this is only visual change as an example of systemic changes.

Take away:
No, I am not paleo for life now. But I have completed the first step. The 30 days are only the first step. The next step, and next few weeks, are all about reintroducing foods, one at a time, to assess my reaction. What triggers icky feelings? I have to admit that during the process, as I thought about this part, I was already starting to get nervous and "carb-phobic". I was pleased with my progress, wanted to keep up relatively rapid weight loss (almost 2 lbs per week in that month), and wanted to reach the end goal. But what I have learned is to differentiate between diets and lifestyles. Diets focus on a single endpoint. "I will be on this diet until I lose 20 lbs." Diets hardly ever talk about what happens when you reach that point. Which is also why people tend to have yo-yo weight issues. There's no support for what happens after the endpoint. And with a single driving goal, often, people give up if they don't see that number move. But health is so much more than a number. For starters, muscle weighs more than fat! So I also continue to measure my body fat % so I can see if that changes even if The Number doesn't move.
On the other hand, lifestyles focus on forever. Lifestyles (generally speaking) are more holistic in their approach. They're about feeling good and looking good is a nice side effect. There are, of course, goals. But they are moveable and build on each other. Yes, these are huge yuge sweep generalities about the differences. But my point is that I'm not in this for the short term.

I feel great now and I want to learn more about my body to know what feels good to eat, and importantly, what makes me feel bad. Weight is only part of the picture, and while I certainly have a dress size as part of my goal, I'm ultimately hoping to maintain energy, and to be a healthy mom for my little girl. I want her to see my example of health without focusing on her size, but on how she feels. I don't want to discourage junk food because it'll make her fat, but because it makes her tummy hurt (however delicious). Health is not just our size, but how we act and feel.

I continue to work every day to be comfortable in this new post-baby body. It's different, not just in weight, than before. Proportions are different. Things have moved. It happens. And I'm still learning how to be me here. If I happen to lose some more inches in the process, it'll be an added bonus, but I'm trying to keep weight out of the picture. I am striving to seek balance, not perfection, in this journey.

To conclude - Whole 30 worked for me. It is changing my focus and my goals and my view on my health. I will admit that it's not for everyone, but if you want to try this program, I will offer my support and encouragement. In case you're considering a round, I am putting together a separate post on some of my favorite go-to brands. I will also try to put together some of my favorite recipes over the last month. I do not want to give the illusion that this month has been easy. But with research, prep, and determination, I look back with fondness and appreciation. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Note to Self

Dear Body,
You can stop carrying the weight of it around every day. 384 days. I am only a little stronger for it. We are slowed by it and crouched under it and slighted by it. We are carrying grief with us everywhere, Body, but we just don't need to anymore. Today is the day. The first yahrzeit. The first anniversary. And we can release it like a balloon! Okay, no, it will never float away. It will follow us like a shadow. Sometimes growing long and light and barely there; and others it will be heavy and underfoot. But we can let it walk beside us, Body, instead of carrying it. Let grief do some of the walking now.


The first year after a loss is marked in (what feels like) many ways. The headstone unveiling can happen after 11 months. There's the secular calendar anniversary. And of course the Lunar calendar. The unveiling happened closer to 11 months, and this is a leap year on the lunar calendar, so we have been remembering for almost 2 months. The first is different. There will never be another first for Mom. Today it is marked. The novelty of grief is welcome to fade any time and this can become ritual.

Maybe now I can write about more than "just" my mom. I won't apologize for not wanting to write about anything else - it helps with the weight of the grief. But I hope for myself that I can talk about other things that aren't weighty for me. Like motherhood. Or my make-up routine. Or trying to be a good mom while putting on makeup. You know. The usual.

I feel heavy when I come here. I remember how my mom encouraged me to write and spoke so highly of my writing (something that I have never felt confident or comfortable with). So now, when I try to think of something to write (any topic - any weight), I find myself wondering what she would think of it. And that weighs down the entire process.

Anyways. Any day now. I will wake up lighter. And the grief will learn to walk.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

One year later

Almost one year has passed since my mom's death. Just over 11 months. Eleven months? It could be eleven days for the fresh sting or it could be eleven years from the numbness.
In the first weeks, and even some months, following her death, I had to actively remind myself she was gone.

Our first moose-ears

They day we found out Knish was going to be a girl, I was going to call her. In fact I reached for my phone and got all the way into my favorites list before I had to remind myself: she's not there. I suppose she knew already that news.

I felt it again as the holidays approached, though not in the same sting you might think. Thanksgiving had been hit or miss as a family holiday since I was in high school and a USY retreat met over the holiday every year. And unless Hanukkah fell late, I hadn't consistently celebrated that at home since I left for college (although last year I did get to celebrate with mom since she stayed with me after my tonsil surgery). Until we got to New Years. New baby body and no mom to help play fashion police. Small budget, big ideas, and lots of angst - and wasn't there to trade shopping links on our chat app. Her friends helped and I found an option. But the party was hard. A cloud hung over it (maybe it was just over me) and after midnight I cried the rest of the night. She was supposed to be there. 

The baby still came without my mom there to help. Other family helped. I was still supported and fed and someone could hold the baby while I peed. But she was supposed to be there.

I have been sick and missed her the most. I am making a job transition and have questioned every step - many conversations would have been run by her. Would she like the house? Does she like the baby's name? Does this top go with this skirt? What are you making for dinner - I'm hungry. The big and the little. She has missed it all. We have missed her.

This weekend we will unveil the headstone. Our final step in the grieving process. The first year of holidays and birthdays have passed. And there will be big holidays where we will miss her - but new traditions will blur the past and the excitement will still come. Turkey will always be turkey at Thanksgiving, even without mom. But it's the little moments where I feel her absence the most. Getting our nails done together. Somone to whine to (or wine with). Our cruise director, fashion police, and care taker.

The first year is done but there will be many more years. Harder for different reasons. And with every new phase with the baby will leave me missing her afresh - countless new firsts that Mom will always miss.

Mayim Bialik shared this poem at her own father's unveiling last month and I found it very moving.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep (Mary Frye, 1932)
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Maternity Leave - A Time for Self Reflection and Peace (NOT)

A great friend of mine and his wife shared some thoughts here on this article. And then I got all sorts of ragey. The comments on the post were more enraging than the article itself.

It is not that parents look forward to maternity leave in order to effect some significant change on their life and career path, but it happens to be a convenient segue. Where the author gets herself into trouble is naively comparing a soul-searching sabbatical to a 6 week period where you recover physically and emotionally from delivery and get to know this tiny person who has be left in your care. Does any parent go into it think any part is easy? No. But there is genuine physical healing happening, as well as genuine bonding and learning. While I had a happy and relatively easy baby, I still wouldn’t consider the time I took as “me time”. It wasn’t luxurious. I won’t go on about “woe-is-me” because that’s not productive either. But maternity leave serves a function. So much of a function that nearly every other country on this planet has a better-funded leave program to encourage new mothers and families to spend time with each other.

The comments of course hit both extremes. But the ones that inflamed me were those that compared adopting a puppy to adopting a child (oh if it were only that easy) and since so many families and children are left wanting the other, families should be grateful to have children at all, suck it all back together, and get back about the work day. For starters, life isn’t about work (children or not). And a smart employer will realize this and incentivize their employees to return and work on a balance after having a kid. Employers need families as much as families need employers.

The other comments that got me (and woe is me for fighting with the internet) is those that theorized that having children is selfish. That no one forced you to have children so if you can’t handle it, you brought it on yourself. I don’t even know where to begin. But to start (and in no order in particular) the desire to have kids is biological. And I won’t even get into the other side of the argument that NOT having kids is selfish – I know people taking that route and it is no more selfish than those having children. I won’t try to defend my child by saying I had her for the greater good of society (but obviously I did – YOU’RE WELCOME), but if everyone stopped having children, what would happen? Would all of the orphans in the world suddenly have families? Probably not. Would society slowly crumble and wither? Obviously. (Okay, so I roped in the drama - but as long as people continue to die, children will need to be born)

And then we reach the point regarding workplace dynamic. If you think for one moment that parents don’t feel the pressure or punishment for leaving early when little Timmy has a stomach ache, then you are absurdly mistaken. Some of the balance in a workplace is regarding entitlement. Should everyone put in the exact same number of hours? Maybe. But some people work more efficiently and some people spend just as much time bitching about picking up the slack for Glen last night because his daughter was sick. AGAIN. Can you believe it? Some of that is about team work and coming together for the success of the company to ensure that everyone gets a paycheck next month. But that’s the corporate side of me. The mom side of me wants everyone (parents and child-free alike) to get home at a reasonable hour to enjoy their life, raise their dependents (child, dog, or other).

So if you don’t have or want kids, but hate your job and want a break, then I suggest you save up your PTO (like moms do, because unlike the recently viral changes that select major employees have rolled out, MOST pregnant women do not get paid maternity leave – they rely on PTO and savings) and take a long vacation. Or sabbatical. But unless you’re recovering from major physical trauma as well, I think the analogy is hurtful to the progress of paid leave for *everyone*.