Home Away from Home

6 Jun

There was a place in my childhood and adolescence, where I felt truly safe and happy, where I could be myself and feel acceptance, where there were boundaries and I knew I was cared for, where I could let go and be a child, allowing myself to experience all those things that allow you to learn about yourself as you grow up and become the person you need to become. That place was summer camp.

Every now and again in my life I am reminded of those powerfully condensed summers, in which friendships were formed, secret crushes flourished, conversations about the meaning of life were conducted in the wee hours of the night, often under the stars, sometimes with a guitar playing in the background, where the cool girls would hang out, in their cut-collared T-shirts, exposing their bra straps, with that summer’s newly transitioned ex-geeky hottie, his arm muscles flexed as he strummed his guitar, was playing his Oasis and his hotel california as his entourage sang along. Was there an afterlife? Would there be peace in the middle east? Would I ever have my first kiss and would it be with A?

In the mornings, waking up early and rushing to get dressed and brush teeth and get to prayer on time, then breakfast in the dining hall and a meeting with our counselors, and then the things we needed to do, efforts made to change the world, truly believing in our power to better it. Hot afternoons in the swimming pool, set amongst the pine trees, harboring rowdy half-developed teens as well as frogs that croaked beside us as we swam.

Shabbat. Getting ready and dressing up, feeling elated, excited to end prayer by greeting everyone and, traditionally, kissing on the cheek. Would he come greet me? Would he kiss me on the cheek?  Shabbat dinner was always deliciously noisy and fun, with our counselors singing at the top of their lungs when the meal was over, and everyone excitedly participating, sometimes even standing on chairs or drumming on the tables. There was no curfew on Friday night, as long as you made it to prayer in the morning, and we’d lay down on the grass outside, looking at the stars, sharing secrets and talking about who and what we wanted to be.

Condensed. Three weeks a year where I wasn’t constantly being scorned by my father, where I wasn’t in charge of mothering my younger sisters, picking them up from daycare, making them lunch, and later on seeing that they did their homework, arguing and trying unsuccessfully to discipline them when they misbehaved. I loved my sisters to pieces. I would have died for them. But then, everything was so dramatic when I was a hormone stricken teenager, learning to constantly be critical of myself, to be ashamed, and eventually to truly hate myself.

I didn’t hate myself in camp, though. I liked myself. I felt smart and funny. I was able to let go of my worry about my appearance. I felt competent and brave. I sang solo one time in front of 300 people. I dared to befriend the boys I had a crush on. I learned then so much of what I know now and implement every single day into my work with children, into my parenting, and into my constant introspection.

I’m not religious anymore. I don’t even believe in god. But I believe in the good intentions of people. I believe in people’s ability to change things that seem unchangeable. I believe in my own personal ability to cope with anything that comes my way. I believe I’m awesome. I believe I deserve to be loved and shown affection and appreciated. And even though it took me years to implement these beliefs into my life, it all started when I was 13 at summer camp.

“Damaged Goods”

24 May

I told D I was ready for our children to meet. So far, we’ve been having a secretive affair, mostly meeting at night, sneaking out and leaving by dark. I haven’t met his friends. He’s met mine once, at my birthday party, where we were all crazy drunk.

He said he wasn’t ready. And I couldn’t let it go.

So I wrote him a letter, about the separation we’ve created between our relationship and our lives, how we’re conducting an affair within this bubble of nightly encounters, in which we love each other and have great sex, and offer one another a brief moment of peace before going back to our hectic schedules. I presented it as if it were a bad thing. I said I was ready to take our relationship to the next level, the one where it is integrated with the rest of our existence. Where we meet during the day as our kids play, or have Friday evening dinners together.

He answered kindly. He said he loved me, but he wasn’t ready. He said he’d only recently been given back his life, after eight years in which he felt like he wasn’t allowed to be himself. And now, he’s healing, and it’ll take time. This is why he can’t move any further with me.

The first thing I sensed from his letter was love. It was tenderly written. Then I saw the immense pain, the scabs and wounds, and I was thankful he shared them with me. Then I realized, I’m still following my pattern. Falling for men that aren’t there yet, that like me, are damaged, that like me, are in the midst of a healing process. And it made me really sad. Because until recently, D was exactly what I’d been craving. A solid relationship, where there was love and understanding and warmth and comfort and great sex, but that was completely separated from the rest of my life. When I met him, I still said things like, “I don’t see myself living with anyone again.”

But now that’s changed. I’m craving such closeness, to have the man I love become a true part of my life. But more than that, I want more than anything for him to choose me – to really choose me. Not just to be with me. I spent 13 years of my life loving someone who loved me a little less, who stopped loving me at one point, who thought about leaving me for six months without my knowledge, through the end of my pregnancy with our child, who left me with a four month old infant. So I’m constantly looking for proof – that I’m not just wasting my time, my energy, my emotions on a man who might never be ready for the next step. My insecurity is really getting in the way of my patience.

What’s odd, is that actually, our little arrangement meets my needs perfectly. I do love my life, and it is FULL, I mean, it’s hard to squeeze a pin in. My job, my son, my close friends, who are like family to me, my grief, my growth. It almost feels like the only reason I want to move forward with D, is to know that I can, like I’m still seeking proof that he wants me, that we’re not just passing time.

I’m damaged. He’s damaged. I guess that’s what relationships in your thirties are like. It’s more complicated than it was when in our first time around, falling in love, testing out the waters of closeness. There’s a knowledge that you can’t un-know now, that things end, even when you think they’ll last forever. That people may betray you, even if you think they’re trustworthy.

I do love D. He is the perfect prescription for my loneliness, my grief, my need to be held, enveloped, complimented, loved. Why can’t I just embrace the gift that he is and not constantly worry about what’ll happen when it expires?

Tomato Paste Math

22 May

tomato paste

I love grocery shopping with my boy. This probably has to do with the fact that I love food and cooking, but also because almost a year ago, when he turned two, I realized I could actually get stuff done around the house, if I only stopped trying to keep him busy while I cleaned, cooked and set the table, and instead included him in all these activities. Since then, cooking together has become a ritual, and grocery shopping one of our favorite activities.

He sits in the shopping cart, and as we shop I tell him stories about where all food comes from. How the bread is made of wheat, and the strawberry yogurt he loves so much is made of milk that we get from cows and strawberries. That the pasta we buy is imported from Italy, but the tomatoes we use to make the sauce grow locally. I give him tasks: “Sweetie can you please pick out three beautiful zucchinis for me and put them in the bag?” And responsibility: “You are in charge of eggs. We can’t forget to buy eggs so when you see the eggs you have to remind me, OK?”

Yesterday, as we were shopping I noticed a sale on tomato paste. Six containers for a special price. They were small plastic containers, connected at the top in pairs and in fours. “OK honey, we need to get six of these. Let me see… Here, six!” I said and I handed him a pair.

He looked at them and laughed. “That’s not six! One, two.”

“Oh my, you’re right. Let me try again.” And I handed him four. “Six!” I said.

He seemed convinced this time, but he counted: “One, two, three… four! Mommy it’s four. It’s not six!”

“Oh no, what are we going to do?” I asked sadly, holding the pair in one hand and the four containers in the other. “We need six.” I brought my hands closer together. “And we only have four and two.”

He looked and the containers. Without saying anything else he began to count: “One, two, three, four, five, six! Mommy there are six!”

“Oh my, you’re right! Together there are six! Four and two are six!”

And that’s how my son got his first addition lesson ever at the supermarket.

“Those Ritalin Kids”

21 May

Yesterday afternoon there was a party at my son’s daycare. The theme was a farm, and it was super fun, from songs and old McDonald, to milking a cow, and petting a goat. The party ended with a huge inflatable castle that the children jumped on with joy. It was loud and exhausting and took place in the aftenoon, by which time I had only limited energy left. It also happened to take place on one of those workdays that just sucks all around, not to mention I was premenstrual as hell. But I kept it together, and I enjoyed seeing my child participate in the activities, raise his hand and wait his turn (and he’s not even three yet!) By the time the jumping began, I sat down on a little stool, staring into mid air, glad the day was almost over.

It was the end of the party, and most of the younger children had already gone home. The older boys were still going nuts on the inflatable castle, jumping, crashing and screaming with joy, when the teacher said it was time to get off. One of the mothers then said, jokingly: “You can fold up the castle with the kids in it. The ones that are still jumping are the ones whose parents wouldn’t care anyway.” Another mother heared this and laughed and added “Those ritalin kids.”

Now, I am a fairly cynical person, and I can take a joke. Really, I can even take a hollocaust joke every now and then, and I’m Jewish. But having a person who does not even know me, joke at the expense of my son was too much. I know I was overly sensitive, but I was so insulted I couldn’t let this sentence out of my mind for the entire evening, and here I am blogging about it.

First of all, it’s ignorant and stupid. Three year old boys on an inflatable castle are not supposed to behave any differently than how those children behaved. They are supposed to be happy, jump and scream, that is the whole point of the activity. Secondly, even if it were a group of hyperactive three year olds, who the hell are you to joke about how their mothers feel about them and how much they care. Thirdly, as a teacher, I have met children who really needed medication to overcome attention disorders, who were much happier as a result. It is rare. And those kids are ten, not three. Really, ritalin and other medications are SO overused, it makes me angry that people talk about it so lightly. Lastly, uhhhh I could just keep talking forever about how ignorant, stupid and disrespectful what that mother said was, but it’ll do me no good.

I should have told her off, I would have felt better. But since I didn’t, I’ll do the second best thing and write it down, so I can stop thinking about it. Oh, and thank god my boy has a mother who knows better.

Itineraries, Sexy Rendezvous and Maintaining Sanity

9 May

Today is a down day, how surprising, as it’s a Saturday and I am home alone with no itinerary. I woke up at ten and it took me a full hour to get out of bed. Finally I was up, getting some work done in my pajamas. I had some coffee, but I only remembered to eat when I felt like I was going to faint. You’d think I’d have this down by now. I just don’t know how to be alone anymore.

On a different front, things are going pretty well with D. We seem to have survived my meltdown last Saturday, and our nearly six month old relationship is slowly evolving, two steps forward, one step back. Each in turn pushing forward, and pulling away. It’s like a series of contractions, only less painful and more pleasurable. I clutch and he releases, I release my grip and he tightens his. I’m desperate, he’s patient, I’m easy, and I can sense his need.

He’s working this weekend and again we’re finding little loopholes in our schedules to see each other. It’s kind of exciting, these hastened lunch breaks and naked afternoon rendezvous. Yesterday, on his way to work, he dropped by for an hour, and I was waiting for him in a tight sheer spaghetti strap top, and a skirt that I never wear without tights, since it’s way too short to be appropriate. But this time I passed on the tights, and underwear too for that matter.

It was one of the sexiest encounters I’ve had with him, or with anyone. He was beside himself with excitement, and something more, a kid of gratitude that you can only understand if you’ve been in a sexless relationship for a long time, especially in one that made you feel emasculated. There he was, showing me in every way that he could not resist me, his body warm, built just the right amount, his biceps streching his Tshirt only slightly, his face unshaven, his bristles prickly as he kissed my shoulders and neck.  “I missed you, zalataya.” (That’s my new nickname) “A lot.”

Minutes later he was naked and on top of me, my skirt rolled up, his arm firm around my neck and his other hand grabbing me by my waist. He moved me, positioned me, and repositioned me, and I loved him in control, molding our bodies like an artist. There’s a moment during sex when my mind goes foggy, and even if I tried I wouldn’t be able to think of anything. All systems shut down. I love that moment.

It was such good sex, that when we were done, I kissed him and said thank you. That made him crack up and he said, “I’m crazy about you.” and after a pause he added, “A lot”. And that made me laugh. We lay there in bed, holding each other and smiling to ourselves, and I wanted to hashtag the moment #Feeling blessed motherfuckers.   

Yesterday was an up day. I was at work in the morning, then running errands, meeting D, family dinner, and meeting up with J for a beer later that evening. All time accounted for. No time to overthink my life or sink into melancholia.

I really should stick to what I know.

Insecurities and Meltdowns

4 May

My insecurities got the best of me the other day. Missing M horribly, crying nonstop, panicking about everything and anything. I finally cracked and went berserk on D. Just like I had told myself I wouldn’t.

If he only says I love you in response to me saying it, how can I be sure he really means it? I was going nuts imagining how he’d be off soon enough leaving me, alone once again, surprised and insulted, unloved for months without having suspected.

I was sobbing hysterically when I finally decided to text him. It was one of those things you don’t think through, and you kind of know that if you did – you’d stop. But it was a mistake I wanted to make, moreover, it felt like something I needed to do, so badly that it would be a mistake not to.

I was straightforward. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but at least there was no beating around the bush. He responded clearly: He loved me. He thought I was incredible. I gave him things that had been missing from his life for years. He wished he could say something more to convince me that that’s how he felt.

I took a screenshot. I would have to reread this message in the future. I said: Thank you. I’ll try to remember that.

Then he came over and we had sex and went to the Robbie Williams concert which was awesome. By the time we got back home, it felt like things had gone back to normal between us, and I thought to myself, it’s not such a high price to pay, my emotional meltdowns, to be with me. I’m kind of a catch.

Girls Gone Wild Memorial

1 May

bird

The narrow wooden gate opened and we fell silent for a moment. Stepping through the gate and onto the huge deck, we took in the view, the ocean, the caldera, the little white houses on the slope of the mountain, the breeze, the birds that chirped all around and wandered along the breakfast bar, in search of breadcrumbs. It was almost too much. It had been very, very long since I’d seen something so beautiful. Long enough to forget that beauty like this existed.

Twelve hours earlier, I had taken my Boy to see the fireworks. It was his first Independence Day that he could really grasp and might actually remember, now that he was almost three. He was so happy and excited, and he fell into a deep peaceful sleep on our way home. Straight to bed. No shower or teeth brushed. That could all wait.

On tiptoes, I made the final arrangements. Washed the dishes. Checked my bag for passport and ticket. In a couple of hours my mom would be coming over to stay with my son and I would be off to Santorini, a place that my only connection to was M. It was the money she’d left us. It was the directions she’d given. To go to where she was at 18, when everything was possible and there was no glass ceiling to life. To where she’d been hoping to go with J, between treatments, before she ran out of time. It was a carefree spring break. It was a trip down memory lane. It was our Girls Gone Wild Memorial.

Like he was synced with my plans, two minutes before my alarm went off at 1:00 am, my Boy woke up with a bad dream. And that was that. He remembered suddenly that I was leaving. He was beside himself, clinging to my shirt, hysterical. Finally I had to go. So I did, and left him crying with my mom, telling myself to trust her.

Taxi with E. Picking up J. Meeting G and the airport. Us four. We used to be five.

Tickets, passports, security, duty free, overpriced coffee. The excitement was building up. If only my mother would text me to say things were OK. They’re sleeping, I told myself. And then the flight, laughing hysterically, talking way too loudly and being inappropriate. Landing in Athens, layover, freaking out since my mom hadn’t texted yet. Finally hearing from her. Everything’s fine, I shouldn’t have worried. Boarding. More inappropriateness. Landing. Finding our driver. More inappropriateness… And then traffic, and lots of it…

By the time we got to the hotel, we’d been on the road for almost ten hours and were exhausted. But then that gate opened, and from that moment on, there were no worries. No crying children and fretting over them. It was just peaceful and lovely. And by lovely I mean beautiful, but also full of love.

black sand

If I could possibly be less cynical, I’d say she was there with us, M, laying on the black sand, drinking smoothies and cocktails, dipping her feet into the frozen infinity pool, enjoying the out of season weather, assuring it would never get too warm, rolling her eyes at the look on my face when I saw a lobster on my plate for the first time, and had to ask J to “deal with it”.

She would have chatted endlessly with Vicki, the almost over friendly receptionist that made it her life mission to assure we had the best possible time, ate the best possible food, and sweetly joked about her tendency to eat too much. “There is no moderation in Santorini!” She’d said. M would have loved that.

The end of the last day, standing on the deck again, looking at the water glistening in the sun, I wanted to cry. It was an end to our trip. And though I knew there would be others, I couldn’t be sure that M would be there for the rest. So vivid in my heart, the way she had been in Santorini. Please, I thought, stay with me. Don’t fade away into a distant memory. As we stepped into the taxi that would take us to the airport I clung to her, like a child clinging to his mother’s shirt. But it was time to part, again. And I realized that I could probably continue parting with her forever. Saying goodbye again and again, just as it had been when she was still here.

Her birthday is coming up on Tuesday. Will I be saying goodbye once more? Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe instead of saying goodbye, I should welcome her memory into my life, as a permanent tenant, that lives forever and never goes on vacation.

I should.

And I will.

But not just yet.

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