RSS Feed

Tag Archives: kids

Everyday Miracles

            This year at synagogue school we’re focusing on miracles for Hanukah (last year we focused on the lights from the candles), and I’m doing a writing workshop with the kids based on Walt Whitman’s poem Miracles (https://poets.org/poem/miracles), to help them see the everyday miracles in their own lives.

            There have been times in my life when I was able to feel the level of wonder Walt Whitman felt at the miracles all around him, but I haven’t been in that state of mind lately. My first thoughts are of what I don’t have, or what’s wrong, or what I’m failing at. My hope is that by actively pushing myself to think about the daily miraculous things, I might be able to regenerate my sense of wonder: like the miracle of Ellie running through the leaves, or the miracle of Cricket giving a five minute diatribe, in the form of an Aria, about why I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the apartment, or the miracle of packages arriving at my door just because I typed a few things into my phone.

“Where’s MY iPhone?

            I want bigger miracles, though. I want to stop feeling so hungry – for food or love or success or whatever else. I want to feel less pain, physical and emotional. I want all of my hard work to kick in so I can finally feel successful and capable and healthy, and safe. It’s hard to be satisfied with the little miracles when I want so much more.

The fact is, I’m struggling. My psychiatrist upped my dose of antidepressants, because my lows have been more persistent lately, even prior to my father’s death. It feels like exhaustion, but I don’t know if there’s a medical cause or a psychological one, or a mix of both. All of the research being done on Long Covid (which I don’t have, because I never got Covid, thank God) promises to offer some insight for those of us who have other long term pain disorders, but I’m not optimistic, honestly.

            My latest experiments with Intuitive Eating have led me to look into self-care more deeply, to see if there are things I could be doing to help lift my mood that I haven’t tried yet, or haven’t tried enough; things, especially, that would take the place of extra food, because I’ve been relying on food as self-care too much lately. My current project has been about collecting good memories (times when I’ve felt cared for, safe, and accepted as I am), so that when I find myself wanting to eat beyond physical hunger I can fill the space with a good memory instead.

            Some of the memories I’ve been working with are: when I was four years old and my grandfather bought me a stuffed panda that was as tall as me and he walked me and the panda, hand in hand, down the driveway to the car; and the time when my brother and I sat on the lawn during a rainstorm with a towel over our heads; and the time we stayed over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and they took us to Lickety Split for ice cream (I probably had mint chocolate chip) and then we were allowed to choose whichever candies we wanted, and my brother and I sat in the guest room, next to the cuckoo clock, sharing our candy dots and ingesting enormous amounts of paper along the way.

“Yum, paper!”

            I’ve also been collecting songs and TV shows and movies and books that have relieved anxiety or depression in the past, so that if the sweet memories don’t help enough I can move on to visiting YouTube or Spotify mid-meal, or I could even act out a scene from Harry Potter with the dogs if nothing else works.

            I just want to feel better, but it’s all trial and error and lately I’ve been feeling like I’m treading water. I remember this feeling from summer camp, when we had to do a Buddy Call at free swim in the lake. The water was deep and opaque, so we had to go in as pairs, with each pair given a number, and midway through the session we had to call out our numbers, to make sure we were all still alive. If you weren’t at the dock when the whistles blew then you had to tread water through the whole Buddy Call, which could take a while. Under the water I was kicking my legs furiously, but above the water I had to pay close attention to the numbers being called out, so I wouldn’t miss our turn. It was exhausting, and panic inducing. I worried that I’d forget my number, or forget how to count in Hebrew letters, but most of all I worried that my legs would give out and I’d fall under the water and the lifeguards would have to dive in to search for me and they’d be pissed off at me for the rest of the summer. I didn’t have faith that my buddy would remember our number, or call it out, or save me if I started to drown. I didn’t have much faith in other people, period.

“I would save you, Mommy!”
“Yeah, sure. Me too.”

            So this writing workshop on miracles is coming at the right time, and maybe when the kids tap into their own ideas of what’s miraculous in their lives I will remember my own miracles too. My hope is, always, that if I keep trying, keep working at this process of healing, good things will come. I just wish they’d come a little bit faster.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

An Elephant In The Living Room

 

My brother and I had a fascination with elephants when we were little. It’s possible this started when we went on an elephant ride. You had to climb up to a platform and be placed on the elephant. It was not like a horse; the elephant almost didn’t know I was there, like I was a fly on his back, but the idea that the elephant was alive, and moving, and not a bus or train but a real live being, seemed magical to me.

Happy elephant! (not my picture)

Happy elephant! (not my picture)

I might have been four years old, because I can’t place when or where it happened. I don’t know if it was at a circus or an elaborate petting zoo, near home or away. I just remember the moments of elephant, and the plan that started to form: we wanted an elephant to live at our house.

We never wanted chickens, that I know of. I thought about a goat, but Mom said no right away, because of the smell, and the inevitable destruction. She knew from goats and didn’t want to live near one again.

I really wanted an elephant, or another big animal, someone who could take up more space than my father and fight off any monsters who dared to invade my room.

I didn’t want a lion, really, or any kind of cat. They struck me as a little too changeable. I never really thought of having a cow. They just didn’t seem that interactive, and, they were steak. I didn’t want a pet who could be confused with food. A giraffe would have worked great. She could have hung her head out of my bedroom window to snack on trees and keep watch over the neighborhood, and then she could rest her head on the porch roof whenever she got tired. I think my brother would have been okay with a giraffe, but for some reason Mom said no to that too. Something about the ceilings.

A lion would be a bit much. (not my picture)

A lion would be a bit much. (not my picture)

A cow would always have been suspicious around dinner time. (not my picture)

A cow would always have been suspicious around dinner time. (not my picture)

A giraffe would have been wonderful! (not my picture)

A giraffe would have been wonderful! (not my picture)

We had an eighty pound Doberman Pinscher named Solomon when I was little, but even though he towered over me I never thought of him as a good elephant substitute. A friend had a slobbering blue mastiff named Bruno that was more what I was looking for; someone slow, and friendly, and soft, and smiling at me. I wanted him to go to school with me and sit at the next desk during spelling tests. I wanted him to go to summer camp with me and do the doggy paddle while I tried to stay afloat.

A blue Mastiff, just like Bruno. (not my picture)

A blue Mastiff, just like Bruno. (not my picture)

My therapist, and, from what I gather, many other therapists as well, uses the elephant in the living room metaphor, i.e., there’s an elephant in the middle of the room and everyone is acting as if it isn’t there. The elephant could be incest or alcoholism or mental illness or domestic abuse, but whatever it is, the family denial is so potent that it makes something the size and weight of an elephant invisible.

I hadn’t heard this metaphor when I was little, there was just something about an elephant, so majestic, with rough skin, not trying to be colorful or beautiful, that felt right to me. They are matriarchal, and have long memories, neither of which I knew at the time, but maybe I sensed it. There was something about elephants that calmed me. I could maybe ride my elephant to school, and slide down her trunk, and set her up under a tree while I was in class, and bring her milk and cookies during snack time.

There was a book I read all the time about a boy who had a dinosaur as a friend, and I thought an elephant would be more practical.

Danny-Dinosaur

The biggest argument against an elephant was, how would you get it up to the second floor so it could sleep in your room? So that’s when we started planning the elevator. We started scouting locations where the elevator could go without disrupting the floor plan too much. When my father complained about the cost of electricity, we thought about a dumbwaiter contraption, but we’d need a second elephant to help us lift the weight. Two elephants. One for each of us!

Of course, sadly, our parents prevailed, and we never built an elevator or brought home a baby elephant to raise in the backyard. I know we would have been willing to share the chores, and take turns having her sleep in our bedrooms at night, but it’s possible we wouldn’t have known how to handle the poop. That’s probably what made the decision. Everything else about an elephant living in a house on Long Island would have worked out fine; but not the poop.

I had to settle for two mini-poopers!

I had to settle for two mini-poopers!