In this big picture, find the locket, the John Lennon spectacles, blue eyeshadow, bangs trimmed straight, August, yellow #5, a red balloon (not to be confused with The Red Balloon), a tray wiped clean, a downward glance, an elephant, love, another elephant, motherhood, hints of a Bubbi in a baby’s breath, a candle blown, “she looks like you Mom,” uncertainty, a glassy iris, love, the end of an exhale, one year, 26, 11 in between days, a hidden picture, gingham.
“40 is the new 30,” said a friend of mine the other day.
That would totally and completely suck, I just realized.
Yes, my hair was blonder.
Yes, my breasts were firmer.
Yes, I had ten years ahead of me still ‘ til 40.
wow. 30. 2004. Mom of one very restless baby. Up to my eyeballs in change … not bad change but the kind that causes upheaval that equals frequent upset. Orange vomit on my shoulder a lot. Not a lot of friends nearby. Unrealistic expectations of marriage, parenthood, community, work, friendship, life.
It’s not that I’m BRILLIANT now.
But I am now aware enough to know how dumb I am. And how age brings a wisdom born of experience that in some ways is better than firm breasts.
The more I speak about and write about 40, the more people (read “women”) say to me:
I loved my 40s
The 40s have been the best years of my life
I really found myself in my 40s
These kind of comments, from real people, are uplifting and have actually started to ignite in me a desired anticipation — the kind I remember feeling in the months leading up to 13. When was the last time we were truly excited for a birthday … not because we had a crazy evening planned or a vacation, but because it was appropriate to celebrate our advance? What happens to our birthday joy as we age?
I have a summer birthday and so I used to be very familiar with anticipation in advance of birthdays. My friends often reached milestones ahead of me : 13, 17 (driving age in NJ), 18, 21, etc. Those last few months before it was my turn were always killer. The summer I was 12, waiting for 13, I remember telling boys when they asked at the camp social, “how old are you?” that I was 13. That my birthday had been in April. For some reason, that mattered then. As if they wouldn’t ask me to dance unless I was old enough to have boobs. (The boobs wouldn’t come for 4 more summers.)
Last summer, when I turned 39, I remember feeling a sense of dread. It didn’t help that last summer I also suffered from a bunch of moderate health issues, serious enough to impact my daily life . (It’s likely that at least half of them were stress-related, and maybe 1/4 “pre-40” related.)
My 39th birthday, spent with family by the Jersey shore was lovely, but undercut by a constant heartburn. The antacids didn’t help. The gluten-free diet didn’t help. The technology detox didn’t help. I understand now it’s because the heartburn was only partly physical. Much of it was existential. Prilosec can’t help with that. Not even the Wild Berry flavor.
This summer, I am determined to drop the burn. Be all heart. Feel 12 again. I am determined to want 40. So badly that I pretend like I already am.
The best coworker I ever had was the one who every morning sat with me for a half hour while drinking our morning coffee and did dream analysis with me.
She was good.
So was I.
Coffee + dream analysis = best way to start the morning.
I’m pretty decent on my own, but it’s more fun to analyze your dreams with a friend. I also really enjoy showing people the obvious connections they are missing. It’s pretty hilarious as a listener to understand immediately that your friend is simply exploring her fear of intimacy in her dreams of lesbian sex with the boss, when she can hardly sputter out the words, “sex with….”
Anyway, last night I had a version of a recurring dream I’ve had since moving to Israel 3 1/2 years ago. It was a few hours after waking, however, during shavasana (the deep relaxation at the end of yoga class) that I understood it. When I got it, though, I laughed out loud it was so obvious. Had I shared it over coffee with an experienced dream analyzer, she would have understood it in 30 seconds.
In the dream, I am in my childhood bedroom. I am an adult. I am there with two black duffel bags. I am packing for Israel. I realize that I have forgotten to pack my childhood books to send on the cargo shipment by boat. The books will certainly put me over the 50 lb weight limit the airline allows. I also realize a lot of my clothes are still in the drawers. Clothes I could use in Israel. Thick socks and the like.
I start making piles.
Piles to bring. Piles to part with.
Some items are easier to put in the “part with” pile than others.
I resent this process. I want it all to come with me. Not the old, stretched out long sleeve tees, but I want the socks and the books. Why should I have to leave them behind?
I notice, too, the formica furniture set is still in really good condition and I wonder why we didn’t ship it to Israel. We could have used it there.
But the furniture, I am able to let go of pretty easily. Not the books, though. I continue to make piles.
My 5 year old daughter appears. She has some extra room in her duffel. She lets me put books in there. I am grateful. I rearrange some of her clothes to make more room. I wish I had a bigger bag — a large sturdy suitcase would allow for more weight than this duffel.
Suddenly, I am on the plane. I have a white cardboard box, the kind you use to store files, and it’s filled with paperback books. I am able to lift it up into the overhead compartment despite its weight. I worry the flight attendant will call me out on this, but she does not. Instead, she gives me a resigned look and allows it.
I wake up.
Feel free to leave your dream in the comments and I will be happy to give you my analysis in return.
“We took our coffee into the living room. He stood at the stereo and asked if I had any requests. ‘Something Blue-ish,’ I said.
While he flipped through his records, he told me about the time he’d asked his daughter for requests; she was about three at the time and cranky after a nap, going down the stairs one at a time on her butt. He imitated her saying, ‘No music, Daddy.’
‘I told her we had to listen to something,’ he said. ‘And she languorously put her hair on top of her head and like a world-weary nightclub singer said, ‘Coltrane then.'”
— The Girls’ Guide To Hunting and Fishing, Melissa Banks
Meg’s mother picked up the pair of brown tortoise shell reading glasses from the top of the bedroom dresser. She gently put them on and leaned in to study her face in the reflection. Cocking her head to the right, she removed the pair, placed the chewed earpiece in her mouth, and sucked the grooves in between the teeth marks. Only then did she notice the smudge on the lens. Instinctively, she reached for a tissue to wipe it away, but a second later reconsidered. It might be — most likely would be — the closest she’d ever come again to holding her husband’s hand.
There is a cry lodged
There at the farthest most upper reaches
There at the roof of my mouth.
There, its origin may be found in between
There in between an exhale and an inhale
There where an ujjiyai breath washes over it.
There is not a wet cry
There lies a very ancient dry cry
There where it’s drier than a long suckled Japanese well.
There is nothing to do
There but notice how stuck
There to the roof is a cry.
There must be a way to dislodge such a cry from
There so I may be free from the horrors
There seem to be inhabiting the world of all children.
There in Nigeria
There in Syria
There in Hannaton
There once was a girl
There still is a boy
There are children who stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter choking me so that the word guttural rhymes with suffering rhymes with flutter in my chest rhymes with a man muttering
“do you want a ride?”
There is nothing to do
There but notice how stuck
There to the roof of my throat is
There really no place for my child
There or here for my inner child?
There is only a lodged cry
There should be
There could be flowing wet breath.
I was one of those kids who was afraid of the dark.
Now, when I say “one of those kids” I do pause for a moment and wonder what kid isn’t afraid of the dark.
What adult isn’t still?
I think most of us are afraid of the dark. Even grownups. We just pretend we’re not or drug ourselves or sex ourselves up to believe otherwise. We do something to smother the very innate fear we have of unknown monsters creeping like fog through the slats of our windows or more corporeal, through a locked door with the help of a plastic credit card.
There’s a reason why dark thoughts float to the surface of our mind at night.
I am still afraid of the dark. My bedtime routine? I read a book in bed with the light on until my eyes are practically closed and then I reach for the light and quickly fall to sleep. On the nights when I can’t fall asleep quickly, I’m troubled.
The dark is simply not a place I enjoy being.
It’s possible that not everyone is afraid of the dark.
If you’re one of these people, I’d be curious to hear from you. I wonder if it’s just us: Those of us with overactive imaginations; those of us with stress-related ulcers or migraines; those of us who jump at the sound of a ceramic plate falling to the ground; those of us who are afraid of the shadow we see at the corner of our eye when we’re drying our hair in the mirror. Is there a human being who welcomes the dark? Are you one?
My discomfort with the dark presents a quandary for me at bedtime with my kids. They all want me — still — to lie with them til they fall asleep. If they had their druthers, they’d sleep up against me all night long like spoons. One against the other in a row like a cartoon Tom & Jerry sandwich.
I can’t really blame them for that.
As much as I need space from them, space from people, space to be alone, I hardly ever want it at my own bedtime. This is not to say I enjoy tiny feet in my face at 3 am, but this is to say that I might, in some alternate Blade Runner reality, pay for someone to tickle my back and comb their fingers through my hair til I fell asleep. I might like that. It might be something I’d consider voting for in an election.
I want to know someone is near in the dark. But more important, I want to know someone is there to protect me.
I just want to know I am safe. Even if it’s a false knowing. Because, come on, do our kids really believe deep down we could protect them from ghouls, intruders, burglars?
No. I don’t think so.
They just want someone to whisper softly in their ears as they drift down into a subconscious that will take over for a time. They want the whispers to be true enough:
“You are safe. The world is safe. You are free to drift away. You are safe.”
I’ve been whispering these words to my middle son these past few nights. He had been having trouble sleeping the few nights before and our bedtime routine had become quite anguished, for both him and me. I could continue to fight him; try for the 50th time to “sleep train” him successfully; or I could just acknowledge that my son is like me, afraid of the dark, not just the absence of light in his room but of the dark thoughts I know bubble up for him, too, at bedtime. Thoughts about people he loves. Thoughts about the fragility of life.
Who should have to be alone with such thoughts?
So at the end of an evening meditation I take him through, I speak the words I wish someone would speak to me as dreams carry me away.
“You are safe. The world is safe.”
Perhaps the more I speak them, the more the words will be true.
The less the dark will overpower me…and him…and you.
It was a triple threat, quadruple even, the 1960s publication of a Scholastic book club book with its retro cover, with its pages filled with poems by ee cummings and Langston Hughes and Maxine Kumin and Basho, and peppered with adorable little one-color illustrations. For the cherry on top, there was editor Ann McGovern: a goddess of children’s books and someone I remember from my days as a young assistant at Scholastic. (What I didn’t know until after I completed the project below is that serendipitously McGovern also enjoys creating collage art.)
I’ve been meaning for some time to take a book from my saved collection and turn it into something new. So it serves a purpose other than collecting dust on the shelf. I got the idea after visiting a gallery in Jaffa last year. Passing a wall of framed art, I noticed one was simply a circa 1950s Dick and Jane book cover torn out, framed, and priced at 200 shekels. After I got over my shock that someone tore off a vintage book cover, put it in a frame, and priced it at 200 shekels, I realized, “Wait a minute. I just might buy that. I am someone who would buy something like that.” And if I would, others (with a lot more money to spend) would, too.
I didn’t decide then and there to start my own recycled books-as-art business, but I filed away the idea of it. I liked the prospect of saving old books from doom and turning them into new art. Thinking about it made me happy.
I’ve always loved creating collages. Looking back at old pictures of my childhood bedroom recently reminded me of this. Why not create collages with the old books I’ve saved?
Today, I dug in and created my first.
The process, I learned, is an art in and of itself. It was impromptu and yet fluid. I didn’t know exactly where I was going when I started, but when I went to the old books shelf and saw the Book of Poetry this morning, I knew that was the book to start with.
And so I sat in front of the patio door where the sun shines in brightest, and I read Frost and ripped.
I positioned Edna St. Vincent Millay and pasted her next to Paul Bunyan.
I made sure, too, Ann McGovern still got credit and that bits and pieces of the lovely retro cover remained.
And the result makes me happy. Like a rescued puppy brought in from the rain.
that makes you remember the time you had blintzes in that cafe on 2nd Avenue
that makes you look frantically in the closet for the sundress you know you didn’t sell at Buffalo Exchange — you know it, you just know it, but where IS it — for a pair of people earrings that looked like the ones you got at Accessory Place with babysitting money
that makes you comb the recesses of your mind for the smell of your grandmother’s perfume
that makes you wish you didn’t throw away your walkman
or your diary from 5th grade the one with the pink plastic cover that you got for free with a magazine subscription that said
“I got my period today.”
Sometimes I do that to you.
I make you remember.
Is that enough to make my story matter?
Sometimes I write what comes to me and what comes to you is like what comes to me
and it makes you miss someone
or kiss someone
or call someone
or, better yet, write them a letter
or draw them a picture or make them a mixed tape.
Or send them back the mixed tape they made for you once.
Does this photo of my 7 year old “driving” an abandoned bus deserted in the industrial park on the kibbutz we live on instill feelings of longing in you?
Or pure, unadulterated fear?
It’s rusty, that bus. And filled with trash. And likely painted with lead paint.
Maybe you just think I’m crazy. I know a lot of my friends and family back in the U.S. do. In fact, 35 year old me is looking at 39 year old me with a little bit of loathing and disgust; and plenty of confusion.
Today, on the Times of Israel, I blogged about what parenting (or really, underparenting) on a kibbutz in Israel looks like for me.
And how the dirty, sometimes dangerous life, has surprisingly created space for me in which I can breathe.
Not like that one time fancy schmancy mozzarella with tomatoes from BJs unusual but usually some concoction something on the stove from scratch from what was in the fridge
No I remember Meatball Surprise little Jason little Jen
Pancakes log cabin syrup big glasses tinted lens steaming up with fog
laughing rather snorting rather smiling rather some blend
a beer on the back porch only when Uncle Steve’s in town only once a year maybe every other year
rootbeer or Pepsi Free from the fridge from the door in the fridge no don’t remember on the island there on Garwood Drive next to a plate of egg noodles with cottage cheese and sour cream and Wonder Bread and that was being Jewish I think
lunch on Saturday after cartoons after you went to the market but before soccer or after i don’t know there in the middle when it was sunny on the deck
Not like Wednesday when it was 5:30 and you were making green salad green iceberg lettuce green cucumbers green peppers Italian dressing French from scratch one time that didn’t work was yucky was too red not yellow or orange enough on the island
hamburgers on the grill but never cheeseburgers never with cheese not with Kraft American cheese in plastic never ever even though that’s what mom wanted and me too probably because hamburgers with bubbles on the top are gross
never parmesean on meatballs not like at Bubbi’s house not because it wasn’t kosher like you said but because you didn’t like the smell put the green container back in the spice cabinet now almost yelling but not
But never shrimp
Never ever coconut shrimp except that one time at a chinese restaurant but i wasn’t there that’s just a story I think mom could tell or Uncle Harvey and Aunt Iris but not me I wasn’t there when your throat almost closed up but for years i didn’t eat shrimp God Forbid
Not because it wasn’t kosher
Fake poop but that’s for another time
Food food food this time that’s where we’re going
Never would’ve guessed it but it’s there on the top of a birthday cake 66 candles
but 39 years of food
funny i would’ve said beach boys beatles singing in the car bad smells bad jokes roll the window down the top down but no there’s
syrup or salt or jelly perhaps, too, Grape Welch’s the flavor of 6 7 8 9 10
Sandwiches on white bread
but what was in the middle
Yellow mustard for sure
but also what
Turkey? Bologna? Not ham, never ham
The only ham was you
with a frying pan.
* * *
Meatball Surprise Recipe
Red Sauce from a Jar (Preferably Ragu)
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Cook it all up regular like and mix it together in a pan and eat it up