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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

When I first met J, getting to know his family was a bit overwhelming. He has a much larger family than I do, and many of them are loud and assertive. Scary. Fortunately, a lot of them are very nice people. I felt instantly comfortable with his aunt, Edna, his mother’s sister. Edna made me feel like she thought I was the most marvelous person J could have brought through the door. Her house was a warm, chaotic place and she made the best matzah balls ever.

Three years into our relationship, I decided to convert to Judaism. I made J’s parents promise not to tell Edna and didn’t phone her either, as I wanted to see the look on her face myself. I knew she was going to be delighted.

I never did get a chance to tell her. One morning at the school where she taught, Edna went to the office to ask them to call her husband, as she had a bad headache. Then she collapsed of a brain aneurysm. We got the call to drive in, as Edna was in the hospital and “it doesn’t look good.” We drove straight in, not saying much on the two-hour trip. I was still firmly convincing myself she would be fine.

She was on total life support. Her children were there, one from far away, and her sisters and their spouses. We all waited all night for the doctors to do one final test. They would take her off the breathing machine. They didn’t think she’d start breathing in her own, but if she did, there was some hope. She didn’t.

I loved Edna. We all loved Edna. I discovered at the funeral and shiva that it wasn’t just me she made feel so special, it was everyone she met. It wasn’t that she was shallow. She really cared about people and had a gift of showing it. I knew Edna for three years and she’s been dead 13 years and I still miss her, which is a pretty good example of her impact.

When J and I were expecting our first child, we came up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name, both after Edna (Maya isn’t Maya’s real name). A month later, my nephew was born and he too was named for Edna. A few months after that, J’s cousin had her second child and another baby was named for Edna.

The three cousins are very close, despite living in different cities. Not only are they close in age, but they hold pride at being Edna’s namesakes.

The fact that they don’t know Edna is weird to me, give her huge impact on this family. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, as we reached the 13 anniversary of her death. I was thinking about how, when I grew up, the missing family member was my mother’s father. He died when I was three. I don’t remember him. I remember my mother being gone for a long time, as she spent several weeks in England during his final illness. I remember her returning with my grandmother and a big scary dog (or at least, so it seemed at the time). But nothing about him. I realize now that I don’t even know what I called him – Grandpa? Grandad?

I feel I know a lot about him, though. My mother kept many of his books, and he had a lot. I used to like to poke through them and read quite a few as I got older. My mother told me stories about him and things he used to say (one of my favourite is – and I hope I get this right – “Skinny women are for hanging clothes on and plump women are for taking clothes off.”) I have seen lots of pictures, too. My mother looks like him. He has a face that suggests a great sense of humour. I think he would have been interesting to talk to. I think I might have ended up arguing with him a lot, but I always felt they would have been respectful arguments, intellectual arguments. I think we would have understood each other.

Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure, because he’s dead. That pisses me off. It has pissed me off for a long, long time. When I was younger, going through his books, I’d feel cheated out of not being able to know this man. I had to rely on others memories because I didn’t have a single one of my own, and that really annoyed me. I missed him.

So I was thinking of Edna, and I was thinking that, as painful as it is, I wished that Maya felt the same way about Edna as I feel about my grandfather. I wanted her to have enough of a sense of the person Edna was to miss her. I’m not sure why. What has missing my grandfather gotten me? I guess it is just that my mother managed to communicate to me not only how much he meant to her, but what kind of person he was. Missing my grandfather keeps him real that much longer. I want Edna to be real to the generation of children who never met her.

Ironically, just last night, Maya and I were chatting before bed and she brought Edna up, asking what it was like when she died. Then she asked me what was so special about her, and I tried to describe her, give Maya a greater sense of who she was. At one point I paused and Maya blurted out, “Oh, it just makes me so mad that I didn’t know her! It isn’t fair!”

I told her I knew exactly how she felt, and that she was right, it isn’t fair that she didn’t know Edna. But I’m glad she feels that anger, because now I know we successfully passed on who Edna was.

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I found my camera, but still don’t have any pictures of snow-puppy. I do have pictures from Boo’s birthday party, now a couple months old. But here are a couple anyway:

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She wanted a gymnastics party, because as far as she is concerned, if you can’t climb it, jump on it or jump off it, it is no fun. For those people who are deluded into thinking that at least girls are calmer than boys and don’t treat the house like a jungle gym, I invite you over to my house to witness Boo do things like leap from the top of the bunk bed like a spider monkey to the floor. Or worse, to the rocking chair.

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Here are several of the kids waiting for their turns. The tall boy in the white shirt is Boo’s boyfriend. Isn’t he cute? Well, actually, turns out he’s one of her boyfriends. The little guy behind him is the other one. Too bad you can’t see him better, because he’s cute too.

We discovered this the other day when Boo announced, “I have a boyfriend and D has a girlfriend!” Odd way to put it, but we’ll play along. “Who are they?” Maya asked. “Well, I’m D’s girlfriend and C is my boyfriend.” We pointed out that it sounded like she has two boyfriends and she was just delighted with that notion. I’m going to have to watch that one closely.

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Someone just found my site by googling “what judaism means to me.” I find this odd. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing the internet is going to tell you. Speaking of, we took the whole family to synagogue this Saturday and plan to continue. We fell out of the habit at our old shul because there was nothing to keep the kids engaged, making the whole experience increasingly unpleasant. We are back on the wagon, though.

Asher threw a huge fit because services bore him silly. In truth, I sympathize completely. Just sitting and not being allowed to doodle, or knit or read something else at the same time is difficult for me as well. He solved his problem by refusing to enter the sanctuary, wandering around the rest of the building until he found a friend. I solved the problem by reading the Torah (and commentary) in great detail. It was actually quite nice. I think we all enjoyed the experience more than we expected to, which is good, because we are determined to make this a regular activity.

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Jasper has started intermediate training at Petsmart, where he did the beginner class. Same instructor too. She is great. He’s learning to stay longer, wait (which is different than stay), and heel. Heel is the one I just couldn’t quite figure out on my own. I did have a go at it now and then, and something must have sunk in, because he got it the moment I tried and while other dogs are making it 4 or 5 steps down the aisle before bolting, Jasper makes it up one aisle and down the other. Of course, it helps that he is brilliant.

Our latest move is teaching the dog to ‘touch.’ “Touch ball” is this week’s command. Every time Jasper pokes the ball with his nose or paws at it, he gets a treat. At first, he found me waving the ball in his face very annoying and tried to bite it. But he soon clued to. The instructor has great plans for ‘touch,’ like teaching the dog to turn off lights or pick up their own toys and put them away (I asked if I could bring my kids to the next class, so she could teach them that trick too).

This class is smaller than the beginner, not surprisingly. There are only 4 other dogs. One is a tiny little poodle, which I find odd. Most dogs in training classes are large, I guess because most people aren’t concerned about being able to control something that weighs only 7 lbs.

Last class, we went out into the store to work on something – the instructor likes the distractions – and as we exited the training room we passed a girl about 20 years old. When she spotted Jasper, she yelled, “Wow!” Then she followed us. She watched the training session, commenting repeatedly on how beautiful my dog was and how much she loved him. As we headed back to the room, she told me in a voice of complete sincerity, “I just love your dog so much that if I could, I’d steal him.”

I was glad to be going into the training room and away from the crazy dog stalker, but she followed us in! She sat beside Jasper and kept trying to pat him, but he was having none of it. I don’t know if he independently decided she was nuts, or if he was picking up vibes from me. When the class ended, I confess bolted ahead of the others, leaving the stalker trapped behind the other dogs going out the door, and then quickly left the store, double-checking that no one had followed me from the parking lot when I left.

There’s the down side to having the most marvelous dog in the world.

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I’m sorry I abandoned you, internet. I had a good reason, though, or seven. One, it was Rosh Hoshanah, which means the kids were home and there was kugel to be made. Then I got sick and spent the actual two days of Rosh Hoshanah sleeping between throwing up. I didn’t even get one picture of my adorable children all dressed up in their High Holiday finery, which kind of kills me, because they were so cute.

Also, there was the show Six Feet Under, which I have never seen. I impulsively rented the first disc of the first season. I played it on the laptop, allowing me to watch it while convalescing, or making kugel, or singing lullabyes (using earphones and my remarkable skill to sing “Hush Little Baby” without engaging my brain in the process at all, so I can read or watch a DVD at the same time). I’m almost finished season two now.

And then, there was the soapstone. In the summer, a family friend brought little bits of soapstone left over from her high school art class to let the kids play at shaping. They loved it, and so did I. Before I had kids, I used to carve soapstone as a hobby, but haven’t done so for years. But the bug re-bit me, so a few days ago, we found a local placed that provides small blocks and bought one. J cut it into smaller pieces so every one had one and we all sat at the kitchen table and carved and filed. Even J got into the act.

Maya is making a loon.

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Asher started out with a seal, but it wasn’t going right and a little examination made it clear that a bird was emerging from his rock, so that is what it now is.

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Boo wants a whale, which I am carving with her help (she files for a bit when she gets the urge). J is making a dolphin. Everyone is now at the sanding stage except for me, because I have to keep stopping to help the others, as the resident ‘expert’ (ie, the only one with a clue as to what to do next).

We are having so much fun. We’ve spent hours at the table, the whole family, carving and talking. Boo collects and plays with the powder created from filing and gives opinions as to how the carvings are going.

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I would have never imagined this as a family activity, but we all like it so much it is hard to tear ourselves away.

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