Sorry, But There’s Been a Change of Plans

roadtrip

Beach musts include reading-sunglasses, a classic, a book about the power of books, a map, and sunscreen. Alas, they remain on the dining room table.

For the past 15 years, we’ve embarked on family road trips each summer, most of them two weeks long. To anyone who asked What on earth are you thinking? as we packed three young children for a cross-country ride in the closed quarters of a minivan, I would answer that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I always say that the trips are akin to childbirth. Messy and loud and sometimes painful, but our memories are filled (mostly) with the good parts. Otherwise, we would have gone only the first time.

My husband and I both like to travel and explore, and we are always looking for a change of scenery. We wanted our boys to catch the same adventure bug. We believed that by exposing them to history and culture, to new places and experiences, we would open their minds and instill in them a sense of curiosity. Plus, we knew this would give them plenty of fun, crazy, and meaningful childhood memories, even if they kvetched at (many) points along the highway.

We were also aware from the outset that this wouldn’t be a forever thing, that the boys would one day outgrow road trips with their parents, or they’d simply be too busy doing something else. We did a headcount before pulling out of the driveway each summer, astounded and grateful that everyone was still in the car. In fact, we kept going even after our first minivan gave out.

Last year, one son was already in college and another was working at a sleepaway camp. To our delight, we managed an abridged road trip anyway, carving out a block of time when everyone could participate despite their not-so-overlapping schedules. But this year, planning things got tricky. While we usually have our destination chosen by winter, the Triptik from AAA in hand months in advance, and the hotels booked not long after, we had nothing set until a few weeks ago.

The participants were all moving parts even then. We were now up to a college student and another on his way to a gap year in Israel. The odds weren’t in our favor. It was likely that at least one of the boys wouldn’t be able to join us. We were sad, but prepared, figuring we’d best get used to it. Yet, to our shock, we still found a few days when we could all head up north to the beaches in New England.

Days before our planned departure, the older two – the ones I thought were most likely to bail – were signed on. My husband had booked rooms, mapped our route, and found interesting stops along the way. Meanwhile, I’d begun to think about what to pack for our meals when I realized there was no way I’d be able to sit for that long of a ride in the car. Unfortunately, that recovered I’m not.

My husband and I were back and forth about whether they should go without me, but I insisted. I didn’t want to break tradition. They all needed the R & R, the worry-free hours of lazing on the beach with the ocean in front of them. Besides, if they stayed home, they’d just spend the week of vacation on their phones. Better they get some non-digital fresh air.

Once I announced I wouldn’t be going, my youngest asked if he could stay home, too. It was, in part, a statement of solidarity with me. But he’s also got a lot of summer work to do and the clock is ticking. We agreed. The two of us have been toiling away at our various projects, including some adventures in the kitchen. I wouldn’t call it a vacation, but we’re enjoying one another’s company.

Am I disappointed we’re not altogether on the open road? I’d be lying if I said no. And while it would be incorrect to say there was no Ukraincik road trip this summer, it wouldn’t be completely accurate either. It hasn’t been the same for any of us. Then again, life is all about making plans and watching them change, then letting go. G-d willing, we’ll make plans again next summer. Who knows? Perhaps the stars will align and we’ll all be able to go.

Yep, It’s Mother’s Day.

I do not understand the concept of being woken up to breakfast in bed. I would spill coffee all over myself and who wants to eat eggs on a full bladder anyway, and besides, I’m watching my carbs, so there go the danish and the bagel. That all said, I was grateful to find a latte and this card, which sums up so much of the experience of motherhood, sitting next to my computer when I returned from the gym this morning.

It’s always about the cards and the words for me (okay, and the coffee), as it is on most other occasions. Later, we will spend time with my mom and stepdad, and I really hope my mom likes my gift because I will never top the jumbo sudoku book I bought her last Chanukah and I know it. She likes a good gift the way I like a card and a latte, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed I chose well.

Parenting is an act of love like no other, but it isn’t for sissies and there’s no greater reminder of our fallibility and vulnerability or our heart’s capacity to expand. I say this as both as a mother and a daughter. Despite what the radio commercials say I should be doing, I began my day the same way I begin almost every other day. I threw in a load of laundry, folded another, and made the son who has school today a nice breakfast before he bolted out the door onto the bus. I am giving myself the day off from cleaning the bathrooms, however.

Even though I want to brush Mother’s Day off as a silly Hallmark holiday, I’m filled with emotion, much to my surprise. I’m missing my grandmother terribly, especially the look of pure joy in her eyes when I’d give her a handmade card and gift, and my mother-in-law, with whom we never spent Mother’s Day on the same continent, but knowing she was still here in the world made all the difference. For those of you whose moms are gone and those who longed to but never had children of their own, I imagine today brings a pain of its own and I wish that whatever you do this Sunday brings you comfort.

Lastly, I’m thankful to my aunts and the women I’m blessed to have among my sisterhood who have helped me mother my own children on days when I couldn’t physically, and to the devoted babysitters and caregivers who watched the boys when they were little, and to the nurses who got me through three difficult pregnancies and births.

It’s Mother’s Day, but it seems like the perfect day to celebrate the women in my life whom I thank in my heart the other 364, too.

A Sound Investment

eggs

A Portrait of Pesach in 20 Egg Cartons

A Sound Investment

I was at a wedding the other day when the conversation veered, not surprisingly, towards Pesach. I admitted how much I enjoy the holiday, while another woman in the community kindly disagreed. She confessed she wished it were over already and made me laugh with her description of the scene in her home. It’s so demanding, she said. What’s more, I’m a short-order cook for the whole eight days.

While I concur with her on both points, neither makes me love Pesach any less. The discussion did, however, leave me wondering why I harbor such affection for a holiday that tries the bodies and souls of those of us making it. And it’s only now, as I write from the trenches of preparation more than a week later, that I can finally articulate an answer.

To me, Pesach is magical. It has been since I was a little girl sitting by my grandfather’s side, my legs swinging beneath the seder table, and it’s a feeling that has continued to grow over time. Why? Because the holiday allows us to do something we can’t do at any other point during the year – to time travel.

Through both our storytelling and our other observances, we go back to where we came from, gleaning spiritual wisdom from our collective memory as a Jewish people, reliving the tears of our slavery, and exulting in our redemption. The holiday demands that we live in the present, too, making physical changes to our daily norms – turning our homes upside down to shake out the chametz and altering how we eat. And lastly, it leads us, with the hagada as our guide, to holy places where we can question our role in the world and define what matters to us, letting the answers determine where we go next.

This perspective inspires me to pin a lot of hope on this holiday. What we create during Pesach will, I believe, help shape how my sons think and feel about their childhood and Jewish tradition. I want them to remember with warmth and nostalgia that there was good in all that hard work, that I wasn’t just sleep-deprived and cranky the entire week before we tasted the first bite of matzah – even though I will be sleep-deprived and the tiniest bit cranky – and that there was a lot of love around our seder table.

So I plod along, talking to God as I cleanse our home of chametz and kasher the kitchen, grate the horseradish and make the boys’ favorite Pesach delicacies. The next few days of preparation will demand a lot of me, as will the holiday itself. I’ll be exhausted, to be sure. But the long-term returns, I pray, will be worth it, and that seems like reason enough.

Wishing everyone a meaningful Pesach.

Merri

P.S. To read more of more my thoughts about Pesach, check out my latest column in the Jewish Week and the NJJN,  Honored Guests at the Seder Table.