February 11 – Growing Pains of Grandparenthood

by Ariela Zucker

My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.

In the past I would say;

“Why do you need a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”

In the past, I would offer my opinion.  As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not; accompanied by true-life examples;

“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the time?”

“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting it for hours?”

“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but nods her head in disagreement.

Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and say, “Sure, no problem, whatever you need.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see how my husband looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but that of the sitter.

The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot of free time.

When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.

I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent. In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary, Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.

It took me some time to understand that what I once considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of me holding their own children.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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February 7 – It Was a Beautiful Sight

by Susan W. Leicher

For a long time, when things were going really badly with my oldest daughter–when her mental illness threatened to rip our whole family apart; my chief therapy was going to the YMCA. Sometimes I swam and sometimes I did yoga. When I swam, I swam competitively and aggressively; my bullet-like passage through the water helping to drain away the sorrow and fury. When I did yoga, I chose the toughest class and the most demanding teacher; drawing strength from the act of pushing myself to my limit within exorbitantly difficult poses.

After some time, my daughter began improving and I stopped craving the cleansing power of physical challenge. The yoga teacher left for a different venue and I ratcheted down my practice. And when I swam, I spent a lot of time just floating around in the water.

And then one day as I entered the gentle yoga class, I saw that my former teacher had returned as a “sub.” I almost walked out, but figured: “Oh well, maybe I can still manage this.”

I couldn’t. The very sound of her voice hurled me backward into a visceral memory of that terrible time. After a few minutes, I actually began to shake. I felt helpless, enraged, lost. I rushed out of the class and headed to the locker room to change for the pool, thinking to lose myself in the peace of a few calming laps.

When I arrived, there were only a few people in the water: some older women and one older man “Fred” who flirted shamelessly with me whenever we found ourselves swimming at the same time. I unwrapped myself from my towel, went to hang it up and was heading toward the pool edge when the lifeguard stopped me: “Lady, what on earth are you doing?”

I looked down. In the throes of my remembered grief and fear, I’d managed to put on my goggles and cap but forgotten to put on my bathing suit!

Help! What to do? I could go straight home and never show my face (or anything else) at the pool again or I could go back upstairs, don my suit and swim out to my friends.

I chose the latter course.

“Good heavens, Susan,” said one of the ladies as I reached her side. “I thought you were one of those scandalous French girls!”

“My dear,” said Fred. “I don’t know what to say. Except that it was a beautiful sight.”

I burst out laughing, did my laps, and moved on. We heal.

Susan W. Leicher grew up in the Bronx in a bi-cultural (Latina and Jewish) home. She moved to Manhattan after finishing graduate school with a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and raised her family on the Upper West Side, where she still lives with her husband and two black cats. For the past forty years, she has devoted herself to conducting research and producing policy reports and marketing materials for non-profits, federations, government agencies, and foundations. She has just published her first novel, Acts of Assumption. Susan blogs at https://swleicher.com.

February 1 – Me and My Shadow

by Sara Etgen-Baker

It was just before dawn as I ran along the wooded trails adjacent to my home. I was making slow and painful headway against a stiff winter wind when dense fog settled all around me. Suddenly, I felt as if something was coming up behind me. My heartbeat quickened as did my pace. Who or what was following me in the silent darkness?

Was it a small animal searching for food? Was it another lone runner seeking refuge and contemplation in the predawn stillness? I turned around and looked behind me and thought I saw the black, shadowy figure of a woman following me. She trailed me, hushed as the night, dancing between the trees as the sunlight flickered. So I moved aside to avoid her presence, but I couldn’t escape her. She was the immaculate outline of my shape, an echo of my movements, and my lifetime companion. She was my shadow swirling in the mists, brought into being by the little flashlight I carried with me.

But she’s more than my silhouette that disappears at night. She’s also my shadowy little self who, day in and day out, dogs me at every step adding her loud voice to every thought I think, every word I say, and every word I write. She cares too much about what others think of her. She’s an intolerant perfectionist; prideful, strong-willed, and compulsive often holding me captive to my own fears, doubts, anger, and worries. She’s also weak and, therefore, feels she must control a situation or others. She shields herself from vulnerability, infiltrates my relationships, and occasionally keeps me awake at night. She sometimes ignores the truth and lives in denial. She overshadows my spiriting and obscures my creativity. Unlike my daytime shadowy silhouette, she lives in darkness knowing that the light I carry in my heart steals her very life. She is my ego.

Although the light I’m carrying with me is small in comparison to the darkness surrounding me, I turn and confront her. “Not everything is about you,” I say.

“Possibly,” she replies, “but you do have to admit that the majority of things are.”

“From your perspective, yes. But you’re an ugly part of me and a burden; I’ve tolerated you way too long. I need to let you go and contemplate the deeper significance of life.”

“You disappointment me,” she says. “Enlightenment and transformation are highly overrated. You need me. Just you wait and see. You’ll come crawling back to me.”

“No! You’re wrong! I won’t need you. Just YOU  wait and see!”

Pshah! was her response as she disappeared in the early morning sunlight.

I was transformed that morning, my ego shattered. Over time, many of the things that concerned me diminished. Many of the superficial, material things that mattered to me before, suddenly ceased to matter as much. I came into being that morning no longer caring what my ego or the world thought of me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

January 21 – What’s In A Name?

by Ariela Zucker

My sixth grandchild who was born last week brought back this question of naming I often contemplate. For nine months I tried to guess the name, somewhat hoping, for a name that will carry a meaningful family connection, yet troubled by that old conflict of naming newborns after dead relatives. I was relieved but with a tinge of disappointment when the name was revealed, and it had nothing to do with either dead family relatives or any obvious cultural references.

Am I putting too much emphasis on names, reading too much into their place and meaning? Is a name just a name and nothing more? The answer to this question is elusive.

When I was born, in the middle of a legendary winter snowstorm, in Jerusalem. My parents decided to name me after my grandmother, on my mother’s side – Levia (a lioness in Hebrew). I can almost see the discussion that went on, at the time, between my mother, insisting on preserving her dead mother’s name, and my father, arguing for a modern name to go along with their new life, in the young state of Israel.

The compromise, as is so often is, was two names instead of one, Ariela, Levia. Consequently, I was blessed with two names that are almost one. Ariela, the one I use, means; let God be her lion resembles my middle name.

This is a good story, I believed, as I kept repeating it, over and over again. I have no idea where I got it from as none of the facts except my actual name is true. I discovered it years after both my parents passed away and I had to put the puzzle together all by myself.

According to the Jewish tradition newborns were often named after a dead family member; to honor and keep the memory. Being born to a holocaust surviving family, there were many naming options, and so I was named after my great aunt who ‘did not make it.’ My grandmother, her sister, was alive at the time I was born. I find it ironic that two names, not one, were not sufficient to keep the memory from altering itself in such a capricious nature.

Perhaps this is the reason that I keep mulling over the naming issue, about weighting a newborn with a name that is heavy with emotions and old memories, on one side, and wondering about the importance of keeping memories alive on the other.

Repeating a well-known quote “…you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” (Banksy). I can see how when one grows old names start to feel like a symbol, a continuation. A person searches for this thin thread of immortality to obtain comfort. I can also see that without the memories attached, a name is just a name and nothing more.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

January 14 – Gertie the Goose

by Marilea Rabasa

My partner, Gene, and I are great lovers of nature and we enjoy walking on our beach, rain or shine, on Puget Sound. Sunrise is often magnificent, heralding in the day with a spotlight on the Olympic Range across Saratoga Passage from us. Those snow-covered mountains look like scoops of ice cream the way I like it: with chocolate sauce drizzling down the sides. The sunsets are spectacular as well, the reds and purples muting into softer tones and then the dusk-gray sky quickly turning dark.

Last week we saw a white speck at the end of our beach as we were heading home in the approaching darkness and realized it was an injured snow goose, hopping on one leg onto the safety of the rocks as the tide was coming in. Our hearts went out to this suffering animal, unable to swim or fly, and we feared it would die soon. Predators were in the woods, but mostly coyotes would come down to the beach and find an easy victim.

Every morning for a week we brought food down to it and then decided to try to rescue it. The nearby wildlife center wouldn’t come and get it, but they would accept it if we got it to them. We had to wait for the tide to be low enough for there to be some beach to walk on between the water and the logjam from recent storms. But a day came with favorable conditions, and we found our opportunity.

Gene and our neighbor, Archibald, went down to the beach, threw a blanket over it and carried it squawking up to the car where I was the getaway driver. We placed it in a carton and once it realized it was a prisoner, it stopped struggling. Gene and Archibald regaled each other with similar stories, and I howled at their jokes. The ride wasn’t as stressful as I’d anticipated and we arrived at the wildlife center, safe and nearly sound. The handlers accepted her, will fix her leg, and send her back into the world, hopefully, to make more geese.

The three of us drove back to the island and felt good starting out the new year in this way. “Let it begin with me” is an oft-quoted saying in our recovery program, and when I do initiate acts of kindness like that, I feel empowered, no longer shackled by people and events that I have no control over. That’s what Gene and I do sometimes: we try to make the world a better place, along with many other people on our endangered planet. We pick up trash when we see it. And we care about saving our dwindling wildlife, one goose at a time.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is www.recoveryofthespirit.com.  She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

January 7 – Bugs in My Belfry

by Carol Ziel

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / betoszig

“I’m finally having my psychotic break,” I thought as I watched bugs dance over the oriental rug and cozy up to me on the couch. They were trailing webs behind them. Just when those began to fade, shadows swooped in: Edgar Alan Poe style, Rod Sterling style, classic devil style.

I had finally lost my mind.

I was used to losing things: keys, socks, words to a song, my way to Minnesota. But losing my mind was never an option. Psychosis would have been completely appropriate at so many other times of life, like when I was working twelve-hour overnight shifts at IHOP during bar rush. But for this to happen so early in my retirement…not fair!

Fortunately, my good angel was vigilant and kicked me in my drama queen behind. My vision cleared for a few minutes before a spider web began to weave itself over my eye. That’s when I understood that the problem was my vision, not my mental health. The real problem was that I was in all probability going blind. The dilemma was clear: Would I rather be psychotic with good vision, or blind with good mental health?

More to be revealed.

My ophthalmologist rose to the occasion. I have a vitreal detachment. Basically, the gel that supports the eye in its socket had begun to thin, causing it to detach. Once again I challenged the fates: if some part of my body had to spontaneously thin, why couldn’t it be my stomach, hips, or thighs? Or my double chin? They could have their pick of body parts, so why choose my left eye?! The fates are fickle.

Fortunately, the problem will self-correct. The gel will thicken, as I assume my thighs, hips, and stomach will. My vision will clear, banishing bugs and webs back to nature. I’ll still lose keys, socks, words to songs, and occasional directions.  However, there is an immediate silver lining. I have been forbidden to exercise for four days! That gifts me an extra four hours of reading, writing, and Netflix!

Maybe the fates know what they’re doing after all.

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

January 1 – A Gift I Couldn’t Have Imagined

by Sara Etgen-BakerWhen I was a small child, I rose on my tiptoes and stared out our living room window, watching and waiting until Father arrived home from work. “Mama,” I hollered as soon as I saw his pickup truck ’round the corner, “Daddy’s home!” Then I raced to the front door to greet him. Although he was weary, he often picked me up and twirled me around until I said, “Daddy, daddy, stop! Pleeeease!” He eased me down; and we giggled together, walking hand-in-hand towards the kitchen where I sat on his lap while he drank a cup of steaming coffee and talked with Mother about his day.

Now and then Father stood at the front door with his hands behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he’d say. His words touched me like an electric current, for I knew hidden behind Father and buried in the folds of one of his hands was a surprise meant just for me.

“This one,” I shouted, pointing wildly. He whisked out his hand and slowly, too slowly, uncurled his fingers. Finally, there it was: a gift I couldn’t have imagined; a prize from his box of Cracker Jacks, a package of M&Ms, a silver nickel, or a feather for my hair.

And I hadn’t thought of it until now, but it seems Father’s surprises had a curious way of coming on the days when I needed them most. The days when I fell off my bicycle, broke something irreplaceable in the house or went to the doctor with a sore throat. I suppose Mother told him. Somehow he knew I needed to be surprised with a gift of love that would help bind up my broken day.

His gifts of love taught me that no matter how devastating my struggles, disappointments, and troubles were, they were only temporary. A lifetime has passed since my childhood when I stood at the living room window eagerly awaiting Father’s arrival. Yet at the end of many days, I often stare out my office window and find myself thinking about Father and his special gifts for me. Even now, I can hear the voice of Father’s love whispering in my life.

I am reminded that the deepest need of the human heart is to be loved. To be loved utterly and completely just as we are, no matter what. We respond to our need for love in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we try to be perfect in order to earn love. Or we repress our need until all that remains is a vague restlessness and yearning. But one is loved because one is loved. Love is always bestowed as a gift, freely, willingly, and without expectation. No reason is needed for loving. And there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.