Monthly Archives: January 2014

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Turning 40, or a Girl and a Bike

Getting a bike for my 40th birthday was something I was very loud and clear about for a few months.  So no wonder, when I woke up on the morning of my “big day”, and went downstairs, here it was – a mechanical, beautifully-made, white horse with a delicate sunflower on the  handlebars to complete the girlish look.   Three pairs of curious, hazelnut eyes were looking at my reaction, trying to figure out if I approved the gift.  My charming prince did not rush in on a gorgeous white horse, sweeping me of my feet, hustling me to a far-away land; instead, he wisely provided me with a self-serve option.  I was perfectly fine with that.

It was a simple bike, without fancy, thin wheels and 25 speeds; I had to break by pedaling backwards, rather than pushing it on a handlebar, equipped with various wires connecting something to something.   I would never be able to participate in a 40 miles bike race, dressed in a tight spandex suit, lowering my body over the bike, hitting the pedals as fast and as hard as I possibly could, passing others to victory.  This would not be the case of pushing my limits, and doing my personal best.  Instead, I would go on a ride around the neighborhood or enjoy a nature biking trail.  I would welcome the light wind, the smell of grass and trees, the wild flowers and birds’ singing.  I would be dressed in my regular every day jeans or shorts, a simple T-shirt, old sneakers, and no helmet.

It was a bike I rode in my childhood in the little town my grandmother lived in.  I spent most of my summers there.  One-story houses, water from the well, a wooden-box toilet outside, chickens running on the roads, annoying rare drivers, a chorus of roosters and stray dogs.  I’ve never felt more relaxed and carefree in my life.  Biking was our preferred way of commuting to stores, the library, beaches, parks, friends’ houses.  It was either that or walking, which was not nearly as much fun.  Most of the time we did not need a reason to jump on a bike.  Getting out of the house and enjoying our surroundings was a reason enough.   Rushing through the streets and trails, screaming to each other, with the wind blowing in my face, messing up my hair, raising the skirt that I was desperately trying to keep down, was so liberating and invigorating.  Spending most of the year in the tiny city apartments, we were unleashed, like feral animals, released from our urban cages into the wilderness.  There were no signs, no helmets, no supervision, and no laws to obey or break.  This feeling, long forgotten, I wanted to experience again.

I did not have my own bike; I rode an old bike found in my grandmother’s barn.  It was bought either for my mother or for one of her sisters, or for somebody else decades ago.  Big, black and rusted, it was made to last for ages.   Nobody took care of it; it’s been through brutal winters and hot summers; but the wheels kept turning, so it was still in business.  Some of my fondest childhood moments were created by this old, scary, metal monster.

Then I grew up, my grandmother sold her house, I moved across the ocean; and the free-spirited girl on a bike turned into a faded memory.    She got buried in everyday stresses, commitments, problems and disappointments.     She drowned in a never-ending circle of jobs, chores, screaming kids, attention-starved husband, demanding bosses, and financial decisions.

A sudden and inevitable approach of my “milestone” got me thinking about my life, that’s passing by with the speed of light, with no signs of slowing down. I’ve decided that it was time to stop for a moment, catch my breath, and do some logical analysis.  To make it more meaningful, I’ve decided to employ the philosophical concept of causality to establish the relationship between the cause (me getting older) and the effect (my quality of life).  Below are some of the findings:

-My kids are getting older.  I am getting older.

-They are more independent.  They are not interested in spending time with their mother.

- I would like to find something that we all like and can do together.

- According to the experts on the topic, I need to start exercising, because the muscle tone goes down the drain after 40.

- I want my kids to spent time outside instead of being glued to electronics.  I also love being outside.

-Biking seems like an activity that meets all the requirements above.

-I need a bike.

Fast- forward 25 years, the girl on a bike is back.  With a few younger companions.  With new wrinkles on her forehead, and more brains in her head.  With a sack on her back full of life experiences and memories.  She is not so free-spirited and carefree anymore, but, nonetheless, happy, wiser (hopefully) and more confident.

I always imagined 40 year olds as mature, boring, seen- and- done- everything people, who were only good for giving lectures, and teaching others how to live their lives.  In my mind, they were all wrinkled, fat and wearing “mature people” clothes.  Turning 40 was the time to start thinking about retirement, re-evaluate 401K contributions, make sure that the mortgage would be paid off soon, slow down, and hang out with other “old” people.  After countless years of marriage one-piece bathing suits, tons-of-makeup, overworked wives were barely tolerating their beer-belly, constantly-watching-TV, complaining about various known and unknown deceases husbands.  Or, if you were lucky enough to be rich, you would stroll Barneys, admiring the new jewelry collection with your unmovable, botoxed face, while your husband conducted business (or so he said) in his Park Avenue corner office, and your kids rode their respective pet ponies in the lush green fields of your suburban second mansion.

However, a quick glance in the mirror revealed a woman with no makeup, a pony tail, in $10 T-shirt and low-cut jeans.    Am I really 40?  Is that possible, or am I crazy (or “mildly insane”, as my son would lovingly characterize me)?  For some reason, I think that my life is just starting, and I have a world of new, exciting things ahead of me to explore.   I want to go back to school when my son starts college, to travel around the world, to cook new foods, to meet interesting people.   40 feels like a midlife conversion to some joyful, blissful insanity- the new beginning.  May be I am crazy, but I am not planning to see the psychiatrist just yet;  I would rather be crazy than “old”.

Parenthood as a Constant Variable

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Photo is a courtesy of my 9 year old son

Monday, 5:35 pm, driving home from Aquatic Center

As usual, I am asking my son about his day, his swim practice, the homework that needs to be done, and the upcoming tests.  “We have a quiz on Wednesday – either Science or Italian, I don’t remember which one,” –he tells me.   He is great in Science, but not so much in Italian.  I vowed to take his Italian under control, since another bad grade would screw up his average.   After a heated discussion about his foreign language abilities or the lack of thereof, he reluctantly agreed to me checking him on the new vocabulary words (I can’t really do anything else, since I don’t know the language).   This approach has already yield some positive results, since he got the highest grade in class on his last test.  “But it is a fluke, not a progress”, he claimed. “If it is not a progress, we will turn it into progress,” I replied.

Monday, 7:30 pm, home

“Did you check what quiz you are having?  Are you sure it’s not Italian?” I am asking him for the fifth or sixth time (I’ve lost count at that point).  “I’ve told you –Science!” he yells.

“Can we spend a few minutes to review new words, just in case?”

“What case?  I told you I am having Science, not Italian!”

Wednesday, 5:35 pm, driving home from Aquatic Center

“Mom, everything is good.  And, oh, I had a quiz in Italian.”

“What?!  You told me you were having Science! You told me you were absolutely sure”.

“That’s what I thought. I have Science tomorrow. I didn’t say “absolutely sure”.

“But you did not even look at the new words once.  This is really bad.”

“OK.  You know what?  This is completely unacceptable.  If you get less than 80, than for the next two weeks, you are not using your laptop.”

“Scratch that.  It doesn’t matter what you get.  You are punished not for your grades, but for your ignorance.  No matter what you get -two weeks without electronics. Then, you would start paying attention.”

“Yes, mam”

“So, how is it going to work? Are you going to take away the batteries or what? And how am I supposed to do my homework?”

(Great! Now we are going into semantics.)

“I am not taking away anything.  You can use your computer for homework, but if I see you use it for something else, than another two weeks without electronics.”

“Yes, mam”

Wednesday, 8:00 pm, home

“Are you done with your homework?”

“I did not start yet.  I am reading my book.”

“Can you start working on your homework?”

“I can’t.  You don’t let me go on electronics, so I have no choice, but to read my book.  The story just reached its climax; I can’t put it down now.  I need to know what happened.”

Thursday, dinner time, home

“I got my grades back.  Italian is 88, other tests in mid to high 90th.”

“How could you get 88, if you did not know one word?”

“A lot of the words, apparently, were the ones we’ve studied before.  Plus, I told you I would get at least 30.  By the way, it was the highest grade in class.”

Saturday, 2:00 pm, driving home from the dentist

“Mom, I would like to submit a formal request.  Since I’ve got 88 in Italian and others in high 90th, and I’ve already served 4 days without electronics, I would like to request to lift the rest of the punishment.”

“OK.  You will receive the formal response to your formal request within the 72 hours of submission.”

“What?! Why 72 hours?”

“Based on the family policy, this is the timeframe needed to review the formal requests.”

“Who established this policy?!”

“I did.”

“OK.  Then I would like to withdraw my formal request.”

“You will receive the formal decision on whether your withdrawal is accepted within 72 hours.”

“Why 72 hours?!”

“Because based on the family policy, it is time needed to check it for the conflict of interests.”

“But we all have one interest – for me to do well in school!  I’ve learned my lesson.  Can we just talk like mature adults?”

“Now we are talking.  I will think about it.”

Saturday, 3:00 pm, home

“Mom, are you done thinking?  Can we talk like adults? Can we make an amendment?”

“OK, I agree to lift the punishment, but only after you fill in your application for Advanced Research Program, including essays, do all your homework, and get ready for Science midterm.”

“But I need to relax.  I just came from the (swim) meet.  Seriously!”

“Well, you can have electronics for one hour, but then you work on your stuff.”

“Yes, mam”

Saturday, 8:00 pm, home, watching Penny confessing to Leonard’s mother about her childhood rocky relationship with her dad (Big Bang Theory)

“Mom, can we amend the previous amendment? It is already 8:00 and I am too tired to do the homework?  Can I do it tomorrow?”

To be continued … Or will it ever end?

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Don’t Ask Men for Directions?

Yes, I am a feminist, but that’s not what you think.   I respect men.  They are handsome, smart, brave, and helpful.  They would tell you how to park your car, when to stop by the gasoline station, or what to buy in the grocery store.  They would advise the kids what would happen if they don’t do their homework, and, most importantly, who will execute the punishment and when (mom).  They would take their children to the action movies, concerts, and fun zones, simultaneously loading them up on fries, pop corn, and sugar (quality time is more important).   They will buy the newest I-Boxes, tablets, laptops, I-phones, Androids  and other life’s necessities for their off springs; and, of course, the best photo and video equipment on the market for themselves to capture these important  “new technology” milestones.   At the dinner table they would take their time teaching the kids important life lessons while “someone” is cleaning up the table and doing the dishes.   In case they can’t answer the tricky question, they will always point the child in the right direction – the mom.  There is not enough space in this story to list all the small and big things we need our men for.  I have three of them in my house, and would not trade it for the world. But that is not what the story is about.

For a few days before we loaded our flight to Israel my husband kept assuring me that everything was under control.  He prepared the boarding passes, addresses, directions, copies of passports, cash, etc.  I “trusted” him as he asked, and put my energy into packing, and running last minute errands.  The flight took 11 hours.  We arrived in Jerusalem at 11 pm New York time or 6am Israel.  We were exhausted and could not wait to get to our apartment, jump in the bed and close our eyes.  My younger son was already way passed his bedtime, but he did not complain yet.  We found our way through the airport to the taxi stand, and waited our turn.  The Arab-looking cab driver put our luggage in the trunk, got back to his seat, cleared up his GPS and asked for the address.   My husband had it ready.  The cab driver looked at it for what seemed like a long time, and then informed us that his GPS was in Hebrew.   Luckily, he spoke a little English and was able to make out how the street name sounded.

Eventually, we stopped at some roundabout.  There were few entrances into several 3 story buildings’ courtyards.  A lot of Jerusalem streets are narrow, so the car could not come directly to the house.   The cab driver assured us that our building was somewhere around here.  To prove his point, he showed us something in foreign language on the GPS.   We got out of the cab.  Asking somebody for directions was out of the question, since the good people of Jerusalem were still sleeping.   Our fearless leader took another look at his papers, and established that our building was next to the Wine store.  Progress.  Except we had no idea where the Wine Store was.  Finally, we saw a lone pedestrian walking the deserted street.   Were we lucky or what?  He showed us the store (why would people ask for a Wine Store at 6:30 in the morning was another question). There were few entrances next to it with the street names – all in Hebrew.  May be not so lucky…

My son and I were learning to read Hebrew to get ready for his Bar Mitzvah, and even though we were far from being fluent, we knew how the letters sounded.  My husband did not really believe in our language abilities, but had nothing else to offer.  It took us a few minutes, but we did it – we figured out our street; and soon after found our building.  Just as we were ready to jump into bed, we were struck with yet another dilemma.

The front door had a big metal lock with a code and two handles.  My husband took out his I-phone and found an e-mail from the management with all the info we needed to enter the building.    He put the code in and twisted the handle, the door did not barge.  He did it again; and again; and again.  The door was locked.  Yet, I was still optimistic.  For some reason, part of me kept thinking that if the criminals could escape from the high security prison, there should be the way to open the freaking door.  Another part expected God to help us out in the Holy Land, and perform a miracle for once (he did make Red Sea part, and one day oil last for eight).  But, I guess, Jews in the 21 century, unlike the ones living thousands of years ago, should rely solely on themselves. My 7-year-old son was sitting on the top of the suitcase on the cobble stone courtyard in the fairylike city he saw in Aladdin, silently watching his dad doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that the magic door would finally open.   The sun was fully up by now, but August air was still cool and refreshing.

The situation was not looking good.  The management office was closed to at least 9 am, could be longer, considering that timeliness was not big in the Middle Eastern culture.   May be someone would come out of the building and open the door; but what was the possibility of this happening any time soon?  I was going over all the different scenarios in my head desperately trying to find a solution; none of them seemed encouraging. That was when I decided to take a look at the e-mail myself.  We were clearly missing something.  I looked at the code that my husband was putting in – the numbers matched.  I scrolled the text down to read the rest of the e-mail.  Sure enough, there was a note to twist both of the handles at the same time after the code was entered.  I asked my husband to try one more time with the handles trick.   The moment of happiness when the door finally opened was priceless.  There was another safe with the code inside the building, next to the management office- the safe that held the keys to our “promised land”.  This one was more cooperative, thanks God (or ourselves).  We went up three flights of stairs, dropped the luggage, took off our shoes, and slipped under the blankets.    Putting your head on a soft, fluffy pillow never felt better.   Few hours later well rested and rejuvenated we went out to have lunch and tour the Old City.

P.S.  After reading this post, my husband demanded to include that today he also resized the pictures, so that I could put them on my blog, and tried to download the photos from my phone on the computer (unsuccessfully, even after implementation of his plan B, but that was not the point).  So here you go, honey; now I need you more than ever.

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