Life in General

My cousin, Raizel

My cousin, Raizel.

How to describe someone who was complete goodness and kindness, authentic and real, joyful and grateful – without making it sound cliche?

Her perspective on everything and everyone and everywhere was always through a positive filter. Some people need to work hard to do this; for some people, this is natural.

I think back to my last conversation I had with Raizel, just two weeks ago. Raizel had posted a FB update; she was being admitted to the hospital – for what she hoped would be just a few days – and she was asking friends to say the daily portion of Chitas (the daily selection of the weekly Torah portion, Psalms and the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya) in merit of her speedy recovery.

I messaged her that I would do it, and stayed up late that night to complete the entire day’s Chitas. When I was done, I let her know that with each word I said, I begged Hashem for her complete recovery.

The next day I got a text response from her – “You’re my hero.”

I quickly wrote back to her “Raizel, you’ve got it all wrong. YOU are MY hero. You manage to continue to be so gracious and positive despite what you’re dealing with, and you treat everyone as a good friend.”

And I keep thinking about the text – because it’s so Raizel. She wasn’t just trying to make me feel good – her natural way of responding to people was so full of gratefulness and genuine love, because that’s really what she felt. No pretenses. No ego.

Raizel inspired so many just by her positive view of life. There was what she said and there was how she said it. Natural and caring, kind and with a full heart.

Over the 18 months that Raizel suffered and fought her illness, she lost more and more control of the things she loved. She wished to bake challah, she wished to spend more time with her kids, she wished to go back to Israel. All these things were out of her control. As her body failed her and the list of what she could control got shorter and shorter – she never let go of one thing that can never be taken away; the kind words that we can shower on others.

Her graciousness never left her.

Even when so sick in the hospital, her response to me was – “You’re my hero.”

She right away made it about me, not about her. She wasn’t trying to shower me with platitudes – she genuinely felt that way because that was who she was.

The sadness, the pain, the tragedy, the empty void she leaves not just for her family but for her endless amount of friends – that won’t ever go away and until Moshiach comes, we can never fix.

But what we can do is adopt Raizel’s way of treating others. Raizel’s way of seeing life. Raizel’s way of having a kind word for everyone. Raizel’s way of treating everyone as her close friend. Raizel’s way of treating people in a way that they felt they matter.

Now during these crazy times, I have been thinking that there are so many things we can’t do. We’ve lost control of how we can celebrate milestones or occasions, we’ve lost control of ways of being able to spend time with the people we love and care about.

But one thing we can never lose control of, one thing that can never be taken away, are the words we use to treat others. The words we use to show people we care.

It takes breaking down the walls of pretense we build around ourselves. It takes vulnerability. But it is the greatest gift we can give to anyone and everyone; the gift of showing people we care.

Raizel did it naturally. But I’m positive that with enough effort, it can become second nature to anyone who tries.

Hashem took Raizel for reasons we will never understand. Why Hashem chose to leave a beautiful family, a father and 8 young children, without their devoted wife/mother, we will never understand. The pain and suffering is beyond comprehension. There’s not enough words in the dictionary to describe how terrible it is.

I know Raizel would still find something positive. And so putting on my “Raizel glasses”, I will work on seeing people the way Raizel did; as a friend. And look for ways to give people the gift that never stops giving, the gift that doesn’t cost a penny yet is priceless, the gift that can never be taken away.

The gift of a kind word.

Life in General

The emotional rollercoaster of Corona Era … and Zoom

Zoom. My life is revolving around Zoom. 7 simultaneous classes.

I’m both the IT guy and principal, while I try to keep an eye on my Waldorf preschool contingency. My husband’s work schedule is still running, so it’s me and the crew during work hours.

And when the Zooms are finally done for the day and the tablets are put to bed in their chargers, I have nightmares about Zoom. About meeting numbers and passwords. About cameras and mics being on when you think they’re off and that moments that don’t belong publicized are being recorded and broadcasted.

“The password is not working, I need you to come!!” calls a desperate voice from upstairs.

“Mommy, I need cotton balls for a craft NOW!” shouts another voice from somewhere else in the house.

“Snack time! What can I have?” yells a smiling second grader, bounding into the kitchen.

“It’s lunchtime!” announces my kindergartener.

My head is spinning. I’m still trying to clean up breakfast and keep the preschoolers busy.

I take a deep breath. I long for the days when I wasn’t principal, the BCE days (Before Corona Era). When my house didn’t double as the school building and my kitchen wasn’t the lunchroom.

It’s ironic; my two oldest were schooled in Shluchim Online School – a full blown virtual classroom. Only in the past few years were we blessed to have a Cheder open to suit our needs, in this corner of Northern California. My oldest already graduated and is (was) away in Yeshiva, (BCE) in 10th grade, and my daughter is graduating her Online School this year. I have been eagerly looking forward to closing up shop on schools on devices and retiring from being principal and IT and everything else that comes with it.

And here I am, back at square one, only more so. I know it’s temporary – that’s what I keep telling myself, and that’s what I must believe – but still so overwhelming! I agree with all the great words of wisdom from anonymous strangers on the internet about how great it is for our kids to have so much time with their parents and how much our BCE life compromised that. But that’s only half the picture. I also agree that kids leaving the house is extremely healthy for everyone. Not because I love my kids any more or less than anyone else; but because how can you miss them if they don’t ever leave?! And missing them is healthy! I’ve read that too!

When all the lunches are done and it seems everyone is back in class, I sneak into the backyard for a moment of quiet. I need some space! For me. Just to breath, nothing fancy. As I slip out the door, I bump into one of my headphone-wearing-tablet-carrying students/children. I choose to assume he was coming back from a class field trip and decide against asking him why he wasn’t in his classroom. Because technically he was holding his classroom, even if he wasn’t in his designated chair and desk. Whatever. I’m too tired to be principal. I just continue outside.

My phone has new alerts.

An urgent prayer request for a friend’s father who is fighting Covid-19. Another prayer request for a young father in critical condition who needs a miracle.

My heart pounds as I say a prayer and collapse into a chair outside. So many people I know, family, friends and relatives, have had Covid-19. And people I know have died.

And here I am complaining that it’s hard to be principal of Zoom meetings!? Especially when my house is big enough to accomodate all 7 classrooms and I even have a backyard – how dare I complain?!

And just like that, my emotions switch from overwhelmed to guilt. Guilt of complaining about such trivial things, when people are fighting for their lives. And then comes the sadness. Too many people have passed away from this disease; people from my east coast hometown. Families I know, who have been changed forever. The sadness is overwhelming. This madness has to stop!

And then I feel the fear. It’s paralyzing.

What is going to be?? When will this end, what awaits us?? Can it get worse? Will it get worse? I pray hard for the coming of Moshiach, when all illness will be gone.

I want my normal life back! I want just a few minutes of quiet everyday. Just a few! I want to go shopping without worrying about everything I see and touch. I don’t want worry to be my constant companion – the  worry about the unknown.

I see a message on my family WhatsApp group; my uncle, who had been on a ventilator for 2 weeks, is breathing on his own and responding; nothing short of miraculous! I feel relief. I feel optimism. People will heal. We will survive this.

I mindlessly open Facebook, for no particular reason; a habit I would love to get rid of.

The headlines…

“Second wave coming; and it’ll be worse!”

“Possible hospital overcrowding! Our health system will collapse!”

“Covid-19 will peak in May!”

Anxiety is back, in full control. I can feel it in every bone in my body.

I need to get my control back here! The roller coaster of emotions is too quick – I need to be the driver of this train before it ends in a wreck.

I continue scrolling.

Drastic decrease in cases in my NY hometown – now that’s good news! Hundreds have recovered from the virus.

I feel my spirits lift; I feel hopeful. This will end. This is not the doomsayers’ long awaited apocalypse. There is none. G-d is still running this world. Hashem is watching us. He’s on top of it. Everything will be good.

The kids are calling me; passwords, WiFi, snack, supplies – I can’t quite make out the words.

And for a moment I focus and appreciate that all my children are under my roof; they’re all home. It’s noisy and hectic and messy and tiring, but they’re all home.

It’s exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The emotions change on a dime, from overwhelmed to anxious to sad to worry to scared … it’s an endless loop.

And I tell myself it’s ok to be overwhelmed with snacks and meals, even if that seems so petty.

Because nothing is normal now, and I can’t fight the new reality. I can only hope and pray that it all ends as quickly as it came.

Life in General

I just needed eggs…

After a month of not going farther than just a walk around the block, I had to go out to my OB appointment. Truth be told, I was never so excited for a doctor’s visit – I felt like I was getting ready to depart on some exciting and adventurous excursion!

Once out, I opted to stop to pickup eggs. My husband has been the designated shopper for our family for the past few weeks, but since I was going out anyway, it only made sense for me to stop at the store. And if I thought staying home can make you go a little crazy, I was unprepared for how challenging shopping for eggs would be for my sanity.

Relieved to see I still remembered how to drive, I pulled up to Sam’s Club, ready to take on shopping during Corona Era.  After reading too many articles on the issue, I had decided not to take gloves, (it’s not mandatory here), thinking this would keep me more aware of what my hands were touching – which proved to be all too true.

I park and get out, and look at the shopping carts lined up right near me. Ok, what now? I draw a blank; I haven’t shopped in so long I can’t remember what to do next!

I look back in my car at the jumbo Purell dispenser and put the whole thing in my handbag, with the spout sticking out. Now I’m really ready.

But wait – I’m going to need to show my Sam’s card at the entrance. My hands are clean – freshly Purelled – but now the cart and my membership card, how to navigate this? I wipe the handlebar of the cart with Purell and then with my other clean hand, hold my cards between two fingers. With one hand and 3 fingers I push the mammoth cart and take every precaution that my cards should not touch anything. But it is hard to push that cart with one and a half hands! And my pregnant stomach keeps bumping into the cart handlebar, making me wondering if I should just wipe the whole front of my shirt with Purell.

Finally at the door, I see an employee wiping and spraying carts – I had totally forgotten that I could get a cart once in the store! The employee reassures me that all carts are cleaned multiple times a day … and she didn’t even ask for my membership card, which I had so carefully held at a safe distance! With my two non-cart-touching fingers I carefully returned it to my bag and then just for extra caution, did one last Purell rub on the cart handle and started making my way inside.

Now, here’s the thing. I love shopping. I love stores. I love to be unfocused so I can spot things I am not looking for and find good bargains. It’s kind of a thrill. And walking into Sam’s Club, I knew there’d be no thrill. Because I had to focus. 1000% focus. And that takes all the joy out of going into any store.

So, hyper-focused on my hands and my cart, I made my way to the eggs in the back of the store, hoping this trip would not be in vain.

But how to walk down aisles that don’t have 6 ft on each side of you at all times?! I swerve and turn and weave in and out trying to use the safest route, all the while scared that someone will yell at me for passing to close. This turns out to be way more stressful than any type of driving.

And then-the joy! Eggs! I almost weep tears of joy.

One per customer, but at least it’s a 5 dozen case. I didn’t even check the price; at this point, having made it this far, I would pay any price.

Ok, focus, I tell myself.

I reach to open the refrigerator door – and freeze.

The door. I will be touching the door handle. I don’t know who or what else has touched that handle. And if I touch the handle to open it, that same hand will take the eggs – which I will be taking home. So whatever is on that door handle will go onto the eggs and then come home.

Deep breath. Focus. You can do this.

With my right hand, I open the refrigerator door. With my left hand, I slowly pick up the 5 dozen eggs, hoping it will not fall with this unsteady movement… all as my sleeve swipes the side of the glass door.

My sleeve! Forget it; I resolve that I’m just going to throw out this shirt when I get home.

I slide the eggs into the cart with my left hand and close the refrigerator door with my right hand and then go for a round of Purrel from the pump in my bag. Beads of sweat pouring down my face, I know I got this.

But wait, the eggs in the cart – I do not know what has touched the inside of this cart. I only washed the handle of the cart, not the inside!

I’m losing my mind … I can feel it.

I head to the checkout – and here’s where it gets really interesting.

The employees all have gloves. And I get to see right in front of me how useless they are.

I ask the employee about the limit on eggs, she assures me that there’s no limit anymore. I feel a ray of hope for our future!

Seeing my clear exhaustion she offers to ask an employee to bring up another 5 dozen; I wait a few minutes and he returns with it and places it in my cart. My joy knows no bounds – oh the things I can do with all these eggs – although for a family of 11, it’ll last about a week.

And then it dawns on me; the employee who brought me the eggs. He was wearing gloves. He opened the refrigerator door with those gloves – the door I was so careful not to touch with my hand that touched the eggs. And who knows what else those gloves touched!

My head is spinning. I want to go home. I want to go back to quarantine.

I carefully Purell my right hand and take out my debit card and membership card,  and push the cart towards the checkout employee with my left hand, making every effort not to cross contaminate – even though I’m not quite sure what I’m cross contaminating.

And the employee grabs my cart from the other end with two hands – the side that is not the handle and has not been cleaned – scans the eggs, and with the same gloved hands, take my cards – my cards that I have so valiantly worked hard on keeping corona free!! – and then hands them back to me. Too stunned, I slip them into my bag, only realizing a second later that all the germs and what-not that are on the employees gloves are now on my cards and probably crawling around my bag-no, swarming- up and down and all around the contents of my handbag. I can literally see the little red coronas, the ones that haunt me in my sleep and the ones that have taken over every article and meme I see.

I use some Purell again, trying not to ruin the receipt I’m handed (with the same gloved hands!) and make my way to the door, to have another gloved employee take my receipt and scan it – yes, he held it too! Now that’s two glove-fulls of germs on this receipt!!

I can practically see the little guys of contamination having a picnic right there on this slip of paper.

I toss the receipt in the trash, do one more Purell and head to the car. I put the eggs safely in the trunk and collapse into the driver’s seat. I am drained; exhausted both mentally and emotionally. My hands are burning from too much Purell.

If I thought staying home can make someone lose their mind, I’ve realized I’m wrong. Going to the grocery store can definitely make you lose your sanity a lot quicker.

My husband will continue being the designated shopper. I’ll take quarantine any day.

Life in General

Children’s Museum or Judgement Museum?

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It really should be called the Judgement Museum.

It’s very subtle.

Quiet looks and silent glares. Forced smiles and controlled tones. 

I can’t think of another place that is quite as stress-filled as a Children’s Museum.

It’s well masked by all the gleeful chatter and banter of kids exploring, running, playing and squealing.

But behind every excited child is a tense mom with clenched fists. Continue reading “Children’s Museum or Judgement Museum?”

Life in General

They grow so quickly … or do they?

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I’m not really sure when it happened.

For the longest time, just by my being, I was able to assert my authority over my kids. After all, they had to look up to talk to me. I was taller than them all.

And then suddenly, without much warning, I am the one looking up.

I can’t even see eye to eye with my oldest. I have to look UP.

I’m not familiar with this and I don’t know how this happened.

Continue reading “They grow so quickly … or do they?”