I’d Be Lost Without You

2008-10-22 - 010 - Kona, Hawaii, snorkeling, f...

Image by cfinke via Flickr

Every morning I am greeted with a smile, a hug and a freshly brewed cup of coffee. He even sniffs the milk before he pours, knowing I have a super-sensitive nose and will gag if I even think something has gone sour. Today there was a small fruit cup with blueberries, strawberries and cantaloupe, sliced with love from a steady, beautiful hand. My hands shake so he carries the full cup of coffee to me, so I don’t feel bad and so there will be no spills on our fake linoleum Spanish tiles in the kitchen. In the middle of the night our feet or hands search for each other for reassurance and comfort. I don’t even mind when he snores loudly, though I do punch him lightly in the arm. Without protest he turns over. I used to say “turn over” but with our marriage code I have shortened the phrase to “apple” as in apple turnover and he knows exactly what I mean.

We have our own language, he and I, built on twenty-five years of togetherness, love and friendship. We are each others’ best friend.  I am not saying we have always had the perfect marriage because no marriage is perfect. We have had our rough years, our tough times but we struggle through it together, knowing that home is not just a place but a feeling. I sat through a Gordon Lightfoot concert for him, he came to see Neil Diamond for me. Sometimes he blurt things out that are supposed to be secret; sometimes I reveal my feelings when I shouldn’t. Sam Adams for him, Diet Coke for me. His Scotch is my Yoo-hoo, his dark chocolate is my milk chocolate.

I want our children to see that our marriage is strong, loving, yet not without flaws. I want them to know that marriage, like any relationship, needs work, a strong commitment and loving companionship. We help each other when difficult situations arise, and in life, they always do. When we were first married, we went through the infertility process together; it breaks many couples apart yet it brought us closer together. We share pain and joy, I am more emotional, he is more practical. We balance each other like a delicate balancing toy, sometimes tipping over, always able to right itself to startling precision.We try to laugh even during hard times. He has taught me to be less pessimistic; I have taught him that it is okay to be vulnerable.

Through the 25 years of our relationship we have grown closer together even after we have grown apart. He likes skiing, I like sunshine, he plays racquetball, I need to write. For a little while we thought it was odd that we did not share activities in common but we adjusted and compromised. We trust each other so that if he wants to go skiing, he goes with a friend. If I need sunshine in the middle of a gray, cold winter, I have flown to Florida for a few days. We can be independent of each other yet always happy to reconnect. We share the joy of traveling together, France, Australia, Amsterdam,  Aruba, Rhode Island. We held hands when we snorkeling on our engagement trip in Hawaii, my most favorite memory. While he would prefer to stomp through old ruins, I would rather walk on the beach finding seashells; we compromise.

He is an atheist, I believe in G-d. We have two amazing children, a boy, 18 and a girl, 16. We share their triumphs and their pain; we help each other deal with our ever-changing reality. If the children attack us, as teenagers often do, we immediately look at each other. The silent language of marriage is a subtle one, but we speak it fluently.

I fear the day that one of us is left alone. I pray it won’t be for a very long time yet thinking about it frightens me. He is the one person that I trust with my life, that I can count on without question. He feels the same way about me. We know the best and the worst of each other and accept and acknowledge both. If I had to, I know deep down, that I could survive without him; I just don’t want to.

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What Do Words Really Mean?

As parents we teach our children, from a very young age, to see please, and thank-you. We teach our children to respect their elders, to give up there seats on trains or buses for the elderly or the handicapped or women who are pregnant. We drill, over and over that “there is a word missing……”  We hope that they will eventually do this on their own. It’s what we expect from them but recently I’ve realized it doesn’t always work out the way we think it should. Maybe our expectations are too high? Maybe we are totally wrong. It could go either way.

We even prompt them sometimes and my children are not children anymore, they are 15 and 17. Something you would like to say we ask lightly? Did you forget anything? It’s really nothing more than a step up from “what’s the missing word little Susie?”

My husband and I took our teenagers to Aruba over Christmas holiday. We barely saw our son much less heard from him. He was safely ensconced in his “bachelor pad” pool house of his best friend’s grandmother’s mansion. Our daughter, being stuck with us in our room and without the amusement of fighting with her brother non-stop, tended to be sullen, and critical. When my daughter was 2, it was all about her. She is now 15 and everything still has to revolve around her. She has a lot of compassion for animals, I hope she will learn compassion for people, other than her friends, too.

We try and lead by example, my husband and I are both very polite individuals; both of us having grown up with European parents. We tended to be stricter than any of our friends who have children. Even my niece and my nephew never had curfews and their parents hardly ever knew where they were. This is not acceptable in our house. There are a lot of things we DON’T know and many things we have already have conceded, but we still feel children still need some structure.  Is that too old fashioned or being sensible?

My husband and I are betting if the children will thank us for this vacation. He thinks they will not. I think my son might and then my daughter will murmur her agreement.  So far, we haven’t heard any “Thank you’s” for meals, expenses, the trip…..Do the words replace actions?   I don’t think so. It’s something, but it certainly is not enough, not nearly enough. I know I have to give them slack, a lot of slack because they are teenagers and their worlds do revolve around themselves….

Am I being too harsh?  Is it wrong to expect teenagers to have manners? Am I fooling myself?  Honestly? I really don’t know.  Our son spent the entire time with his friend in Aruba without so much as an e-mail much less a phone-call  to us.  He only came to visit here when he and his friend wanted to use the gym OR when his friend’s father made them visit for a little while on Christmas Day.

This is our first encounter with teenagers at this age and we’re lost. Both my husband and I were not typical teens (whatever that really is). We were highly respectful and gracious and always had good manners. Call us boring but that’s what we were.  In the soon to be near future, my husband and I plan to go away on vacation sans teenagers and enjoy each other all the more.

Mmmmm, Mojito!

My regular cream cheese complexion has salmon and caviar mixed in. Yes, I am a little sunburned and my freckles, (thousands I never knew I had) are dotted all over my body. My lips look like I have 24/7 lipstick on but the truth of the matter is, they are burned too. After a few days of the potent sun of Aruba, even the palest person can be reinvented.

The palm trees sway to give you the occassional breeze, the ocean is amazingly beautiful but to go in you need a lot of dexterity which I simply don’t have. There are pitfalls and ridges, inclines and declines before you are close enough to get in the water and swim. Once in, however, it is everything you have dreamed of and more. Being a water baby, just the feeling of the cool, dreamy blue-green water is enough to make me swoon. You float, on your back, and get carried away by the soft white ripples. When you look down to the sand, there are some beautiful shells. You can see lots of coral but you can’t take it home and with such an amazing environment, you wouldn’t want to take anything away to spoil it for even a second.

Yesterday, we went snorkeling with friends. While my back got twisted and my foot was reinjured, it was worth every second of pain and suffering. There were pretty electric blue fish, fish with yellow and black stripes,  big gray-white fish and a variety of others. To me, snorkeling is the best of both worlds. The world of water and fish and the world of sand and shells. I would not have missed that for the world.  My husband and I had a similar experience 23 years ago in Hawaii where we got engaged.  There, you could feed the fish (approved food you could buy) and they would swarm around you like Bambi and all his friends in the forest. We felt like we were part of the fish community there, not intruders. The fish swam with us not away from us and it was a world that was new and similar to a Jacques Cousteau special; except we were in the movie not watching it from the couch!

Today, our last day, we had a hut with shade and lounge chairs at the ocean.  It was more perfect than perfect could bewith the highlight being a Mojito served to us on the beach. For ALL those who know me, you know I never drink alcohol. I don’t like the taste of any kind of alcohol, it makes my stomach feel queasy and I just don’t like the way even half a drink makes me feel. That is, until today. The perfect mojito, served at the Marriott on the beach in Aruba was just a piece of heaven in a frothy glass. The perfect proportions of mint and lime, rum and some sort of soda. I loved it because you could not taste the alcohol and it was perfectly blended with a whole bunch of fresh mint that you could smell before the glass was handed to you.

I know I could start ordering a Mojito back when I am the States but without the sun, the waves, the crunchy sand between my toes and the armchair with my book “Have A Little Faith” beside me, it just wouldn’t be the same. My husband and I shared one drink but every sip was a perfect balance of all the ingredients, except this time they were kissed by the sun and serenaded by the rippling tides of the ocean music.

The Ugly Side of Karma

Do you know the feeling when some thought, usually a guilty and  bad one,  creeps into your mind but you’re not ready to accept it yet?  It flits in and out and by the time you are ready to accept the thought, grab it,  and call it your own, you’ve pretty much learned the lesson you needed to learn.  The lesson may be learned at that very second, but for me, it’s usually not owned until it has been written and most probably read.

Our whole Christmas vacation in Aruba was first discussed  over a year and a half ago. Times were tough, I had been very sick with numerous illnesses, one after another, for over a year and a half.  Our marriage had been in trouble the whole summer.  My husband and I were miserable both together and alone and I felt betrayed. The key factor that used to hold us together was trust, but I felt that trust was broken. Verbally. At that time,  I remember vividly asking my mother “if this all works out and we can make it through together, do you mind if the four of us go away together over Christmas break?” Knowing what we all were going through, and the fact that the children were very upset,  she reassured me that it would be fine: “You definitely deserve it! ”

That was then, a year ago. After getting through the summer and my husband and I working our problems out, again, I asked my mother if it was still ok. “Yes, she said, definitely.”  What I had forgotten to do and this was totally my mistake was share these plans with my sister which was my fault. We talked and I apologized and she was gracious.

Going to Aruba had been a yearly discussion since my seventeen year old son had been invited a multitude of times to stay with his best friend at his best friend’s grandmother’s house in Aruba. Huge house. Ok, mansion. We  had never seen it but all of my son’s other friends had been there with their families.   Tim was not able to go several times because we all had plans and, I didn’t want Tim to be away without us at Christmas.  It just never felt right.

The tradition of Christmas with a Jewish family is an unusual one. My parents raised us with no religion, other than culturally Jewish, but we celebrated Christmas.   When I was very small I remember having a Christmas tree, ornaments;  Santa Claus, reindeer, the stuff that dreams are made of.  The only real tradition in our family was that we spent it together. It wasn’t easy all the time. People would fight, or act immature, gift-giving and receiving became an angry or sullen event at times, my sister would think we gave too much or not enough but the 4  cousins were together and that, at the time, seemed enough.

It seemed to be enough until 8 years ago when  6  days after Christmas on New Year’s Eve, my dad passed away. It was also the day before my parent’s wedding anniversary on New Year’s Day.    After that, nothing was the same, ever.   Christmas for me, and probably  others was absolutely depressing and horrible.  I wanted to move Christmas to my house but apparently there was no wiggle room for any other alternative.  In my estimation that was a major mistake.

Once my sister and her children went on a cruise paid by our mother but in the end, my mother and brother in law decided not to go. My family stayed behind to be with our mom on Christmas, we didn’t want her to be alone. Surprisingly,  she was furious at our decision.  It was another one of the countless, “we want to be thoughtful and be with you actions” that always seems to blow up in my face and I become the evil one. Part of my life back then. Part of my life when I accepted it. Not anymore. It was a pattern and I tried to crush it with every bone in my body. Progress.

The Fessler, then Fessler-Bernsein, then Fessler-Friedmann  Christmas tradition in our family,  is that we have store-bought, refrigerated cinnamon rolls that come in a tube with  a container of vanilla icing; the best part.  This has been a tradition since my sister and I were children and we finally passed down the tradition of icing the cinnamon buns down to our children many years ago. We also had scrambled eggs and bacon, hard rolls that now have turned to bagels and presents; too many presents or too few, name in a hat, no way. Just for the children? My sister and I were jealous, after all, we were children too. But not having the sound of the Christmas bell ringing in the holiday by my father was key. One can’t replicate a tradition if a big part of the tradition is not alive anymore. But so it went….until this year.

This brings us to the present when we were scheduling our flights, the four of us, to go to Aruba. The grumbling started gaining momentum and soon my mother was hysterical trying to make us cancel it at the last moment and “guilting” us beyond belief. It wasn’t fair to anyone but when feelings are hurt, fairness flies quickly out the window along with the early morning singing doves?

So, we are here in Aruba, having a lovely time, entitled to have a good time after my health problems, our marital problems and now my husband’s unemployment status.  We had paid for the trips many months ago and we decided we did not want to cancel; it had already been paid for.  Our son, Tim,  is staying with his friend Aaron in his grandmother’s mansion and Jillian, Dan and I are staying at the Marriott and enjoying ourselves immensely.  The sun is hot, the breeze is beautiful and the water, my most beloved element, is light blue and sparking. Everything is great here. Except it isn’t.

I miss Tim. I actually am a little upset, sic, hurt, that Tim wants nothing to do with us.  Kind of like my mom probably feels about me? I have no idea.   These are the lessons we are  born to learn the hard way. Tim is probably doing all sorts of things I probably don’t want to know about living in the Bachelor Pad with Aaron, aka “the pool house.”   He stopped by unannounced once with his friend to say hello because his friend’s dad gave them a mini-lecture on how it would be nice to see your family on Christmas Day.

Ouch.    These are the lessons we are  born to learn the hard way.  I do mind that my son is acting invisible, a little arrogant, and very much cool and distant. The irony is not lost on me. His age, 17, is not lost on me  We gave him permission to go and to have fun, not fully thinking that he would,  to the extent of not even sending an e-mail or picking up the local phone to say hello.  It burns and it stings and I feel like a complete idiot. What did I THINK would happen? Well, actually, not this.

We try to teach our children good lessons, life lessons. What have we taught our son about this trip? Yes, we felt he was owed this vacation, yes, my mother said we should go, yes, we love it here in all it’s beauty…….but the truth of the matter is at this moment, I feel like I want to cry. I want to cry as my disappointment as a mom and begrudgingly as a daughter who now feels just the tiniest of guilt.

The Christmas tradition in our family, which is the most traditional thing we do, is that we have store-bought, refrigerated cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. This has been a tradition since my sister and I were children and we have passed down the tradition now to our children who now frost the cinanmon buns.  It really isn’t anything much, the store buns are the same every year, every year we fight about how crispy the bacon should be or how many presents we should buy. But, we’re together and while I love being on vacation, anyplace warm, watching the four cousin  battling over which cinnamon bun to ice and how much wouldn’t be so very bad. We learn from these experiences.  Whatever goes around, comes around, the very definition of karma. It bites.

Selianne and I

Aruba, Merry Christmas, December 25, 2009

In the sparkling diamond crystals of the light blue water in the swimming pool, there swam a beautiful, little girl who decided she liked me. It’s funny isn’t it? Children can sense people who like them and are kind.  I’ve always loved to be around kids, they are so naiive with their blunt honesty. She paddled to me, we made faces at each other; we smiled and laughed a lot. We tried to communicate but it was very difficult. My Spanish is very limited and it turns out she spoke a dialect from Santo Domingo. I needed my daughter’s translation help for that explanation!

Selianne swam under the water, her curly, rippling,  long,  brown hair flowing behind her. She had that wonderful laugh, like tinkling crystal bells,  that innocent, sweet children have. We played a game, using mostly hand signals and a few Spanish words that delighted her. I had my sunglasses on top of my head, in the pool and she felt that it was a game in itself; she was greatly amused. One time she came  upon me by surprise, swimming underwater like a fish,  and lifted my glasses off my head. I think the way I squealed was as great of a joy as it was to actually take the sunglasses from me. It became our game.

Later, since I couldn’t understand her very much, I told her in pidgeon Spanish that I would try and get my “mija” my daughter to come and help us translate.  Jillian, 15 and beautiful,  walked over and I introduced them; Selianne was very excited being an 8 year old girl in the presence of a 15 year old, teenager!!  Selianne was shy at first but then started swimming again like  the cafe au lait little mermaid that she was.  When my daughter Jillian and Selianne were trying to talk and communicate I smiled to myself.  I remembered  Jillian at that young age who had been very shy and scared of all strangers; now coaxing a little girl to play and laugh.

I crept up the baby stairs in the pool, still clutching the children’s staircase to help my, once again, aching foot. Time heals all, but sometimes we grown-ups are supposed to remember not to overdo a good thing after a long illness. Sometimes, I do not act like a grown up at all. We walked half a mile into town and BACK with my foot and heel acting up and my back in occasionally painful spasms.  I loved walking to town, I loved feeling ALIVE after feeling so spent and achy and tired for so long.  I needed and craved the experience. We ended up eating at the infamous Smokey Joe’s BBQ place, Danny and I sharing a combination meat platter and Jillian, our, vegetarian, eating macaroni and cheese.

I admit, walking back to the hotel was murder. I was too proud to admit it and take a taxi so I walked ever so slowly, limping and stopping to watch children play in the street.  Bright green and blue iguana’s slithered across the sand and the bright touristy Christmas lights of Aruba, twinkling  green, red, orange and blue Christmas lights wrapped around palm trees. The only thing I saw in front of us, walking back for a moment or two on the sand at night, were the twinkling brilliance of two hundred  little stars against the deep, dark, black night.

Touchdown, Aruba

December 24, 2009

It was a long flight from Newark to Aruba yesterday, especially since our day started at 4am and did not end until after 9pm last night.  It was our long awaited reward from two years of hell, especially for me. First, two contiguous years of medical maladies including but not limited:a misdiagnosed illness,  an auto- immune disease,  fibromyalgia, flu-like symptoms every day (without the temperature), a very badly sprained ankle,( started in February 2009)  plantar fasciatis, and a torn ligament, excruciating back spasms…. ending, or at least lessening yesterday. After both a medical upheaval, a marriage upheaval (the whole summer of 2009) and surviving an extensive guilt from my mother about this trip, we are here; and it is good. It is good to be selfish sometimes when you know what you have been through and know what will keep you going. It is very, very good.

Don’t think, however, that the incredibly full flight was without adventure, it wasn’t. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to disconnect so abruptly from my malaise but ease out of it slowly because the flight was filled with screaming children,major turbulance and some lady, trying to get her bag from the overhead (over my head) compartment hurling my metal cane and smashing me in the eye, causing massive pain, red welts, and me thinking that the plane had just been bombed.  A horrible passenger had a fight with the flight attendant and ended up shouting at her and giving her the finger. She was not saying “wait a minute.”

Once we got here, however, life was so very good. I eased into walking without a cane. We ate in the hotel for convenience sake last night and because we were so tired we thought we would pass out directly. I don’t remember much except having the fruit punch, a mixture of pineapple juice, red cranberry juice and orangey papaya juice;  It was addictive.  We stumbled into bed at 9pm, I don’t even remember putting my head on the pillow….

This morning we woke up, it was cloudy and my daughter cast a snarky attitude to the day, not seeing the promised sunshine. Luckily for us the wind changed and the sun, broiling in the sky, made several parts of us really sunburned. Tomorrow, we will use (even more) sunscreen.  Life’s a bitch.

A walk on the beach felt good for me both physically and mentally.  The sand is coarse, like kosher cooking salt, not smooth and shiny. The water, a perfect aquamarine was deliciously cool, salty and made me feel, as water always does, renewed. There are sharp inclines on the sand that are directly at the shore so it isn’t always easy to navigate, especially for me.

The pool was cool for some, never too cold f0r me and it had a swim-up bar, all frozen red-orange-pink drinks and large, light lime green margarita glasses rimmed with salt.  Sunglasses, a book, a virgin iced tea and the palm trees. Water, sand, palm trees, a cooling breeze; these are the pure things that make me very happy; this is my kind of heaven.

We went to dinner at Smokey Joe’s BBQ place and then took a long albeit painful walk back to the hotel..  I’m stubborn, I know. I didn’t want to miss up the opportunity to take pictures of Jillian next to a fake Santa or Christmas lights on the palm trees. Our son, Tim, is staying at his friend Aaron’s grandmother’s beach house aka  the mansion.  I’m glad that after all this time he was able to go; it was important for me, that after years of changing plans, he could finally do this.

Now it’s another nibble of dessert: white coconut cake with fresh pineapple inside and Jillian and Dan’s gooey, rich , sweet chocolate cake. Chocolates on the pillow; aloe on my body, vacations make me so very happy. And, I do deserve it.