Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strangers Among Us

Lately I've been feeling like a boarder in my own home. The beings I used to live with are morphing, and I'm not sure how much longer we'll all be able to live together peacefully.

Our dog, Bailey, is fourteen-and-a-half years old. His body's been failing him for a while. He struggles on uneven ground, stumbling often and sometimes falling when his back legs go out from under him. He doesn't do stairs anymore. He can't see well and is mostly deaf. But he'll still occasionally bring a toy and drop it into my lap, and is happy to nudge me with his nose when he wants some attention and love.

Our sixteen-year-old is eating constantly. He comes home from school and has a big salad, then eats the equivalent of two dinners and dessert, with room for a snack later. He's now taller than I am. When he speaks to me from down the hall, I often mistake him for my husband. He'll be taking his permit test on Friday.

Our thirteen-year-old is on the cusp. He's still my baby, but he's fighting that. He tussles with teen issues while maintaining a foot in his younger self's world. He's recognizing he can't be both teen and child, but sometimes the teen angst can be crushing and it's easier to revert to child mode, when things made sense. Like girls. We butt heads a lot.

Not so recently, Bailey started barking at the sixteen-year-old. We theorized it was Jacob's dark sweatshirt that threw the dog off, perhaps reminding him of a contractor or other stranger that came through the house, uninvited by Bailey. But then he started snarling and growling when Jacob would come upstairs and into the living room, so we thought perhaps Bailey couldn't see him well enough without the lights on and, since Jacob looks and sounds so much different than he did a few short months ago, Bailey thought he was an intruder. We decided to keep the lights on and Jacob would walk slowly so as not to startle the dog. But then Jacob would be sitting in the dining room looking at his phone and absently petting the dog, and the dog would be fine and then suddenly start growling at him for no reason. We decided Jacob should just keep from extending his hand to the dog at all, just in case. But then yesterday, Jacob was studying and came downstairs with me to do something, and when he came back upstairs right behind me, while I breezed past the dog, Jacob was stopped on the stairs and Bailey was crouched and snarling at him. It made me so uncomfortable that I pulled the dog by his collar into the living room, sent Jacob up to his room, scolded the dog (which did nothing), and then "banished him" to the basement while we had dinner upstairs.

There are a lot of growing pains in our house. We're all adjusting to our changing bodies and emotions as we age, and doing our best to continue to be kind to each other. But as my husband and I discussed, while we may be uncomfortable sometimes, it's not right that any of us should feel threatened or endangered living in our own home. We know Bailey can't see, hear or smell well anymore, and we know Jacob's hormones have changed almost everything about his body. But it doesn't mean Jacob should be afraid to be in the house with the dog.

I don't know what the answer is. I refuse to let things be until there is a dangerous incident, when Bailey finally decides that Jacob is a true threat and goes after him. I'd never be able to live with myself if that happened.

For now, we keep them separated. But it's not a big house, and it's winter. We can't keep Bailey in the yard, he's too old to find him a new home, and we know he's not a vicious animal. At least, he never was before. But he no longer seems to know Jacob, and little by little, I feel we no longer no Bailey. Everything is changing.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Faith Without A Label

Yesterday my son asked me what religion we are. I experienced an initial pang of guilt (I was raised Catholic, after all) that he felt we needed to belong to a particular religious group, for why else would he have asked? But then I told him I was raised Catholic and Dad was raised Jewish, but we don't practice any one religion by, say, going to church or synagogue each week. Instead, we live by the most important things each of those religions taught us: kindness, patience, love and acceptance. We acknowledge that there is something bigger out there--a spirit, god or deity--than just us here on Earth and it connects us all to each other. This made him smile.

Of course this has been an ongoing discussion in our children's lives. My husband and I talked about it before we were married. How would we raise the children? What would we teach them? What about rituals and services and milestones like Bar Mitzvahs and Communion? Neither of us had gone to services for years, though I do still enjoy the beauty of church choirs, and not just at Christmas time. We tried Unitarianism, which embraced the ideas we shared and seemed the perfect answer. But we are not ones for ritual, and once we moved, attending services each week some 20 minutes away, especially with babies in tow, quickly fell out of favor.

The news from around the world today is so fraught with fear, violence, tension and hate, often in the name of a god, that the thought of sending my children out into such a climate breaks my heart. I worry that they will be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands. But at the same time, I worry that they *won't* be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands and that, while doing so, they will be harmed. It's a sad and scary time to be a parent, a student, alive. It's hard not to worry all the time.

But there's one thing I don't worry about. Despite my children having no "category" in which to place themselves when asked what religion they are, I'm proud of the young men they've become. They are kind and accepting of everyone. They step in when someone is being bullied. They are willing to look at themselves and their behavior when I tell them they have wronged each other or behaved disrespectfully, discuss it with me and then apologize. Sometimes, I don't even need to step in: more and more, they communicate with each other and work out such issues themselves.

I've decided that the only way to let go as a parent is to consider how much better the world is with our children in it. We must appreciate their gifts, have faith in the lessons we've taught them and then send them out into the world, not despite the state it's in, but because of it. They are our hope for a better future, and they will brighten the world with what they've learned, religious label or not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Love Of The Past

When I was an ignorant teenager, not only did I not know I was ignorant but as a result, I failed to appreciate many things in my life. One of these was my first high school boyfriend. When I think of him now, sharpened through the lens of hindsight, I see a sweet, thoughtful, artistic gentleman. He brought me a single red rose every time he came to pick me up. He wrote me love letters on parchment paper and illustrated them with cliffs and castles, creating magical worlds for my imaginative mind and heart.

But I was so wrapped up in personal insecurity and fear of the world at large that, as much as he had to offer, I couldn't see beyond my own pitiful self to relate to him. I can't even remember sending him a single letter. When he finally broke up with me, via letter, every point he made about why he couldn't stay with me was valid and true. And seeing the truth about my ignorant self printed before me was too painful to bear, let alone read over and try to learn from. I threw out the letter and all the ones that had preceded it.

Ah, regret, how are you today? Always abysmal to see you.

Fast forward thirty-some-odd years. I'm now the proud mother of a sweet, thoughtful, artistic gentleman. He has a girlfriend, but he laments rarely getting to see her as they live a town apart. Though they speak on the phone, text and Skype with each other, these methods of communication lack the intimacy they can share when they're together. So I suggested Jacob write her a letter.

I gave him some nice stationery and an envelope. I told him of my long ago letter writer, his penmanship and drawings, which I can still see in my mind's eye.

"There's no limit to what you can write," I told him.

This was several days ago. Since then, he's been thinking, drafting and, until late last night, writing. This morning I mailed the letter, neatly addressed with a purposely placed, upside-down stamp.

Whatever may come for the young couple, I hope the letter's recipient values it for the novelty it is, even more so today than in my pre-email and cellphone teen years. I hope she will keep the letter (and any future missives) until she is older and wiser. Then I hope she will re-read them and recall with fondness their youth, innocence and intimacy. But most of all, I hope she will appreciate the rare and unique gift she received: a ticket to travel back to a sweeter time and place whenever she wants, one she can forever hold in her hands.