You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.

Last week a friend and I went to hear author Erica Brown speak about her new book, Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death.  Briefly, the book is about making the end of life more meaningful for ourselves and our loved ones.  With her trademark wit and wisdom Brown answered a series of questions about how we can make our deaths more inspiring to those we leave behind.  One way is by leaving a legacy of words and values. When Erica asked how many in the audience had regular wills most people raised their hands but far fewer in the crowd had ethical wills.

The tradition of ethical wills goes as far back as Genesis 49:1-33 when a dying patriarch, Jacob gathered his twelve sons, offered each of them a unique blessing and told them where he wished to be buried.  An ethical will is a written spiritual legacy, which imparts your values and wisdom to your children. It can be written at any point and updated as circumstances dictate. I really wish my father had written an ethical will and by sharing my ethical will, I hope to encourage my readers to write their own ethical wills.  Don’t just transfer your valuables transmit your values as well.

My Dear Sons,

You know I gave birth to you but you should also know that you gave birth to me, as a mother.  I hope to be here with you for a long time but if I’m not, you need to know that you are smart enough and strong enough to stand on your own two feet. Know also, that I have had a wonderful, fulfilled life full of unconditional love and joy.  Mourn me, if you must, but make it snappy.  You have work to do, life to live and happiness to experience.

Find a partner and build yourself a home filled with respect, love and laughter.  Be content in it. Don’t look to your left and right and wonder what others have. Focus on what you have.  Build a community for yourself.  Being part of a community will require commitment and responsibility, but one day you will stumble, as we all do, and your community will catch you and when that day comes you will realize the value in what you have built.  Build yourself a vocation that you are passionate about.  Success is measured not by material wealth but by the number of people you touch and if you have passion for your work, you will inevitably touch others.

We like to say in our house, “Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.”  Be a contributor, not a complainer.  Be a giver. Sometimes, be a taker.  Always, always, always, be kind. Take risks.  Not bungee jumping. What kind of dummy climbs high, tethers himself to an elastic cord and jumps? But, risk your heart, risk looking foolish, risk being honest.

Three of your grandparents were survivors and we have provided you with a strong Jewish education. Think long and hard before you hand Hitler victory by walking away from your faith.

You’re fair skinned.  Don’t be stingy with the sunscreen. Read a lot. Exercise more than your slug of a mother. And, don’t forget to call your brothers. Please!!

People die. Love remains. Always remember that you have given me tremendous happiness. My only sadness is in leaving you.

Love, Mom

I’m gonna miss you when I’m gone.

Advice To The Daughters I Never Had

If you haven’t read or heard about Susan Patton’s Letter To the Editor in the Daily Princetonian (link below), where have you been?

In her letter, Ms. Patton appeals to the undergraduate women of Princeton, “the daughters” she “never had,” to “Find a husband on campus before they graduate.”   She has been absolutely skewered since writing the piece.  The outsized and outraged reaction caused DP’s website to crash.

There is some truth in what Patton says, if you can wade through the overwhelming amount of self-laudatory crap. But, let’s call this piece what it truly is: a delivery system for good news about Susan Patton.  And, I think that is what most people are objecting to, not necessarily the fundamental idea, but the tone.

Patton begins by giving herself kudos for having maintained her relationship with, “her best friend from freshman year.” She alleges that at the Women and Leadership conference she attended at Princeton, the undergraduate women were avidly interested in how she and her best friend had “sustained a 40 year friendship.” Really?  Is having a long-term friendship fabulous? Definitely.  Is it a subject of rapt fascination for 20 year olds? Um, no. I’m around a fair number of college age kids and I have more than one long-standing friendship.  Not one of the twenty somethings I know, including my own children, has ever expressed a scintilla of interest in how my friends and I sustain our relationships. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Then we get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Patton states, “I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians.  My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone.” Really?   He could have married anyone?  Anyone? I think Patton just wanted to inform the Princeton community that her sons go/went to Princeton and that her older son is married and, better yet, he married a girl who went to Princeton. The younger son’s dating potential is, according to mama, “limitless.” Oy. I hope the younger son has entered the witness protection program. Poor kid.

But, putting Ms. Patton’s self-aggrandizement aside, I think she makes a fair point. I knew people in college who made silly lists of qualities for potential dates, not too short, not too thin/heavy, brown hair/blonde hair and so on.  Susan Patton is correct that college is one of those critical times in life. Don’t make lists that confine you. Look at your classmates with an open mind. Making friends is every bit as important, if not more so, than the classes you take.  And, you never know, your best friend or your life partner or both may be sitting next to you in class.

So, here is what I would tell “the daughters I never had”: College is a fantastic place to meet someone but if you don’t meet “the one” in college don’t panic.  There’s time. Don’t say, “He’s too nice.” Nice boys generally grow up to be nice men and nice men are, well, nice. If a guy is crazy about you, put that in the plus column, bolded and highlighted.  Look for red flags and if you see them, don’t walk, run. Don’t pass up the very good for the perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. Choose someone who makes you laugh because at the end of the day you want to spend a lot of time with someone who makes you laugh. If you can’t stand to be with someone even if they have a 200 IQ or 200 billion dollars, say goodbye. It’s just not worth it.

And, I would tell my mythical daughter the same thing I will tell my real son.  You will meet the right person at the right time.  And, when you meet that person you will know, maybe not immediately, but you will know.

Trust your own judgment. I do.  And, remember dad and I love you.

Happy Twenty-One

376925_2377779637408_1114509731_nIt’s March 18th and it’s snowing.  Just like it was twenty-one years ago.

Twenty-one years ago on a snowy evening like this one I went into labor and the following morning I became a mother.  Has it been twenty-one years already?  Has it only been twenty-one years? Nothing prepared me for that experience.  Nothing. Not the well-intentioned warnings of veteran parents. Not the hundreds of parenting tomes that I had read in preparation for the grand event.  It happens every day.  It is the most routine of matters, giving birth.  But, when it happens to you, the world shifts on its axis.  It is the most extraordinary of events. The nurses handed me my baby and said, “Congratulations, mom.”  I looked around.  Who were they calling mom?

It didn’t go well for Mr. Baby and me in the beginning.  We didn’t suit.  I wanted to sleep, he didn’t.  I wanted to go places and, apparently, where I went, he too, went.  It was hard to wrap my mind around that.  I relished quiet and order and he loved noise and chaos. We were really at cross purposes. As he clung to me with tightly fisted hands, his baby breath warm on my face, the enormity of the task loomed terrifyingly before me. I knew only one thing with clarity, I would throw myself in front of a train to keep my baby safe.  It was a start.  I threw out the books.  I followed my gut.  We taught each other.  He cried, I cried.

Some days were endless, hauling the little fellow from one baby friendly apparatus to another, ten minutes under the Gymini, then ten in the swing, then ten in that bouncy seat.  I looked at the clock and then, startled, looked again and wondered how it was possible for time to move backwards.  Now, I wonder how it is that endless days turned into years that flew?

Today, I look out at the snow.  He calls from college.  “It’s snowing,” he says.  “Do you remember,” I ask, “that it snowed the night I went into labor with you?”  “I guess I don’t remember it that well” he replies. You were all there, my boy, in that tiny, little bundle they handed me.  And, I was “mom” even if I didn’t realize it yet. We found our way, together. We figured it out.

It’s March 19th and you are twenty-one.  Happy birthday, my sweet boy!

Quiet Moments of Joy

french-laundry-garden.jpgIt’s about the small stuff.

I have long lost any patience I once had for sixth grade math homework.  Or, let’s be honest, I was never really any good at sixth grade math but, nonetheless, I’m attempting to help my youngest son with his nightly math assignment.  My oldest son is home from college for the week and he dismisses me. “Why are you yelling at him?” he asks, followed by, “I’ve got this mom.”  I skulk into the family room but surreptitiously watch them.  Their heads are bent together, the little one and the big one, and I feel a physical ache in my heart.  Watching the people you love, love each other, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m having a moment, a quiet moment of joy.

I once thought that joy came from the big milestone events in life like weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs or the birth of a child.  But, maybe I’m just too neurotic for that to be the case.   For me, those big events are always completely fraught with anxiety.  Who will wake up with the plague the day of the big event because, let’s face it, you know someone will. Is everyone having fun at the party, even the scowling old people with the earplugs? Does everyone have the appropriate clothes? I mean, those pants fit him ten minutes ago. Can a teenage boy outgrow his clothes in a week?

I have found that happiness comes in the small moments of joy that creep up on me in an ordinary day.  Some of the moments are part of the daily routine like that first sip of hot coffee on a cold morning and the morning telephone conversation with my daily callers to reconnect after the night.  Then there are the moments that are purely sensory delights; the feel of the sun on your face after a long, grey winter, the sight of a beautiful sunset or the thrill of hearing your favorite song on the radio.

Some moments of joy surprise you.  There’s the moment that you realize you’ve made a connection with someone and your relationship with an acquaintance has deepened into a friendship.  Recently, I ran into someone who told me that some long forgotten thing I said to her years ago gave her great comfort at the time. That was a joyful moment for me.

But, the best moments for me are when I see my children interacting with each other as adults.   Big and middle shop together now, consult on fashion, talk about relationships and I think to myself,  “You had a hand in this. You nurtured these brothers who are now capable of giving and receiving advice, support, encouragement and love.”  It’s a heady moment.

So, milestones will come and go, together with their attendant stresses, but here I stand, full of wonder, waiting and hoping for more of the small stuff, more quiet moments of joy.