A More Perfect Union Called Marriage

Last week was a big week. To open it, we celebrated Passover by reading our Haggadah and eating our matzoh at a Seder hosted by my family.  To close it, we celebrated Easter at the lovely United Church in our neighborhood, a welcoming congregation that espouses kindness and tolerance (and had a great horn section).  And right in the middle were two Supreme Court hearings regarding gay marriage rights.  It was an interesting and stirring juxtaposition, that drove home the urgency of the issue and reminded me of just how lucky I am.

I remember how, as we planned our interfaith wedding three years ago, we ran into some religious dogma from institutions on both sides that gave us pause.  But for most practical purposes, few people now bat an eyelash at the thought of a Jew marrying a Christian. In fact, we had a lovely time sorting through hundreds of “humanist” and “interfaith” options online before finding a lovely celtic-inspired ketubah (the traditional Jewish wedding contract).

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But of course the real questions arise once the ceremony is over – how to give equal time to each others’ holidays and traditions, how to engage with new family members on subjects of religion or spirituality, what place those things may have in the household routine – if any – and how to impart spiritual guidance, learning and traditions to your children.  This is especially fraught if you question the nature of your own spirituality as I have touched on in this very blog.

But these issues are what being married, being in a partnership, is all about.  Successfully navigating the pitfalls as well as the triumphs of life together is what takes a marriage from the wedding day through countless anniversaries. As I listened last week to the arguments against gay marriage (some of which should never again see the light of day, such as the procreation stance), I heard two main themes, one regarding the honor of the institution and one regarding the definition.

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On our ketubah read the words, “We promise to work together…in this Convenant of Marriage… to create a harmonious relationship of equality,” and that seems like a fitting definition to me.  These words are followed by, “we will comfort and support each other through life’s sorrows and joys…we shall create a home filled with learning, laughter and compassion…” and if we can do that year after year, we will have done great honor to the institution.  That, I believe, is all we need to know. Any couple, gay or straight, who willingly pledges themselves to a lasting union based on love, respect and an understanding of the complexities and work involved, and who endeavor day after day to see it through, deserves to have that union acknowledged and honored.

And though the legalities are of the utmost importance, they are not really at the heart of this issue. It is the love that matters. You see, I was never a girl who dreamed of getting married, picking out every detail of the wedding day and spending my youth searching for the right man.  And yet, I found him and now cannot conceive of my life without him, nor of a life not married to him.  And now, three years in, we still get giddy when think about our marriage to each other.  I see the same youthful excitement in my parents after 51 years of their own bumpy but beautiful ride. And I imagine Edith Windsor, one of the plaintiffs in the DOMA case – would have been the same way with her partner, Thea.

In the future, I do not know how we will manage bat mitzvahs and communions, but I do know that I have a partner who will work with me on these questions and support me, as will for him.  As I watch my gay friends who have also found their life’s partner – some legally wed and some waiting for the day – building their lives together, raising children and facing hardship, how can I not take their cause personally?  Many detractors say that gay marriage will besmirch the institution, but they are simply wrong. It is, in fact, this prejudice – this inability to see that the love and commitment expressed is the same – that truly taints the institution and makes it so much less than it could be for all of us.

To those detractors I offer Depeche Mode – “people ARE people“,  to the LGBTQ community and allies, I offer Erasure…”don’t give up, together we’ll break these chains of love,” and to my daughter I offer Cyndi Lauper…may she always live her true colors and see them in others. I fervently long for real equality to arrive and for this issue to simply dissolve into the framework of a more just society.  Now is the time.

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Spring and David Bowie

As I begin writing this post snow showers are gently working their way across a crisp blue sky.  But it is March 20th, also known as the vernal equinox or the first day of spring.  I would venture the first, more scientific title, is more appropriate as temperatures haven’t topped 25 degrees F today and ice is still securely crunching underfoot.

At any other time in my life thus far, this would not be a source of mild irritation to me. In fact, contrary to most people,  it would have been a source of enjoyment for me. But that seems to have changed now; somewhat to my chagrin, as my love of winter has always been something that fed my soul and was an odd source of pride for me.

As with many of my other posts, I am inspired to distill my thoughts onto the page by my interactions with friends or the activities in my life, and this post is no different.  The sentiments above were very succinctly penned by my friends at Modest Plans, and though the reasoning was different (the anticipation of the gardening season for a burgeoning green thumb), the feelings could literally have been plucked straight from my brain.  And that was immensely comforting and allowed me to assess my own feelings more fairly.

My frustration stems from my new life and the joys and struggles it now encompasses.  Much to my delight and relief, my daughter does love playing in the snow and does not seem to care a bit about a slightly runny nose and cold fingers.  Yet the process we go through to engage in this outdoor time is an arduous one which often results in mother chasing daughter around the house in order to don the variety of layers needed to make said outdoor time pleasant at 20 degrees F.

The occasional March snowstorm used to draw this reaction:Photo 52and now draws this weary one: Photo 56That bothered me, and it still does…but just a little. You see, another voice of inspiration pervades my soundtrack these days and that’s Mr. Bowie and his timeless classic, Changes, which has never been more pertinent to my life than now.  And not just in my seasonal ennui.

A few short years ago (and I mean SHORT), I led  a very migratory life, in which each day was different and generously populated with friends, co-workers and new faces.  To an extent, I had the freedom to do and go where I wanted, when I wanted. I saw my close friends and family on a regular basis. I had experience and confidence in my job and even had someone cooking all my meals for me.  I am now a homeowner and moderately insecure mother, living a somewhat lonely – at least for adult interaction – life in a foreign city. Apparently, I can now add the loss (hopefully temporary) of one of my most reliable characteristics to my list of ch-ch-ch-changes.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my family beyond words and there is no doubt that the rewards of this new life certainly outweigh the challenges. But that doesn’t mean those challenges aren’t met with at least a little bit of consternation.  I have learned so many things already from my daughter and this new life, patience being chief among them.

And so we will wait for spring, both of us fit out in our fleece and woolies, and turn to our faraway friends and cultural tapestry to comfort and guide us until we can venture out with the chirping birds in jeans and a sweatshirt.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Throwing Caution to the Walkman

I have said before that sometimes the most wonderful things happen in the course of our normal daily activities.  I have also spoken of music as being a gift, and one of the most important gifts we can receive (if we are willing to accept it) is that of freedom.  Not in the bigger political sphere – though music has been and continues to be a powerful tool in that regard – but in the personal sphere.

It starts out with a simple walk…like we do almost everyday, a walk with the dog through our little neighborhood.  On this particular day we encountered a young fellow doing the same, only he was having just a little more fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love tossing Amelia up on my back and heading out with Betsy, but this boy, who looked to be somewhere between the age of 11 and 14, had something I didn’t.  He had a massive pair of headphones and a walkman (ok, it was probably an Ipod), and whatever music was being pumped through that system, he was happily and unabashedly rocking out to it as he jigged and sauntered down the sidewalk, utterly unconcerned with how he might appear to any passers by.

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Alas, my tried and true cassette walkman is long gone.

He did look a little goofy, but he clearly didn’t care, something all the more extraordinary given the fact that this slightly geeky looking kid (and I use that term affectionately) was likely heading into what might be considered one of the tougher phases in life – teenagerhood.  A phase that could potentially be more difficult for kids who unabashedly boogie down in public to music no one else can hear.

It was a beautiful thing to see, partly on it’s own merit and partly because, not only can I relate to that kid, I kind of AM that kid (or chick, or woman or Mom, pick your label).  I am that girl getting down in the driver’s seat of her car at the red light, clapping and chair dancing along with Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes” (yeah, that just happened) or The Police’s “Every Little She Does is Magic“.

And in case you think it’s just the oldies that get me going, think again.  All it takes is the right combination of beat, melody and maybe a catchy hook.  Indeed, the dog walkers at the beach got an eyeful just last week when I had a rare trip down, with the dog and without the child. Like my young comrade, I brought my very own Ipod – a notable occurrence as it is something I can’t do with Amelia along for the ride since toddlers and headphones don’t mix well, at least not if you want functioning headphones at the end of the day.  The dreary day was instantly transformed as my Ipod randomly shuffled onto Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” and this 40-something girl started bouncing down the beach. Betsy thought my behavior meant we were wrestling and I have no idea what the dog walkers thought, but the point of all this is that I didn’t care anymore than that boy on the sidewalk.

Some songs just stop me right in my tracks, like Toots & the Maytals’ “Bam Bam”  (especially the version with Shaggy).  I have that tune on a playlist I made for running (she writes nostalgically), and when it comes on, I  just dance in place right there on the sidewalk as if I was at the club (assuming I could remember what the inside of a dance club actually looked like).

When we allow the alchemy between rhythm, melody, brain and body to relieve us of our inhibitions, something wonderful happens.  Luckily for me, the result isn’t akin to Elaine on Seinfeld, though I like to think that even if it was I still wouldn’t care.  I’m sure that a scientist could talk about hormones and endorphins, but all I know is that when the right song comes on, allowing yourself to cut loose and rock out regardless of who’s watching feels great.  The freedom that comes from letting go of that judgement – by others and by ourselves – is powerful and joyful and I will work hard and play hard and boogie hard to pass that on to my daughter.

Music of another voice

I dropped the blog, there’s no doubt about it.  It’s no excuse, but the past few months have been fairly tumultuous, with a massive eastward road trip, the passing of a very dear  family member, and the misery of a first trimester.  What has gotten me back to the keyboard is, of course, music.

But not in the obvious way.  Music really does come in all shapes and sizes and conducts its therapy in the most unexpected, yet appropriate ways.

You see I am no longer in a first trimester…or a second for that matter.  This go round has reached a far too premature end, as have so many other pregnancies.  The other day I proceeded home from my first ultrasound visit having received the news that no heartbeat could be found at a gestational age when there most certainly ought to have been one.  Nothing to be done about it, but to make a choice…let it ride or turn to modern medicine to mitigate the unfortunate circumstance.  But it was a choice that didn’t need to be made immediately and so I was left with my thoughts on the subway-ride home.

It wouldn’t be entirely honest to say that I was heartbroken – having been through a miscarriage before (around the same time in fact), I approach the first trimester with skepticism (much as I did in Amelia’s case) and keep the “new baby” excitement locked away until a more appropriate time – like after a successful birth, for example.

But I was sad, disappointed and frustrated.  It was a welcome and remarkably well-timed antidote to the passing of my beloved aunt Annette. It assuaged some of the inherent anxiety that accompanies family planning for a woman over 40. And, let’s just be honest here, the only reason we can put up with the utter wretchedness that is the first trimester is that – conceivably – we will be rewarded with a helpless, but adorable baby at the end of it all.  Once that outcome is no longer possible, the morning (aka all-day) sickness and exhaustion becomes that much more brutal.  Especially when there is a toddler to entertain and simply sinking into the couch is no longer an option. Indeed, the cast of the Muppet Show have been playing babysitter for the last several weeks. “Mahna Mahna” is now firmly ingrained in Amelia’s verbal and musical vocabulary.

But back to my brooding subway-ride home.  I walked in the door of our house to see my wonderful mother sitting on the sofa with her darling granddaughter and my heart leapt.  I had only a sliver of a moment to sit down and fill my Mom in, before my daughter got comfy on my lap, gave me a kiss and started to laugh about something the dog was doing.  And this is the music I am speaking of;  the joyous sound of a 20-month old child laughing with mischief and glee. Never before have John Denver’s words,  “you fill up my senses”, held so true for me.  Her laughter was infectious and I reveled in her joy from head to toe. I literally forgot the sad news I had received less than an hour before and my whole being was engulfed in the beauty of the child in my arms.

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I did not compose this post for therapeutic reasons. That was clearly the realm of my daughter’s jubilant personality.  No, this recording is simply to bear witness; both for the simple appreciation of the brilliance that I see in my daughter even at the most trying times and for the possible benefit of other women or families who may be facing similar circumstances.  At the risk of diminishing the gravity of the situation, miscarriage – in all it’s varying methods – is incredibly common; more common than most of us know and that understanding is very powerful when you are the one facing that situation.

That knowledge, along with the loving support of my wonderful husband, the magic that is my daughter and  the warm companionship of our sweet pup, has enabled us to weather this small storm. Whatever the future brings, I am eternally grateful for this child and the music she brings into my life and I have never been more certain that music – in all it’s forms – is a living, breathing gift.

A Good Day (with Jimmy)…

No, in fact, a great day, we had a great day yesterday.  And we didn’t do anything. I mean we ate our meals and brushed our teeth and had our bath, but mostly we played.  We played in the pool and on the deck.  We played with the floats and the water wings and the bouncy balls.  We played in the kitchen with the doll and the tupperware and the sippy cup. We played in the raspberry bushes, on the grass and with the dandelions.  And it was amazing to recognize the epic gift of a day like that as it unfolds.

As a full-time mom of a toddler, weekends and vacations tend to blend in with everyday life like the color that runs from a dark shirt accidentally thrown into the white laundry.  Even the word ‘vacation’ stares back at me now disingenuously as I type.  Because even on vacation, the child must be fed, diapers must be changed and travel and new surroundings disrupt hard-won sleep patterns.  Nevermind the new hazards not found at home, like the sparkling blue pool, the thorny thistle underfoot in the yard and Grandma Bonnie’s good china not quite out of reach.  But yesterday, with absolutely no activities planned, we managed to wrap up the necessities with an experienced efficiency, so that hours of freedom lay before us like a buffet of popcorn and cotton candy before a hungry child.

It was a Jimmy Buffett day.  No, we didn’t blast “Margaritaville” and drink Pina Coladas, but philosophically it was a prime day for the King of Kicking Back.  You see, Jimmy has made his way into my music psyche in an oddly profound way.

The truth is that there was a time that I despised Jimmy Buffett and found his music to be frivolous.  Indeed, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” used to make my blood boil.  I was young, at university and convinced that music must be powerful, meaningful and have a message.  I was smitten with the raw and unique albums of Ani Difranco and Tori Amos.

And then my brother gave me a live album of Jimmy Buffett when we were living out on Martha’s Vineyard and I actually – gulp – enjoyed it.  The songs told stories, some sweet & sentimental, some nonsensical, and some just plain fun. Many spoke with an insight that surprised me.

I’ve since been to the infamous “Parrothead” concert only twice – an  experience in pure summertime glee – and think back to those joyful, crowded parties with a smile on my face. It turns out there is a message and that message is to be sure and enjoy life when the opportunity presents itself.

This was a musical “boot to the head” for me and taught me another important lesson… that one can appreciate music in all its forms, it just depends onto which record you choose to drop the needle at that particular moment.  I still love Ani Difranco and the fight in her music, but some days are just meant for rolling around in the grass with your golden-haired daughter mashing raspberries and laughing in the sun.

 

extras: a couple more links to some Jimmy tunes I really love; “One Particular Harbor” always gets this winter girl dreaming of the tropics, and a good friend touched on how my career echoed so much in Jimmy’s words with “Son of a Son of Sailor” (well, not the part about the jailor, of course).

Show Tunes to the Rescue…

I know of so many sleep-deprived parents who drive around with their babies to get them to fall asleep.  This is such a standard practice, that our pre-natal course instructor addressed the topic and advised against it for our own safety (friends don’t let friends DUINS – Drive Under the Influence of No Sleep).  In our case, this has worked only very intermittently and I discovered this the hard way.

Our first real road trip came when Amelia was about 8 weeks old.  We were headed to Uberdog, an old farm that had been converted into a fantastic dog boarding ranch, for an “interview” with the folks who would be housing our dog Betsy while we were in Boston two weeks hence.  In fairness, it was only 2 hours out of town, but it sure felt further that day…at least on the way home.

As promised, Amelia slept most of the way there.  The ranch was on a stunning hillside and the accommodations were luxurious by doggie standards.  Betsy made some friends and got a great run and Amelia and I sat next to the farmhouse, nursing and playing with the grass.

It was a bucolic scene and a peaceful afternoon… until the ride home.  It was then that I was compelled to dig deep into my own childhood road trip experience.  Yes, my parents were the ones who sang show tunes in the car and I’m damned proud of it.  Not only was it fun back then, it has stood me in very good stead as a new mom.

After a safety check and feed at the rest area, I determined that the incessant crying, while painful to my heart and eardrums, was not an indication of physical distress.  I filed it under, “Sometimes you may never  know why…”, and decided to press on.  The Sound of Music was the first up with “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”.  The “raindrops on roses” began to ease the raindrops from Amelia’s eyes, though I will admit that Edelweiss, always sung to me by my father, brought them into mine.

The real workhorses of the evening though came to us from the great Judy Garland and the green Kermit the Frog.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Rainbow Connection” bellowed from my untrained voice at least ten times each.  As each round started, first distraction then concentration allowed a respite to Amelia’s tears, but the quiet in between brought them back and only an encore performance would satisfy her.  And so, with another couple of safety stops and Julie Andrews, Judy Garland and Kermit riding shotgun, we slowly and loudly made our way home; Amelia and I alternately reaching for the top of our lungs and Betsy, curled up in the back, no doubt quietly perplexed about the ensuing racket.

These songs exhibit the true meaning of timelessness in that time cannot dull the joy they bring – even when sung in desperation.  Nor is the emotion they evoke merely a symptom of nostalgia, but real feeling each time they are sung – even when sung ten times in a row.  Of the many gifts given to me by my parents, this musical library is, indeed, gold and I am grateful for it everyday.

In an unfortunate twist of timing, I humbly add a quick tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, prolific composer for film and theater.  There was a time in my life that I knew every word of “A Chorus Line”, and “The Way We Were” is as achingly sweet now as it was when when I first heard it.  Even now, I discover music that I never knew bore his hand, like the themes from James Bond and the comedy/caper classic, “The Sting”. These were as much the “pop” songs of my youth as ABBA or Air Supply and I believe I am far richer in my musical education for it.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Hamlisch and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

extras: Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s sweet version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Willie’s sweet version of “The Rainbow Connection”

A new project

Everyone is asleep in the house now. The dog is sacked out at the foot of our bed and even the baby went down easily.  I can’t even hear my visiting parents talking politics downstairs.  The house is quiet except for the music slowly tumbling out of my computer.  It is a playlist I made for our bedtime routine; languorous bluegrass and folk, sweet and melancholy melodies anchored with strong, soothing harmonies.

That playlist started out with just one artist. “…And so I’ll sing that yellow birds’ song, the troubled times will soon be gone”…the closing words of Acony Bell by Gillian Welch with Dave Rawlings,  a vocal pairing that feels like a warm woolen blanket.  These words have been guiding Amelia into sleep for many months, sometimes gracefully and sometimes just hopefully. Of the many methods used to get the child to sleep – a monumental task at times – music is at the heart of the operation and Gillian Welch has been our go-to gal.  I have learned first hand how different each baby is and the unique traits and personalities they exhibit even from day one.   An appreciation for bluegrass and Ms. Welch in particular has apparently taken hold, much to the delight and relief of this new mother.  Lest you think I am neglecting my motherly duties of singing my child to sleep, rest assured that happens as well and will certainly be the subject of another post.  It’s just that when a parent catches a glimpse of the thing that will settle her ever curious and busy child, we grab on tight to that source of calm and don’t let go.

So now, almost every night after various bedtime activities (washing dirt off knees, “brushing” of teeth, etc.,) we sit in her darkened bedroom and listen to beautiful music.  Nancy Griffith, James Taylor, and Lyle Lovett, among others, have joined the playlist, and the good nights outnumber the battles.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps”.  That is the incessant advice from everyone, but in truth, I cherish this time alone.  This is the time I get to sit quietly and do whatever I want or do nothing at all.  Tonight was the night I finally decided to start this blog.    Many who know me know well my obsession with music.  It has permeated every part of my life, has brought me immeasurable joy and seen me through some of my most difficult times.  We all have so many hopes and expectations for our children and I am no different.  My wish for my daughter is a life filled with music.  All kinds of music; to play, to sing with, to dance to, to scream at, and to love. And as we mark 14 months of her life with us today, I know she is well on her way.