Monthly Archives: April 2014


Easter Sunday, Sophie’s social options were down; all the way down. But the temperature was up and so was the sun, warming the melted city lakes, the budding landscape and the moist spring air all the way up into the mid-70’s.  I had already been up, with the sun, for hours working on my thesis revisions, when Sophie got up and asked me,

“Do you want to walk around the lake?” knowing that asking me this is like saying to a rambunctious puppy, “Go get your leash!” I have to keep from piddling on the carpet at the mention of it.

“Aw, honey, you know I have so much work to do on my thesis, and only 10 more days to finish it.” was my initial disheartened and, as it turns out, unenlightened reply.

All this year–the year I’ve been bemoaning her leaving me for good–I have put my writing and other work ahead of being spontaneous and spending time with her (or many other loved ones, for that matter). And for what? Will anyone ever read my thesis, once it’s bound and collecting dust on the shelves of the Hamline CWP (Creative Writing Programs) House? Highly doubtful.

On the other hand, will Sophie remember that her mother threw academic caution to the spring wind and through her actions modeled the wisdom captured in the aphorism,

“Carpe diem!”, “Seize the day!” ascribed to the Latin poet, Horace.

Another aphorism (which is defined as an original thought spoken or written in a concise and memorable form), this one attributed to Hippocrates, reads,

“Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.” I couldn’t have said it more originally, concisely or memorably, myself.

This year has seemed so short, except for all the mornings we woke to new snowfalls the last one just days ago on April 17 when I cleared about six inches and scraped ice off Sophie’s car for the umpteenth time.  And my “art”, my thesis, has seemed so long. The opportunity to spend time with my youngest is fleeting so rapidly I can count the number of days until she leaves, first for camp this summer and then for KU at the end of August.

Yes, you heard it, she is ready to commit to KU. We finally heard from the U of M last week, and Sophie was waitlisted. In truth, I couldn’t be prouder. Here is an explanation of the situation from the U of M site:

Admission to the University of Minnesota is highly competitive…We have received more than 44,000 applications for a freshman class of approximately 5,400 students….we have determined that the (waitlisted) applicant is academically prepared to succeed at the University of Minnesota…

but then the final nail in the coffin of U of Home-as-an-option,

Students who are selected for admission will receive an update in writing no later than June 15, 2014…we must encourage waitlisted students to continue pursuing their other college options.

Before heading out on our walk, Sophie said,

“Today I want to fill out the forms to commit to KU.” and on our walk she said,

“I can’t wait for you to meet my roommate, Emily. I can’t wait for me to meet my roommate, Emily!” Sophie feels like she knows this young woman she’s been corresponding with (“corresponding” seems like a quaint choice of words, like something we used to do with a pen pal or someone otherwise not electronically accessible to us).

Howie and I were out with my dearest high school girlfriend and her husband over the weekend (she and I did the math and realized we are going on 40 years of friendship) and she began talking to me in a measured tone that sounded like she was about to stage an intervention.

“You’ve got to be strong for your daughter, now. You’re the adult and she’s the child. She’s probably worried about what’s going to happen to you once she leaves, and that’s just going to make the whole transition harder on her.”

I hate when old friends think they’ve earned the right to tell you the truth, even when they have.

I remember just last week, Sophie was sitting at the kitchen table with her computer after we finished dinner. I was cleaning up and she was cruising the KU site. I must have been interacting with her with my characteristic non-enthusiasm about college, when she looked at me with a familiar glare of disappointment and said,

“Mom, you of all people…” but I don’t remember hearing the rest of her expectation of me in that moment.

I asked her to finish that statement again, on our walk yesterday and to add insult to guilt-trip, in a rather patronizing voice she said,

“I’ve told you about eight times now. I’m not telling you again. In fact, I think I saw you write down what I said. Try to remember.”

Well, I’m trying. And all I can figure is that it had something to do with needing me to be the grown-up right now. I do recall her saying something to the effect that leaving is going to be hard for her, too–that she’s scared, too–and that she needs my help, in particular, to get ready to take this next big step.

I hate when my kids call me out on my neediness, even when they’re right.

On this holiday when much of the world is celebrating the notion of resurrection, I have some resurrecting to do, myself. It’s time I resurrect the part of myself that celebrates adventure, mine and those of my children. It’s time to remember the mother I’ve been able to be in the past; the one who cheered my kids on when they toddled while taking their first steps, who ran alongside them holding onto their bikes until they were balanced enough to ride without training wheels, who took them to their driver’s  tests and woo-hooed when they got out of the test car, waving their paper license forms, smiling somewhat nervously at each threshold of their newfound freedoms.

We didn’t celebrate with an egg hunt on Easter, but still, I was able to find something sweet hidden inside the hard shell of my own stubborn resistance to this season of rebirth, growth and change. When it comes down to it, I want Sophie (and her brothers) to be able to count on me to rise up to meet life’s challenges right beside her, sacrificing my own comfort for what is best for her.

Because I–of all people–truly believe in her.


Blood Moon

As we were getting ready for bed last night, after returning home from Howie’s sister’s house where we celebrated the first of two family Passover seders this spring holiday season, Sophie said she wanted to get up at 2:00 a.m to view the lunar eclipse. I can’t get her out of bed in the morning, and I wasn’t about to try it in the middle of the night, so I made a deal with her,

“I’ll get up with you. But you get up first and wake me,” I said, pretty confident that I would be sleeping through till morning.

But sure enough, at 1:58 a.m, she opened our bedroom door, leaned in, wrapped in a blanket, and said,

“Let’s go outside!”

It was such an unusual event–that Sophie would wake herself and actually get out of bed, never mind the event of the eclipse, itself–that even Howie got up, pulled on his jeans, I grabbed my down jacket (overnight temperatures hovered around the 18-degree mark) and the three of us sat out on the front step to take in the celestial theatrics.

This is one of the things I’ll miss when Sophie leaves: her spirit of adventure, coupled with her sense of awe regarding the natural world, thinly veiled by her teenage cool.

This lunar eclipse was the first in a series of four that will happen between now and September of 2015. Such a series is known as a “tetrad”, and though tetrads do occur, they are rare.

What was even more spectacular about last night’s eclipse was the adornment provided by Mars, which appeared as a tiny, shimmering, copper jewel just to the right of the full moon. I wasn’t sure, last night, if this was a planet or a star and wondered if the glittering orange glow was being cast from the blood moon itself, but here’s what I found this morning in a report on the Fox News website:

Astronomer Bob Berman, who hosted a live lunar eclipse webcast…from Arizona’s Prescott Observatory, said the event was also one for the record books because of another bright object in the predawn sky.

“It was the most special one, I would say, of our lives…What made it particularly extraordinary was that it happened on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to Earth in years.”

So the Red Planet and the “Blood Moon” shined together in the predawn sky in a rare event, Berman said,

“We’ll never again for the rest of our lives see a total eclipse of the moon on the same night as the closest approach of a bright planet like Mars.”

Whenever you hear “we’ll never again for the rest of our lives” see or do something, that’s reason enough to get up in the middle of the night. But think how often this is the case, that we’ll never again for the rest of our lives see things just the way they are in any given moment.

At the seder last night, I was achingly aware that these may be our last two seders for a number of years that we celebrate with Sophie at the table. Passover usually falls at a time in the spring when schools are in session. Our holiday may overlap with college spring breaks, but this concurrence is almost as rare as a tetrad.

Last night, there were actually three alumni from KU at our seder table. Sophie, who is only a deposit away from committing to KU, was receiving all kinds of advice from the graduates, ranging from when to purchase season Jayhawks basketball tickets to where to go to celebrate the Jewish holidays on campus. I am thrilled to think of her finding solidarity, company and community away from home within which to express her Jewish identity.

But once again, I was struck by how little progress I’ve made in my efforts to be ready to let her go.

Part of the Passover story involves a famous exchange between Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt who had enslaved the Jewish people up until the Exodus that we celebrate through our observance of Passover. “Let my people go!” demanded Moses, to which Pharaoh, who had been considering it, reneged, saying, “No, no, no! I will not let them go!”

Passover is a holiday that commemorates freedom, spring, life itself, and renewal. Yet this Passover, I am the one enslaved by my fear of letting my last Jewish child cross into the promised land of her own independence.

Several weeks ago, I had my thesis defense meeting, and shortly after that, spent a heavenly week in Paris with Sophie to celebrate her senior spring break. I have yet to report on these, and other important events (like how it felt when Sophie came home from school last week, carrying her packaged-up cap and gown for graduation next month).

Instead of continuing the saga of emptying my nest, I’ve been slaving away on revisions to my thesis. One of the main comments I got on my thesis was that I am asking the same questions now, in the spring of the year, that I was asking in the fall.

There is a portion of the Passover seder where we ask the same four, symbolic questions, year-after-year. My questions boil (“boils” being one of the ten plagues, but enough with the seder imagery) down to these: how am I going to let her go and how will I survive her exodus?

I explained to my advisors that this is not a flaw in the way I’m writing about this chapter of my life, it’s a flaw in the way I’m living it. I have no better answers now than I did when I started. In fact, the closer Sophie’s exodus gets, the harder it feels to face.

At the seder last night, friends of the family were there, including a woman older than I and her aging mother. They said,

“Gail, next year, you’ll have an empty nest!” and I knew they didn’t mean their statement of fact to come across as sadistic as I perceived it.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,” was all I could muster.

“You’ll get used to it,” said the dear, elderly mother, which is probably closest to the truth.

I am aware that through my seeming forty-years wandering in the desert of my dread, I may have lost whatever readership I once had, here. It’s difficult to witness the ongoing suffering of another.

There are so many terrible losses people endure in this world, as a result of real tragedies such as bombings, like the Boston Marathon bombing that happened a year ago today, to shootings, like the one that happened over the weekend in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center in Kansas over the weekend, to illnesses requiring surgery, like the one a friend of ours is undergoing today. I have no right to be doing anything other than celebrating my daughter’s sense of adventure, her love of life and her impending launch into college and beyond.

So for my own sake, I will continue to work on freeing myself from the self-imposed bondage of grief that has kept me shackled all these months. If nothing else, it will provide me the curvature of the narrative arc necessary to revise my thesis. Like the curvature of the Earth that was reflected last night moving slowly across the blood moon, I will move and my story will continue to reveal itself.

After Howie went back in to bed last night, Sophie and I spent a few more minutes out on the front step, and she said,

“I always try to get what the moon is. You think the sky is a barrier, then you realize that we’re just sitting on this surface, looking up. That’s why camp is so cool; you look up and see millions and millions of stars, without the city lights.”

That’s the beauty of sitting in darkness; we’re more able to see the stars.