May 9 2020

Diet food

I just ate a doughnut with chocolate frosting on it. There were sprinkles sprinkled in the chocolate. I ate it in a few bites. It wasn’t a big doughnut. I felt no guilt for eating it. It wasn’t the best doughnut. Not as good as an Entenmanns crumb doughnut but you can’t get them here so I settled for the chocolate coated one I bought in the fresh-baked section of the local grocery.

For most of my life I could eat anything I wanted and as much as I wanted of anything I wanted and never gain a pound. An entire bag of salt and vinegar chips – the large economy size? No problem finishing it off as I sat in my office working on a PowerPoint presentation for a client. Two large pork chops and several small potatoes with 4 or 5 stalks of broccoli steamed just right was an ordinary dinner. My favorite trousers at the time had zipped pockets on the thigh and fit totally flat against my stomach. I could lie down on the bed and the span between my hipbones sank down into a hollow curve.

Maybe I’ll have another doughnut.

I never had to diet, at least not the way so many of the women I know did all their lives. When I was a teenager, my mother would buy me a drink I remember being called Weight-on but maybe that was the wrong name. It doesn’t matter – I drank the high-calorie chocolate flavored one to gain weight. That was my diet. I was that skinny. All arms and legs, like the spider. I used to tell my mother “I only eat to live”. I rarely ever got hungry, then or even now. I wasn’t anorexic. Anorexics are consumed by the thought of food. I didn’t care about food. I ate whatever I felt like.

I was also very tall – that’s part of why I looked so skinny – all elongated. If you just shortened my arms and legs and torso I would have seemed more normal. I wasn’t bony looking with my collarbones sticking out the way people who are skinny in a really sick kind of way are. I was just long.

I sewed most of my own clothes. Clothes off the rack rarely fit me well. In high school we had to wear this one-piece gym uniform. Light blue, it had a stretchy waistband, was sleeveless and had shorts. It was purchased though the school and came in a lot of sizes: extra small, small, medium, large, extra large and extra extra large. No tall skinny size. To get it to fit the length of my torso I had to buy the extra extra large size and then use my sewing machine to take it in about 5 inches on both sides. But the waistband never really was in the right place – too high.

I still have clothes I made during the 70s and 80s hanging in my closet. I don’t wear them anymore. Except for those drawstring pants that were super wide and gathered around the waist. I can still wear them. I made the string longer and they aren’t as gathered as they were before.

One outfit is a bright yellow, jacket & skirt suit. It was a pencil skirt, tight and straight down to mid-calf. The jacket has narrow lapels, hip pockets and it ends just below my butt. I don’t know anyone I can give it to. The skirt would practically reach the floor of anyone who fit the waist and hips. The pockets would fall below their hips and if the width of the jacket fit, the shoulders would most certainly be too wide. And we won’t even talk about the length of the sleeves.

Another is my red and white striped jumpsuit. Last time I wore it was when my son was under a year old. I don’t know anyone but my 28-year younger self who would fit that.

Somewhere in my mid 50s the never-gaining-weight principle seems to have faded away. And has continued to non-exist. When I lie down now, the space between my hipbones, seems more to resemble an arched bridge instead of the low hanging suspension bridge of my younger days. Back then no matter how much I ate my waist never expanded. Now, no matter how little I eat, my waist never seems to contract. During my formative years, I never learned to diet. No one in my family was big on physical activity then or even now. I still have in my head my grandmother Bertha’s half Yiddish admonition, “Ess, Ess. You have to eat more. You’re so skinny.” She was very good at spreading guilt around but never for eating too much.

I am still long and I don’t think anyone would call me fat. But I’m having trouble finding my waist and I am starting to become Big. That’s what happens when you are tall and start putting on the pounds and padding. You get big. You don’t fit in small spaces. I eat less than I used to but still eat what I feel like eating – though maybe not the entire bag of chips at once. My head might tell me that’s a bad idea but I still don’t know how to feel guilty about it. I maybe should look into some sort of dietary regimen. And some sort of exercise program. But I have always been so terrible at following rules.
What am I supposed to do?

There are two more doughnuts left in the bag on the kitchen counter.
I’m going to eat one.


Feb 1 2020

Moving on – with a little help

Bevin standing at the entrance to his new home.

It’s been just over eight years now since I put my mother to rest. While I don’t spend a lot of time actively missing her, rarely does a day go by without a thought drifting towards her. I speak obliquely of her when I meet my friends. After all, I too am a mother – with a 28 year old son who still lives at home – and many of my friends are mothers. We often speak together as mothers of our children. 

The topic of my son living at home often comes up when I meet with a friend who I haven’t seen in a while.

“How does he like living in his new place?” is often the question I get asked. This is because its been 9 months since my son got the keys to his own apartment.

I laugh, raising my eyebrows as I do so and shrug, “Well…he hasn’t moved in yet.” 

“What!?!”, they exclaim, laughing. 

And then I explain. Or try to. But I really don’t have an explanation. The conversation moves on, revolving around how all of us just couldn’t wait to move out of our parents’ homes and most of us did so with or without our parents’ help somewhere around the age of 20 or even younger. 

This conversation about my son and his inability to leave home on his own is one of the things that brings my mother to mind. I couldn’t wait to leave the home that she and my dad had created for me. I was 18 when I left. I wasn’t one of those bold and daring types, determined to head off for adventures on a round-the-world trip. My parents drove me to college, an hour and a half drive away from my New Jersey home in their second-hand blue chevy loaded with clothes and other stuff that I was taking with me. I was headed to the safety of a dormitory room on the inner city campus of a Brooklyn art school. I was going to study fashion design.

They stopped the car at the entrance of the building on Willoughby Avenue. My dad unloaded the suitcases and boxes from the trunk on to the curb and then went to find a parking spot further off. I was wearing my coolest un-New Jersey clothes; The pants were dark olive green, made from some weirdly textured drapery fabric I had found in my local fabric store, they were extremly wide bell bottoms and rode low on my skinny almost non-existent hips, flared straight out all the way to the floor. Instead of a front zipper they laced up. The pants were paired with a dark brown “poor boy” top, skinny ribbed knit with short sleeves and a round neck. As Mom and I stood there waiting for Daddy to return I looked around, watching the other students as they walked in or out of the building. Some of them were like me, with their parents, looking around. Others walked more purposefully, self-assured, confident – knowing where they were going. I couldn’t wait to be like them.

We gathered up my stuff and went inside, stopping to wait for the elevator to arrive so we could take it up to the 8th floor. I was going to live in a building with an elevator! Two of my roommates were already there – faces to go with the names that the school computer had paired me up with. I picked one of the two beds in the second room and we dumped my stuff on it. My mother took a quick look around the apartment as I introduced myself to the others. “We better get going,” she said, “We don’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic.”

I walked them out to the car. My mother turned to me, “Your roommates seem nice,” she said as she searched in her purse for something. She handed me an envelope. “You’ll be just fine, Hilarie. Here’s some money to get you started. On Monday, go to the local bank and open a bank account with it.” As she turned to take the door handle, she said, “Now, I don’t want to see you coming home more than two weekends in a month. Or we’ll change the lock on the door.” She patted me on the shoulder as she smiled. “I’ll talk to you during the week. Call me at the office. Come on Milty, let’s get going.” Then she got in the car and they drove off. 

My mother helped me to fill out all the college application forms. My mother was the one with whom I discussed what to include in my portfolio and write in my essay. My mother drove me to Brooklyn for the college interview. Afterwards, we got lost in Bed-Sty and I wonder now what she must have thought about the horrible slum neighborhood we wandered around in until she found the way back towards New Jersey. Did she worry about where she was about to send me off to live? Later that summer, we talked long into the evening, discussing the names of the girls I was going to share the dorm apartment with. The week before leaving my mother helped me pack. 

When I think back about leaving home, it makes me feel strong and determined to remember that I did it all on my own. But sometimes a nagging thought arises and I wonder if I could have done it without all the help my mother gave me. 

My son will not be moving into a college dormitory with ready-made roommates to share the space with. He will be moving into his own apartment that I helped him paint. It is already filled with IKEA furniture that he picked out and we assembled together. All that is missing are his clothes, his large collection of computer equipment and himself. If he needs a little help from his mother to make that passage then I will be there to help him. Just as my mother helped me. 

Me and my mother on the day of my college graduation.


Dec 14 2019

Calling Mom

December 14 would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday.

She died about two weeks after she turned 85. I was with her the last month as she progressively passed away as the result of a no longer functioning pair of kidneys. There was no birthday cake served on that birthday, neither was her very favorite treat, ice cream. She didn’t really know that it was her birthday as she lay in her bed surrounded on both sides by hospital bed bars. The hours passed quietly that December day in the middle of New Jersey. A few friends called me but other than that the day itself went unnoticed. The next day, my uncle Wally, mom’s little brother and his wife Rosemary came out to us with a cake. My cousins Ed and Nora came too. Rosemary brought a lovely cake she made for Mom. We showed it to her but she was in her own world by then and couldn’t really notice it. We went out for Chinese food – mom stayed in her bed serenely unaware that we had been there.  After we came back we ate the cake together, without Mom, in the small staff dining room near her room. When Wally and Rosemary and Nora and Ed left, I gave the cake to the staff to share.

Today here in Stockholm, was a cold, grey day full of rain. The kind of day you don’t really want to go outside in, unless you absolutely have to. The kind of days we have had a lot of the past two months. I needed to go to the grocery store so, there you are…I had to go out. As I walked trying to avoid muddy puddles, my hood up against the rain, dragging my shopping cart behind me, I found that the day seemed to suit my mood. I thought about how long it had been since I last called my mom and told her about the weather here in Stockholm. Eight years. Hard to figure. I have spent my entire sixth decade without my mom.

She had spent her entire sixth decade without me, except for the two weeks a year that I came home to visit. I moved to Sweden when she was 61. Back in those days international phone calls were expensive and thus infrequent. Did she ever tell me that she was sad that I had moved so far away. That she missed me and wished I was there? That she loved me? Not really. Those were not the kind of words that passed between members of my family very frequently. I know she did though – miss me that is…and love me. I think she was happy that I had finally found a guy who was willing to put up with me and marry me. That he dragged me across an ocean was something else. And then we had a kid and made her and my father grandparents. That made her happy too. The once a year visits to help my parents get to know their grandchild were always too short. Then SKYPE happened and we could do more frequent calls and she and Bevin could actually look at each other when they talked. That made the distance less.

The last years before she moved to her independent living apartment at Monroe Village, I called her a lot. We didn’t really have much to say. She wasn’t so interested in talking about the past and the future was so uncertain. We talked about dinner and weather and how Bevin was doing in school. She frequently asked when we would next come to visit. I kept saying we would come visit but later. After a while, the reason I called her every day was to make sure she could answer the phone. After she met Marty, I didn’t have to call so often. She was busy and not so alone. There was someone there who looked after her. And I think she looked after him. They kept each other company.

But today, on her birthday, as I walked in the rain, I really felt like I wanted to call my mom, to talk to her. To say hi, to tell her how I was doing, how we are still trying to get Bevin to move into the apartment he bought, how life was going.

I lived far away from my mother for so many years. But I always had in the back of my mind that she was just over there, out of sight, but just a phone call away. I am an expert at procrastination. So as I walked, trying to keep my boots from getting too muddy, I said to myself, I’ll call her tomorrow.

And tomorrow, I will say it again.

Me and Mom eating Chinese food at home in Stockholm. 2006


Feb 9 2016

Still Obsessed

I just started my second reading of An Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon’s seventh novel in her Outlander series. I’ve gotten as far as the Prologue.

The body is amazingly plastic. The spirit, even more so. But there are some things you don’t come back from. Say ye so, a nighean? True, the body’s easily maimed, and the spirit can be crippled – yet there’s that in a man that is never destroyed.

And barely as the last word was read, my eyes started to fill with tears and I realized I was crying.

How? Why? Am I that much of a sentimental sap? I never thought so before. I have been reading and re-reading these books (and watching the TV series by Starz) since discovering first the show and then the books in the beginning of 2015, after my friend told me about them a few months earlier. And I can’t seem to stop. I can’t seem to be able to leave the world that Gabaldon has built and come back fully to my own. What is it about Jamie and Claire’s love affair and adventures and marriage and life that makes me want to be there with them instead of in my own life?

Granted, the last 4 years have been difficult ones, filled with sorrow, disappointments, illness and changes.

In 2011 my mother got sick and at the very end of that year I spent the last month of her life by her bedside in New Jersey watching as she slowly passed away. You can read about that month I spent with her under Saying Goodbye to Mom. On a cold January day my family and I said our final goodbyes at a wonderful funeral (if one can call a funeral wonderful) and a joy-filled Chinese lunch (her favorite sort of food) with friends and family. And then I returned to my home and my life in Stockholm. Once back here I managed with great help from her Finance Guy, Dave, to settle all her bills, tie-up loose ends, and pull together what needed to be done to file her estate income tax forms. Done! Chapter settled and closed! Or so I thought.

Then 2 years later, I received a letter saying I was being sued for unpaid property taxes! It seemed that the person who had been renting the property that I had inherited from my mom had not been paying said taxes as he should have been and now I was required to pay a huge sum of money in back taxes and interest. I almost had a heart attack. As luck would have it, I actually had a lawyer who could help me and even just enough money to save my property. The stress from dealing with all that finally ended up causing me to decide to start taking anti-anxiety meds. It has taken the last 2 years to finally work out the situation. I don’t believe in writing gratitude lists but I am very grateful for my lawyer Gary. He saved my sanity. What I have left of it at least.

Then just after finding out I was being sued, I heard that my job as a graphic designer, that I enjoyed and liked working at was soon going to end. IGBP was going to be closing down at the end of December 2015 and as I write this I am now officially out of a job. And looking for a new one. I think…..

And as a last straw, in October of 2014, my husband got sick. He developed an aneurysm that started to bleed right at the top of his spinal cord where all those little nerves are gathered. He spent 2 months in hospital, needed brain surgery and almost died. He is home now and still himself but the bleeding affected certain nerves leaving him dealing, for the past year and a half, with a number of physical disabilities and has  affected the way we see and live our life together – how we go forward. Oh, and did I mention those added anxiety and stress levels???

Sooo, as I said above, the past 4 years have been pretty crappy and I find myself often not really wanting to crawl out of bed.

But when I do, I find myself still standing and even still able to make a joke. But I am almost afraid to open my email – who knows what disaster awaits me there. I don’t feel very much like socializing since I am boring even myself with my negativity about life and my lack of enthusiasm. I don’t want to keep spreading it around my friends or I won’t have any left, friends that is. Facebook and Twitter are my main social outlets – I don’t have to get dressed or put on my face for that! Or even leave my bed!

I need to concentrate on finding a new job but I don’t seem to be able to muster much enthusiasm for that task either. Being a graphic designer is how I have earned my living most of my life and actually is the only work skill I really have. But, I don’t know – images are just all starting to look very grey. Words are what fill my head now. But getting the energy to sit myself down at the computer to write – that is so hard too. Its as though my computer has become my enemy and I can’t dare to face it. All my shoulda, woulda, couldas get saved to the very last minute before I can bring myself to attend to them. And I find myself getting very sloppy by the time I actually get to them. And its the sloppiness that bothers me. The not caring. The lack of … whatever it is I am lacking. Perhaps its just the will-to-do that’s missing.

So I lose myself in Diana’s world. Its not the same as when I read over and over again Peter and Wendy (the original book about Peter Pan) as a child or lost myself in The Lord of the Rings as a teenager. Its not just escapism.

Its like that prologue I quoted at the top of the page, that started me crying: I think I reacted to it because I too am looking for that part of me that is still not destroyed. The me that is still left. Her words are filled with that sort of thing that seems to be speaking to me directly.

Her story of Jamie and Claire’s life, of how they are as a married pair – I wish I had that as an idea of a life together. I almost wish I had read her books when I was young, in my 20s. My parent’s married life, the only example I had, was not really happy and I admit to avoiding pairing up for a very long time because of their example. In reading how Jamie and Claire are with each other, it gives me a different model to follow in my own marriage. I almost wish I had learned those things 30 years ago.

So I continue my Outlander obsession. Reading and rereading over and over again. Each time finding small bits and pieces that leave me weeping, with sadness or joy but still engulfed in tears, sharing their lives. Waiting for mine to recover and figure out what my next stage will contain. I sometimes wish I had Jamie’s resilience to disaster and hardship but maybe I have more than I think I have. I’m just waiting for it to bounce back so I can discover who I am again.


Dec 16 2014

One light at a time

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Chanukah is not one of the major Jewish holidays but because of its closeness to Christmas it has taken on much larger importance in the Jewish calander.

The holiday actually has nothing at all to do with Christmas. It celebrates an event that took place approximately 165 years before Jesus was even born. The name Chanukah comes from the hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate” and that is what the holiday commemorates: the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it had been desecrated by the local Greek-Syrian rulers. Jewish forces led by Judah Maccabee (Judah the hammar) revolted against these rulers and eventually won the war against them and restored the Temple. The story goes that there was only found in the Temple enough oil for the holy lamp to be lit for one day but a miracle happened and the oil lasted for 8 days, enough time to make more oil. So today we light candles for 8 days to remember the miracle of the oil. And eat oily foods like latkes and fried donuts.

But the real story, the back story, was probably not so wonderful. Judea, the Jewish kingdom that Jerusalem was the capital of, was a conquered kingdom, ruled by the Greek-Syrian Selucid Empire, the local remains of what had once been Alexander the Great’s empire. During the time when the events of the story happened the lure of the hellenic culture was very strong, even in the Jewish kingdom. The hellenized, secular Jewish faction was in conflict with the Jews who were much more consevative and felt Jews should live strict Jewish lives and not follow the Greek hellenistic way. When Antiochus Epiphanes, the Selucid Emperor, sided with the hellenized Jewish faction, the conservative Maccabees revolted and cast out him and his forces. The whole thing was in effect a civil war, Jew against Jew, with the help of some outside forces. But the religious leaders who came after the war didn’t want to commemorate and keep remembering a civil war, Jews fighting against Jews, so they came up with the miracle of the oil in the Temple and Jews once again being able to be Jews. They felt it was better to remember the positive and put aside what was evil. So to this day, when we celebrate Chanukah we celebrate by remembering the miracle of light. A much better thing to remember as I see it. And when we light the candles on our Chanukias we always add one more candle each night. Each night we add more light!

menorahs

I now own 3 chanukiah, as the special 9-armed menorah is actually named. The largest is a silver and gilt one that my mother bought for me sometime after the birth of my son – for us to use as a family. The smallest one, on the right, is a gift given to me by my cousin Karel when I moved here to Stockholm so that I could remember my family back in New Jersey while I celebrated the holiday here in my new homeland. The third one, the middle-sized one in the front, is actually my newest yet my oldest. It is the one that my family lit thoughout my childhood and which I only brought back with me to Stockholm after the death of my mother three years ago. The two larger chanukiahs use the customary chanukah candles one buys in any judaica shop. The small one uses birthday candles.

Tonight, the first night, my son Bevin and I will light all three and Bevin will be given a small gift. The holiday is about the lighting of the candles and presents are not really relevant. The giving of gifts on each night of Chanukah is more a response to the gifts children get for Christmas. The more important thing is to light the candles.

In these dark days, when a member of the Swedish parlament says that Jews can never be considered real Swedes, when Islamists and Palestinians claim that the Jewish people have no right to be in Jerusalem, when synogogues are once again being burned, and Rabbis are attached, I am glad I can light my Chanukah lights together with my son, in freedom, in my home, in the land I live in. The candles remind me that Jews lived in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, before Christianity existed, before Islam existed. Now we live in many countries. We know how to live as Swedes and as Jews. As Americans and as Jews. Being Jewish is a plus situation. It isn’t an either/or proposition. We can be both a true citizen of the country we live in and a Jew at the same time. We know how to integrate without losing our identity. We have been doing it for over 2 thousand years. In this cross-cultural world we live in, this is something we can teach the world.