Jan 28 2011

Choices

“You shouldn’t feel guilty for not being there to help her. You shouldn’t feel guilty that she is ill and elderly and alone, without family near her or many friends nearby. She made her choices and you do what you are able to do, when you can do it, to help her as much as you can. She’s where she is because of the choices she made.” This is what a friend told me recently.

But what kind of choices do we make in our lives? How much thought do we give them? How free to choose are we? And how responsible are we for our own choices and the choices of those near and dear? And even those far away?

I go into the supermarket to buy food for dinner. If I’m just coming home from working hard all day at my job and its getting late and I’m tired, Ill be looking for something quick and easy to make. Perhaps I buy a package of Bratwurst, enough for all of us and a box of instant mashed rutabaga. The bratwurst just goes in under the broiler for 10/20 minutes and the powered rutabaga only needs to be poured into boiling water and stirred and allowed to sit for 5 minutes. Voila! A tasty meal in under a half hour. Add some sliced raw carrots and you are all done.

But if I know that Ill be home most of the day and can spend some time and energy on making dinner then I will buy a different sort of ingredients. Perhaps I want to spend the time making a stew or even a roast. Maybe with a creamy potato casserole to go alongside the roast. For those kinds of meals I buy different ingredients. For the stew, I need to get enough stewing meat, a lot of nice potatoes, a bag of carrots, some onions, preferably the red kind, and maybe even mushrooms. For the roast and casserole I need to find a nice chunk of beef, a bag of potatoes, onions, cream, and a nice cheese to grate into the casserole. Ill also pick up veggies to include in a good salad and maybe even stop off at the local bakery to pick up a nice crusty fresh baked bread.

But for all three of these meals, the fast food and the slow food, I’m required to make choices. For the slow food dinners I might use a cookbook to guide me. It will tell me how long the roast should be in the oven and what temperature for it to come out good. For the fast food, I might read the ingredients on the package of the bratwurst and decide which brand of bratwurst based on what it says on the package. The box of rutabaga will give me instructions on the side of the box and might even give me ideas how to improve it.

But where’s the instructions for life? Where’s the cookbook that tells us what to do, in what order so that when we’ve cooked our life we haven’t burned the meal and ended up hungry?

When I moved to Sweden 23 years ago, both my parents were still alive, still living in the house I grew up in and still working. I admit I didn’t give them much thought when I decided to move so far away. I was more concerned about leaving my friends behind. Now things are different. My dad is gone since 1997 and my mom has moved twice since I moved to Sweden. The 10 years she and my dad had at the 55+ place called Homestead were good years for them and the 10 years there after my dad died were also pretty good. She had lots of friends and activities to keep her busy and I would come to visit once a year, usually dragging my family with me. Two years or so ago, she graduated from Homestead’s 55+ to Independent Living at Monroe Village. There she started off her stay by editing the Resident’s Newsletter, following a life-long love of writing, and she met Marty. Life was good and still independent was a key idea. But last week she ended up in the hospital because she had trouble walking. Now she is spending some time in Monroe Village’s health care center where they can keep a close eye on her and give her physical therapy to get her legs working again. I try to call her everyday. But life in the health care center is pretty boring. While she still sounds cheerful when I talk to her, she also sounds tired. Like life is getting too complicated, with all the medicines, and doctors and feeling in pain and not being able to walk or be in her own apartment. And I feel guilty that I’m not there to be of help to her. And here we come back to the choices we make in life.

I don’t mean only my choice to move to Sweden but also my mother’s choice to live where she lives. She chose long ago to live in Budd Lake NJ. That was pretty far from much of her family which were centered closer to New York. But it wasn’t really her own choice. It was made more by her parents who had bought a summer cottage there and eventually both my parents and grandparents decided to permanently move there – away from the rest of the family. Then when my grandmother died, my folks found Homestead and moved there, even further away from New York. But they loved living there so it was a good choice and an independent choice. Now she lives where she lives. Still independent.

And I feel guilty that I am so far away.


Jul 25 2010

Family

You can pick your nose.
And you can pick your friends.
But you can’t pick your friends’ nose.
That rhyme has rattled around in my head ever since I was a little kid. I don’t know why. So much other stuff doesn’t seem to be able to stay in there but that little ditty does. I always thought it was funny for some reason. The idea of picking one’s friends. It’s not the same with family. You can’t pick your family. They become attached to you the moment you are born. And they follow you for the rest of their lives. When I was much, much younger I used to wish that we could also pick family. One goes through a certain period of one’s life when FAMILY is either embarrassing, annoying or just plain irritating. It isn’t until you move far away from them that you realize just how important FAMILY really is.
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Mar 2 2010

In foreign lands

I’m sitting in a small one-bedroom guest apartment in Monroe Village, the independent living place that my mom moved to, two years ago. I’m here visiting her for 2 weeks with my husband and son.

Monroe Village is in the wilds of middle Jersey, a place where once all you saw were fields and fields of farmlands – corn fields, potato fields, vegetables and even dairy farms – a landscape that probably contributed to New Jersey being called the Garden State. Its February and still winter, one of the worst and snowiest in a very long time. Snow is still lying on the ground though the roads and walkways here are clear. We picked up our rental car upon landing at Newark airport. We knew we would need a car here in the land of turnpikes, highways and roads of all sorts. My husband drives, my son mans the Tom Tom and I sit in the back seat watching the landscape pass by my window.

new_cover_house
Everywhere we drive, the farms are being replaced by brand new housing developments. They are incredible to look at. The houses are huge! And the styles – a weird mix of fake stone fronts with vinyl siding on the sides and backs. Large fake Greek columns on the front porches. Steeped roofs sometimes with dormer windows. And did I say HUGE!? Who lives in these horrible homes of bad taste – the everyman mansions of our times. Families don’t have 10 kids anymore. How much space do you need? I would love to visit a model home just to see what the insides of these monstrosities look like. But I don’t really.

Spaced between the housing tracts are small white houses from the late 1800s or early 1900s with white clapboard siding and the classic American front porches. These houses sit right next to the highways. They were there first. Some have been lovingly renovated and others look like they haven’t seen a coat of paint in 50 years. There are also strip malls scattered around, so named because they had to differentiate themselves from the large covered malls that also are around. Along the highways are small buildings of every sort, home to law firms, plumbing supplies stores, hairdressers, pizza parlors, ice cream shops, and all the other types of places necessary to give the locals the services they need to live here. This is my “home country” – not this neighborhood specifically but I grew up in NJ. But as we drive around, I feel like I am traveling through a completely alien country. As I walk around the local Stop and Shop supermarket I look at all the varieties of stuff to buy. What should I pick? What is good? What is the difference between brands? We have a lot of the same brands in Stockholm – Kellogs, Planters, General Mills, Liptons, Pepsi, on and on. But not the diversification. Does one need to have 40 different varieties of cold cuts? Not to mention the varieties of breakfast cereal. I feel like a Russian immigrant landing on the shores of American for the first time. And the TV! We don’t have advanced cable in our little guest apartment, just the regular stuff. But its like a solid wall of sound. I can’t filter it.

When I wrote on Facebook that I was heading to the States, I got a lot of “welcome home” messages, but I’m a stranger in a strange land. While I spend time with my mom, I’m waiting to return home, to Stockholm.


Dec 5 2009

Being Jewish in Swedish

Once again this is something I wrote awhile ago, around 2004. In the years that have passed, my son has had his Bar Mitzvah and I now sit on the board of an organization called Progressive Judendom i Stockholm. We are working to bring Reform Judiasm to Stockholm. And the group of J.A.P.S. that formed all those years ago still (with some comings and goings) meet for holidays and other times. Our children are like cousins to each other and the adults in the group are more than just friends. They have become family.

An American Jew in Stockholm

It’s funny how things change the older one gets – one’s sense of immortality, one’s idea of how to live a good life, the color of one’s hair, the list of things that are important.

I’ve spent a long time living here in Stockholm. I’ve spent an even longer time being Jewish – pretty much from birth, actually. My parents were Jewish. Both sets of grandparents were also Jewish. All my family and the relatives around me were Jewish. But I didn’t grow up in a Jewish neighborhood. From the time I was 4 years old till I was 18, I lived in a small town in the middle of northern New Jersey. All through grammar school I was the only Jewish kid in my class. And if there were any Jewish kids in the large regional high school I attended, I didn’t know them. I always had to get special permission to be absent from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I then had to explain to my friends why I wasn’t in class. Getting permission wasn’t a problem and the explanations finally became routine but having to go through that process did contribute to making me feel different from all the rest.

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