What’s In a Name?

hello_my_name_is_green_card-p137479488881801156envwi_400A childhood neighbor’s father died this past week, and I sent off notes to her and her husband with my condolences. She married a man from my high school class, and I noticed on the Facebook profile her maiden name, how I know her, and her long-married name, the evolution of her identity.

She’s been married a long time and so probably it is familiar to call herself by the new name. But it reminded me of the ways we are never truly our own identity, just a conglomeration of those given to us by others and by circumstance.

Once long ago I tried to write an essay about how we never really decide who we are in name. Others decide it for us.

From birth, when our parents bestow on us a name chosen with care and determination, often linked to beloved relatives long since past. Sometimes the name comes with meaning deliberate and profound.

character namesSometimes it’s just the name of the era, a whim, following the crowd as we do in so many other ways. After all, you hear about all the Jennifers and Jasons of a certain time, given way to the Sophies and Aidens of the next generation.

And we are anointed with our father’s surname, the patrilineal descent that is so hard to escape. Some families hyphenate, giving homage to the mother, which is really homage to the mother’s father down the line.

When women marry, they face the dilemma of whether to change names or not, and so much depends on when they marry and how much they have accomplished. Some keep the maiden name, some take the married name, some combine the two.

My first marriage, I eagerly changed to my husband’s name, believing it prophetic, since his name of German origin really means writer. 

But then the marriage ended and I carried on his name – linked with my children, forever linked to an unsuccessful union, too.

We tell ourselves stories of who we are and who we want to be. I debated dropping the surname and just going by my first and middle names indefinitely and forever. And when I was poised to marry Dan, I continued the internal debate, since he had no feelings on the subject whatsoever.

In the end, you know, I took his surname because it just seemed the next step in the process of life, but I think about it still. I am a Golodner now – what does that mean?

My children’s friends often call me Mrs. Schreiber because that’s how they know my kiddos. And in a way, that is my best, longest-lasting role yet.

But I have to admit – I don’t know that I am a Schreiber or a Golodner or a Cohn. I have books and articles bylined in all three, and they are all me. At the same time, none of them are. The consistency is the voice, and how can we possibly name that?

4772661367_81831113ec_zThis neighborhood friend and her name – I’m sure she never gave it much notice. She’s in a lasting marriage with a sweet man, and so the family are all united in name and in mission.

The other day, I had an hour-long conversation with my ex, a very nice one at that. Perhaps it’s a turning of the tide to an era of collaboration and kindness. I sure hope so. And at the end of it all, as I hung up the phone, I pondered these liaisons we take up and drop as we go through life.

We ended so many years ago and we were never quite eternally happy together, though we tried to be. Our children shuttle back and forth between us, and we nurse the wounds that never heal, the questions of what-if and maybes.

I live now with a lovely man whom I love and have fun with. A good choice, definitely, a happy, harmonious home, with extensive tentacles reaching out in directions of ex’s and ex-families still linked to us by our beloved children.

How can we possibly choose one definitive name for who we are? For so many years, all I wanted was union and love and marriage. And now that I have it, I wonder if deep down inside, we all aren’t ultimately living alone, even if we share moments and hours and days and years with people we’ve designated as favorites.

And so what is the name for that? I love the idea that at a point, we choose to be who we are and we slap a name on that, chosen carefully and poetically. Or perhaps our names don’t really matter, like our external appearances which grapple us lifelong.

The concept of who we are living deep within and having nothing to do with the superficial details is one that is hard to grasp – but I know it to be true. And so no name could quite capture the essence of who I am.

The web and weave of a life and an identity is too complicated and detailed to really grasp. Perhaps the lesson is simply to live and be still, to recognize goodness in all its forms, and to not cling to any one name as the changing winds bring them in and send them out.

We humans have an insatiable need to name things, categorize, own and distill. But that’s not what the world is like. The animals roam freely in the forests and savannas, wholly unaware that they have been named. It can’t rein them in, no matter how hard we try.

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The Comedown After a Trip

Jet lag is waning, thankfully, so I rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. I love the stillness of the early morning, when all is dark and quiet, save for the radiators wheezing awake.

travel-quote-hero__mainI’ve been home now for 43 hours, and the comedown is full-on. The excitement of travel – the anticipation of going somewhere beloved, of an adventure, of being away from it all and from everyone, of putting work and home on hiatus for a week.

That’s the adrenaline rush. And then you’re in it, fully on vacation, hiking mountain paths and traversing stone streets of an ancient city and eating the fresh vegetables that grow in Israel every day of the calendar year. Fresh pomegranate juice on the street side and Jerusalem bagels in their long, doughy, sweet-sesame bites.

Inevitably, it ends, and you want it to. We got to a point where we had done all we wanted to do and were eager to come home to the kids and to life-as-usual. And so you begin the descent, the long journey home, literally and metaphorically.

And when you encounter the long lines of immigration and customs, of security to leave Israel, of waiting in airports and carousing through duty free shops and waiting to get on the plane only to find out that the wine and olive oil you planned to carry on absolutely won’t be allowed past the gate, so you have to reconfigure and in a flash check the backpack that was intended to be a carry-on under the plane.

So the going home consumes a lot of energy, and it’s good because it makes you just want to be home. In my own shower, my own comfortable bed instead of the rock-hard hotel beds, and with the familiar sounds of my children in adjacent rooms breathing easily in the night. The comfort of being surrounded by my sweet kids in copious hugs and sweet voices.

I am home. My comfortable house, the monotonous rush of city traffic beyond my windows, the gorgeous fall days of changed leaves and cool sun and eager faces turned up to leave the school building for freedom. My morning coffee in a mug I bought years ago.

It’s day two of being home and all the goings-on of leaving and of exhilaration of having been away are past. Now I am settling into life-as-usual and just being here and I have to admit, the melancholy is settling in.

melancholy_baby_by_twisted_wind-d5ti9hePerhaps it’s part remaining jet lag exhaustion and part overwhelm for the workload to get back into. I did some of the work yesterday, eagerly, happily, reconnecting with lovely clients and turning to the content of long-awaited projects that need and deserve my attention.

The plan was to work through the weekend, but I have to say at this early-morning vantage point, I feel just too tired. Where to begin? Where to rest? And I had wanted to make Shabbat an actual day of rest.

Perhaps it’s as Emerson says, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”

Or perhaps it’s as Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

What I found in my travels was the familiar. The reminder of why I once became religious, to sanctify the moments and quiet the days, to instill balance into a workaday life and a world gone mad.

Haleakala-SunriseWhat I found in my travels was the peace and brilliance of a passionate people who love the land they inhabit and have a sense of purpose in their days – the very religious, yes, and the very secular, too.

What I found in my travels every time I went away this year was the best part of me. Now the challenge is to find that sense of purpose and of identity in the paths I walk here, in the walls I call my home.


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The Art of Living Simply


When you live in an ancient city, your focus is on quality of life and meaning, not on taking up more space or acquiring more stuff. It simply isn’t possible.

On the plane home from Israel, we sat beside a young man originally from Cincinnati, who as a bright college grad decided to move to Israel permanently. He now works for a tech company and travels the world hawking his software.

His happiness just radiated from his face while he spoke.

What courage, what determination, what sense of self to have at 22 to pick up and move around the globe to another country!

If you’ve read my blogs for the past week, you’ve seen how enamored I am with the land of Israel. I am proud to be American, but I am even prouder to be a Jew, and when I walk along the stone streets and breathe the sweet air of that land, I feel stronger, happier, more intense than anywhere else.

Big houses are nice, but as we acquire more, more, more, what do we lose?

Big houses are nice, but as we acquire more, more, more, what do we lose?

Except I live here. And as I listened to the young man speak, I realized how caught up we all get in the trappings of a western life.

We don’t mean to. It’s easy to follow the masses toward bigger houses, bigger cars, newer this, and newer that. In a place like Israel, the standard of living just doesn’t allow for most people to keep focusing on up, up, up – they believe UP was the move to Israel, period.

Up in spirit, if not in material surroundings.

Yogananda-Live-in-the-momentWhat a concept! It was the same in India, though different of course. People aren’t constantly grabbing for more, more, more – it’s not the culture. They are preoccupied with different pursuits – peace of mind, peace on the streets, peace between people.

And so I return to my American life imbued with the passion of Israel, hoping I can maintain it like I hoped when I returned from India, with my priorities leading the way.

dwyl2-300x276Here’s what I want:

* Meaningful work, with meaningful clients, that allows me to comfortably pay my bills and save for the future.

* A quiet, beautiful, enriching home life, where I can pull my children close and appreciate our surroundings and our family.

* Good and easy health, motivated by the right tasty fresh foods and the right constant exercise and activity, where we are not chasing a goal on a treadmill that goes nowhere, but engaging in Life, capital L intended, and it just falls into place.

SpiritOfShabbat_email* A rich spiritual life. We agreed at the end of our journey that we need to make Shabbat, a true day of rest. While we won’t be toe-the-line religious, we want to shift to making Saturday a day of quiet and of connection, having our rituals and Sabbath meals together, saying goodbye to the day with Havdalah, and not shopping, running, making plans. Going to synagogue as a family. Going to synagogue when the kids aren’t with us. Living our spirituality.

* Slowing down, spending less. This is the kicker. We all fall into the trap of wanting more *things*, pursuing the next glamorous something. No more. I want to truly strive to be happy with what I have, imbued with a sense of purpose and place, and build the relationships that build a life.

What a takeaway from one week-long trip! But if you’ve ever been to Israel, you’ll understand it.

It’s funny how we go away to come home to ourselves. Happiness and peace don’t reside in a physical landscape; they emanate from within to the community outward.

On the way home, our plane was filled with Chassidic Jews – women in long skirts and thick tights, high collars and long sleeves; men in black suits and white shirts, side curls known as peyoss dangling along their cheeks and tall black hats stowed in the overhead compartments.

f93686f472e6a45c854d9a18e9f57bf8That was never my world, even when I was religious, but there is something about it that I admire. The sense of purpose, the sense of community, the clear path cut out for you from the day you’re born. No way of life is perfect, I know, and believe me I have my issues with rigid religious communities.

But when you know your mission, you can’t help but find peace. That’s the point of it all. The people I know who move to Israel, their mission is to live in the Jewish land and dedicate their life to it. How can you not be happy when you’re guided by purpose and place?

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Try to Understand this Love of the Land

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa

Today is our last day in Israel…until the next time.

That’s the thing about Israel, at least for the Jews. Once you come, you keep coming back. You realize that as wonderful as life is wherever you live, it’s a short time since we have been safe and prosperous and without persecution as the main preoccupation.

I know that sounds fatalistic and reeks of a persecution complex. I had buried it for a while, but I could never quite eliminate it. Because the truth lives deep, deep within.

imageToday, we toured the Diaspora Museum, also known as the Museum of the Jewish People, on Tel Aviv University’s campus. It begins with an exhibit of antiquities and tradition, showing Jews from biblical times until today observing ritual and tradition.


Bar mitzvah.

Torah learning.

imageOnly after we establish the foundation – the written word, the rituals, the connection between all Jewish communities and eras – can we dig into the culture.

Some people insist they are only “culturally Jewish.” I understand it. Tradition is a yoke, burdensome, oppressive at times. I’ve taken it on and thrown it off.

But without the foundation, the meaning, the ancient tradition shared by Jews who have stepped foot on every continent around this planet, there is no culture.


This quote on the wall of the Museum of the Jewish People refers to the blessings in daily prayers that call for goodness in the land of Israel. Jews pray three times a day for this place.

In the taxi on the way to the museum, I sneezed. The driver, who was speaking rapid-fire Hebrew on his cell phone to a friend and laughing it up, broke the conversation to say, “labriut,” bless you, in Hebrew. It literally translates as wishing someone good health.

In the taxi ride back from the museum to our hotel, the driver had a Hebrew book on his dashboard: Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard. We could not get him to stop talking about how brilliant Scientology is and how rebellious he is to his Jewish family, that if they don’t accept his new religion, he will simply disappear. (He can’t wait to leave, to live in America, because he feels no connection, no relevance, to the tradition. Sad.)

The generations revolve and go in and out of acceptance. One generation clings to tradition, the next one throws it off with a yank. The next generation to come returns to tradition, and on and on and on.

imageRegardless of what we believe, observe, or say, we are infinitely linked – by generation, by experience, and by birth into this tradition. We can kick it to the curb but as history shows, it follows us wherever we go.

This week, I’ve been reading Herman Wouk’s The Hope, which chronicles in historical fiction the creation of the state of Israel, the salvation for the Jewish people, and the strengthening of Jews from all over the globe on this tiny sliver of land.

We have endured throughout the millennia, despite terrific attempts to wipe us out. And now, we have a little sliver of homeland, a place where all Jews can come and be accepted into the embrace, no matter their history, no matter their belief.

Here, we are welcome.

Here, we are invited to stay.

In most places, we have to ask how to pay and when. The welcome and hospitality are infinite.

In most places, we have to ask how to pay and when. The welcome and hospitality are infinite.

Here, a taxi driver, a college student, a hummos vendor, a businessman resemble someone we know from way back. Family.

We will be back. We will return. Israel beckons her tantalizing finger, her come-hither look, and we respond. It is inevitable. I cannot stay away.

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The Only People at the Hotel

imageSunday morning, Tsfat, Villa Galilee Hotel.

We are the only guests left. Sunday is a weekday, a workday, for Israelis, and they left in droves yesterday.

imageSo our table is the only one in the dining room, set with my favorite, Israeli breakfast, and the coffees available are the ones I drink at home.

This land of Israel, so fresh, so intense, so poetic. Yesterday, we traveled from one mountaintop to another, overlooking Lebanon. It’s quiet now. The last time I was here, in the north, 19 years ago, people went back and forth across the border through the Good Fence, though you could hear guns and bombs in the distance.

The view into Lebanon from Israel's north.

The view into Lebanon from Israel’s north.

Now it is quiet. And there is no movement between the two countries. Hezbollah controls the south of Lebanon, backed by Iran, and white U.N. trucks traverse the roads. Israel keeps a watchful eye on its borders. Don’t come too close or we’ll show you what it means to mess with Israel.

From Mt. Bental, looking into Syria.

From Mt. Bental, looking into Syria.


The Banias waterfall

Then we drove east to the Syrian border, also quiet, though Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Syrian Army battle daily, tossing bombs you can see from the top of Mt. Bental.

In between, we hiked along the Banias waterfall and river, just south of Mt. Hermon, Israel’s highest peak. We saw flocks of birds and beautiful cranes in the Hula Valley. We had another incredible day in this incredible place.

At 2:30 a.m., the kids called. Three days of radio silence as they celebrated holiday and Shabbat with their father. Then, quick, fill in all the details, all the blanks, and our voices connect in a virtual hug. Three days until I can hold them again.

Hula Valley

Hula Valley

For now, the fresh mountain air comes in from windows and doors and piano music plays overhead. A man reads a newspaper in Hebrew. Dan is 47 today. He reads the headlines on his phone.

Breakfast was incredible. Little squares of light and fluffy quiche, smooth cheeses, vegetables and Israeli salad drizzled with olive oil pressed not far from here and fresh squeezed lemon. Halvah so good, and a custard dessert and fresh plum jam drizzled over cake. Fresh, fresh, fresh.

imageYesterday, lunch was on a kibbutz called Dag el Dan, fish from the Dan River, and the young woman who worked there said, “I was not born in the north but I came here for school and now this is home. I love it.”

In Israel, you hear testimony of love of the land, love of the people, love of the place. Intense passion for identity and connection. Who you are and where you are from intimately intertwined.

At the nature preserve yesterday, there was a poem about taking flight, mounted on the wall of the observation platform where you can get the best views of the beautiful cranes:

I am the wings of the kingfisher
A flash of turquoise
Just as an opal reflects the sun

Listen closely
to the whisper and rustle of the purple grasses
they are my voice

I am carried
by the fingers of the wind that caress your cheek

Here, wherever your gaze alights
I abide
all that is beauty
I am become

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How Can I Explain my Love for Israel?

Even for a writer, there are sometimes no words for the incredibleness of this place.

Right now, I sit on a mountaintop with absolute perfect Shabbat silence outside my open window, the occasional bird squeaking and a distant dog barking. Last night, the sun set behind the mountain range here in the north of Israel, quite close to Lebanon, as teenage boys sang the prayers to usher in the Sabbath.

They stood in the street for there were no cars anywhere around, and welcomed the Sabbath bride. Women stood on the perimeter, which was for me the only damper on the beauty of the moment. I love this tradition of my ancestors, and hate how the most fervent and most poetic of the observers have evolved it into a women on the sidelines kind of religion.

Where can I find such holiness in a day? Even if you observe outside of Israel, it isn’t the same. There is a holiness to the land that contains it in the dirt and rocks and in the sunshine and in the air.

The air here…magical. Fresh. Clean. Brilliant. Sweet.

Even in the extreme heat of an Israeli summer, I cannot imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

But I digress. Now is fall and the perfect time to be here. Not too hot, not too cold, the crisp night a single perfect kiss on every lip.

We met a man, an artist, David Friedman, originally from Denver, here in Tsfat for the past 35 years, making art about the Kabbalah. And in his explanations I saw the chakras. The unity in the meaning. The universality.

Here, the buildings are made of stone and the tables are laden with the freshest fruits and vegetables and cheese and wine pressed from a vineyard just a few miles to the east. We are close to Lebanon and to Syria but here, we are infinitely safe.

When we left, everyone wished us a good trip and urged us to “be safe.” I say it every time someone questions the wisdom of traveling to this Land: I have never felt safer anywhere else, including my home of the United States.

I love this place. I love it deep within my soul. I can’t believe it took me seven years to come back. It won’t be that long before I return, mark my words.

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Walking through the Old City

The air is perfectly sweet and cool. Quiet. Clear.

The stone streets polished to a sheen, smooth under our feet. We sat on the rooftop and looked out over the varying heights of this holy city. Dome of the Rock. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Other churches, higher and higher, ego against ego, what happened to humility?

Men in floor-length black robes. Women in floor-length gray robes. Women in floor-length skirts. Men in black satin jackets, white knee socks, fur hats. Shoulders shown, shoulders covered. Shorts and jeans, sneakers and flats.

Wigs. Short-shorn hair. Headscarves. Hats. Wild curls long and free.

Knitted yarmulkes. Black velvet yarmulkes. Bare heads.

In the Armenian quarter, a woman sits on a doorstep, texting. The Armenians were the first to accept Christianity. The Protestants believe Jesus went right on his 14 stations of the cross, while the Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe he went left.

Religious Jews dance with Torahs at the point where the Christians diverge, in the heart of the Muslim Quarter. Also the point where Jesus met his mother on his tragic walk.

Did the dancing Jews realize the significance of the spot where they danced and sang? Women watched as the circle of men went round and round. Should they be there anyway?

In some ways, Jerusalem is a city of contradictions. In some ways, a place of peace and harmony.

Many respect each other to the point that our guide, Ynon, took us to a jeweler in the Muslim Quarter. Beautiful gold and Roman glass and Eilat stone. Beautiful friendship.

At least money brings us all together, Ynon says, pointing to the displays in all the quarters of ritual items for Jews, Christians, Muslims. Money unites. Or does it?

A day of walking up and down and around winding streets. Inclines and descents, into the depths of the ruins, visiting yesterday and long ago, excavated so we can better understand.

A perfect day in this wonderful city.

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My Favorite Place on Earth

imageThere was steep security just entering the gate for our flight in Newark. Passports and bags checked, boarding passes verified, once, then again after we waited in line to board the plane.

Full flight, and every minute was filled with excited anticipation of finally returning to where my heart lives, the land of Israel. I slept maybe three hours, forcing myself to close my eyes and quiet my mind for even a little while so I could hit the ground walking once we landed.

And then we arrived. Touched down 10 hours after we left, surviving slightly bumpy dark skies, loving the map on the little screen that showed where in the world there was light at any moment and where there was complete darkness.

In seven years, the airport added walkways directly from the plane into the airport. The last time I was here, we walked down a staircase in the open sun and wanted to kiss the tarmac beneath our feet.

Our bags collected and a bright, sunny welcome from the passport control officer, we climbed into a white Mercedes taxi, impeccably clean and air-conditioned cool.

imageThere is a literal going up into the holy city of Jerusalem as much as the metaphorical one. It is a true ascent – coming to this country, to this city. Everyone back home wished us a good trip and “be safe.” Nonsense. Hooey. Stop listening to the news. Israel is the safest place on Earth.

And the smartest. And the most miraculous.

I love being an American, but I love Israel in a more passionate sense. The air is clean and clear. The technology vibrant and leading. The harmonious juxtaposition of Jew and Arab, religious and secular.

imageI’m telling the truth. We walked from our hotel to the Old City and wove our way along the satin-smooth stone streets through the Armenian Quarter into the Jewish Quarter, cups of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice in our hands.

We stepped inside the quiet enclave of a store called Rina to buy the first of what will be many gifts for our children, and became fast friends with Hanan, the owner, a new father (10-day-old son named Zion) and a native Jerusalemite who said, “Judaism is a buffet. There is no Orthodox. There is just Jewish.”

imageKippah on his head, his parents lifelong residents of the religious Old City. Tonight, he will gather with his wife and newborn son and his parents and other family and dance with Torah scrolls in circles on the old stones and for 24 hours, everyone will be friends.

What is wonderful about this holiday, he told us, is that all the synagogues in the Old City come together. He invited us along.

We kissed the stones of the Western Wall, ducked inside an impressive sukkah built at the edge of the Kotel plaza. We ate passionfruit and mango gelato as we strolled through the Cardo shops, then the Arab shuk.

And we’ve only been here six hours.

Dan is awestruck, and I am riding high on being home to my soul. I don’t want to live here permanently, but I sure do want to be here more. More often, for longer periods of time, with my children and without.

I can’t quite explain why this place calls me. Seven years I have stayed away, but always yearned to return. I wasn’t born here, and I am no longer religious, but the spiritual soaring of my soul takes me home to this tiny nation that the whole world turns against time and time again.

I tried to explain it to Dan as we walked back to our hotel, laden with gifts and purchases.

I look at and listen to Israelis, and I see strong, confident, smart people who are proud of being Jewish and proud of their nation. Vigilantly proud. And in their faces, I see resemblances of the ancestors who came before them from Europe to this land to claim it, to work it, to make it green and blossom, to turn it into a place of peace.

image(It is. Don’t believe what you read in the media. Read instead Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem for a true picture of this place.)

The ancestors who came here looked and acted differently, though. They were paler, hidden away from the world, fearful, complacent. Our history shows us running from Cossacks and Nazis and so many others who just wanted to annihilate us.

And the ones who came here, they claimed the land and said, “Enough.” They refused to be bullied. And they made something great out of nothing.

I have never felt safer, or more at home, any other place in the world. I do love to travel, and I love to experience new places and cultures. I cried when I left India earlier this year.

imageI can love a place but not need it in my bones. I need Israel. I am not whole when I stay away too long.

And so, stay tuned for the poetic words of my inspiring days ahead. This place transforms you. It takes you in whatever form you bring and lifts you up higher, quieter, stronger than you ever imagined possible.

The place dreams are made of.

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Bittersweet Goodbye

My dreams were horrifying last night. They made no sense and were about saying goodbye to people I love. Forever.

It doesn’t take a Freudian expert to interpret that I am having a little anxiety about leaving my loved ones for a week. And they feel the same way. Last night, the three kiddos piled into my bed, ostensibly to sleep alongside me on our last night together for a week.

That didn’t last, of course. This one didn’t want to sleep beside that one, and before we knew it, the clock struck 10 o’clock and everyone would turn into pumpkins if we didn’t get them to sleep fast.

I heard a repetitive chorus of I’m going to miss you, Mommy, and my heart bled to hear it. I feel the same way. Every moment I am away from my precious babies hurts just a little.

And yet, I love the thrill of travel. The exhilaration of going to new places, having adventures, stepping outside of my life for a time to experience the world.

I am so excited to go on this trip.

And so sad to not be with my kids.

This article in the Atlantic struck me as so precious because the experiences of our lives are what sustain us, thrill us, and build us. Not the stuff we buy or cling to or toss or forget about.

Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions…maximal good to society and personal happiness comes from pursuing not happiness but meaning.”

So last night, in the darkness of my bedroom, the tender sweet bodies of my children beside me, that experience sustains me. Eliana’s silky hair, Shaya’s lean legs intertwined with mine, Asher’s full, gripping hug, as if we couldn’t let each other go. Those are the life-sustaining experiences of my life.

And today. Today, my husband and I are so excited with anticipation for the two plane rides ahead, one to New York, to wait around the airport for a few hours, until we board the bigger, fuller plane to Tel Aviv. I haven’t been in seven years, he has never been to Israel, and we have never traveled this far or for this many days just the two of us.

So many experiences. So many moments to treasure. So many memories in the making. Words said and not said. Fleeting texts stateside to stay connected to my babies, while we drink in the super sunshine and clear air of the Holy Land.

I just can’t wait. And I’m incredibly happy to do so.

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First Choice of the Day

c9599cdb19df32d212dd664cdb607247Immediately when I woke Shaya this morning, the tantrums began.

Whining, complaining, not wanting to go to school, I neeeeeeeeeed you, Mommy. 

My sweet boy. My lovely little man. I hate to see him hurting. I picked out clothes and placed them on his bed. I stroked his silk-soft hair and kissed his velvet cheek. I whispered in his ear that cottage cheese pancakes and turkey bacon were cooking in the kitchen.

I woke Asher and Eliana, and they turned out of bed with smiles, ready to face the day. Shaya buried his face in the pillow. The muffled whines still were not hidden.

I appreciate his sadness. I don’t take his emotion lightly. Still. I am trying to teach myself as well as my children that our moods are choices. Perhaps he is getting sick. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to go to school. Whatever the case, there is always a choice.

At some point, Dan went up, scooped his hands underneath the boy, and lifted him from the bed. Time to get going, he sang out in his cheerful way. Shaya’s mouth stayed down-turned in a pout as he pulled on clothes. My sweet boy. My precious little man.

He was the first in the kitchen and I tried to smother him with love and soft words, but he clung to his bad mood. I don’t want to go to school.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.24.05 AMBy the end of breakfast, it was full-on stomping and slamming doors. I insisted he brush his teeth, as well as I could with tenderness and love.

By the time we got to school, Asher and Eliana were sunnier than the cloud-filled sky, offering kisses at send-off. Shaya stayed in the backseat, a cocoon protecting him from emerging into the day.

I pushed my head into the car. I spoke soft words of the immense love I have for this child, this gift from above, as I told him he could take a deep breath and face the day and find beautiful things waiting just outside the car.

The fresh scent of rain on fallen leaves. The deep richness of fall colors on the trees, a progression of reds and greens and oranges and browns. The shiny faces of children just starting their day, strolling along the sidewalk to the school’s front door.

mediumI knelt close and pulled him to me. He still smells sweet, hasn’t ascended to the precipice between childhood and teen. You can change the day right now, I said. You can choose to notice the beautiful things and have a good day.

Beautiful things like this child himself, even in unhappiness, one of my greatest gifts, one of the best reasons I get out of bed each morning.

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