Christmas, — Who’s Birthday is it?

Yes, I know for my Christian friends, today is a big deal, — the birth of your savior, Jesus. It’s such a fun holiday even for us folks who don’t celebrate it filled with joy and good cheer – there’s always the presents too. What’s not to love?

I also know some Christians get upset with all of the commercialization of the holiday. For me, anytime people are encouraged to get together and be kind to one another, what’s not to love? But, that’s something to work out amongst yourselves…

In my world, today was someone else’s birthday, — my father, another Jewish boy born long ago. Actually he would have been 103 today if he had lived this long. When I was a young girl, he enjoyed being on the road as a truck driver. In later years, he put his college education to use as a purchasing agent.

It might surprise you to know that growing up although we celebrated the “main” Jewish holidays, we didn’t celebrate Hanukkah, we celebrated Christmas.

Our nice Jewish family wasn’t religious, — that’s obvious. I remember being excited as a kid going up to my Aunt’s house in Rolling Hills, in Southern California, — playing with my cousins and presents under the tree. Good food and fun and looking through her big picture glass window at all of the sparkling, colorful lights of the city view. Ahhh, childhood memories.

The importance of Judaism has grown in my life through the years. Becoming increasingly aware of Jewish traditions, beyond Hebrew school and B.B.G. (B’nai B’rith Girls), I began realizing the depth of who I am as a person. Being Jewish was important to me and although I’d never want to practice being Kosher or attend services regularly (at least so far, you never know), it was part of the fabric of what made me, — me.

As I’ve understood more about what felt right for me, — over time you become yourself, not your parent’s version of who they think you should be.

In fact, I started our family tradition of celebrating Hanukkah about thirty-five years ago. My Catholic sister-in-law, who was a huge Christmas fanatic complete with spraying snow on the presents, had recently been taken from us by cancer. Of course, we were devastated. My brother’s kids were twelve, ten and six, and everyone was so sad.

My solution was to have Hanukkah at Aunt Penny’s. I wanted them to be able to do something that they could still be happy about during this time of year, and wasn’t attached to missing their mom. We’ve been celebrating it ever since.

This year, we commemorated the 2017 holiday with a new version. We went to the Marriott Newport Coast Villas for a change of pace and had a blast with my family, — and friends who have become part of our family.

I still cooked Matzo ball soup and brisket and even schlepped it there, — this year however, it somehow seemed more relaxing. I think it was preparing the food beforehand, and warming it up there, — that made the difference.

Although I won’t be doing the potato pancakes in the microwave again, — embarrassing rubber pancakes that my nieces assured me tasted fine with enough sour cream and applesauce, — kind b.s., but sweet of them to say.

It also was going to be one of the last major get togethers for my son and his best friend’s family before the boys go off to college next year. We have one more blow out for New Years, when we’re all taking a 4-Day New Year’s cruise to Mexico, Es Muy Bueno!

My nephew, the six year old, is now forty and both of his sisters well into their forties, have grown families of their own, — the youngest Great Nephew is seventeen. So it was a new experience for us feeling like we were almost all adults. We listened to stories from my Great Niece about looking for colleges, and talking about my son’s collegiate plans and desires.

There’s nothing like the serendipity of having other people asking your teens questions about their life that they politely answer, to finally hear the answers to your same questions, — Really? The top schools he favors on his list of fifteen, are up North?

Who knows where he’ll end up? San Diego, Los Angeles or Claremont seem a lot more palatable to us, but as parents, being in charge, well that ship has sailed.

Oh no, reality is striking close to home soon, — now in about six months. Yikes! I console myself with the knowledge that there’ll be a frequent flyer bonus if his dreams pan out. Empty nesters. Who knows maybe my husband and I will recapture some of our young married days without a kid to consider first in all of our plans…well a silver fox can only hope : -)

My niece was able to give me some advice about what to expect as my son goes off to college. Her oldest is already there, and had chosen to spend the holidays with her other Grandparents up north. We missed seeing her, and it was another lesson, — at eighteen she’s free to make her own choice, — a hint of my son’s decisions to come.

We’re all in agreement that we will have to get my husband a prescription for Valium when we drop my son off at school next year. No Lonnie, the colleges don’t care that he is your best friend, no dorms come equipped for Dads to live there! I know it will be hard for me too, I’ve always been a mush bag.

We dedicated the last seventeen years to raising our boy and looking at who he is, well I’m proud of the talents he was born with, and the hard work he put in to be the excellent student and person he’s become.

He’s protected by his work ethic and always has been surrounded with love. I can only hope that it will supply him with sufficient emotional armor for what lies ahead. It’s time to release him into the world and let him soar, — as a parent, however, you always wonder did you get him all the skills he will need? Time will tell, and I console myself that he’s smart and will figure it out. After all, but he’s my baby, — are you going through the same thing? My emotions hop around from one planet to the next.

My husband and the importance of his son to him, well, I’m sure part of his extreme bond is tied up with the fact that my husband lost his father to a heart attack when he was fifteen. Our own stories continue to entangle our lives throughout our journies.

Only time will tell if we’ll be snuggling together on an unsuspecting therapist’s couch next year trying to deal with the situation : – )

So back to my Dad. Happy Birthday, Jacob. In writing this I looked up the Biblical story of Jacob to see how it might correlate with my father’s life. Jacob of the Bible, — was quiet and thoughtful, that rang true.

Also was the fact of Jacob’s love for Joseph, — comparable to my father’s love for my brother, Steve, May they both rest in Peace. I think part of what caused my father to die of stomach cancer was that the circumstances of his beloved son’s life,  — literally ate away at him.

The fact that his Jewish boy, (boys covet a cherished position in the hearts of traditional families, which is probably accountable for my being a strong feminist) — lived a cruel life from young adulthood on, — when he had his first episode of schizophrenia, was too much to bear. A tragic two decades of repeated institutions, stabilization on the latest new drug, and then bam, sliding down the sh-t hill.

Getting schizophrenics to take their prescribed drugs is one of the biggest challenges, once again falling into cruel calamities. A strange irony is that they often escape into illegal drugs to shake off the bad feelings, — it’s a hard road.

Finally cancer of the brain, caught up with my brother as well. It had spread to the rest of his body by the time they found it. The diagnosis once again caused additional pain causing our family to question, could the brain tumor have been the cause of all of his tsuris (Yiddish word for strife)? Both my Dad and brother, — eventually succumbed to the ruthless reality of living with extreme mental illness, — one the victim, and the other  as a parent, watching painfully from the sidelines, — horrific!

Even with this sad tale of misfortune, there was at least the glimmer of positivity associated with my brother’s first therapist who I spoke about in my last blog, setting me on my path of self-discovery. I’ll always be grateful to her forethought and kindness.

I’m thrilled that today with better drugs and dedicated parents, a different ending to the story is possible, — there’s hope.

One of my closest friends also over the last several years had a son diagnosed with schizophrenia. She would be the first to admit, the roller coaster ride of twists and turns that this extraordinarily challenging adventure has burdened her family with is painful. Too many tragic days, — sparring in the shadows with the disease.

Some days the disease won, and others after waiting patiently to see if the new drug would work, — there finally has been an amazing, long-lasting improvement.  With her undying support for her beloved son, and hard work on his part, he’s had incredible results. He has newly earned his Masters, — a great accomplishment for anyone, and with his challenges that he’s overcome, he’s an inspiration!  So you see, today with lots of love, unwavering, committed parents and hard work, — miracles can happen. Amen.

On this day, when we celebrate a Jewish boy who brought so much light into our world, I wish you a Merry Christmas. For those of you who are alone or sad today, I send you blessings and smiles for today and always.

For the hungry, I hope you find help at your local food pantry, they are there to help you.

For family and friends enjoying company together, I wish you happy times. Drop the old grudges and don’t create new ones, — remember your thoughts and feelings are just stories you made up, — if they’re ugly, change your story, you’ll be glad you did.

YOU ARE POWERFUL, — make sure your’s is a positive tale.

As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…—

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"The Spirit of Judaism"

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