I was sitting on the dark non descript seat of the school bus, front row, of course, taking the practice ride with my son who was about to embark on his first great adventure. Kindergarten. I too would be starting my own adventure of sorts, letting him out of my sight and delivering him to the hands of public education via a yellow school bus. I looked to my right and saw the same nervous look in the eyes of a tiny blonde woman who was sitting next to her blonde son and we made eye contact. Kind of a knowing relief that we both seemed to be the geeky moms not really looking forward to releasing our children just yet. We made some small talk, introduced the kids and just like that I made my first kindergarten mom friend.
That was sixteen years ago and the kids are still excellent friends and my son, Michael just turned twenty one. A milestone of an age, way more loaded with feelings then the age of one, ten, sixteen or eighteen. Even though his dad, Dave, and I still fully support him as he makes his way through his final junior year of college there is a strong significance to twenty one. It is celebratory, meaningful, filled with doors opening and doors closing. Truly an adult and his life is pretty much out of our hands now. The transition to twenty one feels both energizing and sad for me as his mom, though. It brings up everything before. The kid parties, the trips, the stages of growth, the traumatic events and their losses as well as the celebrations. Everything. Like a full life rewind. Did we do a good job? What will his future be like? Will he get married and have children, will he travel the world, what job lies ahead? I can hear the soundtrack of Doris Day belting out her famous song, Que Sera Sera, whatever will be will be. Past and future thoughts stir like a simmering pot of possibilities. Before twenty one, they were just little popping thoughts, but now that the time is here, he is closer in age to thirty then he is to ten. Lots can happen from now until then. And it feels strange to be the happy and satisfied mother of a well adjusted twenty one year old young man with the world as his oyster.
I am really proud of him, but also really proud of me because this great parental experiment as so many of us know could have gone terribly wrong. He made it, lots of kids don’t make it to twenty one and this alone brings me to my knees in prayer. Based on my own life experience, I am grateful for the lessons my past taught me though because I really believe it could have gone either way, surely. Luck of the draw? I don’t think so. I think, actually I know, that I was a conscious parent as much as I was able to be. Dave was brought up with a set of values making him a great example to me as a parent. This coupled with some great friends, like the small blonde woman on the bus that day, Kerry, and many other kindergarten moms I am still friendly with today who were also strong and grounded parents helped me along the path of being a better parent.
Now as I watch the celebratory drinking that naturally rears its ugly head towards my son, I find myself with a whole new set of worries. You are taking an Uber, right?Remember the conversations we have had about alcohol and the family history as you find your way through the maze, I find myself repeating. Just because you are twenty one now doesn’t mean that you should be buying alcohol for anyone who is not. I remind him like I used to say look both ways before you cross the street, like he is five again and he needs to hear this instruction.
We go out to eat and he orders a glass of Rioja and a dish of venison, he tries the foie gras. Though he is quiet, he is polite, well mannered, he knows how to carry himself, he is well traveled and observant. I like this about him. I like watching my son be the man he had turned into. I know that every single day I get to have him around me is a gift because frankly he can leave anytime. He has a house in Narragansett off campus he shares with three other boys that is near the beach; he doesn’t have to stay home with his parents, but he does. Maybe he is bored, but he doesn’t show it, he shows up for dinner, he says yes when I ask him to go to breakfast and he walks with me as I traipse around town stopping in the shops to say hi to some store owner friends. We love each other, yes, but we genuinely like each other’s company and of all of the surprises of parenting, this one I would say is my favorite. We like each other, enjoy each other. Whether it is just being in the house, me downstairs him upstairs, or going to dinner with Dave and our old friends from my old neighborhood, there is an ease between all of us that makes me take a big satisfied sigh. No one knows what the next twenty one years will bring. This first twenty one has been an excellent start though.
I have a unique inner circle of friends who have become my alter family. Besides my Aunt who lives about an hour away, I really don’t have any family in close proximity. My son has an enormous family on my former husband’s side, but in my house, it is up to me to create the noise and bustle of family and I have figured it out.
Family is a loaded cocktail; you get who you get. I am slightly envious of my friends who have these loud and in your face family members who move and slither around each other sometimes happily and sometimes in a way that makes my head spin. As I compare to my own family, their conversations are always forgiving; my family on my mother’s side anyway always had someone not speaking to someone. Forever. Done. On my father’s side, it is quite different. I am much closer to them and the leader of its pack, my Grandfather. They all live south of me though, between DC and Florida, so this makes for a lot less family dinners and get togethers.
Gatherings and get togethers have become a necessary and intuitive need for me. And unlike family, you get a chance to choose who to surround yourself with. As I enter the seventh year of my relationship with my partner, we have not only blended our families, successfully I might add, but also our close friendships. The mingling and marrying, so to speak, of couples between us has created an extended family who has bonded in a way essentially because we have chosen each other. The energy exchange between friends is uplifting and joyous when the connection has the sparks of great conversation, comfort in silence over eating and just simply being present in each other’s company. We have found a rhythm of friends who are the go to group for many dinners at each other’s homes and I count on them immensely for support and love as any chosen extended family provides. Grateful for their contribution in my life. Missing three of the usual group called the Octet, now the Septup as one couple has become divorced, we haven’t missed a beat. After all, we are not living in the fifties and sixties when couples had to mingle with couples and single woman were auto ejected. There are some other couples who are in my direct inner circle and have cross pollinated within this original octet now septet too and they all easily connect. They have similar travel experiences, life outlooks and approaches to generosity and altruism. What comes of this is a connection of healthy dialogue about our children, the natural events of our lives and current events.
One of these friends had for his birthday a few years back an idea to give each of us a birthday gift for his own birthday. He had thoughtfully given us each a piece of artwork from his collection of photographs and we were all really touched. This idea though not an expectation at birthdays has taken on some momentum. We have all realized as we are gaining years, what do we need, but love and connection. Connection is the core driver of these gatherings and my birthday was a cause for yet another get together last night. Missing were three of the original group, and they were totally missed, but added were four of the cross pollinators who have previously met at other times at my home.
My plan was to celebrate by taking us to Second Story Theatre in Warren, RI, but first dinner at their new restaurant, UNION, a totally apropos name for our tribe last evening. It is risky trying a new restaurant before a play as it could have gone south if the dining hadn’t been anything more than stellar. It was more than stellar as we plowed though dish after dish each enjoying tasting from each other’s plates. The service was impeccable, the meal was creative and I had been inspired to give them each a gift in honor of my birthday. What better way to feed my energy and core then to watch seven other grownups open up presents like it was Christmas (or Hanukkah in my case). Besides my famous Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce (yes ML, I have some for you and CL, fear not), I decided to share a ritual that has become part of the fabric of my relationship with Michael C. It may seem corny to some, but it has proven to be grounding and connecting over the years between us. Reading to each other. Sometimes it is an article in the newpaper, but more often it is a deliberate passage in a book about nutrition, relationship, or love and connection. Often this reading between us has been a catalyst for discussion about something that may need talking about or some intimate thought that pops up from the read. I would say of the many parts of our relationship, this of all is one of my favorites because it offers a way to communicate other than the traditional ‘let’s sit down and talk’ kind. Reading to each other has been a way to navigate potential issues before they turn into resentments, a way to communicate without it turning into direct confrontation and also a way to share interests through reading choices, taking our relationship to a much deeper understanding. Reading to each other is communal. It is a way to be present without the phone and the distractions of the daily grind. I can’t imagine doing this with my former husband, he wouldn’t have likely thought much about the possibilities of the result, but I am sure happy I am with someone who came up with the idea let alone is open to continuing the spontaneity of the ritual.
Last night I gave each of my friends a book of poems by one of most favorite poets, Mary Oliver, who has a vast collection of books to choose from. The first time I ever heard a Mary Oliver poem was at a meditation class that my Rabbi did. Her prose and the layers of nature wrapped in words brought me to my knees. Like a prayer that has the ability to move my heart, her poetry got my attention and I have read her poems frequently to center myself if I feel like I need some enlightenment. I chose a book for each person based on a poem I saw in the book that uniquely reminded me of them. I gave one to each hopeful that they would have the same joy alone and with each other as the book as their own connector and reminder to stay tuned.
From the food, the play, (once again, Ed Shea gets my attention, Talley’s Folly, by Lanford Wilson) and the camaraderie and comfort shared between friends made my 53rd birthday a gift that keeps on giving way beyond the evening.Happy to have made it, may each year be the gift it has become in so many ways.
The reminders that I have set on my iphone for the past seven years are like this reliable clockwork I don’t want to ever forget. Every other Monday, yes even though you are at a college now and this no longer applies, the Michael reminder shows up every Sunday night. Like I could possibly forget that this is the day you would be coming back to me after a week at Dad’s. This is the reminder that I set up to remind me of the part of divorce that is the most annoying for you as the child of parents who separated when you were in the middle of your seventh grade year.
One week on, one week off. A visitation that you actually suggested as you lugged your stuff back and forth between two homes every other week.
I can’t imagine how this must have felt for you. I imagine not very good. The only consolation was that I did my best to make sure we stayed in the same town, that you had your house to call your home, that you had two sets of mostly everything to limit the amount of stuff you had to lug and whatever didn’t have to change didn’t. This was all to keep as much semblance of normal whatever that means as is. There are lots of people who stay married for the children and live in angst that does not teach children anything other than misery and pain as the example is usually a house filled with resentment and tension. I don’t believe that anyone should stay together if they are not happy. I don’t think this environment serves children well. I think it ended up being ok in the long run, but I also know that the alternative would have not been. There are lessons in everything and I hope the lesson you gained from this decision is that everyone has a right to be fulfilled and happy in this short life we all live. Life and decisions about it are hard and though staying in a relationship that has run its course seems like a choice often made, moving on is also courageous and honorable. I hope that it taught you that at times it is necessary to make the tough decisions and tha life isn’t always easy. The white picket fence isn’t always white and sometimes it needs to be painted a different color or taken down and replaced.
There is never a good time for two parents to split, but the worst time would have been to wait for the “let’s let you graduate from high school first, time.” This I am completely comfortable with in the decision I had to make so that I could free Dad and I from the chains that bound us in a way that no longer served our souls. I knew that by making this awful at the time decision, the pain would eventually move on so that you could at least enjoy your remaining time in school and Dad and I could do our best by you to repair our relationship so we could continue to do what we did best. To parent. This was the bond after you were born, my immense love and admiration for dad’s parenting. I didn’t want to give up watching dad be a dad to you. He was great and loving, just like his dad was to him. Still is.
It is your second decade today. You are twenty. You are on your way to twenty one and this next five years so many decisions will feel urgent as you move into your life. The twenties is the figuring it out phase. Take your time. Be patient and slow. Do not rush into big bold decisions. Use your gut as your guide. Travel. Don’t take the first job that comes your way and as a matter of fact, you will be in a position to be choosy because the gift dad and I have given you is no college debt when you graduate. This is the best gift. Financial freedom so you can move forward without other darts coming at you that force you into hasty decisions. You are so lucky to have the jumping off point from two parents who love you and still love and appreciate each other, but knew well enough that we weren’t the right fit anymore and set each other free. I hope that you will one day if not now appreciate the work we have both done to ensure that you still felt the intense love and adorations for you in the midst of a painful decision we had to make so we could both find happiness in our young lives.
You have been a blessing and a joy in our lives and we have learned so much from you. I know I can speak for dad too when I say that we are the luckiest parents in the world to get the privilege of calling you our son. Divorce is not easy on children, but often it is not the divorce as much as it is the lack of camaraderie that is the result of an angry divorce. The benefit of your grandparent’s disruptive and horrible divorce was that I knew I never wanted that to be your experience, that was my jumping off point and everything I did was with that in my mind. Of course the dream would have been for Dad and I to do our best to suck it up and try to work it out, but when this became impossible, I really thought that this would be the second best alternative. At least you could understand in your young life that two people who loved each other could also still love each other enough to let each other go too. This is a grown up very mature way to consider and it is with these glasses we came to this decision. When you are a parent there are lots of times we feel guilty about decisions, maybe considering mistakes that could have negatively impacted you and your view of the world. These are the decisions that I will never know the impact of, but as a parent I know 100% of the time I made them with the end result of your health and well being in mind. It has been hard to raise you in this town of Bristol knowing that you have been surrounded with traditional families who are together and are seemingly happy. I wanted this for you more than anything, the dream of you being able to come home from college and be a unit. It just wasn’t the story. We did our best and it just wasn’t something neither dad nor I could make happen for the reasons that are not necessary to explain, but had nothing to do with you. But I am sure you know this. This is one thing I am sure of, that our separation had nothing to do with you, but with each other. I like truth. If there is ever a time you need or want to talk about anything as you move forward into your twenties and begin the path towards the career path and the relationship and parenting path that lies in front of you, I am as you must know by now an open book. I will always tell you the truth.
You are loved. You are admired and enjoyed. Dad and I are so proud of who you have become and who you will still become. I am sure we have made mistakes because this is life as a parent, I am sure there are things in your head that we have caused good and bad but what I know Michael White is that there was never a moment of ill intent. You have always been a priority between us even when we were trying to reconfigure our own lives out separately in our new state of not being together. It is my hope that you take what you need and leave the rest and I hope the part you take is the deep love and respect I feel for you as a man in our lives.
My life is enriched and more joyous with you in it. I know Dad’s life is too. We are so lucky and happy that you are the connector of the tribe we get to still call family, regardless of its construct, its on occasion awkwardness and oddness, but nonetheless it is ours. We get to always call it our home and this is the most glorious blessing I could have ever imagined for you.
VERY MUCH AWAKE. (the reading I did for my grandfather’s 100th birthday party this past weekend)
I turned on my laptop yesterday to give this reading tonight one last go through. Along with the computer, I started up my surround sound music system and got ready to make sure that this piece was exactly what I wanted to say. The song that was my first guest was “What a Wonderful World.” How appropriate that this would be the song that would accompany me and my final thoughts about HERBIE HOROWITZ. Appropos indeed.
I am a fifty two year old woman who has a grandfather who is 100 and for mathematical perfection 100 and one day. You made it, grandpa.
Every time I say this familiar word, Grandpa, I am transplanted like I am in a time machine to my earliest of memories of my very large life growing up as Herbie’s first grandchild. I always add the extra word, favorite, even though these are my injections not his. After all we are all his favorites in each of our own way and this is one of the glorious traits of Herbie. He makes everyone of us feel like a favorite.
When I say the word grandpa, I don’t feel 52, I feel like his five year old granddaughter running through the factory and excitedly yelling grandpa and jumping into his comforting arms as he wrapped them around me; I am at Archer Street sliding open the well organized kitchen cabinets and taking down the jar of prized Macadamia nuts that we would sparingly share. When I say grandpa, my brother and I are searching for the afikomen at Passover and hoping that Herbie had just a little too much Scotch in the evening to pull out a 20 for the find rather than a 1 or a 5.
When I say Grandpa I am leaving as a precocious and somewhat spoiled 12 year old who would have the unrealized privilege at the time of an almost one month trip to Israel and Italy where I would meet Kalman and the Goldner tribe, our Israeli family since my grandparents first trip in the late sixties. When I say grandpa, I am 17 driving with my brother in my 1963 Volkswagon bug for the first time by ourselves on our own to Maine where Herbie and Isabelle come out of the back door and greet us at the Hydrangea bushes and I am automatically calm and at peace. This has been Herbie’s influence on me. Stability, consistency, calmness, knowingness of behavior. There is something to be said for these wondrous traits. The list goes on and I am leaving off at adolescence. Otherwise I would be up here all night and Herbie would be shouting keep it short. It is almost impossible to keep it short when my experience as the eldest granddaughter of Herbie Horowitz is so rich and full. But I will do my best.
Herbie was four years younger than I am today when I was born and as I look lovingly at my son, Herbies oldest great grandson, Michael today at almost 20 he is the age that my father, David was when he decided to elope and subsequently 11 months later, I was born. The shock of getting a telegram because that was the email of 1964 must have rocked Herbie’s sense of what was right from not right. And I am happy to report that at this point, Michael shows no signs of eloping any time soon.
Life is like this though, the best laid plans of Mice and Men. How things are supposed to be is seldom how they end up. Becoming a grandfather at 48 and because of this having a span of great grandchildren from Ronan our newest member less than a year, to Austin and Helena our Kindergartner and first grade representation all the way to a college sophmore. Herbie has witnessed many things that I am sure were not in his radar or his best laid plans. Watching people he deeply loves get cancer diagnosis and unearthing the common denominator of the brch 2 genetic mutation were not in his plans. Surviving his son, David and his grandson, Michael, almost 22 years ago to this weekend by the way, and his younger brothers Bernie and Irving for sure were never in his plans either. Isabelle checking out before him was definitely not in his plans. “Your grandmother screwed me up” was a phrase I heard him say the last time I was visiting reminding me that the plan was for him to go first, but that would be Isabelle, getting the last word ultimately even on her way out.
I have watched his strength as he survived a stroke that compromised his physical strength, but his mind is as sharp as a tack. My grandfather is the one who gives me great pause in my life. More than anyone, he has taught me lessons I could never list on a piece of paper As I go forward in my life, it has taken on a sense of busy ness because I can’t help but be pragmatic in my approach. I am a realist on some level which would surprise many who know me especially my grandfather who thinks I have walked around with my head in the clouds as he has reminded me often, “Alayne, you are an emotional girl.” Spoken totally from an old school man born in 1917 who has different outlook on the way men think versus women surely. I mean think about it, he was born before women even had the right to vote. He was born to Russian immigrants who came to America so they could have religious freedoms as well as opportunities they couldn’t even imagine were possible in the early 1900s. He was born before WWII was even a glimmer. He was born before television was invented or before people even had cars or credit cards, movies, or stereo systems and records and rock and roll and headphones. Never mind the internet and email and cell phones.
Herbie is not the type of man who lives in the past though. He is my pragmatic grounding go to advisor for much advice that requires the removal of my emotions. When I had the devastating flood at my business he reminded me that this was what insurance was for. Oh yeah, I don’t have to freakout, it is not useful. His business advice over the years has been like getting advice from a Harvard business school professor. As I get older, I have found myself replaying its wisdom and actually listening to the majority of it more and more. This is the greatest thing about maturity and getting to still have you around, I get to take advice finally and let you know while you are here and very present that it has been good sound advice.
I have spoken about my grandparents since my voice found me probably at isabelle and herbies 50th wedding anniversary that many of you who are here tonight were in attendance back at the Gulf and Bay Club. Speaking at these events lots of anniversaries and of course the natural life events of eulogies has become one of my most cherished excuses to talk about the people in my life who have been the most influential. To list all of the lessons you have taught me is almost cliché at this point because having you for my 52 years has taught me by your example to say it aloud by my actions not words. My life that I live is so much the result of your actions not words and my deep love and admiration for its potent influence not only in the way I move through the world but the way I have raised my son. This has been mainly because of you and your solid presence in my life. I have said this often because I had such young and wacky parents who were like the anti advice sort. However with the swiftness of a bird protecting its nest, you and grandma never failed to show up and protect with an under the radar elegance.
Probably the highlight of my writing life is that I am here tonight speaking not at your funeral, but at your birthday. I finally get to say what so many people who have left us don’t get to physically hear. My father taught us this as he boldly went where no Horowitz went before when he (and I) decided we would construct an awake wake before he died so he could have his funeral and see it and be in it. This was a startling concept, but for those who attended, we were all enlightened. Even Herbie and Isabelle who as you all may imagine had many misgivings.
This last three years post Isabelle and post stroke have shown all of us what life is really about. Like a Dickens character being visited by the ghost of Christmas past, Herbie has observed the speed of light of his life with the replay of a life well lived. Herbie is an icon and is revered among anyone who knows him. If it is the truth that what you give out you get back, this would be what I have reminded Herbie of despite the health trials and tribulations. He has had the priveledge of seeing the showing up of the tribe in a non stop parade of visits and phone calls. Like the sun rising and setting, Bill Gadreu calls every day at 6pm without fail. Bobby who has developed a deeper relationship with herbie yes because of his personal sense of responsibility sure but more because of his admiration and love for him. This is because of Herbie’s incessant and consistent trips and visits to all of the people he has cared for and about since I remember. Weddings, funerals, births, birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary parties and any excuse to keep in touch.
Patriarch almost feels garish to say. For a man who is not demonstratively emotional, his consistency and his ability to show up whenever possible, has been the most stunning example of a demonstration of love. Love comes in many forms and Herbies non verbal way of showing it speaks louder and bolder than 1000 I LOVE YOU’S. I can see this by the relationships he has formed with the wondrous women who lovingly and patiently care for him in the most intimate of circumstances. Brenda from Belize, Spritual tonya, the writer, nancy, the queen of nighttime crafting, and Anika the warrior aka bad ass anika who never lets anything get by her these women have played a significant role in Herbie’s care, but also in the ease of which we as his family have kept things as normal as we have known them to be in our continued visits and phone calls. Even though he has to write these exhorbitant checks for this care, the man who told me at 25 to start a mutual fund and an IRA (and I actually listened) is my role model for saving for a rainy day (which I don’t usually listen), these beautiful women are like family now in our lives surely. And fortunately for us, his frugality over the years have allowed him to live in his home with this personal care and we too reap the benefits of is financial prowess.
We can see this tonight with over 80 people in attendance. This is significant in a life well lived. His ability to form relationships and maintain them for a lifetime is something that facebook and twitter could never compete with.
There has never been a shortage of love induced language around, towards, above and below you. An omnipresent force in my entire life and if I dare to live to your benchmark I am at the half way point. It is hard to imagine living an entire one of my lives again yet life is like this, the speed of light, a speck on the planet and it is what we do with that speck that ultimately matters.
This is Herbie. More than anyone in my life. This is my grandfather. The largest speck I know surely.