It Starts with an Onion

It starts with an onion

 

An onion is where I begin today. Whether metaphorically or functionally, the onion can explain so much about life or the start of an activity, like cooking. Let me explain how I came to think about the onion and the centrality of it in my life.

Permit me please to be philosophical for a moment. This blog, Kinetic Motions, is a place for me to share my musings about really anything that comes to my mind on any given day. The inspiration for today’s post occurred one week ago, as I prepared for a video meet with my friend Elli and her daughter Samantha.

I won’t go down the path of why it was challenging to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in a traditional way this year. I host a group of old friends every year, and for the last few years Samantha, who is almost 14 years old, has been cooking with me. I gave her her first professional knife a couple of years ago and have instilled some wisdom and cooking skills upon her each year.

This year, as we logged in to Google Meet, I held up ingredient number one, and I said to her, “It starts with an onion.” I’ll get back to the importance of the onion in cooking in a moment. But first I will continue to philosophize.

It starts with an onion
That’s the best photo I got of us cooking together. That’s me and Elli.

Samantha looked at me and smiled, and it got me thinking, as I cooked that day and as I went about my week, how true my statement was that it starts with an onion.

An onion is an edible bulb. It’s a sphere, that could represent the cyclical nature of the day, the year and of course life. The onion has layers that can be peeled back from the outside in or cut in half and seen all at once.

It’s quite beautiful to look at and can bring a smile to one’s face as you pick it up. It’s a great example of Earth’s beauty. It may bring you joy as it’s the beginning, the foundation of what you may build. But as you pull it or cut it apart, its pungent smell may bring tears to your eyes. It may force you to show emotions that you tried to hide as you chop. If you want to complete your task, the tears must flow.

This seemingly simple bulb is actually quite complex. Just like life. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the onion is a great metaphor for my career path. Some people may look at their career as following a diagonal line upwards. Or maybe that line zig zags as you humbly rethink your path and have to start again.

Mine is an onion. There are some key skills and personality traits that I believe I always had. Those sit in the centre of the onion. I am passionate, loyal, creative and ya, I am a great writer. During my years of education, and through my career, from a sports radio producer, to a non-profit advocate to a communications professional, I have grown and added layers every day. If you want to find my full potential, pull those layers back. I may make you laugh or cry, as I come with a wicked sense of humour too.

Okay, now back to the functionality of why you must start with an onion. It is a top-five staple in my kitchen. I could list off any number of recipes that start with an onion. Those pungent fumes as you chop it up become sweet, delicious smells as you sauté it in a hot pan (or Instant Pot, of course!). Sauté that onion until it’s translucent, add some garlic and other ingredients, and I promise you, you have foundation of a great dish.

As an onion is a perfect sphere, so is this post as I circle back to where I began: it starts with an onion, like my day of cooking did with Samantha. I taught her how to make the perfect stuffing for our turkey. What’s ingredient number one: you got it, the onion. We peeled off the skin and chopped up our onions. As we cooked, we laughed and we cried. And the stuffing, wow, was it amazing.

it starts with an onion
The stuffing before it was stuffed. Yes the onion is in there.

Tik Tok, Tik Tok – WhatsApp? Do I have online time to bypass any Roblox while I Instagram my photos for a Fortnite?

Online

I realize that my subject line only makes just a bit of sense, unless you have been living under a rock for the past 7 months. Whether you live with teens, pre-teens, other adults or on your own, social media and online gaming are keeping us in touch, busy and sometimes just on the brink of sanity this year.

All of these tools can never replace face-to-face, in person interactions. A hug from a loved one or hanging out on the couch with a good friend are special, uplifting and necessary in our lives.. Human beings, I believe, are by our very nature sociable and in need of other people (or pets, but that’s for another day!).

But that’s just not possible right now. Not only is it not a good idea to hug your grandmother or host friends for dinner at home, in many places it’s just outright banned. So we find alternatives. We find other ways to fill the long and often lonely days, to break the boredom and seek out different ways to connect.

Enter the smartphone, tablet, computer or gaming system. How do I describe how I feel about the many devices, as I refer to them, that litter my home? Do I love them and feel grateful for them? Yes. Do I hate them and sometimes consider throwing them all in the garbage dump? Definitely yes!

It’s a daily battle in my head, as I constantly check my email, social media accounts and text and WhatsApp messages. And what would I do without my online Scrabble games? I am lucky that I work for a wonderful employer, ADP, who has been open and transparent and who sent us all home to work on March 16th. I’ve been busy (okay, VERY busy!), and I often sit in front of my computer for 12 or 14 hours a day. And what do I do in between, before and after? I’m on my phone, checking in with friends and family. I can’t escape it, so how could I expect my kids to?

Screen time. When I was a kid, that phrase was only used to quantify how much time a child sat in front of the TV. In 2020, TV is old news. Now it’s the smartphone, tablet or computer. How much is too much, and without it, am I cutting my kids off from the only way they can feel connected to their friends? My 10-year-old daughter is a whiz with the various tools at her fingertips (she is also the child, who at age 2 taught her grandmother how to play Angry Birds on the iPad). Julia seems to be at the centre of more social circles than ever before, jumping between multiple texts, WhatsApp conversations, video chats and online interactive games. Her phone is dinging all day and every few minutes I hear the voice of a different friend of hers emanating from her bedroom.

online
Even at the cottage, the device is never far.

My son plays online games with his cousins and also camp friends who live around the world. I often hear him laughing hysterically at 2:00 am, as they discuss the latest sports news. Even my four-year-old often has her head down with a device, watching some painful kiddie video on YouTube or preschooler game. Her little fingers give her the ability to fly through screens at a rapid pace.

Does this make me a terrible parent? Am I destroying my kids’ brains by letting them spend so much of their day online? What damage have I done to myself? I spend hours in front of a computer screen, day after day, and in between I’m on my phone. I hear clicking and pings all the time, whether they are real or not. I followed the news before but now admit I’m definitely a news junkie. Is this healthy? Terrible? Devastating?

I think it’s all of it. The world as we knew it before March 2020 doesn’t exist right now. Devices, like it or not, keep us all connected and together. I don’t know what I’d do without my WhatsApp group from work, people who have truly become close friends in the last seven months – and yet I haven’t seen them at all. How else could we have celebrated Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah in April without webcams, computers and the Internet? I had never felt closer to family than I did on that day, as we all appeared side by side on our screens.  

online
This is not how we planned it, but this is how it happened.

My kids’ lifeline is their personal mobile device. The pinging, middle of the night laughter and online parties are helping them – and me – get through this. I need to stop thinking about screen time and see it more as social time. We have found new ways to stay close to the ones we love and build bonds with old and new friends. Thank goodness for social media, video chats and online gaming. Like it or not, they are here to stay.

Ready for a Happy New Year

happy new year apple

It is the start of a new year.2020 has a few months to go, but 5781 has arrived. People like to make resolutions at the start of a new year, so why not at the start of the Jewish new year? The second half of 5780 was hard, for everyone around the world, and just plain terrible for many. While I would love to wish everyone a healthy, sweet and wonderful new year, I fear this is a wish that won’t come true.

I haven’t published a post since May 2018, when my daughter Julia celebrated her 9th birthday. I honestly don’t know why I stopped writing here. It’s something I love to do. Was I busy? Did I forget? Did I always have something else to do? Maybe. I’m not going to make excuses. I made a commitment, when I published my first post in May 2017, that this blog was important to me and that I was excited to start this new journey.

Then I got side tracked. Even during the early lockdown of this pandemic in March and April, I didn’t write. When I was lucky enough to spend much of my summer outside the city, I didn’t write. My kids went back to school, and I didn’t write. So, it’s a new year, and I’m ready to write. Here I am, I’m back.

I have so many ideas for new blog posts. Every day I come across something that makes me think, read about a piece of news that makes me want to know more or have an interesting conversation that makes me want to write, I remind myself that the Kinetic Motions blog is where I need to share my thoughts.

We are living in such a unique and challenging time in our lives. Over 30 million people have been infected and almost 1 million people have died from a dangerous virus. This virus is terrorizing us, hurting us and killing us. It has not only changed every aspect of our daily lives, but so many people have lost the ones they love.

I am not going to use this space to tell people to be smart and berate those who are ignorant or who choose to ignore the invisible enemy. We are all in this together. The world is just a small global village, and everyone, in every community, is responsible for the good and welfare of everyone else.

In the past 16 months since I published my last post, Nessa turned 3, then she turned 4; we celebrated Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah from our dining room and blasted the signal via Zoom around the world; Julia hit double digits in May; my beloved Poppy died in April, at the age of 99; oh and we got a dog…. An adorable Maltese-Bichon mix, who just turned 3. And of course so much more in between, in the midst of a global pandemic.

The world, and life, are never boring. Every day brings something new, and sometimes shocking. A shooting, hurricane, wildfires, murders of people because of their skin colour or ethnicity. I don’t want to be dulled by any of these events, but maybe, we could do with a bit of just plain boring in 5781.

So, the blog is back. Kinetic Motions is, well, back in motion. Whether you celebrate or not, I wish you a happy, healthy, sweet, and maybe a little boring, new year.

*Just a little note… the apple featured here was just picked from my backyard garden. We have a single apple tree in our backyard, that typically produces one apple each year. This year it bloomed with beautiful flowers and produced a few apples for us to enjoy. If the tree can bloom, so can we.

Mother’s Day is Julia’s Day

mother

I became a new mother for the second time on May 12th, 2010. It was an ordinary Wednesday, early in the morning, when Julia jumped into the world. And I mean jumped. One moment I went into labour and the next moment I had a baby girl. Whoever said labour was long and slow hadn’t met Miss Julia Maxine.

Julia was a special gift to us the day she was born but also to her first cousin, who turned five that very same day. The “May 12 Girls” as we call them are kindred spirits and share a special bond that most cousins only dream about. I remember my sister-in-law said to me, when Julia was just a few days old… “You are going to have to balance birthday fun and Mother’s Day from now on. Good Luck.”

mother
The May 12 girls as Julia turned one.

mother
The May 12 girls celebrate in 2014.

mother
The May 12 girls celebrate together on May 12, 2019.

I shrugged it off as Mother’s Day has never been a big deal to me. Even as a child I saw through this rather commercialized day. I told my mother many years ago that no one had to assign a special day for me to tell my mother I loved her or to do something nice for her. I should do that every day, and if I want to buy my mother a gift then I just buy one. I stuck to that promise throughout my childhood and when I became a mother, now to three children, I stand by that.

I am a mother, and I work hard at it. My one request to my husband and children: be nice to me every day! So it’s no big deal that Julia’s birthday falls near Mother’s Day every year, or once in  while on Mother’s Day, as it does this year.

In 2019, Mother’s Day is Julia’s Day. And she has made the most of it. Maybe it’s because her brother had a sleepover birthday party when he turned 9. Or maybe it’s because she figured out her birthday would be on a Sunday in 2019. Julia knew exactly what she wanted this year: you guessed it… a sleepover party of her own.

People said to me, “But Sunday, May 12this Mother’s Day. How can you do a sleepover party?” Ah, I answered, not only am I giving a gift of a sleepover party to Julia, I’m giving a gift to her friends’ mothers as well – I’m taking their kids! And sure enough the mothers have thanked me.

They thanked me, and they also gave me a mix of bravoand are you crazyfor hosting 10 eight and nine-year-old girls for an overnight at my house. Birthday or Mother’s Day, this is no easy task. Girls at this age are high energy, demanding and a bit anxious. But they are still kind of cute and smiley and relatively easy to please.

I haven’t slept much in the last 24 hours. I was a mix of a short-order cook, professional baker, cleaning lady, hostess extraordinaire and mother to ten. My list includes cooking and serving two meals, baking a birthday cake from scratch, making up ten beds (setting up sleeping bags across my living room floor), wiping food off every surface in my house and sweeping up anything from popcorn and cake crumbs to Dollar Store play dough and dirt.

mother
Make a wish and blow our your candles, Julia!

Who said adolescent boys have a ton of energy? Spend the night with a group of 10 adolescent girls and you may think differently. They are like the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going and going. They run around the background. The girls zoom up and down the stairs. Giggling. Laughing. Shrieking. Jumping. Dancing. Do they slow down? No.

mother
My living room Saturday night

I don’t quite know how I convinced them to go bed. I’m not going to say “go to sleep” as some refused to do that. It was a late night. They were excited. It wasn’t just a sleepover party – it was the evening before Julia’s birthday. The fact that Mother’s Day was upon them seemed irrelevant to this group of young ladies.

But not to their mothers and fathers. The girls’ smiling parents heartily greeted me this morning when they arrived at our house to pick up their sweet little girls. They looked at my tired face and kindly wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. And I graciously said thank you. Today was Julia’s Day, for sure, but I am giving myself a gold star too, for Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women in the world who are the heart of the home, the family, and in my mind, the world.

Blame Sports for why the Blog has taken a Back Seat

sports

The Kinetic Motions blog is back. I travel around life and experience so much every day, and I am constantly taking notes so that I can write my next blog. Then I hit a deadline at work, a holiday sneaks up on me or a child suddenly has a runny nose. And the notes for my next blog get pushed to the side. If I grab a few free minutes I indulge in a show on Netflix, or lately, sports. During the month of April there is an abundance of riches of sports, if you are fan. I am a fan. Where do I begin?

If anyone asks me (and they often do!), what’s my favourite sport, it’s an easy answer: baseball. The reaction, if the person is also a sports fan, is usually, really? What? Why? Are you kidding? But the Blue Jays suck right now! I get a few high fives from the diehards, but living in hockey crazy Toronto, most people are not supportive.

April (well, really late March recently) is when baseball season really gets going. The playoffs start to heat up for hockey and basketball. If you are a golf fan (I will admit, I am not), the Masters are in April. You can even watch Major League Soccer this month.

Baseball

Okay, let’s get back to baseball, my first love. I will admit that I don’t remember going to my first game. My parents tell me that they took me to the odd game at the old Exhibition Stadium when I was little, but I have zero memories. My team, the Toronto Blue Jays, launched their first season in 1977, when I was a one-year-old, and I have seen a ton of TV coverage of those early years. I have a few faint memories of a game or two at Exhibition Place.

I think I became a fan at age 9, in 1985, during the Blue Jays’ first playoff run. And when a name of a Blue Jay great from the 1980’s is mentioned, like Dave Stieb or George Bell or Jimmy Key, my face lights up. Don’t even get my son started on my deep devotion to Kelly Gruber back then (yes, he wore #17).

I went to a game at the swanky new Skydomein June 1989, soon after it opened. I have no idea who the Jays played or who won the game but do remember that it started to lightly rain. All 50,000 other people, looked up to the sky to watch the domed roof turn and close. It was fascinating!

I have fond memories of dancing the polka around the cottage in October 1992 when the Jays won their first World Series. Joe Carter’s famous homerun to win it all again in 1993 is etched in my mind. Years later, side by side with my son in 2015, I watched the Jose Bautista bat flip.  It wasn’t hard to convince my sports-loving son to embrace my favourite sport

So what if the Blue Jays won’t make the playoffs this year (or probably next year), I still watch. I still buy tickets (or happily will take any ticket someone wants to give me!) and follow the sport. When we travel to Seattle next month (yep, tons of stuff to write while there!), Matthew and I are excited to go to a Mariners game. We are baseball fans.

Hockey

The most challenging part of my day today is to decide, do I watch the Jays wrap up their series vs Oakland (and try to sweep them) or watch my Carolina Hurricanes play game 2 vs the NY Islanders? For most people, this is a head shaker. It’s another chance to look at me and say, what? Are you kidding? The Hurricanes? Why? That’s random!

It’s not random. First of all, I love hockey. Maybe I am not exactly a super fan. I could go weeks during the regular season and never watch a game. I follow the season and keep up on the news. But I don’t settle into a hockey game like I do with baseball. But when the playoffs come, I’m on top of it.

My passion for the Carolina Hurricanes goes back to 2001, when I started my career as a journalist. I won’t rehash the story, as I wrote about it in a blog back in 2017. Have a READ. I promised my team that I would forever be a fan, no matter how terrible or incredible they played. My loyalty paid off when my Canes won the Stanley Cup in June 2006. And today, April 28th, 2019, they are on playoff run that is making everyone turn their heads.

Don’t laugh. I believe in them. This team has heart. They have grit. Okay, so maybe they are a “bunch of jerks,” as Don Cherry so kindly refers to them. But they are a fabulous bunch of jerks.

Basketball

I didn’t care much for basketball until a few years ago. I liked the Raptors, but I never had even a drop of patience to sit through a game. And then my son became a super fan. He is a walking encyclopedia of random basketball statistics and knows who every player is and where they play. He yells at the TV like the players and coaches can hear him and listen to him. Maybe he knows something I don’t.

Toronto is a hockey city first, baseball city second, and I believe, maybe a basketball city third. The Raptors don’t get the attention or respect this incredible team of 2018/19 deserves. The team is talented, focused and determined, and if they keep playing the way they did the last few games, they are unstoppable. Could they go all the way this year?

_____

Which brings me back to where I began. The blog is back, or at least I’m going to try. Following and watching sports the last few weeks has taken up probably too much of my free time. I love sports. But I also love to write. When I am walking down the street and something makes me chuckle, I want to write about it. For example, what’s with grown men giving the fist-pump and calling each other dude? Do I need to pay almost $100 for cable anymore? How many more drivers will make my blood boil over this week? My next trip is coming up. The Hurricanes are on their incredible playoff run. I want to write. I must write. So follow along and come for the ride. There will be much to read in the near future. I promise.

Happy Year of the Pig

pig

 I like pigs. That’s right. I don’t eat them. I just like them. I always have, since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment or reason when or why I started to have an interest in this fine animal, but the pig and I have always shared a strong bond.

So it seems timely, as a citizen of the world, that I celebrate the Chinese New Year this week, which of course is the Year of the Pig. From what I have read, the Year of the Pig is the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. Other great animals are part of this, like the dog, rabbit and tiger, but really, no animal is as interesting or as sophisticated as the pig.

I have to say that this loveable animal really gets a bad rap. It is often associated with being dirty, fat and lazy, and that’s not fair. I have scoured the internet (some very sophisticated research) and found some fascinating information:

Top Ten Things You Didn’t Know about the Pig

  1. They are fast. Can you run a 7-minute mile? Adult pigs can run up to 11 miles per hour. Why don’t you try that?
  2. The expression “sweat like a pig” is not accurate. Pigs don’t really sweat – they like to cool off in the mud. That’s why you think they are dirty. But they’re just hot!
  3. If my daughter’s room looked like a pig sty, I’d be thrilled. They may roll in mud to cool off, but they are naturally very clean and organized. Pigs self-potty train, and new research shows that in an open barnyard pen they will establish a community toilet.
  4. They are chatty creatures and know how to communicate with each other. They use different kinds of vocalizations to speakto each other. Those aren’t just squeals.
  5. They are not picky eaters. They will eat anything. Can you say that about your children?
  6. Maybe they don’t see so well, but wow do they have an excellent sense of smell. Just ask someone who likes to eat truffles (and I mean mushrooms, not chocolate).
  7. It’s not just my daughter who is sociable – so are pigs. They like to be together and snuggle together when they sleep.
  8. You are not that different from a pig, genetically I mean. Their stem cells are helping us humans for research into countless diseases.
  9. This one is interesting, especially as we celebrate the Chinese New Year – pigs are associated with fertility in Chinese culture. So many hidden talents.
  10. This is a smart animal, often ranked just behind apes and dolphins. According to Winston Churchill (and I have a piece of art depicting this in my home), “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

So you can see why I like pigs. I could tell you at least 10 more great things about this animal. I will admit I don’t want one for a pet. They may be domesticated, but I don’t think I’m ready to take that leap. But if anyone wanders around my house, it won’t take long to see hints of the pinky pig all over the place.

Yes, I literally have dozens of the stuffy kind all over my house, led by the big and cutest one, my long-time friend Taloulah (yes that’s her in the photo at the top of this post). This giant stuffed pig joined me when David and I lived around the world early in our marriage. I was so worried about Taloulah flying safely from France to Israel back in 1999 that I made David take my lovable friend as carry-on luggage on the journey. I still giggle at the thought of a grown man wandering through Charles de Gaulle airport with a giant stuffed pig under his arm!

The collectibles never went too far, but the friendly pig paraphernalia definitely permeates throughout my house. There’s the kitchen ice cream scoop or the citrus squeezer. Pillows and picture frames. Socks and t-shirts. It’s just enough to keep me happy but not too much to overwhelm and take over.

So this week, as Chinese communities around the world celebrate the new year and put the pig up on a pedestal, where it’s supposed to be, I will celebrate with them. As will Porky, Miss Piggy, Olivia and of course, Peppa too.

Do you want to have a Snow Day?

snow day

Some people would describe a massive snowstorm as terrible and nasty. They shudder at the prospect of cleaning heavy snow off their car, a longer commute to work and slippery sidewalks. It’s just miserable. Then there are people like me who perk up and get excited when they hear the word snow. When I saw the weather forecast a few days ago that a big storm was headed my way, my first thought: snow day.

snow day
Looking out the window during the height of the storm

A rather big snow storm blew through Toronto on Monday. For those of you who live in cities who get big storms all the time, sure laugh at us. But I’m sure that a solid 35 cm of the white stuff fell on my front lawn. And all over Toronto. The city was crazy and hectic. But as I sat at home and looked out my window, I saw the beauty of my neighbourhood covered in a shiny white blanket.

Tuesday morning, 6:40 am. My cell phone rings. I ignore it. Ten minutes later the phone rings again. I turn off the ringer.

My morning radio alarm goes on and they are reading out the list of school closures. I check my phone. Email from the kids’ school. It’s closed. Phone rings again and I finally answer it. The preschool is closed.

Snow day!

Yippee!

I firmly believe that a snow day is one of the greatest highlights of childhood. Every child has to experience at least one snow day. You wake up groggy from the night and your parents tell you, guess what, school is closed – snow day! The look of joy on my children’s faces was something I will remember for a long time. Pure happiness.

snow
Looking out at my backyard on the morning of a snow day

snow day
Three rounds of shovelling to clear the snow

Stay in your pyjamas. Make a big batch of French toast. Turn on the TV and watch morning cartoons (update for 2019: pull out the ipad and click on the Netflix app). Sit back and relax.

I looked out my front window and quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going anywhere either. Getting dressed meant throwing on a pair of old sweatpants and breakfast was a homemade espresso and leftover french toast.

I flicked on my laptop and did my best to hide in my home office to work. By midday I had actually accomplished quite a bit of work. There were six children in my house, including the kids’ friends and my nephew. We were settling in for a cozy day.

After they downed a few boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese, it was time to throw them outside. What child doesn’t want to run around outside after a huge snowfall? What parent doesn’t want to throw them out there after said children slowly started to trash every corner of the house?

I don’t know what the three boys did outside, but after a couple of hours in front of an ipad or XBOX, these border collies needed their run. Again, thank you tons of snow for providing great entertainment for them. My two-year-old wasn’t quite as happy. She couldn’t move outside in the waist-deep snow (ya that happens when you are a few inches under three feet tall).

As the afternoon wore on, the brood of children grew restless, in particular the boys. So isn’t it logical to throw on a bathing suit and jump in the hot tub? If you are 10 or 11 years old, sure! Minus ten (or something close to that) and a foot of snow is a great appetizer to a 95-degree vat of water.

snow day
Matthew started to leap in with his boots on

snow day
The boots flew off as Matthew flew in

snow day
And he’s in!

Everywhere I looked in my house all day a different activity was going on. My older daughter was hosting a Playmobil pool party in her bedroom. My son took full advantage of his selection of XBOX games in the basement. The baby traveled from room to room, sharing her toys and snacks with the couch, the floor, her clothes and her siblings’ bedrooms. David and I switched off between work and cleaning up after the pack of kids.

On first read it sounds like the local zoo, but it was bliss. Outside it was freezing cold with layers of snow blanketing every corner of the city. And inside everyone was cheerful and drinking in every moment of this special day.

And as the sun began to set on the day, the fun continued. My nephew and son announced their interest to go night snowboarding at a local small but decent little hill – right in the middle of the city. My daughter definitely had a bit of cabin fever and eagerly went to her karate class.

We didn’t waste a minute of the day. Good food, good friends and good fun. Who could ask for more? Maybe another snow day tomorrow? My kids were quite sure of that as they drifted off to sleep. It was a great snow day, indeed, but another one tomorrow? Ah, I don’t think so.

I am not made for a Tournament

tournament

I would consider myself to be a decent mother. I indulge my children when they need indulging, push them when they need pushing and discipline them when they clearly need disciplining. My kids are intelligent and feisty, and all three of them have unique traits that make them loveable in their own way. When any one of them is eager to try something new I am happy to encourage them. This was the case when my middle child, Julia, decided she wanted to participate in a karate tournament.

I am proud of Julia’s drive to pursue karate. Like her brother, we enrolled Julia in karate lessons at age 4 as we felt that learning some self defense skills and confidence in herself would be invaluable. She took to the sport well and has excelled. At age 8 and many inches under four feet tall, Julia has achieved an advanced purple belt.

tournament
As a black belt, Matthew had the honour last week of giving Julia her advanced purple belt

If you look at her face when she is practicing a kata or puts her fists up ready to spar, you wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley! My daughter knows what she’s doing!

While Matthew, with a black belt in karate and tremendous strength and poise, shies away from competition, Julia loves it. Matthew would prefer to focus on learning and teaching younger kids. Julia can feel the adrenaline of stepping outside her comfort zone and trying something new, like a tournament.

I am much more like Matthew and typically shy away from anything competitive. It’s not that I am scared to lose, I just don’t like the feeling in the air at competitive events. I will admit that they make me uncomfortable. As the saying goes, “those who can’t…. write.” I never played sports well, so that’s why I became a sports journalist!

But I digress. A couple of months ago Julia announced that she wanted to try a karate tournament. The school where she takes lessons hosts and participates in various tournaments throughout the year, and her sensei encouraged her to train and try one. Sure, I thought, why not.

Wow, I really knew nothing. Julia has been training and getting extra support after her regular karate class, to boost her confidence in her katas and sparring. She decided that she would only participate in one session – sparring – for her first tournament as she wanted to ease into this new world.

I signed her up for her first tournament which we knew would take place in the west-end of Toronto on December 1st. And that’s all I knew. You see, while I am not organized in every aspect of my life, I am a bit of a planner. When I travel, I organize the car rental, hotels and schedule. If I plan a family outing, I take care of the logistics. When I rely on someone else to plan, I get heart palpatations and anxiety.  Walking into anything unknown really bothers me.

That was the case at the karate tournament. I had a date, an address and a time. That’s it. I kept thinking to myself, I’m sure this event would be organized and well-run. It’s karate after all, a sport based on discipline. Boy was I wrong.

We arrived to a place that could best be described as slightly organized chaos. The line-up to register was long and messy. The check-in person kept repeating to me to check the email that was sent to me about Julia’s division. No email was sent to me. She was in division 13, the person told me. That means what, I said? Where does she compete? When does compete? How many other children will be in her competition? No answers.

We finally tracked down one of the tournament organizers from our karate school who kindly walked us over to a room on a lower level where children of all ages were getting ready. More chaos. Most of them were warming up like soldiers before a battle but they were four-feet tall and had no shoes or socks on. One kid was running around with what looked like a plastic sword screaming some version of Japanese gibberish, I think.

While Julia’s assigned zone was clearly a competitive area for children, I felt no warmth from the other parents. For the most part, it was kids aged 6-12 participating, and wow, those parents took it seriously. Some were hollering at their children to warm up, others were drilling their kids on the right moves. Others sat there on their phones and held seats for people who never showed up. Not a friendly face around me. I had clearly stepped out of my usual comfortable space and into another realm.

The one smiling face came from the mother of Julia’s friend, who has been taking her 7-year-old daughter to tournaments for the last year. She saw the stress on my face and tears in my daughter’s eyes as we both stood there overwhelmed and terrified. And her sweet, chatty daughter (like mine) put the cheer back into Julia’s face. Thank goodness for that.

We waited and kept hoping Julia’s turn would come soon. Patience is not one of my daughter’s virtues, especially when she was feeling anxious about her first tournament. Competition like this is new to her, she had limited training and she is tiny! I looked around and noticed that, as usual, the children in her age and category were a bit older, had more training and were much bigger. Julia has worked hard and is a very confident little girl, but this was a bit much, even for her (and me!).

tournament
She got her fighting face on and focused.

Julia sparred against a girl who was definitely older, had a brown belt and was over a head taller. She didn’t have a chance. But, like the shining light that she always is, Julia rose to the occasion and tried her best. She got a few kicks in and threw a fair number of punches. Julia lost her match but she won the day. She walked away with a shiny bronze medal (yes there were only 3 kids in her group but so what) and her head held high. She even said she wants to compete again, and this time with a kata. And her father will take her to the next one.

tournament
Julia listened carefully to the rules before she sparred with the other girl.

Competition and tournaments are not for the faint of heart. They are chaotic, rough and people can be downright mean. I think the most aggressive people in the room were the parents of the 7-year-olds. How can anyone push a child that way? That is not for me. Or for my daughter. If you want to win, great, go for it. But can’t an 8-year-old have fun too? I still have in my mind the crushed look on the faces of some of those kids who scored too low to get a medal. And the look on the parents’ faces weren’t any better. My message: get over it. Relax. Have fun. The junior division of a karate tournament is not worth getting so stressed out.

So I survived and so did Julia. And yes, she even get her own souvenir medal.. Maybe she will try it again. Maybe she won’t. But no matter what she chooses, I will always be proud, as I am a decent mother.

My Home is My Sanctuary

sanctuary

Recently, as I was preparing dinner for my family, at about 6:30 pm, my doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone but checked to see who it could be anyway. I looked through the glass of my front door and saw a young man, and through the closed door asked him what he wanted. A donation to his charity, he said. I responded, no thank you, and I walked away. 5 minutes later my doorbell rang again. Once again I looked through the glass of my front door, and this time it was someone campaigning for the municipal election. Both of these people infuriated me. They dared invade the sanctuary of my home. This really upset me.

I have not written a blog post in many weeks. It’s not for a lack of ideas, and so many of them are swirling through my head every day. I am desperate to write, as writing relieves all stress in my daily life and really calms me. I have been extremely busy with a new, very full-time job, three children in school, a husband with a new consulting business and an attempt to balance my work demands with my family’s needs. Every time I steal away a few minutes on my own I have had no strength to write.

But this weekend I had to write. After the heinous attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, one of the first words that came to my mind was sanctuary. It has many meanings, and two in particular are on my mind right now.

As I wrote above, my home is my sanctuary. It is the one and only place in this vast, sometimes scary world, that is mine, where I should feel safe and where I can simply escape. My home is where my family eats, sleeps, screams, laughs, cuddles and cries. Our home belongs to us, and we do not have to allow anyone in when we don’t want to.

So when someone rings my doorbell in the evening, when I am in the sanctuary of my home, with my family, they have violated my private space. It irks me. I don’t like it.  

Until this weekend I never really thought more deeply about another way I think of the word sanctuary. It is often the term people use to describe the main, usually largest, space in which Jews pray in a synagogue. For example, I got married in the “main sanctuary” of my family’s synagogue. It never occurred to me the deeper meaning of what that represents to the Jewish community until this Saturday, this past Shabbat, as congregants gathered in the sanctuary of their synagogue to do no more than pray.

The synagogue’s, church’s or mosque’s sanctuary, or the central space in which any religious group prays, is sacred, and it is the extension of the home. We pray in the house of worship’s sanctuary together, as a community, and we feel safe. When we are in that sanctuary – in our own home or our synagogue, we don’t expect anyone to disrupt that peace and sense of calm.

Someone ringing my doorbell, asking for a donation, to sell me something or convince me to vote for them, is terribly annoying. It bothers me. It threatens my sanctuary.

Someone who bursts through the doors of a synagogue, who tears through the sanctuary, while people are praying, shouting “Death to the Jews” then murders them, is repulsive. I am actually having trouble thinking of the right words to use to describe my feelings about how an individual violated the sanctuary of a group of worshippers on the Sabbath and killed them in cold blood.

For eleven people, one man took away their lives.

For a whole community, he took away our sanctuary. He took away our right to have a sacred place to come together – not only to pray, but to feel safe. Everyone deserves to have a sanctuary, in their own home or in their place of worship. My home will always be my main sanctuary. And I hope that the hateful act of one man will not take away the other one.

Finding Meaning on a Day to Atone

meaning

I am not a deeply religious person. I had a rather traditional upbringing, was educated at a  Jewish Day School and attended synagogue with my family on a relatively regular basis. We observed Judaism to the best of our ability, and I have brought my various experiences and beliefs along with me throughout my life. This time of year has always been a challenge for me, with so many Jewish holidays packed in together, mixed in with the changing seasons and new school year. People pass around sweet New Year’s greetings, a wish to be inscribed in the Book of Life and a hope to find meaning as we atone and start fresh again.

Every year, as I receive countless kind holiday greetings from family and friends, I always take an extra moment to think and sometimes question why I am asked to find meaning in this time of year. It seems like an abstract word to me as it can be understood in so many ways. I usually just ponder the word for a few minutes then move along with my day, but this year I can’t get the word out of my head.

How can a holiday, one day or one experience bring meaning to my life? Does it affect me in a positive or negative way? Do I have to take any specific actions in order to find meaning? Can one only find true meaning during Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) if you go to synagogue and pray?

My husband and I decided to not attend synagogue this year during the High Holidays and instead chose to stay at home with our children. We have had a challenging year. While we are headed in a positive (and I think exciting!) direction, when we had to make the decision during the summer to purchase synagogue tickets, we felt that our hearts just weren’t in it. Would we find meaning in praying among family and friends or would find that true meaning at home, with our children? The choice was easy.

Now that those two holidays are over I can reflect on the decision to stay home this year, and I don’t regret it. I have never connected on an emotional level, in a meaningful way, sitting (or standing) in a synagogue. Prayer has not come naturally to me and has not uplifted me spiritually. With the kind of year I have had, often feeling overwhelmed or deeply stressed, I knew that what was best for me – and my family – was to take some time at home.

On Tuesday afternoon I browsed through countless Facebook posts as people prepared for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is not supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing. It is a day of denial – no food, no bathing, for example – so you can reflect and start fresh. You think about what you have done wrong, how you may have wronged people and hope for forgiveness. Some people are able to find that meaning through prayer, but again, that is not the case for me. I find meaning in my life and am able to reflect on my life by spending time by myself, in a quiet place, or by writing.

And on Wednesday I found meaning as I sat around the dining room table with my husband and children as we played a board game. She did what? On Yom Kippur she sat at home in her sweatpants and played board games? That’s right I did, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I spend so much of my life running around, chasing my children, balancing schedules or yelling at one person or another. Life seems to be go go go. But this year, on Yom Kippur, instead of dressing up, forcing my kids out the door and making everyone stay quiet at synagogue, we just stayed home and spent quality time together. I literally had nothing to do but be with my family, talk to them, laugh with them and enjoy their company.

And while I did not attend synagogue, I did strictly observe the rest of the Day of Atonement. I denied myself food for 25 hours, and it was definitely tough. My body is not used to fasting, and at times I felt tired and a bit unwell. But as the day wore and I had time to think about my life and the choices I make. I found meaning.

I don’t know what the next year will bring for me and my family. My children have all embarked on a new year of school, David is balancing various offers to consult on exciting projects and I am a few weeks in to a new and very demanding job.

As we move into that new year I want to say I am sorry to anyone who I may have hurt or offended this past year. I wish you all a year of success and may you find meaning in your life as well.