Category Archives: Adult Kids

Valentine’s Day – not only for the L-O-N-G Married

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On this Valentine’s Day my husband wants me to share with you the fact that he is disappointed.

By certain long-standing habits of mine that I refuse to modify.

  • One recent morning he came downstairs for breakfast and reached into the refrigerator for blueberries to eat atop his cereal. (as do I.)  What he found were two plastic containers of blueberries, side-by-side. One contained six or seven forlorn, slightly shriveled old blueberries. The other box was brand new – full of fresh, plump berries.

It was also clear, so he told me that evening  (he has an amateur sleuth badge from our mutual habit of watching far too many BBC detective shows) that a person he knows all too well had obviously opened up the new box of berries without taking the time to finish what was left of the old berries. Which is – according to him – a sad commentary on the differences that remain  between us even after almost 39 years of marriage.

That I would brashly dig into the sweetest of berries, because I knew I could leave it to him to polish off the older sad-looking berries.

And wouldn’t you do the same?

Given all of life’s difficulties (have you been watching the national news lately?), isn’t it reasonable, when presented with the choice, to go with the most tempting option?

I mean, I’m thrifty when I have to be – but when I don’t have to be, I do like to eat the freshest food first.

  • On a related note, he also likes to point out to anyone who will listen that I possess all of the necessary qualifications for immediate hire by whatever  division it is of the U.S.Department of Agriculture in charge of putting sell-by dates on food. Because he believes (wrongly) that a person can    confidently and safely consume food that is well past said sell-by date.

He quibbles with my predilection to toss out food that shows even the most recent of expired dates. We have – and I’m not proud of this – argued at length about what “sell by” means versus “use by.”

But don’t you also want to stay healthy?

I try to reason with him by explaining that if I were to eat very old food I could end up in the hospital – again.  (a place I do not want to re-visit having spent far too long there in 2012). If I were to become ill because of eating spoiled food, my husband would have to visit me in the hospital and that would cost him both time ( I can’t miss that much work!) and money (do you believe how expensive this hospital parking garage is?)

So I am only trying to be helpful by eating the freshest of food.

Unlike my husband who truly does love old food. And I don’t say this snidely. In all seriousness, he prefers to eat leftovers. Previously cooked food that resides inside little plastic containers inside our refrigerator for days, even for weeks, tastes good to him.

And if the most ancient of leftovers have a slightly blue tinge, all the better. (“it’s fine, it’s just like blue cheese. you like Roquefort cheese, don’t you?” he will say in his defense as he chomps down.)

Am I spoiled because I like to eat fresh food, prefer not to eat leftovers – and have a somewhat tightly wound approach to tossing out foods immediately after their use-by date? Perhaps so.

If he were a writer – he would want to edit this post – to tell you that his preference for older (a polite way of putting it) food comes to him by how he was raised. He is the child of immigrants who came to this country in the early 1950’s and worked extraordinarily hard in their factory jobs to raise a family who knew how important it was not to let any food go to waste.

I am a few generations removed from the immigrant experience and maybe that is why I am less thrifty about food than I should be. While my stay-at-home mom was hardly extravagant with her supermarket food purchases,  leftovers do not feature as large a role in my childhood memories as they do in my husband’s.

On this Valentine’s Day we consider ourselves lucky that we can share a laugh about a few old berries. Because last year was a very rocky one for us as parents. Life events tested our differing perspectives on far more serious concerns than the shelf stability of food.

It’s very important to laugh about left-overs. I highly recommend it to everyone, parents or not, l-o-n-g marrieds or not. Finding the funny in blue-tinged food can get you through the toughest of times.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Family, Holidays, Husbands, Marriage, Men vs Women, Parenting, Relationships, Women

Overheard – and Understood: “Syria” at the Hair Salon

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I always enjoy going to get my hair cut – but likely not for the reasons you may think.

Although I adore my fabulous hairstylist and champion colorist, Katie (who is guiding me through the just-started process of letting my for-years-dyed-brown hair go “natural” – a story for another blog post – although if you see me on the street and notice my blindingly obvious rapidly-growing-in white/gray roots, do feel free NOT to comment) –

Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes, I was talking about one of the reasons I like going to the hair salon.

Because of the excellent eavesdropping opportunities!!

NOTE to the wise: I have very good hearing – and if you are sitting next to me at a restaurant, on a plane or at the hair salon – I will be able to listen to your conversation. Apologies in advance.

There are often some wonderful tidbits of life to be over-heard.  That perhaps will make their way into this blog in a slightly-disguised fashion – or into a piece of fiction that I write (this fall I am taking a graduate school class on “Techniques of Fiction”).

Yesterday at the hair salon a woman came to sit in the next chair who looked familiar. I glanced her way several times and realized that yes, she was the wife of a lawyer with whom I once worked. Or more accurately, for whom I once worked. Because I knew her –  although I’m pretty sure she had no idea who I was – I tried my hardest NOT to over-hear her conversation with her stylist.

I failed.

I learned (not to my surprise) that Lawyer Wife (a) is still happily married, (b) travels to nice places (c) has adult kids doing well and (d) has grandchildren.

Lawyer Wife wasn’t bragging or being snobby about her contented-sounding-life. You probably also know people who, from the outside anyway, seem to have fewer problems than the rest of us.

After Lawyer Wife’s hair was finished, she left the salon. I was not yet done because trying to go from having dyed hair to letting the white/gray grow in is a more arduous process than I had realized. Involving significant use of those crispily-irritating, little silver foil squares to highlight the few non-white/gray strands that are left to make the quickly multiplying white/gray strands less noticeable. If you have questions about this process, let me refer you to Katie.

The woman who followed Lawyer Wife into the chair next to me, let’s call her Attractive Middle-Age-Woman – started to tell a story to her stylist about one of her adult kids, or maybe it was about a niece or nephew. Sadly, I couldn’t quite hear every word of Attractive Middle-Age Woman because as she began to talk, my own hair was being blow dried, which hindered my ability to eavesdrop.

(I did briefly think of asking Katie to put her blow-drying of my hair on pause so I could better follow the interesting conversation of Attractive Middle-Age Woman, but decided not to do so, knowing that Katie, quite the stickler for salon etiquette, would not be amused by my request. And I like to keep Katie amused.)

From what I could hear above the noise of the loud blow-dryer:

The adult child that Attractive Middle-Age Woman was discussing had “issues” – he or she was troubled,  a source of distress to her family.  Another member of the family kept asking questions of Attractive Middle-Age Woman about the troubled adult child which her mother was reluctant to answer. This member of the family was rather persistent, she kept “probing for pain” (as a psychologist I once heard at a lecture describe it.) Finally the mother of the troubled adult child told the other family member to stop asking questions, explaining something like this:

She’s like Syria, get it? A messy situation of long-standing. Lots of conflicts, brief flare-ups of peace, but mostly ups and downs. Too many factions involved trying to figure it out who don’t have effective solutions. And it continues on and on.  Painful. Sometimes I don’t want to be asked or talk about it. It’s hard enough to have to live through the situation without being asked questions that have no good answers.”

At this point, Katie had stopped blow-drying my hair and was applying the finishing touches, whirling me around in my chair so I could admire her lovely results. I had no choice but to pay the bill and leave the salon so did not get to hear the finale of the Attractive Middle-Age Woman’s conversation.

But wow, how I identified with her analogy of her adult child’s situation to a constantly war-torn nation.

There are times when I do feel like talking about the young-ish adult in our family who causes us major concerns, and other times when I get angry if family and friends do not ask questions – and do not offer to help — but there are also many, many times when I don’t want to answer any questions!  Similar to the ongoing conflict in Syria, a trickily difficult situation with no clear solutions.

My Message to Attractive Middle-Age Woman:

———if it seemed like I was eavesdropping, yes, I confess I was. But particularly because what you were talking about resonated with me. I so get your analogy to Syria. And likely others do too. It is hard enough to have to “live through it” without having to answer questions.

That is one of the reasons it is so soothing to escape to the hair salon. To have your head ministered to by hair wizards like Katie. To try to forget all about your Syria while your hair is being washed and your head massaged. To admire the results and have people tell you as you are leaving how good your hair looks.

A brief and welcome respite.

Which is (one of the reasons) why I like going to the hair salon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, Mental Health, Parenting, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

Reflections on the Horrific: Thinking of the Parents

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 A quote of which I am quite fond tells us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

(Thank you, Soren Kierkegaard for this bit of philosophical wisdom.)

Perhaps that was the thinking behind Facebook’s latest gimmick – to offer up “Memories” of posts you have shared from years prior. Mostly you laugh at your old photos or think about how young you once looked (sigh.) But sometimes you think, wow, I was pretty profound.

Last week a “Memory” popped up on FB of a post I wrote four summers ago.

I was deeply upset by the July 20, 2012  mass shooting in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by a young man named James Holmes. My understanding (looking backwards for understanding as Kierkegaard suggests) is that he acted without cognitive understanding while in a psychotic state due to his untreated severe mental illness.

Here is what I wrote on July 22, 2012:

“The silence of the parents of James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, touches my heart. How stunned, how shocked they must be. Even if they knew that their son’s mind was slipping into delusions and derangement, probably they could not help him or convince others to do so. They join the parents of the young man known as the mass shooter at Virginia Tech as members of a club they never thought they would belong to. They are grieving, too.”

Four years later, and my sympathy is also with parents of adults who take incomprehensible actions.

So many mass shootings have taken place in recent months – with different underlying causes.

  • Some shootings caused by terrorists who did not, as best as I know, have any kind of mental illness, but sought to kill civilians for their own misguided political purposes.
  • Some shootings caused by criminals who did not, as best as I know, act under the influence of mental illness, but instead were propelled by some toxic combination of their overwhelming hatred of others, racism and/or anger.
  • Only a very few of mass shootings are caused by people, often – and sadly – young men – like James Holmes in the summer of 2012, with long untreated extremely severe mental illness whose emotions and thoughts are so impaired by the illness that they have lost all contact with external reality.

(For the record,  people with severe mental illness, especially when it is untreated, are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, than to be the perpetrators of it.)

Through the media we read tributes to the victims, those who died and learn about their relatives who are left behind.

Rarely, though, do we read about the families of the shooters. Who are grieving too.

They, too, will have an empty chair at the next holiday table. All future family gatherings will be missing the one relative who has become famous for his notoriety, not for his good deeds. I always remember that he was someone’s son, too.  He was once well-loved. He had baby photos taken and admiring grandparents as he toddled around the house.

Then he grew up – and whatever the reason, ended up being one of those young men that we read about only when he does something tragic and terrible.

Try, if you can, when you hear about the latest mass shooting – and no doubt there will be more of them – to consider the parents of those who end up in the news for horrific reasons.

Can these parents ever, looking through a backwards lens, come to understand how their son changed from an adorable child to a very troubled adult?

Soren Kierkegaard had it right –  but perhaps only up to a point. We live forward, yes, but we can not always understand life looking backwards. Sometimes life is just too inexplicable to understand the reasons why our children take the actions they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You Only As Happy as Your…

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Last Friday we had dinner with old friends, Larry and Sarah. Old in that we met them before we had children. Also old in that we are now parents of grown-ups.  We have two, they have two; adult “kids” in their late 20’s and early 30’s.

What was remarkable about our evening was that we did not discuss our kids. No talk about their jobs or lack thereof, or their choice of partners/spouses or lack thereof. Or their latest triumphs or set-backs.

There was – being 100% honest here – a brief intermission where we did verbally acknowledge (a) the existence of our adult children and (b) their general welfare.

But we did not dwell on them.

Only a few years ago we might have filled our dinner conversation with the latest news about our kids – so how is it that now we no longer need – or want – to do so?

Instead we had a refreshingly kid-talk-free, empty-nester-type conversation about food, music, books, travel, politics, current events and then back to food again. (My friend, Sarah is a fabulous cook.)

We are still parents, and will perennially be so, but the needs of our kids are no longer top of the mind, crowding out our own. While I speak to, text, email both our kids – sometimes IMHO too often with one of them, sometimes IMHO not often enough with the other  –  I no longer know what they eat for dinner, when they went to bed or what they will be doing tomorrow.

Their details belong to their own lives now. And that is how it should be. Mostly.

Admitting here that sometimes the challenges of one of our adult kids tends to encroach on this philosophy.

And when these mental health challenges are at a high point (or a low point, you get the idea; many ups and downs) these challenges could – IF WE LET THEM – take over our adult lives too. Which could easily cast shadows on the pleasantness of a nice evening out with friends.

Luckily (and truly not everyone gets this) our friends do let us talk about the unpleasant times we go through. And they can offer advice (if we are in the mood to hear it) or just be sympathetic sounding boards (sometimes even better.)

But as empty nesters we are learning – slowly but surely – to set aside our parenting selves and focus on our adult selves as often as we can.

Are you, as a parent –  “only as happy as your unhappiest child?”

I think I once was. Now I try hard not to be.

There was a wise mom in the parenting group I facilitated years ago who railed against this expression.  One time – and this made quite an impression on me – this wise mom pounded her fist on the table we were gathered around to emphasize that our happiness as parents must be de-coupled from that of our kids. Not everyone agreed with her.

Our adult kids retain their power to alarm, upset and worry us. What we do with that worry is a matter of choice and frankly, very hard work. It is a battle to stay afloat on those days when your child appears to be sinking. Battle on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, friendship, Letting Go, Parenting, Relationships, Talking, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

The Spring of Staying Put (a/k/a Mulch Madness)

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Reader, we decided not to sell our house.

For those of you who are fans (as I am) of Charlotte Bronte and “Jane Eyre”,  you may recognize that I cribbed this first line.

In the writing workshop I took this spring our terrific teacher told us to get to the point at the beginning.

To let the reader of any story know the essential conflict with which the main character is dealing.

So I have.

And now, if you are patient (unlike a very self-important, senior lawyer at my first law firm who, when I launched into how I reached a conclusion in a legal research memo, would interrupt – “I don’t want to know your explanation.  Just tell me the answer.”) – here is what happened:

This past Sunday – instead of clearing every surface and hiding laundry in the closet in anticipation of our planned first “Open House”, we went out and bought mulch.

Lots of mulch. Dark brown chips of decaying “material” which my husband gleefully spread beneath the recently trimmed bushes in our front and back yards.

JP stood back and looked at his handiwork with a pleased grin:

The house looks great, doesn’t it? The lawn, so green because of all that rain. I’m glad we’re staying.”

I am too, sort of. Pretty much. Almost. Not as sure as he is. But the right decision – for now. I keep tacking the phrase “for now” at the end of every sentence when friends and family ask me why we changed our minds.

It took an intervention by friends to get me off the “Let’s sell NOW” track. My friends saw the blind spots I had that I couldn’t see. That I didn’t want to see. That I hoped would disappear if I tried not to think about them.

Well, duh, of course, I couldn’t see the blind spots – that’s why they have that name.

Everyone has blind spots, don’t they?

The friend who always says “yes” but doesn’t understand why she feels so exhausted.

The relative with the chip on his shoulder who doesn’t feel  its weight.

The colleague who thinks she is being helpful but comes across as patronizing.

My blind spot was taking expert advice without adapting it to our family as our circumstances evolved. The expert crunches the numbers, looks at the market, studies the spread sheets. It all sounded so reasonable.

But when we really dug down into those pesky numbers, when we drilled into the details and up popped the real-life problems moving would create vs. the problems moving would solve, we realized the timing wasn’t right. For the experts maybe, but not for us.

Two of my dearest friends reached this conclusion before I did (and they didn’t even have to research and write a legal memo to get there. lucky them!) They came over on Thursday afternoon as I was taking a last batch of family photos down off the walls. They escorted me into our extremely clean, dog-free living room. They admired our freshly-painted walls, the newly empty mantel above the fireplace and the tidy book shelves and told me to sit down.

I sat on a chair; my friends on the couch facing me.

The house looks great. It really does. You’ve worked very hard  in the past few months to get it this way.”

I beamed.

But don’t sell. JP is right. Now is not the time.”

I squirmed. Like any long married person (our 38th anniversary is this weekend.), I hate it when my husband is right – and I am not. (Thankfully, this is an infrequent occurrence.)

I let my friends list their reasons. I even listened intently without interrupting.

They pointed out the blind spots that I had failed to see. They saw what I knew in my heart but had trouble acknowledging. Moving now would cause tremendous upheaval that our family didn’t need. We already had enough turmoil going on. We didn’t need to pile on.

Not now. Not this spring. Maybe in the fall. Perhaps next spring. Perhaps not then either.

This ran against my nature – since I am quite excellent at creating a plan, making the “to do” list and seeing a project through to its conclusion. Check, check, check. I can focus narrowly and deeply. I do NOT like being thrown off course.

But circumstances changed –  our plan stopped making sense – my husband could see that, my friends could too – it was only me who had trouble changing directions.

The intervention didn’t last long. We hugged, they left and I went to the kitchen to make dinner.

Every day this week, I’ve been happily putting back up the family photographs we had taken down while “decluttering”. JP is trying not to gloat. We are staying home.

“For now.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Being a Mom Without a Mom on Mother’s Day

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“Yes, Mom, what do you want?” I said quietly into the phone. “My boss is sitting right here, I can’t talk now.”

My Mom had been calling me every day at the office for six months. She had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of my 3rd year of law school.

As a newly-minted lawyer at a government agency in downtown DC, my first job, with a boss and my own office (albeit very small and without a window), I was learning to deal with her daily calls.

No, I can’t tell you that,” I told her.

She persisted.

Please, just tell me what your bra size is,” she asked again.

Mom, c’mon, I’m at work, I’m in my office,” I pleaded. “My boss, he’s a man, he is in my office, too.”

She pleaded right back.

I’m at the yarn store in Westport. I’m knitting you a sweater. Just give me the number.”

I gave up.

36B,” I whispered into the phone, as my boss rolled his eyes upward, squelching a laugh.

Exactly one year later my Mom died of cancer. (well, actually she died because of malpractice related to her cancer but that is a tale for another time.) She was 54 years old, I was 28.

I still have the beautiful red, V-neck cotton sweater with the just-below-the-elbow length sleeves she made me, although it no longer fits. It was as stylish then as it is now. She was a woman of both good taste and great kindness.

Some women complain that their elderly moms call them too often.

Every night, can you believe it, she calls me every single night, and then she worries if I am not home by 9 p.m. She tells me to eat my vegetables, have I gotten an eye check up lately, she bugs me about the kids or my job or my husband. When are we going to visit her? Who’s going to drive her to her doctor appointments? Or run to the store to get her a new light bulb or better reading glasses. I’m tired of hearing her complaints about who did or who didn’t sit with her at dinner. Honestly, my mom is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know what a busy life I have?

I bet she does know you have a life. Hers is shrinking in scope, yours isn’t and she wants to be a part of it.

My Mom called me at the office for over a year when she was ill. Then one day she stopped calling. Three weeks later, on a sunny spring afternoon in May as my Dad and I sat by her bed, holding her hand, in the ICU of a cancer hospital in New York City, hearing the beeps from the machines that had kept her alive ebb away, she died. It was mid-afternoon, on the Tuesday after Mother’s Day. Thoughtful as ever, she chose, I felt, to wait and not ruin the holiday for us.

I would give anything for one more phone call, nagging, annoying, insistent, critical, I’d take it.

And you know what, Mom, I’d say? You have two wonderful granddaughters and two terrific grandsons that you never got to meet. And in 2013 you became a great-grandparent, too.

What else would I tell her? Oh yes, my bra size has changed in the past 34 years. I don’t like the color red as much as I once did. But the sweater remains in my closet and it always will.

Miss you forever, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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Leaving A Support Group After Leading It: Parenting & Young Adult Mental Health

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“If you founded the parents’ group, then why did you stop attending?”

A legitimate question I could not readily answer.

That question was posed to me in the Q and A after a Mental Health talk I gave a few weeks ago.  I had been invited by a Northern California synagogue to speak as part of their open-to-the-community “End The Silence” series on mental illness. They asked me to talk about the parents’ support group I started – and led for 6 years –  at my own synagogue in DC.

If you’ve read this Blog, you may have come across my post from September, 2014 – titled a “Different Kind of Kvelling” where I first mentioned our P/YAWS – short for “Parents of Young Adults Who Struggle.”  The Washington Post then published a version of my post in its @OnParenting section – and word spread.

One of my life goals (truly) is to foster the creation of support and strategy sharing groups for parents of young adults who struggle with mental health challenges such as anorexia, anxiety disorder, bipolar, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia at synagogues throughout the U.S.

So I was thrilled to come to California to explain why I started our P/YAWS group, how we ran our meetings and why our network of parents had been so helpful to me and to many others.

Many hands raised with questions during the Q and A session – most I could easily answer, but when asked if, after I stopped leading the group, I remained a regular participant, I stopped to consider. I gave a short response, which I forget (blame it on the bad cold I was getting over that night).

Now that I’m back home I’ve been pondering the real reason I no longer attend our P/YAWS meetings.

At first – so I tell myself – I didn’t attend because I wanted to give the parent co-facilitators who replaced me some space to develop their own style. Running a group like ours isn’t easy. Parents come with heavy hearts and worried minds. Sharing stories is painful. We support each other, offering ideas for doctors, therapists, meds, local and distant treatment programs and strategies to use with challenging young adults. Tears flow, laughter too; sometimes everyone wants a chance to talk, sometimes people want to talk too much. There is a different rhythm to each meeting. My personal “weapon” of choice was a strong sense of humor – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but it seemed to work. The group thrived.

And it continued to thrive without me.

After I stopped going to meetings, I was surprised at how relieved I felt.

For years I had been carrying around in my own heart and head everyone’s else’s stories. I could facilitate the back and forth based on what I knew –  I would ask S. how her son was doing on his new med or remind C. that the last time she came to the group, her daughter had been hospitalized, how was she doing now. Not being the sole person in charge freed me up to let go of the knowledge weighing on me of other participants’ pain.

The more I thought, the more I realized didn’t want to go to the group anymore, even as a participant.

In part because I didn’t want to scare anyone away.  Mental Illness happens on a spectrum. When a new parent comes to his first meeting, it can be because their young adult son has just had to leave college because of a mental health crisis. That parent is confident that there will be an effective medication, a promising therapy and that next semester their child will be back in school. And sometimes it works out that way. Our group has had many successful “graduates.”

But for those of us on the longer-term, “work in progress” path, our stories are more like roller coasters than linear tales of successful coping. I didn’t want the new parent to listen to my longer-term narrative and fear that their trajectory would resemble ours. It might or might not.

P/YAWS has been amazing for me and my husband. We could not have gotten through all that we did without it. From a wisp of an idea to a thriving monthly group for eight years, I’m proud of my role. It was through our group that I learned that a parent can only do so much. Most young adults with mental illness can change, can grow into stability but the parent cannot do it for them. Your young adult child has got to want it more than you do.

For now I’ve facilitated all I want to; I’ve encouraged, I’ve supported, I’ve shared plenty. I’m not letting up on my plan to prod other synagogues to create groups similar to ours. The need is clearly there.  But I’m going to be on a hiatus from participating around the table. Let others speak, share and be comforted. I’ve had my turn, time to sit back for a while in silence (unusual for me!) and apply the lessons I learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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