Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Touché

There’s a lone pile of dirty snow on the street in front of our house. I want desperately for it to melt, but each morning it is still there and I fear it might linger until summer. Nevertheless, spring has officially sprung on the calendar and memories of Purim are nearly two weeks old. Stubborn snow mounds or not, Pesach is on its way.

That means it’s time to play games in the kitchen. There’s the scavenger hunt, for starters. I troll the pantry for ingredients, matching them in combinations that would never occur to me any other time of the year. In a round of hide and seek, I camouflage the remaining package of protein beneath the last sheets of puffed pastry from the back of the freezer. Sometimes, a mystery sauce – the final spoons from jars of condiments in the refrigerator door – accompanies it.

This entire kitchen charade at first seems silly, but I believe it is a strategic and meaningful step en route to the holiday. On the one hand, it winks at us; on the other, it reaches a level not far removed from ritual observance. The process itself – of searching, of doing more with less, of figuring out what is essential -- gets everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, into the mood.

It means that ice cream served on the last of the sugar cones can pass for dinner. It isn’t my first choice, but it brings the boys in on the game for the moment, making them mind less that they have to empty their closets and backpacks. At the same time, I get to feel, for a short while, that they are still my little boys, not towering teens whose lives intersect with my own less and less with the passing days.

The truth is that I love every moment of getting ready: the cleaning, the shopping, the list making, even the fretting that it may not get done in time. I’d be exaggerating if I claimed to feel the actual approach of our Exodus from Egypt. But I do powerfully sense something huge hanging in the air, as if our physical and spiritual preparations were the commercials stirring expectations in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

Daydreaming, I imagine that we are there already: the countertops lined, the stove covered with foil like a space ship. A surprisingly pleasing bouquet of Windex and frying onions fills the house. Every surface is as clean as it will ever be, every object in its rightful place. It’s as if my surroundings have taken a hot shower, rendering them refreshingly chometz-free.

In the meantime, though, I’m still assessing what remains and what’s left to be done. I pack the unopened carbs and drop them off at the food pantry. I also make a mental note never to send my husband to Costco on an empty stomach.

As I contrive in the kitchen and sweep through the house, I’m also busy pondering G-d’s Big Plan. Though my relationship with Him generally pivots on awe and gratitude, I find that I’m enormously thankful this time of year for the way He enables me to drag myself out of the mire and move forward in the right direction.

For example, just the other day, I found 7 Devil Dog wrappers (as well as a kippah, basketball shorts, lollipop sticks, a phone charger, orphaned socks, dust bunnies the size of topiaries, and a penny) beneath the basement love seat. The tendency to confront my boys for being slovenly began to brew inside me.

Instead, He let me wander off to the time I happened upon a petrified peanut butter sandwich while cleaning the garage in the weeks before chag. It had been left there on the morning we were leaving for summer vacation and then entirely forgotten. Another year, I discovered pretzels in the towel closet, hidden just in case someone – I won’t say who -- got hungry in the night.

I laughed so hard while remembering that I had to catch my breath. The boys were then so young, and though I was surely frustrated by the discoveries, I found the innocence of their actions delicious; they were, after all, wrought completely without malice.

I also took a moment to laugh at myself – a loud, unbridled guffaw-- redirecting my impatience with my no longer small children who certainly know how to clear up after themselves. Just as I was about to take them to task for the sedimentary build-up beneath the couch, I’m pretty sure I heard Him telling me, in that booming voice I presume He saves for important talks with the likes of me:
Serves you right! You’re the one who chose not to move the couch all year. Don’t get annoyed with the boys for their manners when you should be embarrassed by your housekeeping…
Well, touché!

It will all get done. No sense in arguing our way there. How’s that for liberating?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My World by a Hair

Though my hair is standard Jewish girl hair – curly, kinky, unruly and black – it is has always been my crowning glory.

It ran long and straight until the fourth grade, when my mother cut it on the eve of a car trip to Florida. She was not going to fight with my knotty locks in hotel rooms along the Interstate. The result was that in all of our vacation photos, I’m the one who looks like a badly drawn Dorothy Hamill.

As it grew back, it began to wind into soft curls, dotted here and there with spots of frizz. But I was short, and never thin. My feet were always too big for the rest of me. Yet my hair, despite its eccentricities, was dark enough, almost blue-black, to make me feel special.

There were bad haircuts – very, very bad cuts – along the way. In high school, I agreed to be a model for my favorite childhood babysitter, who’d become a hair stylist. Unfortunately, it was at a time when extremely short cuts were fashionable. Photographic evidence exists, so I cannot deny what my sons, laughing themselves into hiccups, observed: I looked like a boy.

Marriage led to mixed feelings about hair covering. Hats, at first, were fun, until they became cumbersome, especially on windy days. I moved on to berets and later bandanas and finally a sheitel. I began to wear it most of the time because what I wanted, above all, was to have hair. The sheitel makes me feel prettier in the way high heels make me feel thinner. It isn’t true, but the illusion works wonders on my psyche.

Several years ago, after placing the wig on its Styrofoam head, I noticed a grey streak peeking out along my part. Over time, that rebel strand reproduced until I had a full blown stripe, a solid white line dividing two lanes on an asphalt highway. A few well-meaning friends told me not to fret; after all, they said, I cover it anyway. But my hair was, in my eyes, my best feature. I needed to eye myself in the mirror without flinching.

Nearly in tears, I went straight to the hairdresser. She slathered on stinky globs of dye that made my scalp itch for days. Still, I sat impatiently flipping through magazines while it worked its magic, waiting for it to restore my youth. I thought about those elegant women who look so magnificent in their silver manes. I resolved that one day, I, too, would allow my head to turn completely white – graciously, proudly, without regret. For the time being, though, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I left the salon glad for my decision.

The only problem was that I lacked the patience to sit there for an hour every 3-4 weeks while the color set. I went a few times before I threw in the towel and began dying it myself at home instead. It was, first of all, decidedly less expensive that way. But more to the point, I could vacuum the carpets while my roots drank the elixir of youth.

I found a brand that was a bit more natural – at least it smelled better – and I made a habit of doing it almost regularly. And though I cannot say I felt like a new woman when I rinsed it out, I definitely congratulated myself for having made the effort. Here and there, I’d wonder at what point I’d be ready to go completely grey. The answer was always that I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

Besides, I only had that stripe to contend with anyway. A full head of beautiful white hair was long off on the horizon.

That is until a few days ago, when my husband and I sat side by side on the couch in our living room, strategizing about the upcoming weekend, during which each of us would need to be in fifteen places at once (well, we wouldn’t, but the boys would). When I bent forward to pick something up off the carpet, he uttered two words he likely wishes he could swallow whole: “Oh no!”

“What?” I asked with a twinge of panic in my voice.

“The back of your head has so much grey.” He offered his response gently, knowing how I’d take the news.

I thought of the famous story from the hagada about Rabbi Elazar. He’s only 18, but transforms overnight to appear as if he’s 70, full white beard and all.

In contrast, my reality crept up on me slowly, like a hunter staking out his prey. Though my story will never make it into the canon of Jewish literature, I relate to the shock Rabbi Elazar must have felt when he discovered that his youthful appearance had been snatched from him in the dead of night.

It is true that I was about a week overdue on my coloring schedule, but I was quite certain that this grey patch was a new arrival. My husband assured me that my hair remains lovely. He said I probably just missed a spot the last time I colored it. Sweet of him, but unlikely. I follow the instructions for full coverage to a tee.

Initially, I thought I should just accept that I’m now just a bit closer to giving in to that glorious silver crown I’ve admired on other women. I also considered reading my newest greys as a sign of wisdom and accomplishment, the trophies of a full, busy, and meaningful life. I try to tell myself not to fret, that it’s on the back of my head beyond my range of vision and that I cover it anyway.

But I know it is there. And I’m not ready to surrender. This weekend, I’m going to hunt that grey down and color it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rolling Back the Angst



When things get me down, so much so that I begin to wonder why I thought I could pull off this parenting gig in the first place, I go to Walmart. No, I’m not a fan of the store, for all the reasons people who don’t like Walmart don’t like Walmart. Yet it has become an inexorable part of my landscape as each of my sons has entered the Wild West of adolescence.

It happens that we live in a small town, so there aren’t many late-night options. Among the only 24-hour establishments are a convenience store, a Rite Aid and a crowded kosher Dunkin Donuts, where you have to squeeze between lounging Rutgers students and their MacBooks. None of these places offers enough space for thoughtful lingering and everything else closes between 9 and10 p.m.

Alas, I find myself in desperate need of a hideout at precisely the hour when there’s nowhere to go.

The excitement, on nights when it happens, starts to bubble a bit earlier. Everyone has come home from school tired and ravenous, with plenty of studying ahead. A younger sibling annoys an older one by asking for the ketchup. Someone’s stewing over a missed free throw. Another’s frustrated, having left his Spanish homework in his locker, and a third can’t believe we’re out of apple cider and whitening toothpaste.

Over these and other matters of all shapes and sizes, the boys might transform from mild-mannered Dr. Jekylls into excitable Mr. Hydes as the evening unfolds. It can be just one testosterone-fueled adolescent volcano, or when I’m really lucky, all three erupt at once. They begin to speak in tongues. Nothing they say makes any sense.

Why are they are so out of sorts? Well, they’re teenage boys, and I’m convinced they themselves would be hard pressed to articulate a reason. It’s easy to get sucked in, to fall into the trap of responding to them when their barbs fly, rather than focusing on how utterly ridiculous – and in the alternate universe of adolescence, normal - they sound.

In the beginning, I fought back, a losing battle if I ever saw one. I had no idea what I was up against. Then, I figured out that I simply needed to get some air in order to be able to hold my tongue long enough for the Hulk-moments to pass.

And so, in search of refuge at 10:35 p.m., I established my Walmart ritual for those nights when the not so tough need to get going. The store, despite its flaws, meets my basic criteria: open ‘til midnight, nearby, sells drinks, relatively clean bathroom.

By the time I arrive, the greeters have all gone home to bed. No one notices me as I troll the aisles, though I wonder, during stretches when I’m there night after night, if someone will assume I’m on staff or charge me rent. Then, for weeks – sometimes months -- at a time, I won’t need to go there at all.

At first, the idea perplexed my family. I didn’t tell them where I was headed, but they found me out by activating the “Find My iPhone” app. I’ve since wandered the aisles so frequently that I can tell you the exact layout of the store.

I know they carry a 2’ toilet paper holder shaped like a standing bear and flip-flips year round. They sell several brands of sriracha, the complete DVD set of Hogan’s Heroes, glow-in-the-dark hunting gloves, and curiously, the widest assortment of air freshener scents I’ve ever whiffed.

I have no more affection for the store than I did before, but I have come to appreciate the $5 CD bin in particular. Through the music of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I stroll down memory lane to my own adolescence, thinking about how I sang my way through whatever possessed me at that age. Once again, Kansas, Bon Jovi, Donna Summer and Linda Ronstadt are helping me through teenage angst -- not mine, but that of my sons.

Once I’ve restored my equilibrium, or the manager announces that the store is closing, I head home. I turn on “You’re No Good” and belt out the lyrics, hoping to G-d no one I know sees me singing down the road. Actually, by that hour, I’m not even sure I care.

By the time I reach the front door, I’ve sung all of the hurt and frustration out of my system, confident that giving everyone breathing room was the best course of action. Whatever was gnawing at the boys – the pressures or hormones that caused them to transform into alien beings that resembled them – has, for now, dissipated, too.

I find them asleep, or lulling in that pleasant state just before it. Sometimes, an awake one will offer a soft I’m sorry, or ask if I’d bought Fruity Pebbles. A sleeping one won’t swat my hand away when I brush the bangs from his brow.

Praising the power of an old song to heal, I remember how good it feels to forgive and forget and head to bed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Keeping My Eyes on the Road

In winters long gone, my boys would see the first flakes fall and dart outside immediately. It took the older two much longer to get out there this week when the snow began and it amazed me once again how far we’ve come from when they were little. That thought led to a dangerous avalanche of memories, but I kept coming back to the night my oldest jumped out of his crib.

It was the evening of our move to New Jersey. We set up our son’s room first, figuring that with him safely in his crib, we could begin to unpack. But as soon as we put him to bed, we collapsed onto the couch from exhaustion. We awoke to see him staring at us with his dark, deer-like eyes and a grin reflecting enormous pride. Look at what I did! He was in a bed with a safety railing by his next nap.

This tiny person then still completely dependent upon us for absolutely everything was already his own man. I saw clearly that one day, in a future far, far away, when my hair would be streaked with white and I would bemoan the impact of gravity on my torso, he’d strike a similar pose to the one he’d struck that evening and ask for the car keys.

Years later, after he and his brothers learned to swim, I experienced a similar twist in my gut. Watching them ride off without training wheels onto the horizon (okay, just the next street) only intensified the sensation. They were all wondrous milestones that enabled them to edge farther and farther away. Though each gave me pause, I understood that this was how things were meant to be.

The boys’ continued advance towards self-sufficiency has shaken loose one by one the pieces that have long made me feel so needed. But as each new bit hits the ground, I’m not as startled as I was in the beginning. It took me a while, but I know that their growing independence is slowly revealing the parts of me I’d almost forgotten about, making me relevant – once again to myself and to my children in different ways than before.

I am admittedly the sentimental type. I tend to make a fuss about things like the first day of middle school or a first shave. The boys would say I do so to a fault, for everyone reaches these and other such milestones. But I’ve been around long enough to know that this isn’t entirely true, and I sense how painful the mourning for what doesn’t happen can be.

Two years ago, for our middle son’s twelfth birthday, I surprised him during school recess with a huge box of cupcakes. He played it cool – couldn’t look too excited in front of his friends, couldn’t allow himself to look too happy in front of me – but I saw his lips fight to stay level.

On the way out, someone in the office asked me if I didn’t consider him too old for birthday parties. More forcefully than I’d planned, I said that we are only too old when we reach 120. It was the last year of his minority, a year before his bar mitzvah. How else could I teach him, at his age, to treasure the days ahead?

This constant awareness that time is passing and that I am helpless to stop it enables me to breathe as the years quickly come and go. I once believed that I wanted to lead an exciting, spontaneous life. Now I cherish the quiet nights when we are all together as a family, and I am most grateful when things simply proceed exactly according to plan.

Seemingly out of nowhere, I am organizing a third bar mitzvah as my youngest son approaches manhood, while trying to figure out new directions for myself. I camouflage the grey streaks on my head, and I won’t tread into a discussion about the toll of age on the female form. But it occurs to me that I’m happy and grateful for it all, and that I wouldn’t want the story of my life to unfold in any other way – not slower, not differently, though perhaps with less gravitational pull.

Over the recent yeshiva break week, I took my oldest, the one of crib-hurdling fame, for his written driver’s test. The man grading it at the driving school said to him, “Hey kid, nice test!” It won’t be long before he’s asking for the car keys. I won’t gasp or cry when he does, but I cannot promise I won’t celebrate that things are the way they are.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chicken Soup Makes Me Happy

It goes without saying that the late Maurice Sendak (z”l) was in possession of a fabulous mind and a singular talent. His classics Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup with Rice emerged wonderfully into the world just a few years before I did, and have always been a cherished part of my reading life.

I still have my original copies of these and other books from my childhood, though I tend to be the only one here who looks at them anymore. Admittedly, even I do so only on rare occasion. My boys long ago graduated to chapter books, the newspaper, and Sports Illustrated. Picture books have receded into their distant memory, eclipsed entirely by i-everythings and eye-rolling at whatever I happen to do, say, or wear.

We’ve reached the era of begging them for some time in, as in some time in the presence of their mom, instead of sending them to their rooms for a timeout.

But I was once a child, and Where the Wild Things Are resonated with me then in the way it was meant to: I shared Max’s frustration with his mother, who wanted him to be quiet and stop running through the house. As a teenager, I found myself wresting with his feelings of anger and loneliness (No one understands me!), and longed to get to a place where I had some say, could possibly even be in charge of at least one tiny outpost of my own life.

Recently, after a small bit of surprise surgery that has, thank G-d, passed well under the bridge, I found myself couch-ridden in the room with our bookshelves. Perhaps because it has been quite a while since I last read Wild Things with my youngest, I turned to it for some nostalgic comfort, encountering it for the first time as a parent reading solely for my own enrichment.

Opening the familiar pages, I grinned as Max made his boyish ruckus, and bade him farewell as he sailed off to the wild things. On this read, however, I noticed something I’d never seen before in those grotesque creatures issuing their terrible roars: I saw myself. I had become some real-life version of the adults in Max’s (wild) imagination. I slammed the book shut in horror.

Unlike the roars of the wild things in the story, my real life ones tend to be quite specific: Clean your room! Shabbes starts in ten minutes and you still haven’t showered? Can’t you be nice to your brother? Put your basketball shoes away before someone trips and breaks his neck!

It is true. My job description includes making sure my sons tend to their hygiene, respect their environment, and know that they are not the only beings in the universe. Yet I gasped with shame at how I must sound.

To be fair, the boys do their share of roaring (at me, at one another), and my husband also contributes to the parental din (What did you do to your hair? What are you listening to at that volume? Pick up your clothes from the floor!). But they are all somehow immune to the effects of their own rumblings, and I’m the fool who found trouble in a picture book.

Soon enough, the boys arrived home from school, interrupting my little crisis. To my relief, no one mentioned our harried morning exchange (What on earth is taking you so long? You’ll miss the bus!), the one that ended with a declaration of my approaching redundancy (Mom, we’re big boys!). In fact, they hardly remembered the conversation at all (What are you talking about?). I finally resolved to take a page from their book and just ignore what I don’t want to hear.

Still unsteady on my post-operative feet, I hadn’t made them an impressive dinner, but I let their disappointment (roar) pass right through me. I did, however, promise that with their help, I’d be able to pull off most of our usual Shabbes menu. One offered to roll the meatballs if I could manage the sauce. Another begged out because he would be away for the weekend at a school shabbaton. My youngest said he always wanted to learn how to make chicken soup.

Early Thursday morning, the latter bounded down the steps and announced that it was time to put the chicken in the pot. I’d already washed the vegetables and herbs and he took over from there, cleaning the chicken, chopping the carrots and celery, and filling the enormous stockpot with water. He asked me to handle the seasoning, which I did, and we took a commemorative photo to celebrate our collaboration.

The pot simmered all day, keeping me company while everyone else was out. The delicious aroma transported me far away, to an imaginary place where no one roars, where everything follows quietly along a simple, peaceful plot line. As it is for Max in Sendak’s brilliant tale, this give and take is ultimately all part of the bigger picture of parenting by imperfect adults and individuating by imperfect children and adolescents.

I play my role, and they play theirs. Sometimes we roar. But like Max, at the end of the day, we all return to one another in the place where we are loved best, where a hot supper awaits.

Happy once, happy twice, happy chicken soup with rice.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Icing on the Cake

There is perhaps little sense in dwelling on something that won’t happen again until who knows when. And yet, I find myself mulling over the momentous Thanksgiving/Chanukah mash-up long after we’ve polished off the leftovers.

Here in my insignificant corner of the universe, I related on a personal level to the confluence of festivals, though it is admittedly a perspective that developed when I was still quite young. Because my secular birthday is at the end of November, Thanksgiving has long been the de facto date of its celebration with my family, whether the dates actually coincide or not. The result is that the two events are inextricably linked in my memory.

Thanksgiving was always magical, a happy standout from my childhood. It was a day that began with a televised view of the parade and ended with the opening of a birthday gift. There was turkey and homemade cranberry sauce, a houseful of elderly relatives who for the most part loved me unconditionally, and a few other guests, depending upon the year. We may well have eaten apple pie for dessert, too, but I only remember the icing roses on my cake.

Looking back now, I know that there were also less joyous moments that tainted Thanksgivings here and there: illnesses and trips to the emergency room, underlying family tensions, arguments and disappointments. But something about the day, for a long while anyway, distanced me far enough from reality to suppress those darker memories.

Of course, as an angst-filled teenager, I quipped about being a turkey baby and having to share the limelight with a platter of trussed fowl. I resented having my portion of stuffing measured. Still, for one Thursday a year, I didn’t mind the rest of the bits that muddled up my adolescent life; something intangible about the day made me able to see past the present and into a more settled future.

As it does to all it touches, time eventually changed Thanksgiving for me, stealing almost all of its charm. I missed its full-blown observance when I lived in Jerusalem, though friends and I gathered for falafel. It was a turning point anyway. My parents separated that year, and the combination of relatives around the Thanksgiving table would never be the same again.

Over time, the older generation of relatives passed on, and the holiday lost the last of its luster. Before long, Thanksgiving – with my apologies to the poor turkey -- became just another day off from work or school, another national holiday that happened to have a fine menu.

There were, however, occasional moments when I saw a flicker of the joy it once gave me. British friends I’d met in Israel came home with me one year. They enjoyed their first taste of candied yams so much that they ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

Two years later, my future husband came to visit from Croatia in order to propose, and we joined friends for his first Thanksgiving. I’d waxed poetic about pumpkin pie, only to discover that another guest had over-seasoned hers with allspice, rendering it nearly inedible. Minding our good manners, we all cleaned our plates, but it soured my husband off anything made of pumpkin for years. It is a moment we still laugh about today.

Eventually, my mother and stepfather resumed our family Thanksgiving tradition, with all the fixings and their enormous flat-screen television. The sparkle that lit up my childhood memories has been replaced by a day that is quiet and pleasant, predictable and warm. I make the pies; my mother bakes the birthday cake. The boys sit with their grandfather and watch football.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m simply grateful for the constant presence of everyone in the room, thankful for the fact that each of us has been blessed to see another birthday.

Soon after the discordant “menurkey” reached my ears, I learned that I’d be hosting this year’s Chanukah/Thanksgiving two-for-one. Though turkey-shaped menorahs are not my thing, it seemed entirely natural to me that the holidays could coexist peacefully, and not just because of their themes of gratitude. But I insisted that each get its due. I wasn’t going to let the latkes knock their mashed brethren off the buffet table and there’d be no post-dinner football until after we’d finished singing Maoz Tzur.

The only Thanksgiving tradition I bumped was the birthday cake. Two occasions are company; three’s a crowd.

Just days later, however, we attended our family Chanukah party. My son lit the menorah after dinner and the grandchildren opened their gifts. For dessert, there were sufganiyot (donuts) and a large sheet cake dotted with icing roses in fall colors.

As I blew out the birthday candles, I made my list of wishes, including more opportunities for combined celebrations. There’s no real reason to wait for the calendar – or a spinning “turkel” -- to tell us when or why. We should bundle our occasions as they come, together with the everyday blessings right in front of us, marking them in some simple or elaborately splendid way.

After all, don’t we all want an excuse to eat more cake?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Few Days in Connecticut

It is a wonder, I think, how just being in certain states of the Union has the power to alter my state of mind.

Without fail, a daytrip to New York snaps me out of my sleepy, suburban New Jersey existence; the throbbing pulse of Manhattan (when I say New York State, I really mean just the city) brings my listless bits back to life. Pennsylvania, where we go exploring when we can, gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling about family and memory, as if we’ve taken the greeting card exit off of I-95.

But traveling to Connecticut to visit our Aunt Bea offers something subtler, though no less transformative. Crossing the border, my inner edges immediately soften. My worries and tautly stretched nerves give way to renewed equilibrium. We connect with one another, yet also find the time to reconnect with ourselves, and it does wonders for my soul.

In need of some of that CT gestalt, my son and I recently capitalized on his full week of fall school recess. As we drove up the Thruway, I knew – without so much as sneaking a peak in the rear view mirror – that his shoulders had relaxed. The tone of his voice, too, had calmed. He even lifted his eyes from his DS long enough to become entranced by the almost imaginary majesty of the view.

Still, it is the realness of these visits that work their most powerful magic; the Constitution State indeed has the ability to cast a spell on my constitution. We settle in, and then take each moment as it comes, making few if any plans, but no one complains of boredom. Our outings range from the Redbox machine at the Walgreens down the road to genuine tourist attractions, depending upon our mood. We sleep until we wake (though still too early) and I linger over my morning coffee, but I don’t give my to-do lists but a hollow thought.

This visit was no exception. On our first night, I crocheted for the first time since my husband enacted an afghan moratorium during my hand-made blanket mania a few years ago. Aunt Bea worked on a word jumble. My son watched an action movie that made our stomachs lurch, but we obliged him and caught an occasional glimpse of Will Smith on an intergalactic mission.

It felt great.

In the morning, we set off for the New England Museum of Aviation, stopping for coffee – medium hot regular with skim milk and two Splendas -- at Dunkin Donuts en route. The woman behind the counter asked me how many skim milks I needed in my coffee. I asked how much milk a skim milk was. She clarified by asking me if I wanted one or two. Befuddled yet delighted by the encounter, I guessed two, laughing as I sipped a perfectly prepared beverage and we headed further down the road.

At the museum, Aunt Bea and I checked out retired military and civilian aircraft while my son sat at the simulator computer trying to safely land a jet, a prop plane, and a helicopter in turn at Newark Airport. The zero-gravity toilet exhibit came in a close second on his list of favorites. “I guess they can’t hold it in the whole time they are up there,” he mused.

Inspired by a video loop of “Apollo 13” at the museum, we checked out the DVD from Aunt Bea’s local library, along with the first “Star Wars” film. There were bins of cards from the old card catalog that encouraged upcycling. Always game, I randomly chose one for a biography of John Marshall, the namesake of my son’s elementary school, and a text book on child psychology. I laughed out loud again at the irony of these choices, though quietly this time as we were in the library.

Other CT adventures included the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, where we stayed so long that a staff member suggested we consider one of the museum’s sleepover programs. At the PEZ factory, my son remarked that it was a shame we wouldn’t be able to eat any of the samples. And in fact, he politely declined when the woman who sold us our tickets offered him a pack of candy to eat while he made his way around the center.

But she saw his yarmulke as he turned away from the desk and she called out to us, asking if kosher PEZ would help us out. You should have seen my son beam! She proceeded to tell us how the rabbi comes down for a week to supervise a batch for …she stumbled on the company name … Paskesz. Laughing out loud yet again (it was becoming a habit), I assured her not to worry since I wasn’t sure I pronounce it correctly either.

Slow making our way through the exhibit, I confess that I began to feel a little giddy. Everything has a history, even candy. PEZ, in fact, created the candies in Vienna in the 1920s as a minty alternative to smoking. But what struck me as most poignant was the way in which PEZ candies make their way out of those fun plastic dispensers.

The sweetness is delivered in small doses, one brick and then another, giving you time to appreciate each and every bite….no matter which state you might find yourself in when you eat them. Not a bad thought to keep in mind, I reckoned, when we made our way back home later that afternoon.