Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to raise my future kids differently than how I was raised.  My parents were not mean or abusive, but I just knew things could be done better.  In fact, when my first child was born, I remember that my main goal in raising her was to do almost everything opposite of what my parents had done.

Before I go on, let me state that my parents had and have a lot of good qualities.  They gave me ballet and piano, they helped me with school work (my dad would often be up with me until past midnight cramming for a math test or finishing up school projects), they took us on trips, they hugged and kissed us.  In spite of this, there were a few specific things that I knew I would definitely change: I would make sure we had dinner together every night, with few exceptions; I would put an emphasis on having Shabbat (Friday night) dinner every week (I am not religious but I love tradition); I would read to my kids; I would let them know daily how smart, funny, and amazing they are.  I would instill independence from a young age, just to name a few.  In addition to specific areas that could be named, there was a general sense of "I'll have to do this better and/or differently".  Basically, I would raise my children to not become me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not all that bad.  I can be very caring, very warm, I can be funny at times, I can even show moments of intelligence, but there is so much I would change.  I can be lazy, nervous, shy, unmotivated, sloppy, unadventurous, lacking in self-confidence.  Oh, and I procrastinate - a lot.  My husband likes to point out that last one.  Especially when our daughter answers back to a request to do something with "just a minute".  He'll smile and say "I wonder where she gets that from.".  My answer usually is: "If I wanted her to turn out like me, I would have had my parents raise her.".

Now, in all fairness, we are not just a product of our environment, but also of our nature.  Wait, so I guess I can blame them for that, as well, since they made up my nature!  Truthfully, I do not believe we should allow ourselves to be victims.  We should not pass on the blame.  I have met people with much more horrible parents and/or childhoods who turned out a million times better than me.  My past is my past, and that is where it belongs.  It does not matter at this point whose fault it is that I am who I am.  At some point, we must take responsibility for who we are (and considering my age, I should have taken it years ago).

So while I am still a work in progress, I am trying to help my each of my children become the person I wish I was.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Will It Ever End?

Question: How old do you have to be until your family stops criticizing everything you do?
Answer: It never will stop.

I am almost 39 years old, and am criticized by someone in my family on at least a weekly basis for one thing or another.  It really doesn't matter how many times I may have been criticized before for the same alleged infringement.  It also doesn't matter how many good deeds I may have done prior to a specific transgression; and I have definitely done my share of good deeds.  I will be accused of offending, of not living up to a particular expectation (an expectation based on what exactly, I'm not sure), and/or in some way of proving myself to be ungrateful, inconsiderate, unsupportive, you name it.

I am almost 39 years old.  This is who I am: the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the giving, the selfish and whatever other adjective you would like to tack on to me.  I most likely will not change.  And, quite honestly, expect for a few instances here and there, I do not think I need to change; at least not in my behavior towards others, including (and especially) toward my family.

In my most humble opinion, I have earned the right to a criticism reprieve.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Do You Know Your Family Is Complete?

It would seem that three is the new two - at least when having children is concerned.  The majority of people I know from my generation are one of two siblings.  These days, it seems more and more people are having three.

I am one of two.  Quite honestly, I found it rather boring.  My sister and I are three years apart.  I wouldn't call us the closest of sisters, though we do have our moments.  We  weren't great friends growing up.  That's not to say that there wasn't mutual support and good times throughout the years.  There certainly were and I hope will continue to be.  My point is that when we weren't getting along, there was no one else to turn to.  Partly for this reason, I always wanted more than two kids: to give my children a larger support base.

I now have my three amazing children.  But, how do I know that I am done?  

When I was in my mid-teens and early twenties, I thought 30 was so old to just start having kids.  Well, fate laughed at me.  I married when I was 31 and had my first when I was 32.  Now, 30 doesn't seem so old!  I don't necessarily regret that I didn't have my children in my 20s.  I had some great life experiences.  My regret is that I didn't take better advantage of that free time to experience life even more.  Yes, I'll be older when my husband and I will no longer be responsible for our kids and can go back to being us, but what you gain on one end, you give up on the other and vice versa.  I am now about to stare my 39th birthday in the face (April).  Physically, I probably should be done.  Yes, women have babies well into their 40s, but is it the right thing for me and my family?  Do I really want to push my luck?  I have three healthy, beautiful children.  I'm not young fertility-wise.  What if...?  My pregnancies weren't bad, but they weren't always a joy, either.  And I'm afraid to see what a fourth pregnancy will do to my body, because three wasn't pretty.  My patience is short.  I constantly feel that none of my children receive the attention they deserve.  We are already feeling the stress of scheduling, between school, speech therapy, ballet, piano, Hebrew school, life.  And my third has not even started being scheduled yet!  Also, and of great importance, is the financial consideration.  Kids cost a lot of money, between day care, nannies, extra-curricular activities.  Not only do they cost because you have to spend on them, but also because working becomes that much harder.  So, you may save on day care if you stay home with your kids, but you are also not earning an income.  For me, for instance, it would put going back to school for my masters and starting a career on hold, or at least on very slow motion.  

There also comes a point in a family's life when it is nice to know that this particular portion of their lives is behind them and they can  now look ahead to new adventures.  Just as an example: taking a family trip.  There is no comparison between the experience of traveling with a baby or toddler and an older child.  Forget trips, what about just a nice outing?  I remember taking my two older ones to see a movie a few months ago.  I left the little one home, and we just went.  No diapers, no sippy cups, no snacks.  Just us, happy and care-free.  For my family, having another one within the next year to two would mean another four to five years of scheduling around a baby/toddler: naps, food, diaper changes, choking hazards, etc. 

Of course those few years will pay off.  After all, there would be a whole other person in our family.  And if s/he were to come out anything like her/his siblings, s/he'd be amazing.  Truthfully, sometimes I look at my kids and think to myself: "How can you stop?  Look at what you and Yoav produce!  You are doing a service to this world by populating it with amazing people.".   As you can tell, modesty has never been an issue for me when it comes to my kids.  There aren't a lot of things I've done in my life that I am proud of, but I sure am proud of my children.

I am also well aware of how much my daughter, the eldest and only girl, relishes our one-on-one time.  Just yesterday, we ran off to her room together so she could record my outgoing greeting on my cell phone.  The joy she was emitting was palpable (and the greeting came out super cute!).  For a brief moment, it was just she and I giggling, as if we were conspiring to take over the world or pull a prank on someone.  The more kids in the mix, the harder it is to steal away those special moments.  Though, I suppose, the more special they become.

Growing up, I very much wanted a little brother or sister (actually, my dream was a big brother and a little sister, but that certainly wasn't going to happen).  Perhaps part of me felt that my family was missing someone, or maybe just I was missing someone.  After my father suffered his debilitating stroke, I really regretted that my parents didn't have more kids.  At least there would be a greater chance of having more help with him.  The smallness of our family was really prominent to me when my father passed away this past November.  There we were, my mother, my sister and I, at his funeral, holding each other.  It seemed like such a small group hug.

My husband is one of four.  His parents are both from large families: six and nine siblings.  The dynamics of their family gatherings are amazing.  His mother's family is especially lively.  The majority live in France, so we don't see them often, but when you get the group together - watch out!  I have never seen so much joy for life (or shall I say joi de vivre) and heard so much laughing as with her family.  Large families can be beautiful.

I suppose it all boils down to what is right for the family.  Each must make their own decisions vis-a-vis what they want for their family.  Are they willing to give up trips, extra-curricular activities and other costly items in order to have a larger family (if their financial situation so dictates)?  Are they willing to sacrifice individual quality time for a larger group and  more people to take care of and love each other?  Are they willing to give up a few more years of freedom to have a larger family?

I think, for us, if I was younger, I may try for one more.  Chances are, though, that I won't.  I am blessed with a beautiful family.  Perhaps it would be wise to quit while I'm ahead.  But, never say never...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Finally Finding My Roots

I was born and raised in Los Angeles.  When I was one year old, we moved from the city to the San Fernando Valley.  I am a true Valley Girl.  Even though I am a native Angelino, I never felt like I belonged here.

My parents moved to L.A. from Israel in the late 60s, before either my sister or I were born.  Growing up in a house with immigrant parents played a big part in why I did not feel rooted here.  After all, we did not have any family history here.  Our family history was in Jerusalem; it was in Poland and Russia.  It was not here in L.A.  I am a big history buff.  I love old things: antique furniture, archaeological artifacts (I wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid), buildings and houses with a history, people with stories to tell.  I have always been attracted to the sense of being part of something larger than myself; of somehow being connected to other people whom I have never met.  Perhaps this slight obsession with all things historical came about precisely because I had no sense of familial history here or perhaps this obsession is what caused me to be so aware of how unattached I was to Los Angeles in particular and the United States as a whole.

My father came from an old Jerusalem family.  They date themselves in Jerusalem to roughly around the time of the Spanish Inquisition (1492), when the Jews were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave the country.  His ancestors moved to Jerusalem, just prior to the era of the Ottoman rule there.  I grew up hearing stories of my father's youth, of his father and grandfather who lived in the Old City, of what it was like to be part of an ever-growing nation, of the more well-to-do Jewish families who lived in his neighborhood of Rechavia, where you could always here a violin or piano being played as you walked down the street.  These stories filled my mind with romantic ideas of truly belonging somewhere, of truly being part of a people and of a land.

My mother's story is the polar opposite.  She was born to two Polish parents who fled Poland during the Nazi terror.  They ended up in a Russian labor camp, where she was born, and where they remained until after the war.  After six years and numerous countries, they finally made their way to the new country of Israel in 1949.  My mother always felt that she had the stigma of new immigrant stamped on her.  In Israel at the time (and possibly still today to an extent), there was a certain automatic nobility associated with having been born there; and the more generations back your family could go, the higher your status.

Even though so many of my schoolmates had parents from other countries (after all, America is also a country of immigrants), I still felt different somehow.  In fact, even though I very obviously had perfect English, other kids in school often thought I was from France (not sure why France, but I liked it). And when I attended university in Israel, my fellow students often though I was Canadian: because I was "too nice to be from L.A." ;-).  This just reinforced my sense of not belonging here.

In my search for roots, I moved to Israel after high school.  I immediately fell in love.  I lived in Jerusalem, I walked the streets my father had walked as a boy.  His sister still lives in the same apartment building she and my father were born in, which their father had built.  I would go on weekends to visit my maternal grandmother, aunt and cousins in the city where my mother grew up, Acco.  Even without all this, I felt an intense sense of being part of history by just being in Israel.  I'm not quite sure how any Jewish person can be there and not feel it.  As detached as one might be from Judaism, all Jews are still part of the Jewish people's over 5000 years of history!  Jerusalem is over 3000 years old, Acco is over 4000.  Here in Los Angeles, I get excited by a house that was built in the 1920s or 1930s and still has its original charm, so you can imagine how something that is thousands of years old makes me feel.

I ended up moving back to L.A.  The place I never felt I belonged in and vowed I would not raise children in, the country to which it was difficult for me to feel connected.  The reason for my return here is in my previous posting, To My Dad, so I won't go into it now.

I lived 18 years here, moved away for a while and returned almost 10 years ago.  That's a total of 28 years living here.  I now am married with three amazing children.  My mother and sister are here.  My husband's family is here.  And yet, it is still a little difficult for me to call it 'home'.

Recently, though, I experienced something I had never experienced before.  I was at my father's house with my youngest, who is 19 months old.  My little Adam was ambling around the house, exploring the rooms, running down the hallway.  I was following him when it hit me: I was just a few months younger than he is now when my parents bought the house.  That was me toddling around the house 37 years ago!  That exact same house, those exact same floors (my father never remodeled - which is a whole other entry in itself).  All of a sudden, I felt rooted.  I had a history.  My children are second generation Americans; they are second generation Angelinos!

So while my family does not go generations back in the United States, and our history here is relatively short, I still have a connection and a story of my own.  I was born here, my children were born here, my father died and is buried here.  Like the majority of American's, I will always have an attachment to another place, but I am also attached here.  I also belong here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To my Dad

My father passed away last year.  When I say last year, I don't mean 12 months ago; I mean November 1, 2011 - three months ago yesterday.  (I just realized that my first sentence is very reminiscent of Camus's opening sentence in The Stranger: "Today Mom died.  Or maybe yesterday, I don't know."  This is fitting, as that is a very existential book, and this will strive to be an existential entry.)

He died of a sudden heart attack.  He was home with his caregiver.  He died with no family around him.  His caregiver called me just after 6 AM to tell me something is wrong.  I arrived just before 6:40 AM.  The paramedics had already stopped working on him.  They said he was flat lined when they arrived, but they still tried to resuscitate him.  There were no good-byes, no last "I love you"s.  It was just over.

My father had suffered a very bad stroke almost exactly 10 years ago (February 26, 2002).  It left him in physically in full need of care.  Luckily, it did not effect him cognitively.  In fact, considering what he had been through, he never really lost his sense of humor or his immense intelligence.

His stroke was not just a turning point in his life, but in mine as well.  I was living in Israel at the time.  I was very happy, with a good job that was turning into a fulfilling career, half way through my masters,  had amazing friends, a cute rented house, an adorable car, and lots of independence.  Then, I got the phone call.  I'll never forget it.  I was watching T.V. and munching on popcorn with my then boyfriend.  My Dad called from the hospital to tell me he had suffered a stroke.  He said it is only on one side and they are already starting physical therapy.  I didn't sleep the entire night.  The next day was Friday.  I bought a plane ticket for the earliest flight I could get.  All I could think to my self was: "Please don't let him die before I get there.".  By the time I made it to his bedside, the damage had spread to both sides of his body.  At that point, he couldn't move anything below the neck.  He had sensation, but no movement: paresis as opposed to paralysis.

After a few days at the hospital, they moved him to an acute rehab facility.  I stayed with him all day there, going with him to therapy sessions, practicing range of motion exercises, feeding him, helping him urinate in a bottle and learning how to give him insulin shots because his diabetes went out of control.  I made the decision then to move back to LA. to move in with him and take care of him.  I was just before my 29th birthday, single and able to do it.

We did not have a hired care giver for him during the first two months that he was home from the hospital.  It was just me, 24/7.  I fed him, I gave him sponge baths, I transferred him from his bed to his wheel chair (he weighed around 250 lbs), I put him on the bed pan and cleaned him up afterwards, I was his chef, his company, his nurse, his support.  My mother was a great help in ways that she could be.  My parents were then divorced.  Physically, she wouldn't have been able to help him, but she took care of paper work, she visited us, she brought food, she would sit with him so I could run to the market.

After two months, I became the weekend help.  I found part time work during the week and took care of him on the weekends.  After a while, my 30th birthday came and went.

I was extremely involved in his care for about a year and a half.  And then I decided I needed to start living my life.  I never quite got back on any path since then.  Yes, I married and now have three amazing children, but my life has been a series of trial and error since I returned from Israel - at least educationally and career-wise.  (You can take a look at my previous entry to see how I'm trying to rectify that situation).)

My father was not an easy man.  He wasn't easy when he was healthy, and he was only worse now that he was sick.  He became even more controlling.  His patience was thin (understandably so), and he lost any semblance of a filter he may have had - whatever he thought, he said out loud.  He had the emotional intelligence of a dead cricket.  Very little empathy.  Very little thought to hurting someone's feelings.  He eventually alienated most of his friends and was left with just a few extremely faithful ones who continued to come visit him.

These past 9 1/2 years taught me so much about my father.  I idolized him as a child.  Of course, he did things that embarrassed me, but I still thought he was a great dad, super smart, extremely funny and very warm.  Being in such an intense setting with him for so long brought up a lot of issues and opened my eyes to so many things he had done wrong as a father and a husband.  All of this strained our relationship.

I still love him because he is my dad.  I love him because of the late nights he would spend helping me cram for a math test or finish a last minute project (I had lots of those).  But now I am mad.  I am mad because of all the things I realized he did wrong.  I am mad because he made it so difficult to help him.  I am mad because I gave up a great life and he didn't even leave me a little thank you note or an "I love you" hidden somewhere for after he died.  I am mad at him because he was selfish until the end.

But I miss him.  Immensely.  Even though I would get annoyed when I would see his name calling me on my phone (because it was invariably only because he needed something or he was bored), I still miss hearing his voice.  It's amazing how complicated familial relationships can be. We would never let our friends get away with half the things our family does to us.  We simply wouldn't be friends with them anymore.  I think that it is even more complicated between parents and children.  First, the parent is in charge, in the know, the master.  Then we grow and perhaps become almost like friends with our parents.  Then they get older and need us.  But they are still the parent.  They still want to make the rules, they still want the control.

I am not writing this to soil the memory of my father.  As I mentioned, he was a very difficult man, but there was also a lot of good.  In his good days, many people really liked him.  He was fun to be around.  He was very giving of his time.

Daddy, I hope you are sitting up in heaven, playing backgammon with God, or whoever is up there with you (if there is an "up there").  I hope you've been reunited with your parents.  I hope you are dancing and playing piano.  I hope you are at rest.  At the very least, I know you are no longer in physical pain, which was immense during these last years.

My greatest sadness now is the end of the beautiful relationship you had with my kids.  They loved you and I know you loved them.  What gives me comfort is that I was able to provide you with three little angles here on Earth who gave you some of the few moments of true joy you experienced these past years.  By the way, you'll be happy to know that they all love jazz, ragtime and Dixieland music!  I've been playing them your CDs and they have a blast listening to them.  I wish you could see it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Since my last post a few months ago, which was on my 38th birthday, I've been on a roller coaster of highs and lows.  This entry is going to focus on one of those lows and the beautiful result of it.
Over the summer, I decided to stop working in real estate.  Let's face it, I am not a business woman.  I actually started this and another blog because that is what I was told to do  in order to "brand" myself.  In order get a web presence.  First sign that I am not a business woman: I cannot stand the word "brand".  It annoys me immensely.
For the majority of my adult life, I worked in non-profit.  This is where my heart is.  Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against making a profit, or business people for that matter.  Hey, someone has to make the money to donate to the non-profit organizations (NPO).  It's a beautiful symbiotic relationship.  A few years ago, I attended a fundraiser for the LA Free Clinic (now I believe it is called the Saban Free Clinic - thanks to a very generous donation by the Saban Family Foundation, which is one of the NPOs where I used to work).  The honoree of the night, whose name I am embarrassed to say I cannot recall, was the wife of a very rich man.  This enabled her to focus on volunteer work.  She stated it so beautifully (I am paraphrasing a bit): "My husband makes the money, and I spend it."  It was beautiful because she was referring to spending it on philanthropic causes.
Basically, my point is that I will not feel guilty that I am not cut out to dance with the wolves of the business world.  I am proud that I am non-confrontational, that I have a bleeding heart, that I need meaning in my work. Now, don't get me wrong; putting food on the table can give meaning to almost any work.  I am lucky enough that my husband has managed to keep us afloat these last few years, without much financial help from me.  I won't say it hasn't been difficult, which is why I do have to work.  The tension is too much.  And quite honestly, I think I need it for me; for my brain and for my self-esteem.  (This last statement will lead to another blog entry addressing the issue of stay-at-home mom vs. work-out-of-the house mom.)
So, this past Friday, I mailed off my application to California State University, Northridge's Master of Social Work program.  I am scared and excited.  As the mother of three, I'm not sure how I will handle the course and field work, but I will make it happen.  I finally know what I want, can state it proudly and confidently, and can pursue it with vigor.  I feel empowered, which is fitting, since so much of social work is helping populations empower themselves.
With any luck and a lot of hard work, in about 2 1/2 years, I will be able to sign my name as: Dassy Sasson DeBasc, MSW!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


So, birthdays are a good time to reflect on our lives.  Where have we been, where are we now and where are we going.  Do we even know the latter?  Some people are sure they do.  At least, they have a plan.  Others just seem to flow, with no obvious direction and no oars.

I feel a bit like that: no oars, no obvious plan.  I'm 38 today and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  I have three amazing children.  I love being their mother, and believe I would be happy doing that full time.  Though I worry that I would get bored, or regret it a few years down the line when I want to get back into the work place.  Plus, we do need the extra income.  The ironic thing is that I chose to work in real estate to have a flexible job so I can be a very present mother.  The only problem with real estate is that there is no steady income.  So while I may be spending hours away from my kids, I may not necessarily be earning any money.  Defeats the purpose, no?  The pull is that the potential is there.  I could see myself making a good career out of it.  But, at this point, is it worth the time away from my family?

Is part of my problem that I do not have the guts to admit that I want to be a stay at home mom?  Do I really want to do that?

At this point in my life, I feel like I am doing everything wrong.  Everything.

So, even though they say "another year older, another year wiser", it seems for me that it should be: 'another year older, another year stupider'.