Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To Never Have Had, To Always Have

I went to LA for a week and I did NOT get fondled by TSA so I am grateful for that. I am also appreciative of the fact that my kids were not molested by complete strangers. I was able to get my yogurts past security without much of a fight but I did have to mourn the loss of a full jar of peanut butter.

But I will revisit my recent trip to LA in a later post.

In the meantime.....

I have been internalizing and evaluating my place in my family and my very existence.

We all have a "placement" within our family and I truly believe that our family placement contributes to the essence of who we are to become as people.

Most notably, there are three easily described placements known as -


But, of course, not every family exists of three family members. And possibly, the difference in gender would effect the essence of who you are as well.

Is it
Girl, Girl, Girl?
Girl, Girl, Boy?
Girl, Boy, Boy?
Boy, Boy, Boy?

You get the point....

And additionally, the years that separate each child would also have a profound affect.

None of this really matters, because no one can possibly know if they would have been "nurtured" into a different person if any of the above variables were different then they actually were. We only know the people we actually ARE and the contributions to our nurturing that were directly related to the above variables.

But I tend to overthink these things and wonder how much of me is directly related to my family placement and what of me would be altered if my placement - therefore my environment were substantially different.

Many people who have become friends in only recent years tend to "assume" that I only have one brother. This assumption may be related to the fact that only one brother and I currently reside in Chicago, our birthplace, also where our parents reside.

Some people in my life are aware that I have at least a couple more siblings, but most are clueless to the fact that I am one of seven ..... actually ..... eight.

Since only seven of us are living in this world, I will refer to that number at this time.

I am in reality, number six of seven.

But in my EARLY life of actual day to day living and breathing, I could easier relate to being a middle child of three and an only girl.

I mostly grew up with a brother, four years younger, and another brother, four years older. My next sibling on the ladder was ten years older than me. By the time I was seven, she was living in Israel and would pretty much, never return. She went for a year post highschool and never looked back, as she met and married her husband in Israel (actually the wedding was in Chicago) and made Israel her home ever since.

So the three siblings of mine who are older than her, were attending College and working in other cities as well and my feelings of "siblingship" were mostly in theory.

In fact, when I was born, my eldest brother, who is not the oldest in the family was already 15 and was studying in a highschool in Philadelphia and post highschool in Lakewood NJ. He would return home from time to time for holidays. I do remember liking "that guy" who would take me on errands and throw me up in the air a few times here and there. But I also distinctly remember that it took years for me to actually realize he was a "brother" as far as that word is legally defined. I guess parents take for granted that the kid who is 15 years younger actually needs it spelled out for her or else he may be considered no different than the friendly UPS guy who shows up from time to time.

So I was sandwiched in between two stinky, tormenting brothers who could do no wrong in my Mommy's eyes because we all know how little boys charm their Mommy's, and I would imagine having a sister.

Yes, I realized I had three sisters, but I wanted one that was close to my age. I wanted that sisterly camaraderie that I saw from time to time between my older sisters. I wanted someone to have "girlie" talk with. I was sick and tired of sneaking into my brothers' rooms to check out their stuff only to find NOTHING that could possibly peak my interest (or so I thought at the time. I mean, how many girls love Mad magazine and become sports fanatics.) I really needed a sister.

Most girls in my class did not live directly in my neighborhood, but I was quite friendly with 3 girls who were all 2 years older than me, who lived near me and attended the same Synagogue as me. We would play on the Sabbath - Chinese jump rope and some other stupid games and I always felt like some strange void was being filled.

I always imagined that one of these girls could easily be my sister. I imagined attending school and seeing my sister, only 2 years older me, walking through the halls. I would say hi to her and wondered if she would say hi back, or ignore me and pretend she has no idea who this annoying younger girl is. I wouldn't want her to be "uncool" in front of her friends...

This is when I supply a link to a post that you must read so I do not have to repeat myself. This link is important to the rest of this current post.

"FUN" Facts About Orah

If you have indeed read the above post, you now know that I was nine when I found out, accidentally, that I had another sister. This was the missing link. I guess parents also take for granted that those who came after said sister would automatically know that said sister ever existed. She never truly had a chance to be the older sister I was always imagining, but I still knew, that something in me was always attached to her. There was always a connection, and I just did not know it.

I minored in Psychology when in Nursing school and worked in the areas of "Labor and Delivery", "Mother/Baby" and "Neonatal Intensive Care". Anyone who has ever worked in those areas of Nursing or Medicine, will tell you that the affect of the mother, any negative situations that Mom is currently experiencing, and post-partum depression, and just a psychologically unhealthy state of mind can and most probably will directly affect the bond between Mom and baby. And those who work in this area of medicine will also tell you that the moments and few hours and few days following birth are THE MOST pivotal in terms of the bond created , that will affect Mom/Child relationship way into the future.

I will also go so far as to say, that the psychological state of mom while pregnant and while nursing, will pass to the child.

I would also say, that while a specific tone for the mother/child relationship can easily be set under these circumstances, it does not mean that it is written in stone that an entire lifetime of Mom/child relationship will be tainted. One can analyze the source of a challenging relationship and rectify it.

After that whole aforementioned diatribe, I will just say, that it was only after learning of my sister's existence that I had a better understanding of my own mother, and our specific relationship.

I will never know if my Mother was a different person with my four oldest siblings, than she was years later after birthing, and losing a child. But I imagine that experience changes a person. My mother does not express her emotions on the surface. She is not a mushy, demonstrative mother, and she freely admits this. When she told me about Ruchama, it was very "matter of fact". She was only relaying info. But I wanted to ask her, how it made her FEEL? I never did. I still sometimes think I should ask her that specific question. But while my mother will probably give me some sort of cerebral answer, I do not think she will ever really answer that question on an emotional level. I do not even think she can completely understand what it is I am asking FROM her, when I would word the question that exact way. Maybe she protects herself that way ..... if she doesn't have to "FEEL" it.

But I feel it. I don't know why. I have no memory of my sister. But I always felt something. Maybe it was the fact that my mother carried me in utero while Ruchama was alive, sick, being cared for by someone else. Maybe I picked up on something at birth, when my mother looked me over, found my deformed finger nail and felt that bittersweet moment of "blessings" from G-d while another child was still suffering with illness. Maybe I grabbed hold of emotions when my mother hugged me close after she was informed of one child's passing, while another was crawling happily across the floor.

I have always thought about this sister. I thought of her before I even knew she had existed and I think of her ever since.

My mother was at my house this past weekend, for lunch. She was sitting on my couch and picked up a copy of "People" magazine. My mother always jokes with me that she will know I have matured when I stop reading that magazine. I always remind her that there are many women my age and older that apparently need to "mature".

She picked up the magazine and said, "see I have to come to your house to read, empty, vacuous, things...."


John Travolta and Kelly Preston were on the cover introducing their newborn son, Benjamin.

My mom said, "see Kelly Preston had a baby at the age of 48 ... so you can keep going."


So I said, "but I think that baby is just a "replacement" baby. (Travoltas lost a son a year ago or so....)

My mom got upset and said, "No - just because she had another baby, does not make him a replacement baby..."

She seemed annoyed by my statement.

I then told her I just read about another couple from Australia (not read in People, because I do read things that are NOT vacuous). Apparently they aborted healthy twin boys because she specifically wants a baby girl after recently losing her daughter. In Australia, it is illegal to do "gender selection" in In Vitro, unless a gender specific disease runs in your family. So this couple has to just get pregnant and take their chances on the gender. I don't want to judge a woman who lost a child and her psychological state, but the idea of aborting healthy babies just because they were the wrong gender, does sicken me.

In any case, my mother went on to say that although she is unaware of this Australia story, not every person who has a baby after a loss or a "sick" child is "replacing" the child....

And then I said it .....

"But, Ma, I do remember you saying once, that after Ruchama .... you "needed to know you could have another healthy child..."

My mother than said, "I never said {Needed} ... I may have wanted more healthy child...."

I did not want to belabor the point, but I was 99.9% certain I remembered her wording, because it always bothered me. Semantics - maybe she never meant to say "needed", but part of me always felt like she needed the "solace" of a healthy child. Although I do believe a healthy boy would have been just as fine.

I vaguely remember that she once said her arms ached, an empty ache ... when she had no baby to hold after Ruchama was not present in her vicinity. I think I understand that feeling of NEEDING to hold a baby in your arms. I think most women who have had, or have a strong desire to have a baby, know that feeling of arms waning because they need to be filled with baby.

I do not know if I can ever have a long drawn out discussion about all the feelings she had and what affect it had on our relationship or who I am today, with my Mother, but I myself will never stop thinking about it.

Waaay before I was married, I always knew that if I had a girl, she would somehow be named after my sister. My oldest, So was not the one meant to be named after her. So was literally created when Hun lost his Grandmother and I just knew if that conception was a girl, she would need to be named after Hun's Grandmother. And so she was.

But then my second baby was a girl. It was like the sister I always wanted for me, but for So. They were less than 2 years apart and I knew she was my Ruchama. That name (meaning mercy) was significant for many reasons, some I won't get into now. But even though I would use that name, when a young child dies we tend to add a name instead of just using their name alone. So Ro (short for her nickname) has three names. One is placed before Ruchama and one is placed after. When all her HEBREW names are loosely translated .... it creates a significant sentence ... "G-d answered us with Mercy and Life ".

Besides for her 3 Hebrew names, I gave her a nickname for "Ruchama" that is the name I actually call her by. We always joke that with all her names she would have an identity crisis. But the nickname is important to me, because "Ro" (not the full nickname) is how I can keep Ruchama in my memories all the time, without painfully calling out her actual name on a regular basis.

I did not inform my Mother ahead of time what I would be naming her. I was worried if I should ask my Mother's permission, if it would be painful for her, if she would be upset with the fact that I used that name, or if she would in fact appreciate it. So I took my chances. She was pleased and told me that all those names together were a beautiful sentence. I literally breathed a sigh of relief.

In a week I will run a half marathon (again) for an organization that provides services to families that are facing life with a sick child. Some of these families are similar to the one my Mother was Matriarch to in 1973, but the services were not available to her at the time. She had to make very serious decisions for her Ruchama and for her other children without the support of organizations like "Chai Lifeline".

I am running in the memory of my sister Ruchama.

In November, something happened that made me feel this run was actually being orchestrated and condoned by Ruchama herself.

I used to go to Ruchama's grave, practically every year on the anniversary of her death. I went with my parents. I know I went with them a couple of times while I was married as well, which means that I was only reminded to go when they made me aware since I was no longer living in their home. The past few years, the anniversary of her death would pass and I would think about it only in February ... that I did not go to her grave. I realized I kept mixing up her date of death in November with her birthdate in February and by the time I would think about it in February, I missed another visit. I guess my parents just stopped calling me to ask if I wanted to come, and I would forget. So for years I did not go.

This past November, my phone rang just the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My brother D. was calling me all the way from Israel. He specifically called me because he had just gotten off the phone with my parents, and my dad had mentioned, totally in passing, that they were about to go to Ruchama's grave.

D said, "I'm not sure if you care or not, but I know how Ma and Dad just take for granted that anybody would want to know .... but dad just said, they are going to the cemetery, so I don't know if you want to go or not ... maybe you can still catch them."

Years had passed that I would miss the opportunity and of all years that it should come to my attention .... this was important.

I quickly called my parents and they had not left yet .... so I went with them.

I stood at her tiny headstone, and I said some psalms as the wind blew and sleet fell. My mother and father stood beside me doing the same. When they were done, they went off to look for stones. We have a custom to place a stone on top of the grave. I'm not completely sure, but I believe it has something to do with the roundness resembling the "circle" of life, and that life goes on and on... My mother made a comment about how there were just not as many stones to be found as there used to be and she returned with tiny pieces, more typical of pebbles. She handed me one and placed hers on the grave and then she and my father were walking off and pointing out graves of past friends and other members of the community. I said a few more prayers .... some more personal and then looked over to the right and my eye quickly caught something. It was a perfectly round ROCK! It was really the only one around. And I picked it up and placed it on her headstone.

I had not been there in years and knew I was only there this year because of channels that crossed an Ocean and phone wires from Chicago to Israel back to Chicago. It was purely by chance ... or was it?

I know that Ruchama's short existence had quite an impact on the person I am today. However which way I was affected by her presence in this world and in another, for good and not so good, I know that my placement in the family just after her was meant to be. There are no accidents. And I will always have her with me. The sister I never had. The sister I will always have.