A New Chapter…Still in Limbo

4 Jul

Lifestyle choices.

My wife just joined the “gig economy.”  She is driving for one of those services that connect driver and passenger through a cell phone app (in light of their vast reach and rather spotty record of employee relations, I will refrain from mentioning them by name). She has given up her regular and not insignificant paycheck, her employer subsidized health insurance, and regular contributions to her 403b (like a 401k for the non-profit world) in exchange for a greater sense of freedom and a workplace that consists of just herself and whoever happens to be sitting in the passenger seat at any given moment.

This is a new thing for her…a very new thing.  For almost two decades my wife was a cog in the vast machine that is organized Jewish life in Los Angeles. To be clear, my use of the term “cog” is not meant to disparage my wife or her contribution to Jewish Los Angeles.  Indeed, I would argue that over the past two decades she has played a critical role in a number of organizations—they literally could not have functioned without her or someone like her.  Rather, I think the term reflects how, over time, she came to see herself and the way that she, and perhaps countless others, became a kind of a large, faceless bureaucracy that made organized Jewish life possible in the third largest Jewish community in America.

I bet I know what you’re thinking. My non-Jewish readers are likely struggling to understand the concept of organized Jewish life, while my Jewish readers are certain that there is nothing organized about any Jewish institution—and they may be right.  Nevertheless, the Jewish community of Los Angeles is made up of a host of synagogues, schools, community centers, Israel programs, social justice organizations, philanthropic endeavors, and one vast, centralized collection, or federation if you will, that attempts (and fails) to oversee, or at least assist, them all in their diverse and important work.  Again, because of their vast reach and spotty history of employee relations, I dare not mention that last organization by name, but those in the know can guess the institution that I refer to.

For a number of years, Amy was one of the many employees who made these organizations run. She managed the comings and goings of a small synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, followed by a number of years as an administrative assistant in Jewish educational and philanthropic organizations.  Ultimately, she served as a Human Resources professional at one of the largest Jewish organizations in town (no, not the Council of the Worldwide Zionist Conspiracy—though their benefits package is quite good).  And for a while, her work and her consistent move up the ranks—which she accomplished while being a wonderful, supportive mother, the primary earner in our home at times, and while completing a long-delayed BA degree—seemed to be tolerable to her, if not always satisfying.  She got the Jewish holidays off. She helped a range of people address their personal and professional needs, and as a family we spent a fair amount of time invested in the broader Jewish community (which included my studies in American Jewish history, my daughter’s attendance at a large Jewish summer camp nearby, and a host of other professional and personal connections to Jewish LA). There were certainly very good moments in her professional life and very bad moments too, but they seemed to be no better or worse than any other average Jane’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their workplace.

But eventually, things changed.  Over approximately two years, Amy’s sense of professional satisfaction and above all her health and well-being deteriorated—sometimes gradually and sometimes with shocking rapidity.  Those who have read my work before know that over two years ago Amy suffered a brutal, devastating bout of pancreatitis that laid her up for much of the summer of 2015.  In some ways, she never recovered fully from that illness.  At the very least, the few communal, local, state, and national systems in place to support her recovery failed, and my wife—who by the time all was said and done experienced terrible mental anguish and physical suffering—was forced back into the workforce well before she had the strength or physical and mental wherewithal to engage with it.  On her return, she found a work environment, and perhaps a national culture of work, that had little patience, and even far less sympathy, for her condition and constitution.  The hardheartedness of her workplace and utter lack of sympathy for her health and well-being ultimately led to another, terrible physical deterioration, a lengthy and desperately needed enrollment in our state’s disability system, and, finally, a change in the way she earned money.

I think that I would like to rededicate my blog, which has become rather moribund over the past year, to contemplating and exploring how Amy’s life changes came to be, and how the changing health (both physical and mental) of one or more of family members can shake the family unit’s sense of calm, happiness, and stability to its core.  We are undertaking a new path—Amy, Emma, and me.  And I don’t know where it will lead or if it is sustainable.  If there is one thing that I have learned since my cancer scare, which took place almost four years ago, is that I cannot predict the future at all.  We do our best.  We plan for what we allow ourselves to believe the future might bring. We budget our money best as we can, visit our doctors, try to maintain robust physical and mental health, invest in school, or retirement, or some other such thing, but we simply cannot predict where our hopes, and dreams, and plans will lead.  We do, however, know something about the past.  Indeed, that is the primary reason that I became an historian, not because I wanted to use the past to predict or prevent the future, or even to make sense of the present, but because I have found that the past is the only moment in time that we have the vision and the leisure to review, reflect upon, and, to some extent understand.  So, now that my family seems to be shifting our future direction, I think that I would like to look to the past a little bit to understand how that came to be.  I would like to see what lessons I can learn about our systems of work, finance, and healthcare, the often inexplicable way that family binds us in good times and bad, and, above all, the very tenuous nature of human health and well-being.

A few logistical notes before I sign off.  I think that I will still call this blog Limbo.  It just feels right.  I think that as long as we live we are always between states (e.g., health and sickness, wealth and poverty, mental stability and instability, etc.) and in many ways, I have found great satisfaction in using the written word to contemplate that sense of in-betweenness.  So Limbo it is!  Also, I am not going to make a big deal about this blog. I am not going to post it on Facebook or talk about it a lot, like I used to.  Those who are already connected to my blog will likely get some kind of update from WordPress.  Those who are not connected, that’s fine.  In some sense, I am writing just to hear myself think (I know how contradictory that statement is, but it feels true).  I appreciate an audience (a lot, actually) but I do not require one, and I actually feel a little sleazy about the way that I used to promote my blog to the public. If people want to read my blog, great.  If they want to share it…that is their choice and not the result of me hawking the latest edition. If it just sits there in the ether unread, well…at least I said my piece. Also, I have no idea how often I can update my posts….so likely better to just keep this to myself and see who shows up for the party.  Finally, I encourage those who do read this blog to respond to it.  I have always hoped that the great promise of blogging would be the way that it can facilitate an exchange between the author and the reader.  Sadly, I have not been able to create fully the kind of exchange that I seek (at least not with any consistency) but maybe things will be different this time.  So please respond.  Just don’t be mean.  Life is too short for such nonsense.

As always….stay tuned!

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Returning to the Donut….MMMMMMM….Donuts.

11 Aug

About a year ago, I posted the news of my impending, and what now seems to have become an annual, Petscan. Well, it’s time for another one.  A text to my oncologist in late  June began the process.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t even received a notice from my insurance company delaying the procedure (a common occurence),  I texted my oncologist again and learned that either he or the folks at the lab slightly misspelled my name.  So some guy named Eric Greenburg, or Erich Greenberg, or Erick Greenburgh got a referral for my scan.  So we began again.  This time, success!  A week after my text, the insurance company sent me an e-mail delaying my procedure by 45 days while they research the need for the test.  Then a week later, the referal arrived. Earlier this week I called the scan place,  spoke to the same guy I spoke to last year (which was kind of comforting), and made my appointment.  Thursday, August 18th, first thing in the morning. 

And so the process begins.  On Wednesday morning I start a 24 hour carb fast.  Not even a piece of fruit until I am done with the scan on the 18th.  On the 18th I am given radioactive sugar, and then placed into what looks like a large donut as they test the size and metabolic activity of my tumor (a structure that one of my friends assures me is my ancestors seeking to live close to my heart–I love that idea).   Then scantasia begins, my family’s celebratory embrace of all the carbs I couldn’t eat the day before.  A flavored coffee and muffin in the morning, Italian food at night.  Then we wait a week for the results, which I am always nervous about no matter how certain I am of thier positive outcome, and, God willing, have Scantasia part 2, the celebration of good news.

As you may recall, last year in an effort to drag all of you into my life and my concerns, I called on all of you to make the day before my scan a carb-filled wonderland for you and yours.  You may not think that stuff like that matters, but  I certainly can’t argue with the results of the scan.  So I am calling on all of you to return to this evolving tradition.  On Wednesday, August 17th, I call on all of my family and friends to double down on their carb intake.  Have some pizza, some pasta, a hoagie (or sub, or grinder). If you are a hipster, please curate a selection of locally brewed, artisinal IPAs and the drink every last one of them.  Or, if you’re like me, have a whole mess of cookies.  When you do, I will feel your good wishes, and that helps my state of mind a lot.  Maybe this year you could take some pictures of your carbs and share them on Facebook?  It might seem like a cruel taunt at my carbless existence, but I think I would dig it. 

Whatever you choose to do or not do, just know that I appreicate your interst, kindness, and support. Naturally I will share the results of the scan as soon as I get them.

As Always….Stay Tuned.

 

Back to Blogging

22 Jun

For the Blog

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post that explained my three week absence from blogging.  At that time a friend of mine asked on Facebook, “Am I expected to read a blog about why you didn’t write a blog?”  Good question, and I suppose he didn’t have to read my blog, but as a good friend, he did.  So I apologize to that friend in advance, because, once again, I write this blog to explain why I haven’t blogged.

 It’s been a long time since I last wrote and posted a blog….a very long time.  By my count it’s been about 10 months, when I announced the result of September’s Petscan. A lot has happened since then. In personal news, my daughter travelled to Israel, where she lived and studied for nine months.  Amy and I learned to live in an empty nest without too much trouble.  The New York Giants had an awful season, revealing their complete lack of an NFL caliber defense.  And I have spent much of the past academic year teaching California history at a local university part time, which is fun, but also very time consuming and frustrating.  In the broader world….well, you all know what’s gone on in the broader world—a dismaying election cycle that seems to signal the rise of the demagogue as a legitimate type of candidate in American politics, a growing divide between rich and poor that makes our current age seem very much like the late nineteenth century’s gilded age, and never ending violence and terrorism at home and abroad, just to name a few.  And all of this Emma’s trip, the changes to our household, the teaching, the election, all of it, has kept me from blogging for the past ten months. Let me explain.

First, I have found it difficult to blog for personal reasons. Like I said, a lot has happened over the past ten months, but not all of it happened to me.  My daughter has learned a number of important lessons about life and living on her own. My wife spent much of the Fall getting back on her feet after her terrible bout with pancreatitis and the other issues that arose from that horrible illness.  And Amy and I both spent nine months without a child around figuring out what married life is like when parenting is no longer the prime directive. All of these experiences are filled with stories—some painful, some funny, some depressing, others uplifting—but most of these stories are not mine to tell.  They happened to someone else, or they are personal moments that I shared with others, and so to tell those stories feels wrong, like I would be violating someone’s privacy.  That was never the intention of this blog.  Over the past few years the point of this blog has been to share my thoughts, my concerns, my fears, and my happiness and to see how that public sharing is received and how it helps me learn and grow.

The election has kept me from blogging too.  To be clear I have discussed politics regularly—especially on Facebook—but I have not found the experience beneficial. I have spent the past ten years or so of my life trying to keep my discourse and engagement reasonable and respectful, but these days American politics knows no reason nor respect. This is true for the politicians and the public, and for the right and the left.  Naturally Donald Trump and his supporters are the most severe examples of this new political tone, but one cannot ignore the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton from the left nor the frustrated jibes from Clintonites (like me) aimed at Sanders and the Sanderistas. Since the New York primary many of us believe that Bernie’s campaign and the actions and outbursts of the so called Bernie Bros have been driven by destructive hubris rather than productive care and concern, and our language has reflected that frustration.  I have gotten into a number of discussions and debates this election year, and each time I do I feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, and even a little dirty.  I am not naïve enough to believe that American politics are historically decent and noble, but these days the rules of political engagement seem to have changed considerably. People are angrier, meaner, less respectful, and when I find myself in the midst of these debates I feel angrier, meaner, and less respectful too.  I surely have no desire to spend my time blogging angry and feeling awful, and so politics have been off the table as well.

Even if I could find an appropriate topic for blogging, I have had very little time to dedicate to such an enterprise.  As I mentioned above, I have been teaching this year, this in addition to my full time job at the museum.  I have taught three back to back quarters of California history, which has been great fun, but my preparation, grading, and the demands of my students have taken up a lot of my free time.  As Amy can attest, I have spent most Monday evenings grading quizzes and most of the rest of the week grading papers or reading the week’s assigned readings.  Sure I have read this material in the past….numerous times, but I am also 51 and my memory is less photographic than I would like, so every week I read the homework assignments along with my students—well along with those students who actually take the time to read…there seem to be fewer and fewer of those students every year.

Throughout it all, Emma’s trip, the election, the teaching, and everything else that has happened this year, I have wanted to blog.  Blogging connects me to my broad network of friends (particularly those who live a great distance from me). Writing in a format lengthier than the average Facebook post helps me think things through, and as always, there is a lot to think about.  And of course, blogging has been a way for me to share the never ending saga of the lemon sized tumor in my chest and my, now, annual requirement to have my body scanned to see if anything has changed.  One of my greatest concerns about my failure to blog is that my little corner of the virtual universe will become merely a place for me to share test results. Indeed, sometime this week I will reach out to my oncologist to arrange my next Petscan (the first one in ten months). 

But I want this blog to be more than that.  I want to return to my earlier focus on writing, on the ability to communicate well, to be more vulnerable and honest, and to share my thoughts and thinking.   Recently one of my yoga teachers (yes I take yoga now, and I love it) described the practice as an investigation into two essential questions—what is my purpose? and what makes me happy? (I probably got that wrong, but I think I captured the essence of her statement).  Prior to her comments, I had always thought of yoga as bound up in other questions like, “Why does that hurt so much?” or “Will I ever be able to bend that deeply?” and other such inquiries.  But my teacher’s point resonated with me. Whatever its outward rewards, when I am at my most relaxed and engaged, yoga helps me to focus and think more clearly, and in my most successful moments of yoga I have had some initial thoughts about purpose and happiness.  I think our purpose in this world is to be as fully present and fully engaged with the moment and the world around us as possible.  Too often our ability to appreciate life and each other is obstructed by our inability (or at least my inability) to think about the here and now.  Too much of life, mine and the lives of other people I know, is bound up in endless worry about things that have happened or may happen in the future.  I think we are at our happiest when we can appreciate the moment, any moment, more fully.

Yoga helps develop the focus and calm necessary to being fully present and engaged (to say nothing of how great it’s been for relieving the many aches and pains that come with aging and being overweight), but blogging helps, too.  Sure, very often my blogs are obsessed with the unfixable past and the unknowable future, but the process still keeps me deeply engaged with my thoughts and the process of thinking. And coming to really know and understand my thinking has a beneficial effect on me. Writing a blog is a days-long enterprise.  I take an idea and I work it out on the page.  The more I write, reread, and edit my work, the more in tune I become with my thoughts, the clearer my focus becomes, and I am able to articulate my ideas more clearly and fully.  Overtime, I begin to understand things about myself that I did not know, and the comments from friends and other readers reminds me just how lucky I am to know so many wonderful, thoughtful people. It’s a kind of meditation, one that I have missed.  For the past ten months I haven’t had that experience in my life, and I really would like to regain it.  For now, I suspect, my blog will once again focus on my upcoming Petscan, but I am going to do my best to get back into the process of thinking and writing.  I apologize in advance for those of you who feel obliged to read my work.  I appreciate your patience and willingness to spend a few minutes reading my latest rant, and I thank you for your time and your friendship.

 

As always…stay tuned.

I Live to Scan Another Day

4 Sep

Erik Hat

My scanning routine has become so….well….routine, that my Dr. doesn’t even bother to call me any more–not sure how I feel about that, but I digress.  I received the briefest of texts from my Dr.  “No change in size.  Repeat test in 8-10 months.” There you have it, friends.  I live to scan another day.  Thanks for all of your carb-laden good wishes, and your continued indulgence. Tonight…Scantasia, admittedly without Emma, but this news must be celebrated with carbs!

As Always….stay tuned.

A Less Than Modest Proposal

2 Sep

Baagel Doughnut

In an effort to generate a little positive energy and test the boundaries of my considerable hubris, I would like to declare September 2nd“Eat Carbs for Erik” day.

As some of you may recall, I have my PET scan on Thursday the 3rd.  For those not familiar with the process, the PET depends upon the fact that tumors and other forms of inflammation metabolize sugar at much greater rates than the rest of your body.  The day before the procedure you abstain from all carbohydrates, and on the day of the scan, the medical technician pumps a syringe of radioactive sugar into your bloodstream, which then gets quickly metabolized by your tumor.  So that’s what I’m getting ready for, and it begins with a day without carbs…then a 6 am check in, a 7:30 or so injection, an 8:30 scan, and a 9:30 muffin and caramel latte.  Then we await the results, which I hope and pray are good, and then on to Scantasia!

I call on all readers of my blog, all people in my social universe, indeed all people on the planet to spend September 2nd ingesting and enjoying bready, sugary, creamy, carby treats. And when you do, please think of me. Have a bagel for me!  Have a doughnut for me.  Have a waffle, a roll,  or a pancake for me!  Have a cookie for me, actually, take two, they’re small.  Overcome your South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, Gluten abstinence, 21st century diets and dive into the cornucopia of carbs.  And when you do, when you taste that delicious sweetness, send some positive thoughts my way.  I swear I will feel them.  Who knows, maybe I will even taste them!  And I will be forever grateful. 

As Always….stay tuned.

A Blessing in Disguise: My Postponed Petscan and Our Difficult Summer

15 Aug

WIN_20131105_064915If you’re doing the math and paying scrupulous attention to my scanning schedule, then you’ve probably noticed that I am a few months behind on my biannual scanathon (scansation, scancapade?).  In truth, if you are doing the math and paying attention to those kinds of details, you probably need to develop some hobbies to pass your time more pleasantly….but I digress.  Over the spring, several friends and family suggested I ask the oncologist if I really needed to be seen twice a year, or could we move to an annual scan schedule.  He did not go for it, and suggested I have the PET in August instead of June.  At the time a two month reprieve felt like a pretty lame consolation prize, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

As some of you know, May and June were an incredibly difficult time for the West Coast Greenbergs. July and much of August were no picnic either, but May and June were brutal. For those who have followed our family’s comings and goings on Facebook, you know that Amy was terribly ill with pancreatitis, a brutally painful condition that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  Seriously, over the course of my life I have only witnessed three people suffer tremendous physical pain. I have a friend who went through extended and unbelievable suffering with some slipped discs in his lower back.  In my father’s last days he suffered greatly from pressure in his brain brought on by a relentless advance of melanoma, and then there’s Amy’s suffering brought on by an inflamed pancreas whose own enzymes were eating away at its tissue.  Just awful. Her’s may have been the worst suffering I have ever witnessed.  

Amy’s illness required a lengthy and arduous recovery. She had two extended stays in hospital, one for four days and one for ten. Both stays required lengthy fasts (the cure for pancreatitis is to give your pancreas a rest, and so Amy was on nothing but IV fluids for four or five days at a time).   She was forced to radically change her diet, dramatically reducing her fat intake and eliminating alcohol altogether.  She lost about 10% of her body weight, and she was out of work for more than a month. Her suffering was heartbreaking, her recovery slow and tense, and the whole experience has left both of us depleted and even a little depressed. There really are no words to express what it’s like to see the women you have spent the better part of your life with, the person you watched bring life into this world, be taken down so powerfully and painfully.  The first morning she was in the hospital, I burst into tears, and I have felt pretty unsteady ever since.  Naturally Amy felt even worse! The whole experience defies explanation, which may be why I have been so reluctant to blog about it.  Only now, over two months after her initial attack, has our family and its routines begun the return to normalcy (whatever that is).

Truth is, nothing about this summer has been normal. We entered this season knowing that towards its close Emma would leave us for a lengthy gap year program in Israel (9 months to be exact).  I am simultaneously thrilled and sad about this.  Thrilled because I think it is a wonderful opportunity for her to strike out on her own so far away from home, to learn new things, meet new people, and to understand what it’s like to live in what I have found to be a wonderful but difficult and frustrating country.  I am sad for a number of reasons, including the fact that the physical distance between us will make all things more difficult, from being able to help her in a time of emergency to just talking on the phone.  I am sadder still because her departure signals the end of an era in our lives.  No matter what happens when Emma returns, if she stays with us for a few more years, or if she heads off to a school a great distance from us, we are fast approaching the moment when our daughter’s interests, employment, and commitments will become more pressing to her than time spent with us.  To be clear, I am not saying that Emma will not dedicate time to her parents, maybe even a lot of time.  Still, I’ve been where she is now.  So many things compete for our attention and interest as we become adults—friends, partners, school, work schedules, children.  These things become all-consuming and make demands of us that often tear us away from our closest and most immediate family. I miss the days when Amy and I were Emma’s whole world—her teachers, protectors, and caretakers, her most hilarious entertainment, her tour guides through life, and her most comforting security blankets. No doubt our relationship began to change years ago, but her upcoming departure (less than two weeks from the time I wrote this piece) has reinforced just how fluid and uncertain our roles in Emma’s life have become.

Ultimately, not having my scan in June turned out to be a blessing.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to add the stress and worry that invariably accompanies my scan (no matter how confident I am of its positive outcome) with the tremendous stress and worry we all felt about and for Amy and the difficult mix of joy, sadness, and uncertainty that surrounds Emma’s trip to Israel.  Nevertheless it has to be done, and it will be soon enough.  Per his request, I recently texted my oncologist. The imaging office called me a few days later to set up the appointment.  September 2nd is my carb free day, and my scan takes place early on the 3rd.  The results show happens sometime the following week, and shortly thereafter, God willing, Scantasia, our semiannual celebration of what I hope will be continued good news.  

By that time, Amy, Emma, and I will be about a week into our new lives, each of us trying to adapt to the significant shift in our family dynamic.  The one thing that I know that will not change is our love for each other.  When I told Emma of my impending scan, she insisted that I call her the minute I get the results.  That request was extremely comforting, and naturally I will reach out to her and the rest of my family the minute I hear the news.  Shortly after that, I will tell all of you.  Your continued prayers and words of support mean a great deal to me.  Now, more than ever, everyone in my family could use some good wishes and positive vibes. 

As always….stay tuned.

She’s Leaving Home

7 May

About a month ago, Amy and I took our daughter to the airport for her first solo trip across the continent.  For a little more than a week, Emma exchanged one set of crazy family members on the West Coast for a set of equally crazy family members in the New York Tri State area.  No big deal, right?  She’s 18, perfectly capable of getting around on her own, and she was in good hands with our family back East—at the very least she was in no worse hands than if she were right here at home with her meshuganah  parents.   But as we walked her to the security line at LAX (an airport I despise almost as much as I hate the wildly inconvenient JFK in New York), I became a little melancholy, a little clingy, and even a little weepy.  To be clear, I didn’t have a full blown meltdown—nothing like it.  Instead, I found myself balancing on that emotional razor’s edge between the great joy and pride I feel for the young woman my daughter has become, and the great melancholy I feel for the loss of our little girl who has, seemingly in the blink of an eye, disappeared from view. 

For a few years, now, it seems that my entire relationship with Emma is a balancing act, a joyous, frustrating, reassuring, and unsettling effort to figure out the shifting borders of parental and filial authority, accountability, knowledge, expertise, and wisdom, while simultaneously reassuring each other of our mutual love.  She is a bright, confident young woman with an impressive range of interests, tastes, and passions, and I am a somewhat overly sensitive, frequently anxious, and excessively self-reflective middle aged man who, up until recently, was accustomed to being her teacher, mentor, and (in conjunction with my wife, of course)  undisputed authority on expectations concerning her conduct and behavior.  Perhaps I am fooling myself on that last part, but at least Amy and I had the power to reward and punish into Emma’s mid-teens. 

Today our roles are fluid.  Frequently, Emma is my teacher.  She has introduced me to the joys of spoken word poetry, Buzzfeed, and Dr. Who.  She has opened my eyes to the difficulties and indignities suffered by young women, and she has helped me better understand the range of social-sexual categories claimed by a generation of young women and men who refuse to be pigeon-holed into society’s expectations of hetero and homo sexuality.  I am continually impressed by the depth of her intellect and emotional intelligence.  That is not to say that I have nothing to offer in return.  I do.  Emma still has much to learn about deli, pizza, and, of course, cookies.  Like my father before me, I have introduced her to the joys of classical music and opera.  I struggle mightily to turn her into a proper New York Giants fan, but, sadly, to no avail. Since, at different times, I have been a very bad and a very good student, and a teacher, I have many lessons to offer about the right and wrong ways to get through college, about communicating with her professors, proper study habits, doing research, critically assessing sources, and developing a more sophisticated “written voice.”  And, most significantly, Amy and I spend a fair amount of time teaching Emma to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility and self-direction, while sharing with her the difficult ironies and sometimes harsh realities of life.

Precisely how we share these lessons with Emma, and how much credence she is willing to give to our words of wisdom, has become a source of uncertainty and contention.  For several years, now, our parental authority has diminished, as Emma develops her own insights into and opinions on what is appropriate, right, and fair.  She is an Angeleno, and like so many born and raised in this city, her sense of time and punctuality are at odds with mine (native Angelenos are routinely late).  We frequently bicker over what time she should leave the house in order to get somewhere on time. We differ over the relative urgency of a range of issues from the cleanliness of her car and room, to the appropriate amount of time it takes to respond to e-mails.   And when our opinions differ, we clash—emotions run high, arguments ensue, and feelings get hurt (sometimes hers and sometimes mine).   Moments of anger and frustration are soon followed by moments of deep sadness and regret (at least on my end…I can’t speak for Emma).  And while Emma continues to give every indication that she will be an extraordinary adult, something inside me continually worries about how she will make her way in the world.  Those worries lead to criticisms, which I know annoy her.  But for God’s sake, I’m her father, how can I hold my tongue?  I am sure that Emma, and probably Amy, would tell me that it’s quite easy and that I should just shut my big mouth every once in a while.

Added to all of these fears, frustrations, and anxieties is the reality that Emma will leave us soon. Her trip to New York was the first in what will be a series of departures.  This August she will leave for a nine month gap year program in Israel.  Her return to Los Angeles, and to our home, will be a temporary respite from her ongoing journey, as she will no doubt leave us for college, work, and, someday, to start her own family.  That knowledge fills each exchange, each laugh, each hug, each argument, each tear, each moment with a sense of urgency and importance that both frightens and excites me.   My daughter is entering a new phase in her life, a phase that has diminished, and will continue to diminish, my ability to influence, inform, and (of greatest significance) protect her.  As we continue down our respective paths, any relationship we have will be driven far more by mutual choice than mutual obligation.

Naturally, I have been on the other side of that relationship dynamic.  Like all parents and children, my folks and I went through a fairly tumultuous transition period, one that didn’t really get sorted out until my mid-thirties.  I was pretty obnoxious to them, and in some ways my continued residence in LA well after it became clear that I stood almost no chance of succeeding in the entertainment business was a way for me to avoid them.  Today, of course, I live here because of all the personal and professional networks we’ve established in the City of Angels, but I feel and regret the great physical distance that separates me from my East Coast family quite keenly.  This was particularly true when my dad was dying, but the feeling continues to trouble me as I watch my mother and I, both, get older.  I really wish that I had come around sooner, that I had come to see one of the most important facts about the relationship between parents and children, namely that our time together is a great gift and is limited by forces well beyond our control.  I have tried to convey this and other important lessons to Emma, and I think she gets it.  Nevertheless, as I watch her begin her journey into adulthood, I begin to wonder if she will want to spend time with me as I age and decline. 

When I share these thoughts with the parents of grown children, they remind me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for a world without us.  One memorable discussion with the parent of two kids in their late twenties directed me to the insights of the great poet Khalil Gibran.  In his epic poem, The Prophet, Gibran tells us the following about the relationship between parents and children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I suspect I could have just shared these verses at the beginning of this essay and been done with my post.  While I cannot say for certain that the words are true, they somehow say so much about the great paradox of parenting, a riddle that gets more confusing every day.

As always….stay tuned.