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Dec 30 2011

Death in Sunrise, Florida

By at 11:26 am

It hits you as soon as you get off the airplane. The air smells different, it feels different. The word “humid” doesn’t capture the sensation that the walls and the carpets and the people are literally shvitzing: emitting moisture into the particles in the air like we emit breath. The air reeks of plastic and nylon and brick and flesh all mushed up together. All of the materials of the environment seem to make up the air you breathe. It’s nauseating and it’s comforting. It is Florida.

Florida is where my grandparents retired to when I was about 5 years old. They moved there with my grandmother’s three best friends (her two sisters, and her brother). They went as so many do, refugees first from Eastern Europe and then from New York. Florida was where you went and what you became. My grandfather died five years after retiring, leaving my grandmother to live without him but among her beloved siblings for the years until she moved to Los Angeles to be near us. She died before my second son was even conceived just four years ago.

The last of my grandmother’s siblings died last week at 100 incredible years old, just 12 hours after my husband and two boys arrived at my in-laws to spend a relaxing vacation in Northern California. My younger son and I bought the most expensive plane tickets we could find (that’s sarcasm) and we even found fights with the glorious promise of several hours of layover in lovely Phoenix both ways (still sarcasm mixed with anger). As Christmas Day came to an end, we were spilled onto the streets of Sunrise, Florida.

I told 3-year-old Fred that we were going to a party of sorts in Florida. But that it was a party where some people might be sad and others might be happy. In Fred-speak, he tried to make sense of it:

“Miles sad me Batman party. No presents.”

“Yes, Fred. Miles was sad at your Batman party because he didn’t get any presents.”

The trip went miraculously well, all things considered. Twenty of us stood at a grave and paid fitting tribute to the last of a generation in our family. Almost all of our small but mighty family was able to be there. No one fought (at least not in plain view). We ate together before and after the funeral. We laughed a lot. We cried. We looked at photo albums of our respective branch of our modest but lovely dynasty. Fred was a champ, breastfeeding as needed on airplanes and napping at the exact moment I thought I couldn’t stay awake myself one more minute. The trip was great. So why was it so sad?

It’s what hits you as you get off the plane. Florida may not be where I was born, but it is where people die. I sat in the backseat of my parents’ rental car (they don’t live in Florida and never will, they detest it so) and I instantly became a child, sitting in the back of my grandparents’ old Cadillac Seville. A collective sense of intensity, inanity, and intangibility well up in me now that I am an adult and it happens only in Florida.

Indeed, it was a party with sad people and happy ones. I spoke of my great Aunt’s friendship and how much it meant to my grandmother. Fred saw me weep pitifully and then he fell asleep at the end of the funeral, so I was able to shovel dirt into the last of my family’s Florida graves. He didn’t see the sweat of burying a loved one mix with my tears but I am sure it hung in the air, as all things do in Florida.

At night, I dreamed about my grandmother. I dreamed I was tying a bright scarf around her head in a bow. She kept redirecting my tying of it, though. I tied and retied it and I just couldn’t get it right. She was hard to please alive, must she be so in death as well?

What was I trying to make right? Was it death? Was it life? Was it the unavoidable fact that all of us will pass on and leave behind people to speak of us, to cry for us, to shovel dirt? Whatever it was, it hangs in the air. And it hits you as soon as you get off the airplane.

Nov 21 2011

From Urban to Suburban

By at 3:04 pm

boca raton beach

Boca is beautiful, but what's the catch?

Last week, Lili Kalish Gersch shared with us the trials and tribulations of living in a cramped urban apartment with a young kid. Here, we get the flip side from Boca Raton’s newest resident.

Our motivation in moving from Manhattan to the suburbs in South Florida was to save money. We loved most things about our urban lifestyle–the convenience of most errands being only a block away, the ability to order any meal we wanted any time of day, the fact that just walking around the block with our dogs was filled with sights, sounds, and probable run-ins with friends. New York is absolutely a Jewish city but in the way that a cabbie from Haiti will call another driver a putz and the Greek diners serve matzo brei in the spring.

We chose Boca Raton not only because it was close to my parents but since it was relatively affluent, we thought that we might be able to find some of the things we loved about city life like great restaurants, stellar schools, and lots of activities for families.

In New York, being a homebody usually meant you were into things like good restaurants, movies with friends, or a yoga devotee. Here it literally means you don’t go out at night. As a mom of two toddlers, I wasn’t even close to living a socialite lifestyle but like most people I knew, I would get together with friends at least a couple of nights a week.

What I miss most is those “only in New York” moments that can’t be replaced in another region.  Call me unsophisticated but I loved the times I saw Mick Jagger in a restaurant,  a woman walking with a parrot on her shoulder, or Gossip Girl filming in Central Park.  Here in Florida, I’ve lost that feeling of possibility, the sensation that any minute something exciting could happen.

Although the move has afforded us a far nicer lifestyle then we could have had in Manhattan, I can’t help feeling that living here is temporary. It doesn’t quite feel like “real life.” Sometimes it seems like I’ve moved to a Jewtopia where everyone is rich, impossibly fit, and their last name ends in -man, -berg  or the name of a precious metal.  Everyone I speak to, from new friends to neighbors, asks what we’re doing for the holidays. I haven’t experienced this type of Jewish immersion since summer camp.

Of course it’s cool to be able to go swimming every day, and my kids and I love seeing all the strange new wildlife down here. We went from pigeons to pelicans and from rats to reptiles. But most evenings when the sky turns into a screen-saver perfect sunset, I still feel this is all fleeting.

In my mind I’m picking out fall clothing and making plans to meet my Mom friends in the park for a playdate. I like to pretend time has frozen there without me. I really had an amazing and supportive network of friends–most of whom I met after becoming a mom so we bonded in that way only parents in similar stages can, over sleepless nights, toddler meltdowns, and Moms’ Night Out. And although I’ve met a ton of great new moms, the relationships all still have that new car smell. Intellectually I know it takes a while to adjust to a new place and for friendships to grow into a comfort zone. But for now my heart still belongs to NYC.

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