If I Had To Do It Over Again I’d Be Less of A Jerk

get-attachment-8.aspxIf I had to parent my oldest son over again I’d be less of a jerk.

We were working on the all important photo montage for my youngest son’s bar mitzvah and in the process we looked at hundreds of baby pictures and in still life we look like the model family. There is so much cuteness there that it’s hard to winnow the pile of photos down to the requisite hundred images needed for the montage. And then another thought occurs to us; perhaps we should include a few minutes of video footage in the montage. So we decide to watch some video footage of my youngest son’s circumcision ceremony/party.

At the very end of the footage there is what appears to be a very short addendum in which the venue has changed, the party has ended and we are home. The infant child is cradled in my arms feeding and my nine-year old son is in his Hannah Anderson cotton matching PJs. If we had a still picture of this, I would have melted, smiled knowingly and pronounced it to be, “precious.” But, unfortunately this is the age of video. My husband’s disembodied voice can be heard in the background asking, “Andrew what did you think of your brother’s “bris?”  “I don’t know” the child replies in a whiny, reedy voice. My husband can be heard groaning disappointedly on the sound track while I launch into a diatribe on the order of, “Answer daddy, speak up, ‘I don’t know’ is your answer to everything, tell us what you thought of the bris,” blah, blah, blah. I silently implore my video image to stop haranguing that poor, clearly exhausted child.

And then it strikes me; we were such jerks. What did we want from this child who with the clarity of thirteen years of hindsight and several years’ worth of sleep filled nights looks almost as much like a baby as his eight-day old brother. But at the time with a three-year old and an infant we looked to the nine-year old as if he would shortly be donning a business suit and going off to work.

I’m actually surprised we didn’t ask him to write a dissertation about his brother’s “bris.” So, MARK MY WORDS younger parents and mark them well, when your infant arrives that does not make your older child older than he actually is. Don’t fall into that trap because someday you might just watch some video footage of yourself and wish for a do over.

And to my oldest son, please accept my sincere apology. If we screwed you up, it was wholly unintentional. In my defense, birth order is destiny. Now get over it. By the way what do you think of David’s bar mitzvah speech? And, let me just put it out there, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. I’ll be expecting some lucid, non-whiny commentary by this evening.

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Love To Last A Whole Life Through

get-attachment-8.aspxWhat should I tell my sons about love that lasts a lifetime?

Last Sunday I was on the phone with my twenty-one year old son.  He seemed stunned that a friend of his had gotten engaged to her college boyfriend.  “But that’s what dad and I did” I said and then I listed all our friends who had also married their college sweethearts and were still together. He muttered something about things being different nowadays and then we ended the call. We were actually on our way to a funeral where we learned that my friend’s parents (it was her mom’s funeral) had been married for sixty-seven years. My friend’s father movingly eulogized his wife calling her his angel and wondering how he would go on without her. I texted my son later that day, “M’s parents were happily married for sixty-seven years, getting engaged after dating for only two months.” “O Wow” he replied.

Judging by a recent article, Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too, in the New York Times, the culture has really changed. The article described what is referred to as the new hook up culture on college campuses, which essentially involves enjoying sex without the messiness of an emotional attachment.  Apparently, this culture has always been aspirational for boys/men but now what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and girls are driving the “hook up” culture. As an eighties gal, this may not jive with my moral compass but I’m okay with anything safe and consensual. I just think that these girls are fooling themselves if they think that they can really separate their emotions from their physicality. Changing the semantics from boyfriend to “hookup buddy” will not shield anyone from a broken heart.

But, what stuck with me most from the article was the cluelessness of the following quote explaining one girl’s reasons for not wanting to commit too early,

“I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”

My husband is not the same man I married and I am certainly not the same woman he married.  We have been changing since the day we met and I hope we will continue to change until the day we die.  Aside from the obvious physical changes, life has deepened us. When we started out we were so black and white full of arrogant, youthful, feckless platitudes.  Then we lived and we learned and we heard and we listened. If we are today the same people we were before we experienced life’s greatest joys and deepest sorrows what would that say about us? If we didn’t grow and learn from our life experiences and morph into richer, deeper more nuanced people what kind of people would we be?

When I look at old pictures I always think, “this is all wrong.”  Why did I think that hairstyle was nice and the clothes.  Oh my, what was I thinking? But, at the time I thought I looked pretty spiffy.  This haircut, the one I have now, this is the ONE, but how do I know that I won’t look back at these pictures in ten years and say, how could I have worn my hair like THAT??? And, what’s with those FitFlops???

How do you know when it’s okay to risk your heart or to fully commit your heart? How do you know that in the shifting sands of time you will not look back and say who is this person I ended up with? Well, there are no guarantees.  The only thing I can tell my sons is that life is a gamble but you can roll the dice wisely. Tastes change but your core, the essence of your being does not change. Identify the qualities in people that are immutable and search for those.

As for me, I looked for the smartest person in the room with the most integrity and I found him and twenty-five years later that’s still what I would look for.

And, then there’s the magic…..

Hello Mudder – Hello Fadder

996185_10151430840182484_425429385_nI have just returned from what is arguably the hottest place on earth, the parking lot from whence a bus will bear my son to a three and a half (every day counts) week stint at summer camp. Even if we weren’t a little verklempt when we first got there, the combination of sun, hot tar, bus exhaust, the crowd and the absence of even a lick of shade left us weak, too weak to wave to the bus for half an hour as it sat in the lot and then as it pulled away. If food had been called for I could have fried an egg on my head. My Fit Flops left an imprint in the hot tar, kind of like a Hollywood star.  They will never forget that I was there.

I, myself never attended sleepaway camp, a fact, which my children like to point out but I have been sending children to sleepaway camp for many years now. I feel no guilt sending them, although, none of my three have ever really been big campers.  Frankly, I need the break from them and, I think, they need the break from me. And, certainly as I reach the ripe old age of 50, I have lost the ability to keep a twelve-year old boy adequately entertained for the summer.

Mind you, I have never had the highly enviable situation of being able to send all three to the same camp at the same time.  The parents who do that have a special gleam in their eye as they walk away from the bus, hand in hand.  My children, because of the age difference (nine years between oldest and youngest) are more akin to whack-a-moles.  I send one away for a few weeks and then another but by the time the third one leaves, the first is returning.   Whack as we might, they don’t stay down for long.

The way we packed for junior you might have thought that he was going on a yearlong safari to a third world country. I started the hunting and gathering phase of the packing three months ahead of time.  And, I requisitioned an entire room for my packing endeavors because there is a lot involved here; the gathering, the laying out, the trying on, the labeling and the placing in the trunk. This packing business is not for the faint of heart.

Also, the packing is a little competitive, so when one of my friends tells me that she is ahead of me in her packing schedule, I want to feel happy for her, but I’m not that big a person and I stick my fingers in my ears and hum, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

Then, someone will triumphantly post a picture on Facebook of their childrens’ eight trunks lined up by the front door with the caption “DONE.” Someone else will laud them for their lovely color-coded trunks and say, “You trumped me.  I only have six perfectly packed color coded trunks.” There’s no room for slackers here.

The week before the children leave, there is the last supper and the last lunch and the last breakfast, and the requisite goodbye calls to the people they never talk to anyway.  Then there are the second to last meals.  The last meals are only trumped by the first breakfast back, the first lunch back and the first dinner back.

So, even though it sometimes seems like more work than it’s worth, I continue to send my little angel to sleepaway camp not only because we need a break from each other but also because of the well-known scientific principle that like things belong together. So, twelve year olds should be with other twelve year olds because only a twelve year old can really appreciate another twelve year old in the way he ought to be appreciated. And more importantly, fifty year olds should try to be ALONE with other fifty year olds, for the very same reason especially if they are married to them. You see where I’m going with this.

And, as we drive home after dropping my camper off (with the middle son in the back saying, “What do only children do?”), I look forward to my three and a half weeks of relaxation because I know that very soon I will check the mail, and, there IT will be…

Dear Parents,

We hope you are enjoying your summer. Pick up will be at 11AM…

Guest Post: Why My Sister Can’t Accept Me As I Am

It’s true. I asked my brother, Joe Hirsch, to be a guest blogger but I did not call him, as he asserts, from a suburban shopping mall. And, contrary to his claim, he actually has failed to disappoint me on several occasions.  The truth is he’s the real writer in the family and I would be jealous if I didn’t love him madly.get-attachment.aspx

get-attachment-2.aspxI have never failed to disappoint my sister.

                                                            This is no exception.

So when she called me from an oversized vehicle spewing exhaust in a suburban shopping mall to demand I contribute to her blog, I asked what kind of commitment would be deemed acceptable. You see, I remain as suspicious of calls for commitment now in middle age and encroaching senility as I did as a young man exiting puberty a year ago.

When she responded that 400 words would be called for, I insisted a headline be counted among them. To my indignation, she replied that headlines are a category apart, one within which word count is not a proper consideration. I was appalled, but agreed to her conditions, because that’s the kind of man I am—a man of few words, all destined for glory, if not necessarily for publication.

Let me explain. I have always been a major roadblock in my younger sister’s aspirations to be first born in our family. There is nothing I or anyone else can do about that now. My sister was born second, which, in my estimation, is a very fortuitous position from which to be launched. Look, do you want to be the first rocket launched to decimate foreign targets? Of course you don’t. You want a reconnaissance missile to be launched initially as a decoy to be blown up in mid-flight so that you, as second fiddle, can be assured of crossing the Pacific successfully in order to flatten California, after a preliminary volley has sufficiently distracted missile defense forces.

And if you want to talk about distractions, talk to me. Well, not too loud, because I am easily distracted. In fact, my sister, who, by the way, runs this blog, thinks I should have gotten some kind of medical treatment for my distractible nature when I was young and she was even younger, to help me deal with my condition of distractibility, even if it would have required taking drugs. Drugs can be good for you in certain circumstances, but that would require the blessings of corporations—sorry, I mean the government, or, in other words, you and me, for aren’t we all in power here? That’s what’s so great about this country, this blog, and the pharmaceutical industry. It’s all very democratic.

My sister will no doubt be very disappointed in my column because it touches on so many important themes so effortlessly, so I think it’s fair to say her anger will stem from jealousy, but I accept that. I, too, would be disappointed with my column if I had the attention span necessary to sit still long enough to read it.

Well, sadly, I’m a hundred words over my word count, even without the headline. But that’s what family’s all about—being excessive in one’s choices while knowing that you will be forgiven because ultimately your excess is simply more important than anyone else’s, while never stooping into over-indulgence or—god forbid—inexcusable narcissism.

Family Vacation-The Paradigm Shift

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We’ve been a family of five for the last twelve years.

Before that we were a “growing” family.  Now we are a ”shrinking” family, of sorts.  I say this with no sadness, just with a sort of wistful realization that it’s happening, and probably later for us than for some of our friends. Our oldest son is a rising college senior and although he has been living away from home, he has always been happy to join us on vacation. This year we planned a short family jaunt to a warm weather destination and our oldest son decided to stay up at school for the week. I don’t want to make this into something it was not. This was not a decision with earth shattering implications, but, as we have always gone away with either all the children or none of them, this was a shift in the paradigm of our normal family vacation.

I brought up the subject of vacationing as a “family of four” with the two children with whom we were vacationing thinking they would warm the cockles of my heart with tales of vacations past and the fun they had with their brother.  I have to say the kids quickly warmed to the topic and they were terrifyingly mercenary. The youngest who is not generally a paragon of enthusiasm really perked up when he realized that he wouldn’t have to sleep on the roll-a-way this time.  “You mean we each get our own bed?” he asked excitedly. And, as we climbed into a regular size taxi with our luggage, the kids noted gleefully how much easier it is to get a cab for four people with luggage than it is to get one for five.

So, that’s how we were doing, but I worried that back in Boston number one son would somehow feel left out or would be desperately concerned for our welfare so I decided to keep him in the loop. When we landed I texted him that we had arrived safely. When I said, “desperately concerned,” perhaps I meant marginally concerned.  A mere thirty-six hours later he replied, “Good, how was your flight?”

I was undeterred in my effort to be inclusive. The next morning while waiting in line to get into the Aquarium at Mandalay Bay I texted him again, “At Mandalay Bay waiting to see sharks.”  This time there was no response at all. On our last day, as we were packing to leave, the cell phone rang.  It was the prodigal son. Ah ha, I thought, he misses us. “Hi dad, I need to use the credit card to charge some stuff. Is it ok?”

After our flight landed, I sent number one son a text that we were safely home.  At least he should know that the money pipeline remained intact. I asked number two son how he felt about vacationing as a “family of four.” “I’m not giving you a quote for your blog,” he sniped, without looking up from his iPhone.  I asked hubby the same question. He said, “You can’t publish what the kids said.” I asked number three son what he thought of our vacation with two kids. “Are we having dinner tonight?” he queried.

No party was thrown. No speeches were made.  No gifts were given.  And, undoubtedly, we will vacation as a family of five again. But, this week for the first time in twenty-one years we made family vacation memories without A.

And, even if no one else was paying attention, I was.  And, I thought it was a moment worthy of note.