It Goes On

David Hirsch PhotoAbout sixth months ago, soon after I began blogging my twelve- year old son came to me and said, “Mom, I have a quote for you to blog about. It’s by Robert Frost and this is it, ‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’”

After I got past the initial surprise that my son had grasped that concept at such a young age and after I thought about Robert Frost and how brilliant he was I thought well, yes, it IS so true that life goes on but at least for me, there’s more to it than that.

Life goes on but the grief goes on as well, not in a debilitating, crawl into bed can’t move kind of way. Don’t start looking this up in the DSM-5. I’m not talking about extreme or extended grieving that rises to the level of pathology. I’m talking about the way some people leave us with a void that can never be filled, not by the child who looks like them or the one who was named for them, not by anybody. And yes, life certainly goes on, as it should, people re-marry, children are born, careers blossom and lives move on but when someone you really loved dies you never stop missing them and you never stop wishing you could have them back for one day, one hour, even one minute.

Every year on the anniversary of my mother in law’s mother’s death she would say it’s been X many years that my mother’s been gone.  The number was high.  She died in the early 70s. I remember thinking how can my mother in law possibly remember the date and why did she still mention it thirty years later?  I get it now.  Today marks fourteen years since my father died and I will never forget the date. It’s just one of those indelible dates seared into my brain forever. And, if I’m here in sixteen years I will say it’s been thirty years and I will miss him still. I know that now.

So yes David life goes on. The pain is pushed away, the smiles return and the fall colors are vibrant again. But, when you lose someone you love a lot, you carve out a place in your heart where you carry the joy of having loved them together with the pain of having lost them and those things must learn to coexist.

And they do.

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Big Box Madness

I’m a pretty reasonable person but there’s something about Costco that turns me into a bit of a lunatic.

This morning I confidently strolled into Costco with a short list of staples to stock up on: paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, all items that one should buy at a store like Costco. As usual I ended up with a cart full of nonsense; a tub of cream puffs, five pounds of face cream and enough female antiperspirant to keep a small country of menopausal woman from sweating for the rest of the millennium. And, what long suppressed evolutionary imperative led me to buy thirty-two ounces of neon colored orange cheddar cheese balls? Cheddar cheese my tuchus!!

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I love Costco but I’m not really sure what happens to me from the time I walk in the door to the time I walk out that causes me to abandon all reason.  There is something very seductive going on behind those giant doors and it’s a little baffling.  Let’s face it, seeing things in such large quantities is just terribly compelling. It can’t be those aproned, shower capped food giver-outers. Or can it? How else can I explain how I ended up with a life size bag of veggie straws?

And, I know it’s not just me.  When my oldest son was hosting some kids from Chile they wanted to go to Costco, of all places.  They wanted to go into New York City to see Times Square and the other famous tourist sites but mostly they wanted to go to Costco because of all the sights they saw Costco was the most fascinating.

Does anybody living in a normal size household really need things in those sizes? I think the answer is probably no and for me going to a big box store like Costco inevitably leads to impulse purchases and waste.  Five pounds of red licorice.  Really?  Well, the licorice gets hard but at least it doesn’t get fuzzy or hairy which is more than I can say for the twenty-pound bag of freakishly large potatoes, which will be rotting in my kitchen shortly.  I will probably wind up in traction from hauling them home, but they were such a bargain!!!

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I’m no economist but I’m pretty sure that it’s not cost effective to buy 1,000 tablets of Advil even if you eventually finish the bottle. In the ten years it takes to finish said bottle we probably could’ve made a killing investing that money elsewhere.

I’m convinced that part of Costco’s appeal is that it envelopes you in it’s own little world.  Once you’re a member you’re one of the family.  There’s a feeling of belonging.   They greet you at the door and once you’re in you can do/get anything there. You can buy a vacation, an engagement ring, prescriptions, even eyeglasses.  ANYTHING. Costco can serve your needs cradle to grave, literally, crib to coffin.  Yes, they sell coffins but let’s not get maudlin.

If you get a bit peckish while you’re shopping you can snack on a hot dog or a slice of pizza and have a frozen yogurt chaser or you can make a lunch of the food samples being distributed in the store, if you don’t get trampled trying to get at them. They even have someone at the door saying goodbye to you as you leave, granted they are making sure you didn’t steal from them but still it’s a nice touch.

Some day I might graduate to wheeling one of those big pallets around but even I have my limits and I’m drawing the line at the fifty-pound sack of flour. Well…. it’s a really good deal…and there IS a lot a person can do with flour.

Why I Don’t Regret Being A Stay At Home Mom

Helene and her boysI just finished reading Lisa Endlich Heffernan’s Huffington Post article entitled, Why I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom, (link below) in which she discusses her “misgivings” about her twenty years as a stay at home mom.  And the truth is many of my friends have told me emphatically that Heffernan has given voice to how they feel.  It saddens me that so many of my friends regret their life choices. I would argue that, although currently many of us have reached a transition point, for most of us staying home was the highest and best use of our resources at the time.

In her article Heffernan says,

“Now, on the downslope of parenting, I have misgivings about my decision to stay home. While I don’t know any parent who regrets time spent with their kids, especially kids who have moved on to their own lives — and I include myself among them — in hindsight, my decision seems flawed. Although I am fully aware that being a SAHM was certainly a luxury, staring at an empty nest and very diminished prospects of employment, I have real remorse.”

Heffernan states that being a SAHM was “certainly a luxury” but given the countless woman who are forced to work just to put food on the table and who would give anything to be home with their children, I find that statement to be jarringly glib. We need to be extraordinarily mindful of the gift of choice, a gift that not all women are privileged to enjoy.

Heffernan’s assertion that her decision to stay home for twenty years was “flawed” is also a little too flippant for me.  It’s not like Heffernan ordered the hamburger and fries and then decided she really should have had the salad.  This is the kind of decision you make every day, every month and every year during which you are home with your children. And, what shall we say to mothers who worked outside the home while their children were young and now say they wish they had spent more time at home with their kids? You can never get that time with your children back, they say. Somehow, the grass is always greener.

Over the course of twenty years,  Heffernan contends,  “I stayed home with my kids because I wanted to be with them….I did not stay home because I believed they needed me or that the nanny I had hired could not do a great job.”

If we’re not with our kids because they need us, why are we with them?  Although I was trained as a lawyer, I stayed home with my children because whatever mediocrity I offered the law paled in comparison to the excellence I offered my children, not because I was an outstanding mother but because I was THEIR mother.  Even on my worst day, no nanny, no au pair and no babysitter no matter how highly trained or paid could give them what I could…the imperfect parenting of a mother who loves them perfectly.

Heffernan lays out nine specific reasons for her remorse:

I let down those who went before me.

I used my driver’s license far more than my degrees.

My kids think I did nothing.

My world narrowed.

I got sucked into a mountain of volunteer work.

I worried more.

I slipped into a more traditional marriage.

I became outdated.

I lowered my sights and lost confidence.

As for me:

The feminists who preceded me gave me choices and I thank them for that but I’m under no illusion that my personal choices are meaningful to anyone but me and my immediate family.  My driver’s license and my lawyer’s license are both just pieces of paper and driving my son to a social action project seems far more valuable than reviewing another lease.   I don’t care what my kids think I do, because I know what I do and I know they would be worse off if I didn’t do it.  I’m the adult and in the end, it is my failure if I have not taught them to respect me. Yes, my world is narrow but does working in a white shoe law firm or a high-end financial firm make it any less so?

As for the volunteer work, if it’s not meaningful to you, don’t do it and find some that is meaningful. And while it’s true that when the volunteer work is over, it’s over, there is always more to be done. Does being home mean you worry more about your kids? It can but I know working moms who are extreme hoverers and SAHM moms who are not; less correlation here than you might think.

Slipping into a more traditional marriage would have happened anyway.  The statistics are clear that even full time working mothers do the lion’s share of the childcare and housework.  The only difference is that you would have eventually become Ozzie and Harriet anyway but Harriet would be working and working Harriet would be furious at Ozzie for not pulling his weight at home.

We become outdated and our aspirations for ourselves slip. I think that even when you stay in the workplace eventually you lean on those young men you raised to change the channel on the TV.  We are all on a journey toward obsolescence and sorry, but obsolescence delayed is not obsolescence denied.

I think, for all our purposes we need to reframe the conversation, not to dwell on our regrets but on how we can make child rearing easier for all of us: how to make woman feel less isolated after they have babies, how to afford women who need to work better options for childcare, how to make part-time work more feasible, how to allow women to on-ramp back to work after a lengthy absence, if they so desire and how to be more supportive of each other’s decisions. What is right for one is not right for all.

There are no do-overs for any of us but I feel fortunate to have been able to stay home and do this very challenging job of raising well-adjusted young people. If making a nest for my children meant clipping my own wings then so be it. If I am blessed with thirty more years there may yet be a second act for me. And, if I’m not, this is where I wanted to be but more importantly, this is where my children needed me to be.  These twenty years were my gift to them and to me.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grown-and-flown/why-i-regret-being-a-stay-at-home-mom_b_3402691.html

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.

Cherishing the Moment….Not So Much

get-attachment-4.aspxI’m a huge fan of Anna Quindlen’s writing.  I recently stumbled upon an excerpt from her book, Loud and Clear, which was published in 2004.  I was in the “thick” of child rearing back when I read it the first time and it made me feel guilty for not “treasuring” my children’s youth more.  In the excerpt, Quindlen talks about how much she’s enjoying her adult children, but then she waxes nostalgic about her children’s babyhood regretfully saying,

“But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

Well, I’m of a different mind than Quindlen.  I’m just thrilled that that moment has passed.  Does that make me a bad mother? Maybe it does or maybe it just makes me an honest mother.  I’m a better mother to older kids than I was to younger ones.  I found those early years to be physically grueling and endlessly challenging.

And, as for all the things Quindlen doesn’t remember, well, maybe that’s my problem because even with my pathetically poor memory I remember all of those things in living color and with laser sharpness.  Let’s break it down.  I remember what we ate. How could I not? Although, it was barely recognizable as food, I scraped those food-like substances off the floor, the ceiling, the high chair, myself, and my children for years.

I remember what we talked about, the same things over and over and over and over.  Did the kids once in a while say the most penetrating, insightful, adorable stuff?  Of course.  But, in the meantime did they prattle endlessly until I wanted to pull my hair out? You got that straight. Most of all, I remember how they looked as they slept at night because those little bed hogs would often wake us up as they crawled into our bed.  If memory serves, they looked like fully prone starfish as we, their parents perched precariously on the small sliver of bed left to us, and just as an aside, their body temperature was usually upwards of a hundred twenty degrees making the bed more of a steam bath than a bed.

Is it ok to admit that looking at colleges blows away looking at cribs by about a thousand miles? Or that I would choose to grip the sides of the car in abject terror while sitting next to my sixteen year old novice driver rather than watch a two year old take his fiftieth spill from his Big Wheel as he goes up and down the driveway for the millionth time. The former may be hives-inducing but the latter is so excruciatingly mind numbing, as to be physically painful.

Was I in a hurry for them to grow up? Yup. I’ve just never been one of those mothers who wanted to keep her kids young or who wanted to keep them in the moment. And, if I wanted to freeze a moment in time, that moment would be now. Would, I go back to 10, 5 and 1? Not to be young again. Not to be svelte again. Not to be wrinkle-free again. In other words, not for nothing.

Forgive me if I’m just trying to look back without the rose colored glasses.  I can’t remember the good of it (and there was plenty good) without remembering the overwhelming difficulty of it.

I just don’t have a nostalgic bone in my body. And, as I look through old photos searching for a picture to insert with this post, I’m gobsmacked. Those babies of mine. Oh. My. Stars. They were so darn cute!!!!!

Sometimes Be A Taker

538370_356428034399493_1616802518_acaring-296x300A little while ago I got a lovely note from a friend who is battling breast cancer.  It was a note of thanks to a group of helpers and it was posted through a website called “Lotsa Helping Hands.” For the last few months I’ve been really impressed with how the site functions in terms of its pure utilitarian value.  My friend or her liaison post a series of needs on a calendar and an email goes out to anyone registered to the site indicating that needs have been posted prompting site registrants to see if they can fill any of those needs.

In my “ethical will” posting my advice to my children was to be givers but sometimes to be takers.  Somewhat counter-intuitively, being a taker is often harder than being a giver.  At, least that’s the way it’s always been for me. Learning to be a taker has taken me a long time. Back when my children were tiny, it seemed that one of them was always sick. My husband worked insane hours and I had no local family support.  From time to time I needed something as simple as milk or juice from the store or a prescription from the local pharmacy.  This was back in the days before food and prescription delivery became common.  I had friends who offered their help but my first, kneejerk response was always “no.”  My first thought was that I would figure out a way to do things myself and thinking back, I regret that I didn’t accept their help as graciously as it was offered.

I think the head fake here is that by allowing people to render care, you are actually doing a kindness for them because most people genuinely enjoy being helpful. It makes them feel good. I’m no saint. Trust me. I don’t travel to third world countries offering to take care of underprivileged populations but I’m happy help locally in my own small way.  The truth is, being a giver feels good.  It makes me feel good and I see that it makes my kids feel good as well. What has always felt unnatural to me is being a taker, either accepting help or admitting that I need help.

That brings me back to my friend and Lotsa Helping Hands. Sometimes it’s ok to be the vulnerable one.  Sometimes you need to fall back and let your community wrap its arms around you.  It’s not weakness, it’s just the “way of things” and unfortunately we’ll all have our turn to be in the needy spot.

And, that’s why I told my sons to be givers, but sometimes, just sometimes, you need to do something even harder.  Be takers.

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.

You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.

Last week a friend and I went to hear author Erica Brown speak about her new book, Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death.  Briefly, the book is about making the end of life more meaningful for ourselves and our loved ones.  With her trademark wit and wisdom Brown answered a series of questions about how we can make our deaths more inspiring to those we leave behind.  One way is by leaving a legacy of words and values. When Erica asked how many in the audience had regular wills most people raised their hands but far fewer in the crowd had ethical wills.

The tradition of ethical wills goes as far back as Genesis 49:1-33 when a dying patriarch, Jacob gathered his twelve sons, offered each of them a unique blessing and told them where he wished to be buried.  An ethical will is a written spiritual legacy, which imparts your values and wisdom to your children. It can be written at any point and updated as circumstances dictate. I really wish my father had written an ethical will and by sharing my ethical will, I hope to encourage my readers to write their own ethical wills.  Don’t just transfer your valuables transmit your values as well.

My Dear Sons,

You know I gave birth to you but you should also know that you gave birth to me, as a mother.  I hope to be here with you for a long time but if I’m not, you need to know that you are smart enough and strong enough to stand on your own two feet. Know also, that I have had a wonderful, fulfilled life full of unconditional love and joy.  Mourn me, if you must, but make it snappy.  You have work to do, life to live and happiness to experience.

Find a partner and build yourself a home filled with respect, love and laughter.  Be content in it. Don’t look to your left and right and wonder what others have. Focus on what you have.  Build a community for yourself.  Being part of a community will require commitment and responsibility, but one day you will stumble, as we all do, and your community will catch you and when that day comes you will realize the value in what you have built.  Build yourself a vocation that you are passionate about.  Success is measured not by material wealth but by the number of people you touch and if you have passion for your work, you will inevitably touch others.

We like to say in our house, “Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.”  Be a contributor, not a complainer.  Be a giver. Sometimes, be a taker.  Always, always, always, be kind. Take risks.  Not bungee jumping. What kind of dummy climbs high, tethers himself to an elastic cord and jumps? But, risk your heart, risk looking foolish, risk being honest.

Three of your grandparents were survivors and we have provided you with a strong Jewish education. Think long and hard before you hand Hitler victory by walking away from your faith.

You’re fair skinned.  Don’t be stingy with the sunscreen. Read a lot. Exercise more than your slug of a mother. And, don’t forget to call your brothers. Please!!

People die. Love remains. Always remember that you have given me tremendous happiness. My only sadness is in leaving you.

Love, Mom

I’m gonna miss you when I’m gone.

And So It Begins….

And so it begins, for the third and final time.

Today was my youngest son’s first tutorial for his bar mitzvah. As I wait for him to finish his lesson, I ponder the ways in which it is all so different this third time around. When my oldest son began his bar mitzvah lessons we marked the date of his first lesson on a large paper calendar as if it was some sacrosanct event. In contrast, a half an hour ago my iPhone startled me a bit as an alarm went off reminding me that D had a bar mitzvah lesson. Without that reminder and a nudge from the child himself, this lesson might have been forgotten. And, isn’t that just the way it’s always gone for my sweet, delicious third son.

When I was pregnant with my second child I worried that I wouldn’t be able to love another child as intensely as I loved the first. It turned out that my worry was unwarranted. Each son, in his turn, captured my heart fully and completely. I love each of them with the kind of love that would gladly coopt their pain as my own, and although the depth of my love is no different, I am a different parent to my third child than I was to my first.

The oldest son, of course, got all of the firsts, which has been both his blessing and his burden. I can sense that burden in the seriousness of his character and in the way he worries about all of us. The middle son, with his big personality, divined early on that as neither oldest, nor youngest he needed to declare himself. And, so he has. Loudly.  He has always demanded our attention and we are not likely to forget that he’s in the room. My littlest man is a quiet diplomat who has a gentle soul.  He doesn’t demand attention, or carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, and sometimes I’m afraid he gets a little lost in the shuffle.

His parents are older, wearier, more likely to let things slide but we are also wiser and more weathered. Although, of course, I knew the first time around that a thirteen year old was not a man I truly didn’t realize how long it would take for that chrysalis to turn into a butterfly. I didn’t know that the years before a man emerged from a boy would be filled with such joy, such angst and so much agonizing push/pull. I didn’t know that I was capable of holding my breath for four hours while my son drove to college by himself the first time. And, I didn’t understand that even when they largely resemble men, complete with facial hair and deep voices, inside they are still little boys.

And this is what I think as I sit here listening to the sweet murmur of my baby’s voice. But, I also think that today is a beginning of sorts and a day worthy of blessing and I silently whisper, “Blessed are you God who has preserved me, sustained me and allowed me to arrive at this day and help me God to find the wisdom, patience and fortitude to love and guide this child according to his unique talents and abilities.”

And so it begins, for the third and final time.

The Sorrow and The Pity Redux

FCD407_Sorrow_compressedI am a recovering Holocaust junkie. It’s really not that surprising. It was in my mother’s milk

I was weaned on infamous Holocaust epics like “The Sorrow and the Pity” or movies like “Night and Fog” which contained gruesome footage of bulldozers shoving emaciated, naked bodies into mass graves.  My mother, the survivor and my father, the Holocaust scholar saw no harm in a young child watching movie after movie of Nazi atrocities.  In fact, the more realistic the depiction, the more compelled we were to watch it. Their rationale went something like this; children lived the experience, why shouldn’t children watch the experience.

As I got older I obsessed over every news account of the Holocaust. I took the course in college.  I imagined what it was like to be in a ghetto or a concentration camp and I agonized over their suffering, which, but for the grace of God, was mine.  I read every book and saw every movie on the topic and felt enormous guilt if I missed one.  For God’s sake, I even married another child of survivors.

The last time my mom visited with me she insisted on watching a movie called “Der Letzte Zug,” (The Last Train) and she insisted I watch it with her.  I sat through every tortuous second of people dying in a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz.  When the movie ended my mother exclaimed, “So well done.”  “That’s it.” I responded bitterly. “I can’t do this anymore.” “Don’ be silly.” she said.  “You have to. How do you think the people who were there felt?”  ” Well, here’s the thing, mom, I can’t change it for them. That’s the problem. I can never, ever, not once, change the ending, not for one damned person.” Mom shrugged, clearly disgusted with my weakness.

My middle son came home the other day from a teen program during which he was presented with a slew of worthy community programs that needed funding. He was asked to choose and advocate on behalf of the one program that spoke to him the loudest. It is a given that all of the programs are worthy.  When he got home he was very animated. He said,  “Omi (his paternal survivor grandmother) and Nana (my mother) would have been be so proud of me. When the other kids wanted to abandon it, I argued for funding for a program where survivors tell kids about their Holocaust experiences. It’s really important mom because the survivors are dying out.  Their time is running out and we need to hear their stories while we still can.”

Middle son, I asked, “Have you ever seen “The Sorrow and the Pity?  We have it in the basement. Go get it. Let’s watch it, together.”

Missing Dad

get-attachment-3.aspxIt’s almost April 6th again dad.  You would be 83.

Can it really be fourteen years since you left us?  So long ago but I remember so many details vividly, as if it was yesterday.  I remember the fear in your eyes when you said you thought you needed to go to the hospital. It was only three weeks from that moment until the final goodbye.  Still, today, the shock of that gnaws at me.  Could we have done something differently, something that might have changed the outcome or was your death fated?  I can still smell the ICU, and see the last book you were reading, Boychiks in the Hood, sitting on your hospital tray.  After you lost consciousness, I made a copy of your curriculum vitae and pinned it to your hospital wall.  I wanted the hospital staff to know who they were treating, as if it mattered.  You were someone. I can hear you now. In your soft measured tone you would say, “Helene, everyone is someone.”  But, you were my someone.  The foolish things we do.  I remember the former student who appeared in your hospital room one day to read you poetry.  I don’t remember his name.  Could you hear him and did his reading soothe or irritate you?

The grief that followed came in crushing waves. Being alone in the car seemed particularly bad. Often I would pull off the road racked with sobs.  The children were so young.  When “A” didn’t seem appropriately sad I asked, “Aren’t you sad that Papa Dad died?” and he answered, “Not as sad as I’ll be when you die.”  And, I knew it was true but how did he know it was true?  The kids were ruthless in their insistence that life goes on.  I wanted to wallow but they wouldn’t allow it.  They demanded my caretaking and in their childish way of speaking plainly they asked over and over about death and marveled at its finality and each time I explained, “that, no, we would never see Papa Dad again” I struggled to keep the quiver out of my voice and the tears at bay. But, in time, the wound, so raw and gaping scabbed over, tenderly at first and then with more permanence, so much like a physical wound.

Sometimes, I panic. Is my memory of you fading? Do I remember the sound of your voice? Are you slipping away from me?  But then, I see something of you in one of the boys and it leaves me breathless.  I wish you were here to see them and know them; A’s thoughtfulness and wordsmithery, J’s cleverness and keen wit, D’s kindness and wise old soul. They are a living monument to you, better than the most ornate headstone. You live on inside of them and inside of me.

We miss you today, and everyday. Happy Birthday dad.

Advice To The Daughters I Never Had

If you haven’t read or heard about Susan Patton’s Letter To the Editor in the Daily Princetonian (link below), where have you been?

In her letter, Ms. Patton appeals to the undergraduate women of Princeton, “the daughters” she “never had,” to “Find a husband on campus before they graduate.”   She has been absolutely skewered since writing the piece.  The outsized and outraged reaction caused DP’s website to crash.

There is some truth in what Patton says, if you can wade through the overwhelming amount of self-laudatory crap. But, let’s call this piece what it truly is: a delivery system for good news about Susan Patton.  And, I think that is what most people are objecting to, not necessarily the fundamental idea, but the tone.

Patton begins by giving herself kudos for having maintained her relationship with, “her best friend from freshman year.” She alleges that at the Women and Leadership conference she attended at Princeton, the undergraduate women were avidly interested in how she and her best friend had “sustained a 40 year friendship.” Really?  Is having a long-term friendship fabulous? Definitely.  Is it a subject of rapt fascination for 20 year olds? Um, no. I’m around a fair number of college age kids and I have more than one long-standing friendship.  Not one of the twenty somethings I know, including my own children, has ever expressed a scintilla of interest in how my friends and I sustain our relationships. Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Then we get to the heart of the matter. Ms. Patton states, “I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians.  My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone.” Really?   He could have married anyone?  Anyone? I think Patton just wanted to inform the Princeton community that her sons go/went to Princeton and that her older son is married and, better yet, he married a girl who went to Princeton. The younger son’s dating potential is, according to mama, “limitless.” Oy. I hope the younger son has entered the witness protection program. Poor kid.

But, putting Ms. Patton’s self-aggrandizement aside, I think she makes a fair point. I knew people in college who made silly lists of qualities for potential dates, not too short, not too thin/heavy, brown hair/blonde hair and so on.  Susan Patton is correct that college is one of those critical times in life. Don’t make lists that confine you. Look at your classmates with an open mind. Making friends is every bit as important, if not more so, than the classes you take.  And, you never know, your best friend or your life partner or both may be sitting next to you in class.

So, here is what I would tell “the daughters I never had”: College is a fantastic place to meet someone but if you don’t meet “the one” in college don’t panic.  There’s time. Don’t say, “He’s too nice.” Nice boys generally grow up to be nice men and nice men are, well, nice. If a guy is crazy about you, put that in the plus column, bolded and highlighted.  Look for red flags and if you see them, don’t walk, run. Don’t pass up the very good for the perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. Choose someone who makes you laugh because at the end of the day you want to spend a lot of time with someone who makes you laugh. If you can’t stand to be with someone even if they have a 200 IQ or 200 billion dollars, say goodbye. It’s just not worth it.

And, I would tell my mythical daughter the same thing I will tell my real son.  You will meet the right person at the right time.  And, when you meet that person you will know, maybe not immediately, but you will know.

Trust your own judgment. I do.  And, remember dad and I love you.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com

Happy Twenty-One

376925_2377779637408_1114509731_nIt’s March 18th and it’s snowing.  Just like it was twenty-one years ago.

Twenty-one years ago on a snowy evening like this one I went into labor and the following morning I became a mother.  Has it been twenty-one years already?  Has it only been twenty-one years? Nothing prepared me for that experience.  Nothing. Not the well-intentioned warnings of veteran parents. Not the hundreds of parenting tomes that I had read in preparation for the grand event.  It happens every day.  It is the most routine of matters, giving birth.  But, when it happens to you, the world shifts on its axis.  It is the most extraordinary of events. The nurses handed me my baby and said, “Congratulations, mom.”  I looked around.  Who were they calling mom?

It didn’t go well for Mr. Baby and me in the beginning.  We didn’t suit.  I wanted to sleep, he didn’t.  I wanted to go places and, apparently, where I went, he too, went.  It was hard to wrap my mind around that.  I relished quiet and order and he loved noise and chaos. We were really at cross purposes. As he clung to me with tightly fisted hands, his baby breath warm on my face, the enormity of the task loomed terrifyingly before me. I knew only one thing with clarity, I would throw myself in front of a train to keep my baby safe.  It was a start.  I threw out the books.  I followed my gut.  We taught each other.  He cried, I cried.

Some days were endless, hauling the little fellow from one baby friendly apparatus to another, ten minutes under the Gymini, then ten in the swing, then ten in that bouncy seat.  I looked at the clock and then, startled, looked again and wondered how it was possible for time to move backwards.  Now, I wonder how it is that endless days turned into years that flew?

Today, I look out at the snow.  He calls from college.  “It’s snowing,” he says.  “Do you remember,” I ask, “that it snowed the night I went into labor with you?”  “I guess I don’t remember it that well” he replies. You were all there, my boy, in that tiny, little bundle they handed me.  And, I was “mom” even if I didn’t realize it yet. We found our way, together. We figured it out.

It’s March 19th and you are twenty-one.  Happy birthday, my sweet boy!

Quiet Moments of Joy

french-laundry-garden.jpgIt’s about the small stuff.

I have long lost any patience I once had for sixth grade math homework.  Or, let’s be honest, I was never really any good at sixth grade math but, nonetheless, I’m attempting to help my youngest son with his nightly math assignment.  My oldest son is home from college for the week and he dismisses me. “Why are you yelling at him?” he asks, followed by, “I’ve got this mom.”  I skulk into the family room but surreptitiously watch them.  Their heads are bent together, the little one and the big one, and I feel a physical ache in my heart.  Watching the people you love, love each other, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m having a moment, a quiet moment of joy.

I once thought that joy came from the big milestone events in life like weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs or the birth of a child.  But, maybe I’m just too neurotic for that to be the case.   For me, those big events are always completely fraught with anxiety.  Who will wake up with the plague the day of the big event because, let’s face it, you know someone will. Is everyone having fun at the party, even the scowling old people with the earplugs? Does everyone have the appropriate clothes? I mean, those pants fit him ten minutes ago. Can a teenage boy outgrow his clothes in a week?

I have found that happiness comes in the small moments of joy that creep up on me in an ordinary day.  Some of the moments are part of the daily routine like that first sip of hot coffee on a cold morning and the morning telephone conversation with my daily callers to reconnect after the night.  Then there are the moments that are purely sensory delights; the feel of the sun on your face after a long, grey winter, the sight of a beautiful sunset or the thrill of hearing your favorite song on the radio.

Some moments of joy surprise you.  There’s the moment that you realize you’ve made a connection with someone and your relationship with an acquaintance has deepened into a friendship.  Recently, I ran into someone who told me that some long forgotten thing I said to her years ago gave her great comfort at the time. That was a joyful moment for me.

But, the best moments for me are when I see my children interacting with each other as adults.   Big and middle shop together now, consult on fashion, talk about relationships and I think to myself,  “You had a hand in this. You nurtured these brothers who are now capable of giving and receiving advice, support, encouragement and love.”  It’s a heady moment.

So, milestones will come and go, together with their attendant stresses, but here I stand, full of wonder, waiting and hoping for more of the small stuff, more quiet moments of joy.

Mother of Boys

297017_10150979370842484_509040353_nI knew I was going to have daughters.  Until I didn’t.

In 1992 I gave birth to a delightful baby boy, which was a tad shocking because I knew that I was having a girl.  No, no one told me I was having a girl but I just knew; the way a mother intuitively knows these things.  When we visited my ninety year old Eastern European grandmother, she whispered to me in her heavily accented English, “You did the right thing having a boy.” as if it was in my control the whole time.  But, I knew I would have more chances to have my girl.  I was young.  I was arrogant.  I was foolish.

Then life happened.  We had unexplained secondary infertility, several miscarriages, a fetal heartbeat that was there one minute and gone the next and maternity clothes so recently pulled out that needed to be folded and put away.  Beloved friends of ours suffered the neonatal death of a son and a few years later a dear friend called in tears to tell me that she would be delivering a full term still born son the next day.  I heard what life was telling me. I ended up with two more sons, two more fabulous, wonderful sons.   And, life taught me to be grateful, very, very grateful. For a while we told people we had three children, “two boys and a boy.”  “Oh” they said, as if a bit disappointed for us and I bristled.

I love my boys and they love me.  It’s true.  Ask anyone.  But, I’m not going to sugar coat it, my house seethes with testosterone and I get lonely here sometimes.  When “A” was about three I was at the town pool with a group of moms and their kids.   “A” had a pail and was mindlessly scooping pool water into it and dumping it out of the pool.  One of his female playmates was chattering to him while he did this.   At some point she became agitated and started yelling at him,  “I’m talking to you. Talk to me!  Talk to me!”   “A” looked completely befuddled as we moms laughed and commented that relations between the genders never change.

And, that’s the world I live in; largely silent, except for sudden outbreaks of violence between two of the inhabitants.  Have you ever watched National Geographic shows about primates?  It’s eerily similar to what goes on in my house.  The primates here mill around until suddenly and seemingly without warning they are in a heap on the floor apparently vying for some type of alpha supremacy.  As long as there is no bloodletting, I let them be.  Grunting often passes for communication and phone calls last no longer then it takes to get the job done.  Nothing extraneous please.

It’s not the hair, the nails or the make up or even the pretty clothes.  I’m not that kind of girl anyway but sometimes when all four of them (husband included) look at me like I’m speaking Girlish, I long for an ally, someone who also speaks Girlish or at least understands it.

I knew that I was going to have daughters.  Until I didn’t. It should be the worst thing that ever happens to me.

The First Twenty-Five Years are the Hardest

get-attachment-1.aspxMy father was not only smart. He was wise.

On my wedding day, dad and I had a few moments alone before the ceremony. I waited eagerly for some words of wisdom. At last, dad turned to me, cupped my face lovingly in his warm hands and said “Don’t worry if things are rocky in the beginning. Hang in there. The first twenty-five years of marriage are the hardest. After that, it’s a piece of cake.” Then, we both chuckled.

But now, as my husband and I approach our twenty-fifth anniversary, I find there was a lot of truth in my father’s words. In the beginning we had our share of Sturm und Drang. There were harsh words, slammed doors and great big sob fests. Raising a family and building a career is a struggle and keeping a relationship alive through it all is hard work. Not speaking to my husband for a week because of his insistence on a certain middle name for our unborn child seemed perfectly reasonable. Now, I know with calm certainty that who your child becomes means far more than the name he bears. But, when you’re up all night with a screaming baby and he’s up all night closing a deal it’s hard to be your better selves, your kinder, gentler selves.

These days there is a new tenderness in our relationship. We’ve seen a lot together, the birth of our children, the death of three of our parents. The battlefield has largely been cleared. We know we have the ability to inflict great pain on each other but we also know that life does that all by itself so why lend it a hand. We’ve had the same argument so many times I can handle both sides of it equally well so why drag my husband into it at all?

There are things about him I will never change and vice versa. But, we’ve largely stopped railing about those details. I’ve seen the enemy and I choose to love him. It’s not about apathy. It’s about perspective and choice. And, I’ve got to hand it to my twenty-one year old self. Not bad. He’s a keeper.

Thanks for the wisdom dad. I think I get it now.

All My Life’s A Circle….

Life is funny in its circularity. Not haha funny but wistful.

My oldest son had a bank CD which was about to roll over so, given the abysmal interest rates, we decided to close it rather than allow it to roll over. We went to the bank this morning.  I was the custodian of the account and it turns out the account was opened in 1998 when my son was just six. As we were closing the account certain things became clear. I no longer needed to be the custodian. It’s his money, as it was always intended to be. I have been removed. Oh, let’s not get melodramatic. I haven’t been removed from his life but in some ways it’s another small rip in the fabric that binds us. It’s a process and we’ve been tearing off that band-aid for a while now. I’m not a sentimental person, but I had a strange lump in my throat at the memory of that adorable six- year-old boy transformed into a twenty one year old man of whom I’m insanely proud. And, it’s all good. It’s as it should be but, even so, it makes me a little sad.

This has dovetailed with my mother asking me to be a joint account holder on several of her bank accounts.  I understand that it’s her way of giving up control. It’s her way of falling back. It’s never been a question of trust but it’s a hard thing to give someone that kind of carte blanche authority over your finances. She needs me more than she ever has. Perhaps life is a series of tightening and loosening of the bonds with the people we love or a constant redefining of our roles as either the caregiver, or the cared for.

And, as I sat at that bank I thought that if life plays out as it normally does the next time my oldest son and I have a joint account it will be because he is accepting responsibility for me and not vice versa.

And that, my friends, is the most terrifying thought of all.

My bio…. (a stay-at-home mom’s response to a request for her bio)

Trying to write a short bio on myself for a committee I wanted to be on opened up a Pandora’s box of issues for me.  It got me to wondering how to define what I’ve done with the last twenty years of my life.  I was born in the early 60s and was blessed to grow up in a home where education was stressed. I went to a fine University and then followed that up with three years of law school.  At that time, the wisdom of the crowd was that a woman could have it all.  I balked at all the traditional women’s career choices such as teaching because “I was better than that.”  Yet, inside I had no doubt that someday I wanted to be a mom.  In fact, from the time I was very little playing dolls with my friends the one thing I was certain of was that I wanted to be a mom.  I guess you could say that being a mom was my passion.

I was blessed to marry young and luckily my husband was on board with the whole children concept.  I had my first son four years after starting work as a lawyer. I soon found that I could not have it all.  Others found a way but I could not and as my father said, “The law will have many masters, your children will have only one mother.” My husband, also a lawyer, worked crazy hours and was earning enough for me to stop working.  It would be a falsehood to say that I was devastated to leave work, but staying home was also an adjustment and never easy.  For a thinking person to watch an infant drool or to keep a toddler from drinking lye eighteen hours a day is probably just a hair worse than waterboarding. I do not look back on those early days with great joy.  Two more sons followed and the insanity of three children left little time to think about personal sacrifice or fulfillment.  I did a lot of volunteer work at the kids’ school, made fantastic friends, built community and made our house a home.  Along the way, I have become a decent cook, a passable hostess, an outstanding chauffeur and an unlicensed pediatrician who rarely needs a tongue depressor to know if a child has strep. In twenty years I have never been bored. Now, with the kids older and more independent I stare at a blank page and think they want to know what I’ve done for the last twenty years. What do I write?

Well, how’s this? For twenty years I’ve “been there.”  I have been there for my husband, my sons, my friends, my parents, my in-laws and my extended family, some more than others. I am not perfect and sometimes I’m not even good but I have tried really hard. Sometimes “being there” is easy.  Sometimes it’s just about spending fun time with people, but sometimes it’s really hard.  I’ve been there to rub my friend’s back at her brother’s burial and just maybe that meant more to her and to me than any brief I would have written or any deal I might have closed as a lawyer.  And, sometimes  “being there” is just what it sounds like, the day in/day out drudgery of “being there.”  I am here every afternoon at 4PM when my slightly anxious sixteen year old calls and asks who’s picking him up? After all these years of hearing the same answer you might think he would be a little less concerned.  I am here every night even though I can barely stand the sound of my own voice when I hear myself saying “please take out your homework” for the hundredth time to my twelve year old. In the end, most of it is about those three boys of mine. Even though I know life is a crapshoot, I am here every day loving them, shaping them, praying that if I stay here they will grow up strong and healthy, loving and capable.  And, I am here because I want to be here.  This is really what I always wanted to do and I don’t have a single regret.

So put that in your bio and smoke it.