Remembering My Mother-In-Law

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It’s been two years on the Jewish calendar since I delivered this eulogy.

I met Edith Wingens some twenty-seven years ago. If I said it was love at first sight for either one of us, I’d be lying. After all, I had come to take her son and she was, naturally, wary. I understood that then and being the mother of three sons, I understand it even better now.

But, there we were.

So, when Gary told his mother that I was the one, she said the three words that every young man wants to hear from his mother upon imparting such news, and they were, “Are you sure????”

But Edith was nothing if not an adaptable. And, we found our way. She was a force of nature, a whirling dervish, a person who made an entrance. I am a bit more reserved, laid back, a person who prefers to slip into a room unnoticed. She was a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and I am slightly more monochromatic. As it turned out we were perfect foils. We didn’t clash but we sometimes collided. Gently.

When Gary and I were first married Edith said, “Helene, let me show you how to iron Gary’s shirts” to which I responded, “let’s show Gary how to iron his own shirts.” Edith replied, “I did NOT send my son to Harvard Law School to learn to iron shirts.” Well, I had also gone to law school and although the comment rankled, I smiled, watched the ironing demonstration with great enthusiasm and took Gary’s shirts to the dry cleaner the next day.

Edith asked me to refer to her as “mom.” I said I would love to but two years later –after Edith realized I hadn’t called her anything in two years– she said, “You don’t need to call me mom, just PLEASE call me something….”

Twenty six years later sitting across from me at my table after I had once again smiled and agreed to something I had no intention of doing, to all of our surprise Edith remarked, “From now on I’m going to be more like Helene. WOW I thought now we’re getting somewhere. “In what way?” I asked. She answered, “Well, when someone asks me to do something I’m going to smile, say yes and then do whatever I want to do.” It had only taken 26 years but I’d finally been snagged.

As the years went by Edith and I found common ground. Frankly, when I was 23 I thought a lot of what she said was foolish but as I aged, a lot of it began to have the ring of truth. And, there is no better common ground than grandchildren.

She began to tell me that I was a good mother, a more patient mother than she’d been and her praise meant a lot to me. I began to understand that having 20 people for dinner, which she did often, was no small feat. I became a better cook. She became freer with her compliments. And, when Edith compliments your food, you know you’ve arrived. I began to appreciate the strength of her character, her optimism, her iron will and her enduring friendships.

Often when I visited her in the hospital or rehab she would insist on proudly telling all who dared enter, “This is my daughter in law.” She would clutch my hand and tell me how happy she was that I had come and how did I know to come just when she needed me to?

One of our last interactions was at rehab. Talking had become difficult for her. We sat, mostly in silence, and then she said, “You have three wonderful sons.” “Yes, and you have a wonderful son also” I quipped. “As good as gold” she answered. But, I would argue better than gold because gold cannot buy the kind of devotion you have shown your parents, Gary. That can only come from the heart. Many sons have done well but you, Gary, surpass them all. From the moment your mother perceived your presence in her womb as a craving for herring you gave your parents such joy, such enormous joy. At the end, you doggedly pursued their comfort and dignity with tremendous compassion even when you were so tired you could barely hold your head up. You felt their pain and did everything in your power to ease it. I can only hope our sons have been watching…

Today, legally I am not a mourner but still I mourn. Edith, Omi, Mom, I will miss you.

As I said, two years have passed since I delivered this eulogy and I miss her.

I really do.

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The Old College Tour

We happened to be in the Boston area for the weekend so I decided that while we were there I would take my son who is a high school junior to look at two area colleges.

We sat through two information sessions and went on two student-guided tours. It had been a while since I had visited colleges as my oldest son is now a senior in college and, truthfully my husband did most of the college visits back then.

The first information session we went to was an hour’s worth of torture so I started to ponder what improvements I would suggest to an admissions officer if I were given that chance. It was either that or pass out where I sat and I didn’t think either my son or the admissions officer would appreciate that very appealing option. What follows are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of anyone else in my family.

First, contrary to Mr. admissions officer’s misguided observation I did want to hear statistics even though I could easily read them in the barrage of paper paraphernalia scattered about the admissions office. Honestly, I came to visit your campus because I wanted to be spoon-fed the salient statistics. What I didn’t want to hear was every interesting experiment that your professors are working on. Yes, many of them are intriguing but some of them aren’t and that’s not really what I came to hear.  And, FYI an hour is just too long.  No information session needs to be longer than half an hour.

Second, I would appreciate a lot more honesty and a lot less pandering.  In both information sessions there was a long spiel given about “holistic” review of applications leading to what I think is a misleading assumption by some that no matter how low your GPA and SAT scores are you have a chance of getting into a school if your “softs” (i.e. recommendations, essays and extracurriculars) are good. Below a certain number it’s just not true.  I think they should discuss the elephant in the room.  Why can’t they JUST SAY IT? Being opaque led to a question and answer session at one school where parents spent twenty minutes asking about the alumni interview. Instead of saying it doesn’t really matter up front, the admissions person answered the questions until he finally had to admit that unless you murder the interviewer, the interview can’t hurt you and very rarely makes any difference at all. And, even if you do murder the interviewer, if you have a 2400 on your SAT, a 4.5 GPA, are a concert pianist, a talented artist, a ranked tennis player and have cured a rare disease you will be offered a spot in the class.

One information session was set up with a tag team of an admissions officer and a student. The admissions officer would ask the student if, for instance, she knew anyone who had gone abroad. “In fact I do” she would answer and then proceed to tell us about that “person.” The entire session continued in that vain. It was a veritable facsimile of Shakespearean theater, but poorly done.  It was so canned that my twelve year old bought it hook line and sinker.  Thanks, but next time I’ll go to Broadway if I want to see a show.

I just want brevity and honesty in a narrative style, with numbers.  What are you looking for in prospective students? And, why would a student want to come here?

Just the facts Ma’am,  but the honest to goodness facts.

Is that too much to ask?

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.

The College Conundrum

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When my oldest son was applying to college my mother in law used to repeatedly ask where “A” was going to go to college. As I grew weary of the question I would flippantly reply, “Wherever they’ll take him.” Why wouldn’t X school take him?” she would ask incredulously “He’s such a nice boy.”

Now, I am launching a second son (a junior) into the college search process but since it’s not the first time I’ve done this, my vision is a bit clearer.

If you have a high school junior or senior you’re probably getting mail by the bucket load from colleges, some of which you’ve heard of and some of which are new to you.  The first time out, I was secretly awed by this flood of mail.  I tried to be cool about it but inside I was bursting. Wow, I thought, they really want HIM.  I wasn’t sure how they knew what a fabulous kid son number one was but I just figured someone had let them in on the secret.

Now I know that four years of college is a commodity and this detritus from the colleges is just a massive marketing blitz.  Colleges are trying to sell their schools.  What exactly are they trying to sell and, more importantly, what are we looking to buy? As I look at the brochures on my kitchen island certain phrases jump out at me. One college says they are, “Leading the way.”  Where exactly are we going?  Another college, Morris Catholic, tells my sixteen-year old son who has attended Jewish Day School for the last twelve years, “You are the future.”  I hope he’s someone’s future but I’m just not sure he’s their future.  Other schools are more creative: “Where leaders learn.” or “Arrive Realize Thrive” It’s a morass of pithy, pointless sayings which clarify nothing.

It’s seductive to believe that all these schools know and want your child but let me assure you that what the college actually wants is your child’s application. Think application fees and selectivity. Selectivity is a factor used to raise a school’s ranking so the more applicants, the more rejections, the more selective a school becomes and the school’s ranking rises.  It’s not personal. They don’t know your child and admissions is, after all, just a numbers game.

A friend who’s been down this road before likes to remind me of the course catalog as thick as two phone books that her son got from a top ten school along with many other pieces of mail from that school, only to later be rejected by said school. The rejection caused her son tremendous angst but at the end of the day he wound up at the right college for him and later at a terrific law school.  After all of the agita, ninety seven percent of my older son’s friends ended up at schools where they have flourished academically and socially.

So, what am I looking to buy for my number two son aside from the pithiest of sayings on the coolest brochure? First, these  are the things I know to be true; there is not only one right college for my child, there are many colleges that would serve him well. Second, it’s very hard to screw this up because most kids do really well at the schools where they end up.

The framework of what I’m looking for is a safe, nurturing place for my son to develop from an immature eighteen year old into a mature twenty-two year old, while he learns, decides what the next step will be and makes friends.  The details: big/small, sports/no sports, urban/rural, greek life/no greek life…that’s for him to flesh out.

Oh, and where is the line on the application where we tell them what a nice boy he is?

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.

School Daze

Ready, Set…Not So Fast

 

Moments ago my twelve-year old announced that he has not yet done the “optional” summer math packet. He was throwing around the term “optional” cavalierly, as if it absolves him of all responsibility toward the aforementioned math packet. I think he and I have different interpretations of “optional.” Not only has he not completed the packet; in fact, he has not even started it.  And, the first day of school is tomorrow.  The bad news is that since the school website has been updated he can no longer print out the packet so it will remain exactly as it was on the day school let out last year: untouched, unseen, undone. The really fantastic news is that not doing his math freed number three son up to watch all two hundred fifty episodes of Dr. Who this summer.

I feel the familiar stress of uncompleted schoolwork begin to seep into my weary fifty-year old bones. The usual platitudes start to roll around in my head. It’s his work.  A child has to learn to fail to succeed. But, those thoughts are quickly supplanted by nagging tentacles of guilt and doubt. Should I start calling around, try to get the packet from someone, spend the day tormenting both of us? But, whose work is this anyway and where does my responsibility end and his begin? And, what am I teaching him if I don’t? If I do?

In the scheme of things this is not something to lose sleep over. I’ve been around for a while now and I know what to lose sleep over.  This is more like the proverbial fly buzzing in my ear, irritating beyond measure.  It’s like the college essay that hasn’t been written, the common application that hasn’t yet been filled out, the summer reading books that lie on the table half read.  Why can’t they JUST. DO. IT.  And, how much of this undone work is a parent’s burden?

When I was a kid my parents had their work and I had mine and the twain never met.  I don’t think that my parents felt responsible for my work. EVER.  But, things were just different back then.  When I was a kid first grade art projects looked like something created by a first grader, not like Rembrandt’s early works. When I was a kid my second grade diorama was a hundred popsicle sticks askew covered with hardening knots of glue and not a flawless early rendering of the Taj Mahal. When I was a kid you wrote an essay, you asked your parents to read it and they said, “Why would I read your essay?”

Over the years when it comes to homework I’ve tried to be more like my own parents were, more of a helper than a doer and truth be told I’ve been more hands off with each subsequent child not because of them but because of me. This will be my fourth go round at seventh grade and let’s just put it out there, seventh grade was just borderline okay the first time around and maybe even the second time around but I really don’t know many people who could stay engaged for the fourth hit of seventh grade.

So today we’re going to enjoy the last day of summer and tomorrow my youngest son is going to tackle seventh grade.

And, both of us are going to survive.

Probably

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…..

Visiting Day Wars

994838_10200852953139626_1661590643_nWe are in the midst of re-entry.

Three and a half weeks ago I dropped my youngest son off at a parking lot in New Jersey where a Leprechaun bus took him to sleepaway camp in upstate New York.  Hours ago I retrieved said son who emerged from the bus, tanner, leaner and so bleary eyed he looked like he could barely stand, a product of having stayed up most of the night packing and bonding with his friends.  At the moment, the prodigal son is wandering around the house touching things as if he’s never lived here. “Our house is so nice,” he says as he walks by me, “and our water is so clear” he adds.  Then he goes upstairs to discover that his bed is “so soft and comfy.”

There has been a blog post circulating widely (over ten thousand hits) entitled, The Running of the Jews, which I posted on my Facebook page because I thought it was funny. http://www.luluandlattes.com/2013/07/08/the-running-of-the-jews-camp-visiting-day/ I actually thought the clips of the people running to see their children on visiting day were hilarious.  Some of my friends took me to task because they thought the post made us (Jews) look “foolish” as a people.  If running to see our children is what makes us look foolish then so be it. There are worse things.  I thought it was amusing and a bit poignant that people who never moved were willing to risk life and limb to get to their kids a minute faster than someone else got to theirs. Another blogger responded to The Running of the Jews with a post called, This Is Why We Run and I thought that that post made some salient points. http://www.suburbabble.com/post/55229480632 Having participated in my share of visiting days I get why we run and why I got to the bus today at 10:30 when it was due in at 11:30. I’ve witnessed the child waiting on the porch of his bunk, eyes filled with tears craning his neck to scan every parent’s face with deep anxiety, as if there was a possibility his parents won’t show up.   We all want to save our child even that five minutes of worry which must feel like a lifetime of anxiety to a child.

I think our stress over sleepaway camp is a microcosm of the world and the parent/child relationship at play within it. We push them with one hand and pull them with the other. Each time I put my kids on the bus I have a lump in my throat. The same tear thickened lump for some reason resurfaces in the instant that I see them as they get off the bus. While they’re away, we parents tell each other it’s good that they don’t write long letters but wouldn’t it be nice if they wrote a little bit more. I’ve seen it from both sides now. I’ve been the parent who got that letter, the one that said I’ll give you all my money and everything I own if you just let me come home and my heart broke and I’ve also been the parent whose child wrote, “No time to write.” You yearn for them but you also yearn for them to let you go. You want them to want you but just enough, not too much.

As I look down at my bronzed, sleeping son curled up so comfortably on the couch I think, “you don’t get it today but someday you will and, G-d willing, someday, you too, will run.”

The Travails of Travel

worst-traffic-dc-2_650x366-1So we’re off for a relaxing weekend jaunt to the Nation’s capital and it seems that everyone else in the Western Hemisphere has had the same idea. I’ve noticed that no matter how original I might think I’m being, it invariably turns out that I haven’t had an original idea in fifty years which may be why we always end up sitting in traffic. Washington, DC for the 4th of July–who would’ve thunk other people had the same idea?

I don’t like traffic and I don’t know anybody who does but it’s a fact of life and once you’re sitting in the middle of a jam, the way I see it you have two options. You can “go crazy” which is the option that some in my family, who shall remain nameless to protect their insanity, choose. Or you can just go with the flow. Look, I know it’s hard to be jovial under these circumstances but is it fair to cast a pall of misery over everyone around you?

Going crazy includes looking up alternate routes on every type of global positioning device available to you, rapping on the wheel, cursing, tapping your feet loudly, breathing in and out heavily and generally acting like nothing this terrible has ever happened to anyone and you’re really too good a person for this to be happening to you. The problem is that none of the aforementioned behaviors actually hasten your arrival at your destination.  They do, however, make the other people in the car want to get out of the car and hitch a ride with someone else, anyone else including the guy driving next to you who looks like he might be a serial killer but a happy, relaxed serial killer who doesn’t appear to be looking up alternate routes.

Luckily, there is a rest stop in sight. We stop. The line at Starbucks stretches as far as the eye can see. The guy behind me grouses and gnashes his teeth for the entire twenty-minute wait. He complains about the people working behind the counter.  That one should be “pulling drinks” he says.  “This would never fly in New York City,” he grumbles.  And, then when we get up to the register I hand the cashier my iPhone with its nifty app that allows me to pay right from the iPhone. Instead of scanning, apparently not having that capability, the harried and overwhelmed cashier types in the numbers. Mr. Stressball behind me exhales loudly and mutters, “So close. I could almost taste my coffee.”  The cashier is sweating. What, I ask, has Mr. Stressball accomplished?

We’re back home now and the weekend was great.  Fireworks in DC were over the top awesome. There were crowds but they were well behaved and orderly.  I think about our weekend and this is what I come up with:

  •  This is one hell of a country and I am grateful every day that I had the good fortune to be born here.
  •  We all have “stuff” but my “stuff” is no more important than yours so during this season of travel, park your stress at home and when you hit the road remember don’t be mean, don’t be impatient, relinquish any illusion of control and enjoy the journey.

The Delight of The Dumpster

images-9He who dies with the least wins…..

There I was sitting on my middle son’s bed supervising him while he packed for his summer program. I happened to glance into his closet and that’s when it happened. It’s happened to me before and I can only compare it to the transition Bill Bixby undergoes when he turns into the incredible Hulk. I don’t get huge and green but the process does, on occasion, involve the ripping of shirts. From out of nowhere, I get a burst of energy and I become a mad purger with an agenda. I start to feel alive, empowered and productive, like I can, at long last, make my mark on the world.

I wasn’t always like this and I don’t remember the first time it happened but I just know that one day I was a regular person and the next I was swearing up and down that the only thing I wanted for my birthday, was…wait for it…not jewels, not clothes, but a dumpster. My children know not to get in my way when I’m like this because there is a very high probability that they will end up in the dumpster. I am overwhelmed with an itch to throw everything away. EVERYTHING. It just feels so good. SO. DAMN. GOOD.

When we moved from our last house I was a woman on a mission. We actually got a dumpster and I proceeded to toss. EVERYTHING. You know all of those personalized rockers, hampers and step stools you get when the kids are born? All of those went out on bulk recycling day. I peeked out the window to see if anyone driving around the ‘hood picked them up. When people did, I clapped my little paws together with glee. “This is so sad,” my children cried. I ignored them. My oldest son trudged out and saved the hamper with his name on it. It might have been a pitiful or heart breaking moment for some but not for a woman in the throws of a purge.

I always thought I’d be more of a hoarder than a purger, but sometimes you even surprise yourself. And, the joy I get from getting rid of things is a little weird. I once read an article that the happiest people are the ones with the fewest things. For about ten seconds I tried to winnow my belongings down to twenty items but then I got side tracked…hence this blog post. But, I think I know what my twenty items would be, definitely my computer so I could continue spouting nonsense.

Love to chat but gotta go put some more stuff on the curb… It’s a great country where you can put whatever you want on the curb.

Happy, Healthy and Safe 4th!!!

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

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.

It’s All About Popular

It’s all about popular.

It’s not about aptitude,

It’s the way you’re viewed,

So it’s very shrewd to be,

Very very popular.

Lyrics from the song “Popular”, Wicked

Many years ago one of my then nursery school age children said something about wanting to be “popular.”  I quickly set said child straight by assuring him that I didn’t believe in the whole notion of “popular” and I didn’t want him using that word anymore.  Well, that was that.

A few years ago I was at a bat mitzvah and went into the ladies room.  There I saw a group of alpha girls primping in the mirror while two or three other pre-teen girls who clearly were not in the popular clique, but desperately wanted to be, looked on. The ones in front of the mirror were helping each other sweep their long silky hair into updos. One of the “peripheral” girls (for lack of a better characterization) made a comment, perhaps as a tentative foray into the popular group, and was quickly and ruthlessly rebuffed.  She looked stricken.  The whole incident, which took all of perhaps five minutes, stuck with me for its raw emotional impact.

I remember at the time aching for the outcasts, aching for their feeling of being lesser, unwanted, for their feeling of not belonging. I remember wanting to tell them that it all works out in the end, that 13 is just the beginning and that someday those mean girls won’t matter at all.  Not. At. All.  But it wasn’t my place. Or, was it? Perhaps, I lacked courage. But, I took the path of least resistance quietly returning to my table, saying nothing.

Last weekend, my husband and I succumbed to our 16 year old son’s pleas to have his classmates over for a party at our home. I worried all week about keeping the party on the straight and narrow.  As far as I know, everyone behaved, but as a paranoid and responsible parent I kept my eyes open for any illicit behavior.

It wasn’t misbehavior that caught my eye but rather normal teen-age behavior. As the kids arrived and settled in, I noted that just like academics, socialization comes more naturally to some kids than to others.  Some kids are just more comfortable in their own skin and some are well, to put it bluntly, awkward. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for the ones who hang around the group’s periphery in a state of uncertainty. I found myself wondering where confidence or its converse, lack of confidence, come from. Is it nature, nurture or more likely, a complex combination of the two?

Once again, I thought of the things I wanted to say to those on the outer circle.  I wanted to assure them that their time will come and someday they too will be comfortable in their own skin.  It just takes some of us a little longer to get here.  But, maybe getting to that place of ease with oneself is that much sweeter because of the journey. And, hopefully the journey will make them more empathic and more open to others.  I wanted to say don’t try so hard to fit in, dig deep and find those qualities that make you stand out. Nurture your uniqueness because that’s what will make you an interesting person.

My 16 year old roused me from my reverie. “Everything is good, mom. You don’t have to hover.” And, once again I took the path of least resistance.

And, I said nothing.

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.

Guest Post: Don’t Blink

I’m delighted to have my friend Marlene Kern Fischer as a guest writer today.  Marlene’s oldest son is graduating from college this Friday and I asked her to share some thoughts with us. She and I graduated from college together twenty-eight years ago. Yikes!

“Don’t blink–just like that you’re six years old and you take a nap and you wake up and you’re twenty-five…Don’t blink, life goes by faster than you think.” Kenny Chesney

I hadn’t heard that song since your high school graduation but I heard it today when I stopped at Bea’s for an iced tea. I started thinking about our first trip out to St. Louis to look at Washington University (WUSTL). You had been accepted to WUSTL but we hadn’t seen the school yet. I wanted to see for myself whether it was the right college for you, so even though I hate to fly, off we went. When we were walking around Forest Park in St. Louis I thought of all the hopes I had for you in college. I guess I was thinking about what I was looking for in a college for you.

I hoped you would make good friends–some of whom might last a lifetime. I hoped you would become more compassionate, mature, and considerate of others and less impulsive. I hoped your temper would mellow and that you could learn to accept losing graciously. I hoped you would improve your housekeeping skills. I hoped you would be with people who were like-minded and that you would learn from those who weren’t. I hoped you would experience romantic love. I hoped you would find a major that interested you and that you would figure out what the next step in your life would be. Through all of it, it was my hope that you would stay connected to us.  In retrospect it was a pretty tall order but by the end of the trip I think we both felt comfortable that WUSTL would be a good place for you. Not that you might not have accomplished all those things elsewhere, but we were pleased with what we saw and felt in St. Louis.

Now, even though the song said not to blink, we blinked and quite miraculously the bill came for the cap and gown. All of those hopes I had for you have been realized to a greater or lesser degree (ok, maybe you can still use a little work on the housekeeping skills). Your transcript and diploma reflect only a small part of what you have achieved during your four years of college. I couldn’t ask for more. At graduation this week I’ll savor the moment, but only for a moment, because I have more hopes and dreams for you. And, I’ve already started working on that list.

XOXO

Mom

If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother

images-3If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

My relationship with my mother is complicated. Of course it is. She is a product of her childhood, as we all are, and hers really sucked. Big time. She spent her formative years in the Tarnopol ghetto with a front row seat to starvation, cruelty and death. She and her mother escaped from the ghetto right before it was made Judenrein (Jew free) and were hidden in the attic of a barn for a year before being liberated by Russian soldiers. Upon liberation her legs were so atrophied that she had to learn to walk again.

Nowadays, if you have one traumatic experience, you go for years of counseling. But, back then, after the war, you simply carried on.  End of story, or so they thought, but those of us who have been picking up the pieces, know better.

My father gathered mom in and sheltered her in the cocoon of his love. He never pushed her. The boundaries of her comfort zone were narrow and carefully maintained. She took excellent physical care of my brother and me, but emotionally it was a long climb down from that attic and I think she’s still stuck somewhere on one of those downward rungs.

When I was growing up mom had frequent, recurring nightmares about a little girl being chased by the Nazis. Not surprisingly, the little girl in the dream was her. One morning, as I was getting ready to go to school, mom informed me that she had had the dream again but this time when the little girl turned around she realized that the little girl in the dream was me. Recently, while we were driving somewhere mom told my kids that when I was a child she tried not to get attached to me because she was afraid something could happen to me.  She failed in her attempt “not to get attached.”  She didn’t say that.  She didn’t have to. I just know it to be true because she is me and I am her and she and I are bound up in that most complex and timeless dance between mothers and their daughters.

We don’t all get a Hallmark mother.  Some of us get a good enough mother with a great deal of baggage.  If I complained to my father he would beseech me, “ She’s doing the best she can. What do you want from her?”  What indeed?  There are no perfect mothers, just as there are no perfect daughters.  Today, I thank God for the gift of a mother who emerged from her attic prison, bent but not broken, hobbled but not hopeless.

And from one flawed mother to another, I love you, mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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.