Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Morning Survival

It is 8:49 on a Sunday morning. By all accounts I should still be in my ducky pajama pants. But I am not. I am up and showered. Already, I am so overwhelmed by the list of tasks running through my head that I am literally crying as I dry my hair. Which is completely ridiculous. Phil said he would watch the kids but instead he fell asleep in their bed and they came running into our room. In the past two hours I have already done a load of laundry, some dishes, and explained adoption (thank you Disney channel and Jessie for that important but also difficult to explain episode). All I want to do is write out my feelings but there is a Barbie, a screw driver and one Spiderman walkie talkie on top of my laptop. They are symbolic gifts from each member of my family not so subtly reminding me of who and what comes first.

I know this feeling. I’ve felt it before. It comes whenever I get so overwhelmed by the tasks of my family and of life in general that I forget the loving them part. The how to love me part. That I forget that if I don’t start to love me a bit more, I am going to drown. I mean I literally won’t. It’s not as if we are living within a giant pool. But this is how I imagine it feels. You are sinking underneath slippery and moving parts. There is nothing to hold onto. You can’t quite catch your breath. Things like water which normally feels light, suddenly starts to feel heavy.

My husband gets the kids dressed in matching Jets football gear. This annoys me on many levels; partly because I have been trying to get Ruby to wear that Jets shirt for a full year but only when Daddy the magician suggests it, does she finally want to put it on. She wears it proudly. Dylan and Phil are in matching football attire and they all bound into the room and ask if I will take their photo together. It feels like they are all in on some joke that I am not. They seem so happy, so carefree. So freaking adorable. It bothers me because I want to stay mad at them.

Why do they not have the same ticker of stuff running in their heads? I am looking at them in the midst of this adorable family moment and there is a part of me that is there and another part of me that just has a running list of stuff that has to get done. And I hate myself for that. I feel like a split screen TV. I want to watch the main program, but I can’t take my eyes off that stupid scrolling feed at the bottom of the screen telling me really important things like Khloe Kardashian files for divorce, and Miley twerks with a Christmas Tree. I am having trouble, once again, focusing and prioritizing.

Instead, my own personal ticker reads something like this: I have to finish the kids’ room and start washing the baby stuff and where are their back packs? Did I never unpack them from Friday? Did we get the mail yesterday? Is there still snow gear all over the house? Why do I wash constantly but the laundry hamper is never empty? Can I get the dishes done before my husband’s 87 year old grandmother shows up and starts washing them? How long before she asks me if I’ve hired a cleaning lady? And what about my writing? I need to prioritize that, and my marriage and the kids’ physicals……

And it never stops. Water, sinking, drowning. Phil packs the kids up and takes them for a walk to go get breakfast. I contemplate staying home by myself. There is so much I will accomplish. Which is mostly true. But that overwhelmed feeling will stay with me as long as I stay anywhere where there are constant reminders of my scrolling ticker of stuff. So I hastily pack my laptop and grab my keys to drive 2 minutes away to the local coffee shop.

On the way down the street I pass Phil and the kids walking to breakfast. Yet again, they look so frustratingly adorable together. I slow and roll my window down. In my head I can hear myself saying something like, “Do you want a ride?” or “Can I join you for breakfast?” because this is what I do. I get overwhelmed with life and them and then I get really crabby and take it out on them which is completely unfair. Then when they offer me space to breathe I reject it and jump back into the pool. Which makes absolutely no fucking sense. But it is a rare warm Sunday morning with my family. Why wouldn’t I want to have breakfast with them?

In a most unusual break of clarity I catch myself. I know if I stay with them I will keep sinking and the rest of the day they will only get the muddied and wrung out version of me. So for the sake of all of us, I just wave and keep driving. I am not sure if this is the right decision. I leave my adorable family in the rearview mirror. I drive to go find me. To pull me out and separate me from the list of crap and chores and to dos. Just me.

It is 9:41AM. I found me. She was at Starbucks with a decaf latte, an ice water, a bacon sandwich and her own thoughts. I am finding it much easier to breathe and I do so slowly, deliberately. I spend a few minutes with my own thoughts. It is the breakfast of champions; or at least of overwhelmed mothers who forget how important it is to champion themselves once in a great while.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Season of Miracles

I am walking Dylan to the bus stop. We are greeted with the sights and sounds of winter’s first snow. It is before we have grown jaded and bitter toward its’ punishing storms and winds and snow that turns brown and slushy and problematic. Every tree and surface is covered with a light and fluffy white powder. Not great for snowballs and snowmen. Perfect for snow angels. We are early enough in the season for it to still feel magical.

Indeed this time of year almost always does feel that way for me. Everything is covered in twinkling lights and powdery-white. And people of almost any faith recall a time and plan anew for a season of hope and miracles. December has always been a most miraculous time. It marks the season in my life when I labored with both my children on the same date, in different years: December 14th.

I think often of my miracles. Of the ones I am surrounded with, of the one growing inside me right now. I think about what a miracle it is that knowing how tenuous, how painful, fleeting and challenging and complex of an emotion love can be, we continue to open ourselves up to it; to the possibility of loving, of being loved. We do this with full knowledge that there are no guarantees of how it will end, that almost certainly, by virtue of the fact that we’ve shared a piece of our heart, we risk and even invite wounding it. We expose it. For me, this is the true miracle of the season. The miracle of knowing all of this and ever loving at all.

In the midst of it all, I cannot help but think of a community not so very far from my own who dared to love. December 14th marks a very different day for them. And for too many of them, their exposed hearts lay raw and bare, open on their chests. There are sisters and mothers and friends and children who are gone, taken too soon. And yet the people they’ve left behind are still standing, breathing, living, and continuing to believe in the possibility of love in the face of such loss.

My mother was fond of saying that the only reason people ever have more than one child, is that they forget how hard child birth was to begin with. That the best parts of loving and raising a child erase the painful memories and make it possible to do it again. Likewise, I wonder if perhaps the only reason we ever open our hearts again and again to children and spouses and friends and neighbors and sisters and daughters is because the joy and thrill of loving again, of having loved at all, almost always triumphs over the pain of love’s loss. I am thinking of this and of Newtown as I stare at my two snow bunnies. For me, this is the true miracle of the season.

It is afternoon. We are walking home from the bus stop. The snow is slightly more muddied and beaten down, but still a touch magical. The kids skip home gleefully, blissfully unaware of any imperfections. My heart swells with pride, so much so that I think it might burst in a combined state of total love and admiration, as well as fear that I must share them with a world I cannot control. That by sharing them with others, I risk my heart. But I feel the powdery white wet stuff slip through my fingers. It feels cool and magical. I surround myself with it and honor the season as it deserves: with wonder and a celebration of the miracle of ever knowing and loving them at all; of life itself.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hollaback Girl

The holidays are in full swing. The Target Hanukkah clings have been mauled by tiny fingers leaving nothing but fingerprints and a set of candles that dangle in the air sans menorah. Decorations from years of preschool love and tiny turkey hands and painted menorahs adorn every knob and shelf. The menorah is splattered with waxy drippings, the floor with wrapping paper from 3 nights ago. There is Christmas music blaring in the background because I am a Jew who loves Christmas music. Don’t judge.

The fridge is half full from a wonderful Thanksgiving feast that was mostly demolished by our amazing crew of family and friends who gratefully took over and pretty much prepared everything, but just cooked it within my house. Leftovers consist of things like one turkey leg, a tub of blue cheese, a half used can of pumpkin, and 8 different half used sticks of unsalted butter (for some reason we had a butter consolidation problem this year- will have to address next year). The season of gratitude and gluttony is well underway.
I don’t do the holidays well. I mean I love them, but in a sloppy and casual way; not in a Pinterest-y way. We are sort of half decorated, and marginally seasonally appropriate (given that it is December, it is probably time to throw out the pumpkins and gourds). Which brings me to the holiday card. I adore receiving holiday cards. I love running to the mailbox and collecting cards from familiar faces old and new, the goofy ones, the precious ones, island shots and Disney shots and backyard shots, and the formal attempts from families and couples that span the history of me, and of Phil, and of me and Phil together.

I am excellent at receiving holiday cards. I am horrible at making and sending out my own holiday card.

Every year I tell myself it is about the sentiment, the opportunity to reach out to friends and family and colleagues near and far and remind them that we are thinking of them, that we wish them the best. It feels silly and odd that I would wait until a single point in the calendar year to do this; that it takes a sale at Tiny Prints to prompt my thinking here, yet it does.

Pre-wedding and children, my cards were almost always pure sentiment. Post-kids, my cards almost exclusively included pictures of them. This year, I was oddly inspired to put me and Phil in the card as well. I worked hard copiously selecting pictures of the children and one single shot of me and Phil. But it got late and I got tired. My general overall laziness and pregnancy inspired laziness got the better of me, and when I had trouble cropping and moving pictures I just decided to give up and print the damn thing in its “good enough” stage. After all, who am I kidding? This is real. The people who love us accept us as we are, sans Pinterest glam.

The cards came yesterday. And smack dab in the dead center of the card is a picture of me and Phil at Disney World. And next to Phil is a strange unknown man also at Disney World. He is wearing a black sweatshirt and has the world’s largest back, or at least it seems that way given the amount of space strange man’s back takes up on our holiday card. There are some smaller shots of the children that surround the back. But fundamentally I have prepared a holiday card of best wishes from this man’s back. I can’t take my eyes off of it. It is like the holiday card version of the lip synching space kitten from Miley’s American Music Awards appearance. It hovers there in the background. You want to look away but you can’t.

And so, should you get a holiday card from us, it will feature the Meer family and the man with the large back. Happy Holidays from all of us. If you don’t receive this card from us, don’t feel bad about that either. Historically, I spend like 3 days trying to make this card and then order like 20 copies to be printed. Which makes absolutely no sense. And somehow all of that seems exactly right, at least for this band of merry misfits. In this way it is the perfect reflection of how we celebrate this and pretty much every season around here. Accidental, well-intentioned, with joy and mis-directed purpose, poor cropping skills, randomness, and love.

And so I say to you, happy holidays! Wishing you a season and New Year filled with much joy and strange men’s backs.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Big Car Years

Today we got a new car. We said goodbye to my sweet little hybrid sedan and ushered in a new era in our family: that of the 7 seater. In a world of SUVs, I have truly loved my little car. It was perfectly suited to me and my family as we grew from a family of 3 to 4. It was the first car that was ever truly mine: not my father’s or sister’s or husband’s or in-laws, but just mine. It made me feel grown up in a rather traditional and silly way. It felt little and warm and cozy when we were all tucked inside on cold days, and breezy and sunny with the moon roof on warm days. It shuttled me all sorts of places including back and forth between New Jersey and CT, during the many years that we’ve ping ponged back and forth. I’ve loved how quiet it is, how little gas it takes, how relatively easy it is to park it – even for a shitty parker like myself.

But it’s time to let go. As our family prepares to grow from 4 to 5, we’ve decided my little sedan will just be too cozy and that we are reluctantly somewhat forced to graduate to the land of 3 rows. The car we picked out is lovely as far as cars go. In general, we aren’t car people. I’m excited for it; a bit nostalgic to let my hybrid go. But after all, what is it I’m really nostalgic for? I suppose it isn’t really about cars at all.

Family cars often represent chapters in a family’s life. I vividly remember the day my father came home with his 1985 Delta 88 Oldsmobile. We all piled in and went for a spin around the block. The seats felt fancy and new. It had power windows and a tape deck where we played the special promotional cassette tape that came with the car which sang with passion about the “special feeling in an Oldsmobile.”

It was special indeed. It was the first nice-ish car my father ever entrusted himself with. We had let go of the brown Pontiac without seatbelts, the beat up and sticky Chevy Impala station wagon. We weren’t babies anymore. We were 8, 13, and 14. Our little family was growing up. Our new grown car reflected that. In the end, we’d take many a family vacation in our Oldsmobile; the trip up or back in the car as much a memory as the vacation itself. Who got the middle seat; whose mix tape played next. There was Washington, D.C., and the White Mountains, and Ocean Beach. It was part of our summers and was a prominent character in the story of our lives. And 10 years and considerable wear and tear later, I dragged a far less glamorous version of that car to college with me.

And so it will be with this car. It will help us tell a new story in our lives. We will have three children. I am enormously excited and scared at the same time. You know how some people have a recurring dream that they can’t quite shake? I have one where I am driving and the accelerator is sticking and I can’t get the brake to work. I am hurtling through time and space very fast. As I approach this new place in our lives, it feels a little like this. Even still, I am hopeful and eager to begin this new chapter. There will be potty seats and crushed goldfish and road trips, first dances and soccer games. There will be summer vacations and sandy seats, instruments for early band practice, maybe even first kisses. And someday, we will fold those same seats down to make room for boxes and bags as we move one of those babies into their first dorm or apartment.

Ready or not, foot to the pedal - bring on the big car years!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Traditional

Thanksgiving is coming which has always been my most favorite time of the year. I love the universal everyone and anyone gather around cozy feel of it. Through the years, I’ve collected a series of rituals leading up to the big day. As I complete each one, I feel further tucked into Thanksgiving. Like it is a little pouch that picks me up when I am cold and tired at the end of a long fall, and carries me around in the warmth of stuffing fresh from the oven, and my family’s love.

A few weeks before, I go out and buy my Thanksgiving editions of Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. While I cannot cook 98% of what is inside the pages, I am dazzled by the pretty pictures of home and hearth and turkey. Usually I find at least one pie or cornbread recipe that contains less than 5 ingredients and seems manageable for an amateur like myself. I carefully turn down the corners of these pages as my own mother always did for her favorite recipes and articles. While I don’t imagine that one day I will have the fanciest of things to pass down to my own children, I envision handing them a ginormous and well-loved stack of vintage Thanksgiving magazines featuring a collection of recipes that mark the passage of time and evolution of my own tastes and gastronomical culture, which they will either receive with the same wonder and pleasure I had when I first bought them and eagerly turned the pages, or use as fire kindling. Either way, it will be a legacy from me to them of the holiday I so loved.

As we get closer to the big day, I begin washing and chopping cranberries; lots and lots of cranberries. They will be used in the loaves of cranberry bread I’ll bring to our Thanksgiving dinner and also to make bread to share with friends and family and teachers who we love and are grateful for. It is not my recipe, but one passed down from my own memories of many Thanksgivings as a child spent at my aunt’s house. As a grown up, the holiday is not complete without it. I will spend hours making this for us and others. And though I usually tire and bore and get lazy with cooking, I view baking and particularly holiday baking as an entirely different endeavor. Most of my memories of baking and learning to bake as a child were at my mother’s side. Learning how to carefully measure and sift. I will think of her and her green Tupperware measuring containers as I put on the world’s crappiest lifetime Christmas movie and happily chop away. It will feel warm and holiday-ish and special. I will love it.

Which leads me to Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving morning is never complete without the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. This must be watched in my pajamas with all the wonder and simplicity of a child seeing it for the first time. I will marvel at floats and balloons I’ve seen before and enjoy lip synched singing from artists I may or may not know or even like, because just doing so makes me feel little, like I am watching with my mom, like she is watching with my kids and sharing the wonder with them. It will make me feel like we are all watching together. I will not do a Rose Bowl parade or something telecast from California or Florida. This feels wrong. It must by New York. Also, it must be cold. There is nothing worse than a warm Thanksgiving. That feels misplaced; like watching the Price is Right at night or pronouncing New Haven with the emphasis on the New instead of the Haven. You just don’t do it. It feels wrong and weird. It must be cold and New York. And PJs. By G-d on Thanksgiving Day there must be pajamas till noon.

But the thing that always wraps it all up with a big bow is the people that fill the table. Through the years and the evolution of my own, my sisters’, and even my father’s family, our table has grown to include many new faces, both young and old. There are a few important ones missing too. I remember vividly my first Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the only time in my life I can remember the holiday not fitting me. It felt uncomfortable and forced. It felt joy less. It seemed unimaginable to spend the day I loved so much with the people I loved and have her not be there, yelling at my brother in law to start cooking the bird, hugging the kids and wearing her apron. It felt like a hole in the holiday. Like someone chopped off the first part. And had made it just another day that we foisted upon ourselves with strange traditions filled with turkey and sweet potatoes that no one really wanted.

It was at least another year or two before time and space healed that hole enough to help me realize she was still with us. That in all of those little traditions that led up to and defined the day at least for me, in some small way she was tucked inside each one, re-infusing the warmth back into my favorite day. As I gear up for all of my favorite traditions this year, I look forward to finding her there again.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings, filled with all the people and traditions that make your holiday a day of joy, reflection, sweetness and thanks. And by G-d, let there be PJs till noon!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The True Meaning of Thanksgivingakkuh

Halloween is done and no sooner have we finished our last Kit Kat, the holiday season is thrust upon us. This year, it’s an epic one with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling at the same time on the calendar to make one monstrous super holiday: Thanksgivingakkuh. It is the perfect combination of thanksgiving blessings and gratitude with Hanukkah miracles. Visions of latke stuffed turkeys dance in my head. I am thankful for the blessings of food that will surely cover our table; more humbled by the simple gift of being able to feed the hungry mouths of family and friends that will fill our hearts and homes. Yet as American Jews prepare for this once in a lifetime season of starchy gluttony, I am struggling with the sharp contrast of how much we have in the face of how many have so little.

Indeed, the ability to put food on a table nowadays seems, in and of itself, something of a miracle. Who among us has a job, keeps their job, or whose partner suddenly falls ill, often seems arbitrarily determined in the largely randomized sequence of events that comprise life. And from this randomness the thin line is drawn between those who know where their next meal is coming from, and those who do not. In many ways, it reminds me of that favorite Hanukkah game we play each year. With each spin, the dreidel arbitrarily determines the haves and have nots; who gets some, who must share. In real life, there is slightly more control over our fates and fortunes and yet often, you can make all of the best choices, play all of the best cards dealt to you, and still get the wrong roll of the dice, the bad spin of the dreidel. You could end up with none. This year, the number of children and families struggling with little or no food is at critical levels, and the need to share seems more imperative than ever.
This November, Congress’ deep and devastating cuts to the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) went into effect. To be SNAP eligible, you must be living at or significantly below the federal poverty level. According to their own data, nearly 50% of all SNAP recipients are children. More than 75% of all SNAP households include at least one child. As of 2011, more than 48.5 million sought and received benefits[1]. In these difficult economic times, arguably the number of hungry mouths is going up, the cost of food is going up, and the federal assistance available to buy it is going down. I’ve been never been very good at math, but I can tell you that sure sounds a lot like a lot of hungry children this holiday season; kids no different from mine or yours. This Thanksgivingakkuh, there just won’t be enough latkes to go around.

I tried explaining all of this this past weekend, or at least the cliff notes version to my son. I know as parents we spend an awful lot of time talking about the silly and the frustrating and ridiculous things that come out of our children’s mouths, but just once in a great while they teach us.  After our conversation, Dylan got up and wrote a note that said this: “Because they need it and they are hungry. This is all of the money in my piggy bank.” And then he dumped the entire contents of his piggy bank out ($34.06) and put it with his letter in the mail. I have never been so humbled and inspired by a 5 year old before. He literally gave it all. I suspect because he gets at the tender age of 5 what so many of us grown-ups in the business of our lives and the holiday season seem to so quickly forget: the real miracle of the holidays is found when you celebrate your own commitment to love and honor your neighbor more than yourself.
And so this year, in this epic holiday season of both thankfulness and miracles, in a world and community that is deeply in need of repair, let’s make a few new miracles of our own. This year, let’s stand together and lead by example. Regardless of who you are, what you have, or what you celebrate, let’s make this the warmest and brightest Thanksgivingakkuh ever. Because what better way to commemorate a season of gratitude and miracles, than by standing together to share, heal, and nourish.

Below are some resources for folks nationally and as well as local to the Hartford, CT area who want to help feed hungry families this holiday season and all year round:

http://www.scarymommy.com/thanksgiving-2013/ (This is where Dylan sent his money. There are money families still waiting to be adopted for the holiday season!)

http://site.foodshare.org/site/TR/Thanksgiving/General?sid=1060&type=fr_informational&pg=informational&fr_id=1270#westhartford (Help support Foodshare’s Turkey and $30 campaign. Give a turkey for the holiday season plus $30 to support their efforts to feed our hungry neighbors all year round)

http://www.jfshartford.org/support_foodpantry.list.htm (Make a donation to Central Connecticut’s only Kosher Food Pantry, located within Jewish Family Services in West Hartford. This link will list the items they are most in need of)

http://www.hartfordfood.org/get-involved/ (Donate your time and/or money to Hartford Food System, working to find a sustainable way to help fight hunger and improve nutrition for Hartford’s poorest residents)

http://www.westhartford.org/living_here/town_departments/human_(social)_services/food_pantry/index.php (West Hartford’s local food pantry has seen a dramatic surge in the number of residents it serves. Click here for a list of what they need the most in their pantry. All donations can be brought to town hall)

 




[1] http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/#who

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall

The weather is gathering that bite that always comes by late October. Truly, fall can just take your breath away. It creeps up on you, leaves slowly changing. And then one day you open your eyes to the most beautiful picture you’ve ever seen. And before you can wrap your arms around all that intense beauty, it just up and blows away on you. Fall is tricky and fickle like that. Just when you fall for it, it’s gone. And everything is bare and white and stripped and cold. I know that’s coming, but I’m still stuck squarely in a world of bright reds and harvest yellows, carved pumpkins, and apple ciders and that amazing rustling and crunching sound that seems to just pop under your feet.

Somewhat ironically in the midst of all of this color and warmth, I have been feeling a bit more bare and stripped these past few days. To see something you write go “viral” as has happened with Distracted Living, is a strange and disjointed feeling. It is both amazing and terrifying. I feel much the way those autumn branches soon will be: highly exposed. And so I feel compelled to write one final postscript on this post, on this week. On what brought me here, on what happens next.
When I started my little blog just more than a year ago, I found myself writing for many reasons. On some days I found myself at the keyboard in search of a creative outlet, or an opportunity to share something funny or cute with myself (really more than anyone else) that my kids had done that I didn’t want to forget. But there were also moments when I found myself writing because I had stumbled upon something deeply uncomfortable that I desperately did not want to look at. What this was, this un-comfortableness in the pit of me was truth. And whenever my gut told me I had hit upon it, I knew I had to write about it. And perhaps even more sickening was the thought that I should share it; that by doing so there might be some not-so secret path to healing and learning. 

Which brings me to the past couple of weeks or so. I had a difficult night one evening with my daughter. I struggled with it. That sucky other mother voice in my head, the one all of us seem to have that only pops up on your shittiest days, she kept popping up and whispering in my ear, you are a failure at this. Until I sat down one morning and poured out the truth of that night. It was deeply uncomfortable to write.  And then I took that uncomfortable feeling and I doubled down: I shared it.
An amazing thing happened after I shared it. I heard from wonderful mothers and fathers and people who had never been parents in their lives but who understood the power and humility of a close call, who felt the pull of being stretched in every direction. Of being so present for everyone and everything, that they in fact were never really present for anyone, least of all themselves. I was humbled by their honesty and grateful for their capacity to shed some warm light on my own truth. In doing so, they made me feel like I was part of a larger struggle, and that I didn’t have to wrap my arms around it alone. They called me brave even though I didn’t feel that way.

There were also many folks who called me shitty and worthless. There were plenty of people who said I didn’t deserve my children. They said I was a moron or an idiot. I heard those folks too. I know them. They aren’t bad. They are making a call based on limited information from some pretty reductive and overly dramatized headlines. They know well that other mother that likes to whisper many of the same things in my ear from time to time. I accept their judgment. I opened myself up to it. Except I really didn’t feel like much of that either.
In the end, I didn’t feel particularly brave or massively incompetent. I actually just felt something rather remarkable in its un-remarkableness. I just felt human.

You can say a lot of things about me, but at the very least, you can say I owned this. I owned my imperfections. And in that process, I’m trying to learn. I’ve written before that if I teach my kids just one thing in our short time here on this blessed Earth it is that we are born perfectly imperfect; that they should fully expect themselves to fail thousands of times before they even get one thing right. That this is how we learn. They should not love themselves in spite of this reality. They should love themselves precisely because of this, because of their uniquely human capacity to struggle and persist in the face of challenges.
My father captured the most amazing picture of my children this summer. They are on the swing set, mid air. My daughter is holding on white knuckled, her hair flying in the wind while she pushes against her brother’s strong back as he laughs with the glee he almost always seems to feel on rides that are wild and uncertain. This week, as I reflect on my journey thus far as a mother, I can’t stop staring at it while I listen to this song on repeat by Train. The lyrics go like this:

These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to let you in again

You’re not alone in how you’ve been

We all got bruises.
In the end, it was a really great week. For all of those wonderful friends both known and unknown out there, moms, dads, parents and non-parents alike who showed their bruises and accepted me fully with mine, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful. Indeed, in the cold and sharpness of autumn, I actually don’t feel like I am falling at all. I am warm with gratitude, holding on white knuckled in this uncertain ride that is life.

 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Distracted Living

Last week, I almost killed my daughter.

It started off as really any other week ever does. My husband had been travelling pretty much non-stop for nearly the entire month. Whether we wanted to or not, we were all falling into a fairly regular rhythm without him, at least Monday-Friday. With school and activities and for better or worse, the days seemed to move rather quickly but by evening all three of us were stretched thin. Collectively, we all seemed to peek at maximum crabbiness somewhere around 6pm. It was shortly after this time last Wednesday night that I brought the kids upstairs to help them get washed up for bed.
My daughter had an upset stomach for most of the day but I hadn’t thought much of it. She was otherwise happy and playing and generally herself. I did know that she was very tired. Still, we were a good hour and a half from her usual bedtime of around 8pm. I put her in the bath and let it start to fill and left the room to go start the shower for my son. This is something I’ve taken to doing quite often with her. She is coming up on four and I am less concerned about leaving her alone in the tub. Plus, the need to get both baths and showers started at the same time feels like a multi-tasking necessity when it’s the end of the day and I’m slogging through it on my own. I love them but I’m just so tired. I don’t want to rush through their bath and bedtime but I do. Because I just want to collapse on the couch at 8pm and just be with my own thoughts and my own space. Bath time has increasingly become yet another thing to check off the list. And so I’m more rushed and careless than I should be.

So I left her for about two minutes while I went to go find my five year old and get him in the shower. I heard the ping of the iPad and saw an email from my friend. There was zero urgency about responding but inexplicably I felt the need to, right then and there.
And in doing so, I left her alone in the tub for two minutes.

On any other night this would’ve been fine. But this night was different. She was really tired and the water was warm and she just fell asleep; completely and totally asleep. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I went back in two minutes later and by the grace of God she had managed to fall asleep sitting up, slumped against the side of the tub. But it wouldn’t have been much longer (how much longer, seconds?) before she would’ve slipped under the water. She would’ve drowned. It would have been entirely my fault.
I screamed. I slapped her face. She didn’t wake up. But she seemed to be breathing and was otherwise alright, just asleep. I lifted her out of the water and carried her into her room where she took the world’s weirdest, wettest, shortest power nap ever. And at 6:30 promptly woke up refreshed, soaking wet, and ready to play and with zero understanding of the gravity of what almost could’ve happened.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
For awhile now, I have felt that I have been losing the ability to single task; that is to say, the ability to do one thing well, at a time. I recognize that this hasn’t happened in isolation. What I’m feeling is a larger reflection of a culture that has literally consumed us over the past 5 years or so. In particular, becoming a parent during the rapid rise of the era of tablets and smart phones, I have lost the ability to be present and do one thing at a time. It scares me. And on this night, it could have cost me everything. It wouldn’t have taken more than two minutes or two seconds to change our lives forever. I can't even begin to process how much I regularly try to squeeze into those same two minutes. About how much I could’ve lost in the same amount of time.

We live in an age where we are constantly fed messages that we should try to do as much as we can as fast as we can; to live at maximum efficiency. Except when we shouldn’t. How many homework assignments and extracurricular activities and educational apps and appointments and meetings and spin classes and returned email messages and social media sites and DVRd shows and any number of things with varying degrees of importance do we try to cram into any one day? Sometimes I feel like we are multi-tasking ourselves right past the point of it all anyway.
If we begin to itemize our daily lives as a series of tasks to be checked off and juggled and done while doing other things, I’m not sure we’re ever fully present in any of it. As if we’re always straddling different dimensions. Our bodies exist in one place, our hearts and minds in another. Space and time feel disjointed. People write largely in shorthand largely because we are living that way. At least I have been living that way. But last week was my wake up call. I will get less done. Everything might take longer but with more time and attention to whatever that first thing is. This just might be okay.

People talk about distracted driving but it’s more than that. It’s distracted living. And that doesn’t just leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied. As I proved to myself and to my daughter, it can be downright dangerous.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More than Words

My babies, much like their momma, have ravenous appetites. And we’ve been talking quite a bit about the three ways your tummy can feel and really trying to get in touch with that feeling: empty, full, and the middle part in between the two – just right. Today, I am feeling empty. But it is not for food; it is for words.

It’s ironic really. In an era of Twitter and Facebook and a seemingly immeasurable number of social media sites that share and distribute what is loosely described as published “content” to the masses literally every second, today I am feeling a bit on overload. It’s as if there are so many words and yet none. Does this make any sense? Water water everywhere - not a drop to drink.
Words at their finest are far more than cobbled letters on a page. They are actually pictures. They create images, and inspire raw emotions. They require you to engage with them. They elicit thoughtfulness and feelings. They are never flat. They draw you somewhere. The words are the keys to the car or the sneakers on your feet. Their message is but the first step in a long and perhaps difficult journey. And I’m hearing the news and the yelling (read not debating) in Congress and flaps over healthcare and food stamps and I’m just so hungry. I’m hungry for someone to string together some words; to build me that picture that will show me where I want to, where we just need to get going as a people, as a nation.

Oration is the fine art of bringing this story to life, a story so compelling, a vision so bright you could hardly believe it is possible. And you yearn for it. Words drawn from the mouths of great orators inspire people to action. And I was thinking about my life and the young lives of my kids and wondering if they had ever been in the presence of greatness like this, if they had ever heard a speech like this. And they haven’t. Which is fine. They are only 3 and 5. But I was thinking that maybe it was time for all of us to revisit some of the greats so we would know what this looks like when we happen upon it again.
So today I went back to the long slow stuff because I felt hungry for it. I started with the text of King’s speech from the March on Washington. Now for a minute, close your eyes (except you can’t because you are reading this but just imagine) and really digest Martin’s words. See the picture he is painting. Allow yourself to go to the place he is pulling you toward: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.[1]” Did you see that? Did you feel that? Could you imagine literally drowning in a world of inequality, only to be saved by the strength of something stronger and greater than ourselves? It was August of 1963. King’s vision and sense of urgency were clear.

From there I went back a few more months to June of 1963. Kennedy had just sent the National Guard to ensure admission of two qualified black men to the University of Alabama. That evening, in an impromptu televised address to the nation he said this: “It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.[2]” Kennedy calls us out. It isn’t enough to point fingers or merely express condemnation or sadness. We are one country. Their shame, their pain is our own. We must act together. Kennedy’s words paint a vision of one nation experiencing an urgent crisis of the American conscience.
But from there I still wasn’t satisfied. So I went a bit farther back more than 100 years to a young Abraham Lincoln, then running for senate. During his candidacy, he delivered his now famous “house divided” speech at the Illinois state house where he said this: “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.[3]” Lincoln compels us with his words to confront ourselves. What is our choice? Which America will we become?

And their words, all of them, and the related images they conjure, are not easily digested. I must sit with them and think on them and, as Louis C.K. so brilliantly described in his recent diatribe on smart phones, allow myself to actually feel uncomfortable and sad at the pain and struggle of a great country wrestling with its own demons[4]. At how far we’ve come. At how far we’ve still to go.
Which brought me to one final speech. It was given by a then Senator Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. That night, he said this: “I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: ‘E pluribus unum,’ out of many, one.[5]” And by now my belly was full. And I was longing for that vision of one America that they’d sold me on with their stirring images and lofty ideals.

When I finished my diet of thoughtfulness, I mistakenly dove back into social media where I made the grave error of stumbling upon the nonsensical debate between Harry Reid and Ted Cruz over whether or not to use various legislative magic tricks that may or may not keep the government running, all in an effort to either sustain or defund the healthcare reform act. And I was thinking to myself, gosh, they are so in the weeds. There is no vision, no picture of the place they need to get to. They are like drivers without a map. Or a steering wheel for that matter. It is virtually impossible for them to see or comprehend where they are going. I guess they’ll know when they’ve arrived when they blindly run someone over or crash into a tree.
They need to back up a bit. Because what they really need to be asking is not whether or what to fund, but what as a nation matters to us? What is a priority? And who will paint this vision for us? You’ve got to start there first. Otherwise you are just idiots in fancy suits arguing theoretically about policy decisions that will never personally affect you without ever once considering the implications of what it all means, of what your dug in stance means, for millions and millions of people. It’s all just meaningless words in a vacuum of leadership.

And I want to be clear. I'm not just calling out Obama when I talk about a vacuum of leadership. I like him. I voted for him. But right now I see where he is at. Congress is increasingly looking a whole lot like my kids at 5pm. They are whiny and full of nonsense and beating the crap out of each other for no apparent reason other than the sport of it and I know I could try to sit down and reason with them and sort it all out but I just can’t. I’m too spent. So I put on Phineas and Ferb and at least in my pre-pregnancy days, hide in the kitchen with a glass of wine.
But Mr. President there is no more time for hiding. It’s time for our nation’s leaders to step up and pick up the brush. Help us get out of our own heads, to re-imagine what we mean when we talk about American life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in 2013. It is time to open our eyes and ears, to refill our nation’s bellies and hearts with a vision of what is possible.  And while words and imagery are nice they don’t get you very far. It takes the legislative muscle and peaceful protest and public and private cooperation. But in every era, behind every speech, in every great moment in history, there arose a great prolific figure to deliver the same message. There is one America. We rise together or we all fail. Whether we want to or not, by our forefathers’ design and the inherent complexities of our constitutional government, we cannot separate ourselves from our neighbors. We are by and for the people, one people. One nation. Children who don’t have enough to eat, who can’t afford to see a doctor, are not someone else’s problems. They are ours. Whether we are on food stamps or not, it matters to us not just economically, but also morally if we, as one of the wealthiest developed nations, either cannot, or chose not to care for our own people.

As a nation, it is time to lift ourselves out of the weeds. We don’t need any more words. We need a leader and a vision of the kind of people we want to be. Only then can we begin the hard work and debate that is necessary to create a public and private agenda that will take us where we need and want to go.

 




[1] http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf
[2] http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3375
[3] http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/lincoln-a-house-divided-speech-text/
[4] http://gawker.com/louis-c-k-s-explanation-of-why-he-hates-smartphones-is-1354954625
[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thirty-Six

Thirty-six is quickly creeping up on me. I am nearly more than half way through my 30s: a whole chapter of my life that my mother has missed. It feels hard.

I had spent most of my 20s doing what I assume most twenty-year olds do. I was self-absorbed. I lived entirely for myself. I worked, I studied. I wandered the streets of NYC looking for myself and for someone who was going to help me make sense of it all. Amazingly, this completely inefficient process yielded success. By the end of my 20s I had found such a partner. Through it all, my mother was always just a phone call away. Whether my schedule varied or not, she would always know exactly when to call. It was as if she had lojacked me. The moment I stepped into my apartment she was there, on the other end. Tell me about your day, tell me about you.
But her picture of me ended there. She knew me only as that person: as the young woman, newly married. She left in the first couple of months that I became a mother. She saw me literally enter this chapter of my life but she never knew me as a mother. She knew me as the tired, frazzled, scared, nonsensical person you often are in those first few weeks of having a newborn. You don’t become yourself again, or certainly the new version of yourself until months later. Until you’ve found your footing with parenthood, and a large cup of coffee, and the realization that you can actually do this, logistically speaking, and love your baby and love yourself and carry on a conversation and maybe even do all of three of those things at the same time.

She never saw that me. She never knew me in my 30s which, for me at least, has been entirely defined by the growth of my family. About finding my footing and me in the raising and loving of them. She never read anything I wrote. She never saw my house. She doesn’t know me now.
If she were here, I think she would make me pumpkin pie on my birthday and get on the floor and play with my babies. She would remind me that my family is my home, and that a house is just a bunch of walls. She would tell me to try to live and love fully in whatever moment I am in; to not hold on to it, or to worry about losing it or obsess on the fleeting of it. It is what it is. Just be in it because it does move fast.

I think she would tell me to wear lipstick and iron my clothes more often. She would remind me that she made a lot of mistakes. That none of us are perfect. That this of course is not what it is about and that there is no value in treating someone like a saint, whether they are alive or dead. She would say she lived her life as she saw fit and that I should do the same.  And that doing this at its highest level should mean letting her go. That she wasn’t big on living in the past. She would tell me there is enough happiness and problems and love to go around right here in the present so why bother looking back. Then she would tell me to pass the chocolate and Kahlua.   
I think she would tell me she loved me. She would tell me to keep some Kleenex on hand just in case (emergency Kleenex was very important to mom) and when I left, to call her when I got home. And even if I already know most of what she’d say, it sure would be nice to hear her voice on the other end.

And I can’t wrap this post up with a bow. Some sort of feel good ending about her looking down or what she left behind. It isn’t that I don’t necessarily think it’s so. It’s just that sometimes it’s not what you need. Sometimes what you need is a familiar voice wanting to hear about your day. Moms like hearing from their babies because their stories and struggles fill them up and give them purpose and joy. And babies, sometimes more than they realize, need a mom to share that narrative with.
Staring at the phone and thinking about all this as I get ready to blow out the candles on 36. It won't ring, but I guess even big kids aren’t too old to make silly wishes on their birthday.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Post on Kveller.com


My-Jenneration makes its debut on Kveller.com today. You’ll find me there speaking candidly about my struggles with the Jewish New Year, and making promises with God and myself that I’m not sure I can keep.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Post on Scary Mommy


Hi Everyone. We’re up on Scary Mommy this evening. So pleased to share with you all some thoughts on Dylan’s first few days of school.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Enough

Recently I read this little gem on the Internet. It was an article reviewing a study that had been conducted by a German social science group on a sampling of approximately 1,400 children in Western Australia over a number of years, asking for parent-directed feedback on their behavior at ages 5,8, and 10. Of this sampling, there was a significant correlation between increased negative and/or aggressive behavior among boys who have fathers working on average more than 55 hours per week. Similar statistical patterns did not follow among fathers who on average worked less hours, and among the girls in the same statistical group.[1]

This of course made me think of that tasty little Pew study that came out not too many months ago equally skewering female breadwinners. In Pew’s survey on the increasing role of female breadwinners, they offered up an awesome little public opinion component where they sampled approximately 1,000 people who indicated that women’s increased presence in the workforce makes it harder to raise children.[2] So you see if you’ve got a hardworking father figure in your family or a smart ambitious mom, you can bet you’ll have a hell of a time raising those rowdy, aggressive kids.
Of course if you are a woman who chooses to circumvent these problems by “opting out” of your career, you and your family might also be in trouble as this widely circulated article suggests.[3] You ladies are truncating your career trajectories just as you start to step on the most important rungs of the ladder. You’ll never get back what you were professionally. You will never be able to command what you once did in salary. And of course going from a two income household to one income might just strain your marriage enough that you just might end up penniless and divorced with little or no future income prospects. Imagine just how aggressive your kids are going to feel then.
So let me just sum this up for you. If you live in a home where your husband works long hours, this seems to be bad. If you live in a house where the woman is the breadwinner, this too is bad. And if you choose to stay home with your children and not work, this also can be very bad. In summary, all of us, regardless of what we choose, are doing a horrible job!

And frankly, this national non-discussion where we berate ourselves and our families and our neighbors for things which we may or may not have within our control is really becoming quite tiresome. Work! Don’t work! Work sort of – but not too much. Lean! But don’t fall over. We aren’t raising a generation of aggressive kids. We are raising a generation of passive aggressive and thoroughly confused adults.
We are all doing the best we can do, for ourselves, and for our kids. To argue that any of these studies and articles which are being conducted and widely disseminated and then exhaustively dissected over social media ultimately benefit working (or not working as it may be) parents by creating a discussion about work alternatives is a complete fallacy. There are no substantive policy discussions being generated here about how to create more flexible work options for families. There is just a lot of judging and making people feel bad about stuff that they probably can’t choose anyway.

Many hardworking people I know who work long hours are doing it because they have to.  It s a first world problem to think we all have the luxury of choosing by design how and when and for how long we do or don’t want to work. The majority of us are driven by some combination of financial incentives and needs as well as (and equally important) some combination of personal ambition and drive. That doesn’t negate the fact that we love the crap out of our kids. And making people feel badly about stuff they have to do or choose to do (even under the guise of social science and public opinion) doesn’t necessarily make it more useful.
I do not know what it will take to advance the national dialogue beyond this loop, putting an end to the painful circular process of punishing everyone I possibly know for everything they do or don’t do when all they’ve ever really wanted to is to be productive members of society who love their kids a whole hell of a lot. But when we finally do it will perhaps be because we have finally recognized that happy kids and happy companies need the same things: parents who have the support they need to get up every day knowing they will once again try to be everything to everyone and probably fail, but in the struggle find enough opportunity and joy to make it all worthwhile.




[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/aggressive-behavior-in-boys-dads_n_3830591.html?utm_source=concierge&utm_medium=onsite&utm_campaign=sailthru%2Bslider%2B
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/29/single-moms-pew-research-_n_3349525.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-generation-wants-back-in.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Steady Pull

My father always used to say the amazing thing about the change in seasons in New England is that it always feels as if someone has flipped a switch. Seemingly overnight, summer fades and the first peek at fall begins. This past weekend, we went to our favorite little breakfast spot. There, we literally had our first bite of fall. They were serving up Apple Cider Donuts which, if you’ve never had one, might just be the greatest thing on earth. It was cake-y and left our fingers and lips sugary. With every bite I could feel summer getting farther away. On the drive home, we started to notice trees that had inexplicably already started to turn colors and leaves that had started to drop. At night we lit our last three sparklers, left over from July, and spent a few extra minutes on the swing set. When we put the kids to bed, it was already dark. When had that earlier sunset crept up on us?

The momentum was gathering, a long lazy summer of PJs and hours in the backyard and swimming pools and popsicles was coming to a close. I have mostly loved this long unstructured time with them. But I know they are ready and hungry for more. Dylan started counting down the days till Kindergarten last week. I guess Camp Mommy, with all of its promise at the beginning of summer, must really be sucking by now. I mean truly, how many times can you watch the Mission Marvel episode of Phineas and Ferb and call it educational?
At any rate, they are both ready for school to begin. I had visions of what each of their first days would be like. I would carefully pick out first day outfits and dress them like someone else’s children, all neat and finely pressed. There would be lots of pictures at Dylan’s bus stop and I would sob uncontrollably as the bus pulled away. We would lovingly settle Ruby into her preschool room as a family. And I guess it went something like that. If by something like that I mean nothing like that at all.

Dylan woke up and was completely dressed in his favorite mostly wrinkled mostly clean Ninjago shirt, teeth brushed with shoes and back pack on by 6:45AM. At 8AM even though we explained the bus wouldn’t be there for another 15 minutes, Dylan could no longer be contained. So we all went outside to wait for the big moment as a family. Phil brought the video camera. I had the still camera. We would use the extra time to capture this moment of sending our first born off to school, for posterity.
But because life is not a fan of plans, the bus arrived 15 minutes earlier than expected. We did a light jog so as to not miss it (which ps most of our neighbors did). There were no pictures and I don’t think I even said goodbye to him. The doors closed and just like that he was gone. My baby. My first born. Off on some school bus version of Speed. There was no time for mommy tears which I guess was probably a good thing and I said a silent prayer for his safe arrival at a school literally 1.1 miles away. Then we turned our attention to Ruby. I got off a couple of pictures of her but the classroom was already bustling by the time we showed up. Phil kept yelling at me to leave because I was hovering too much and just like that, Ruby was launched in her new room. Two babes – a new school year. And off we go.

As I pulled out of the preschool parking lot on this gray morning of stumbles and starts, a Jonatha Brooke song that I hadn't heard in way too long played on, singing of the danger in complacency and the steady pull of things unseen. Time is passing and the seasons seem to be turning a bit more quickly. They seem to be growing a bit faster than I’d like, and the more steady and constant I feel the pull of stuff I can’t touch or manage, yet somehow that feels right. A bit uneasy, but right.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Walking With Friends

I spent this past weekend doing something that has literally been I think 8 or 9 years in the making: I went away with two of my very good friends. How completely unremarkable is that? Ever since we became mothers, we spoke and started to plan but amazingly never actually pulled together one single kid-free, husband-free moment in that entire time. We held our friendship together through playdates and birthday parties, holidays, and whispered phone calls in the middle of nap time, and work time. We had laughed and shared in each others’ lives, but I don’t think we’d legitimately finished a complete and honest thought with each other in years. That is until this weekend.

We went somewhere relatively unremarkable that was within 1-2 hours of all of us. And it didn’t really matter where we were, because when we got there we followed a simple formula that we could’ve used in just about any spot in the country: we walked and talked. Truly, that was it. We were completely agenda-less with ourselves and each other for an entire 24 hours. To tell you that it was liberating and clarity inducing and truly therapeutic in every sense of the word would legitimately be an understatement.
There are many things that I love about being a mother and specifically my children’s mother, but something that is always there that I think I underestimated in how particularly challenging it can feel on a day to day basis, is that pervasive pace that children somewhat instinctively set for the day of what is coming next? What’s the plan? Where are we going? How long till we are there? When we get there, what will we do? Maybe I’m a crappy parent for overly managing the expectation that I can answer those questions and that this is why they constantly ask them. Or maybe they just ask them because they are 3 and 5. But either way, I totally undervalued how much this was starting to wear on me.

And so we met up and we walked. And when we got hungry we ate. And then we walked some more. And if we were tired, we sat on a bench. If we saw a market or store that looked interesting, we went inside; not to buy anything, but just because. And then we wandered aimlessly about the markets and stores just browsing. We didn’t look at our watches for nearly the entire afternoon. When we realized at 6:30pm that we wanted our toes painted, we dipped into the nearest salon and painted them.  And the whole time we talked and actively listened to each other. We shared our stories and finished thoughts that had been left unfinished maybe for 8+ years or maybe just for 8+ minutes.
We meandered and sauntered and laughed and ate. It was truly heavenly. The next morning I woke up at 6:34AM which frustrated me to no end on my one kid-free morning so I went back to bed and slept until 9AM. It was delightful. We ate brunch and there was more talking and strolling and strawberry butter. And after just about 24 hours together it was time to part ways again. I felt completely restored.

I was left with some sharp reminders of seemingly obvious stuff that I had clearly forgotten in recent times. Firstly, I was reminded of the importance of having friends. Not particularly of the need to have a lot of them or to do spectacular things with the ones you have, but just one or two really good folks, the ones who you can spend a whole day with doing absolutely nothing and everything at the same time. 
And last but not least, I was reminded of the friend I’d missed the most: me. When I returned home to my family I felt so calm and refreshed. I felt so humbled and grateful for them. My brief time away had been truly good for all of us. Indeed good friends and family restore your soul and help put mommies back together, even mommies who might not realize the extent to which they had started to become a bit undone or broken.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Some Say You Should Teach A Child To Swim

In the Talmud, a set of ancient rabbinical teachings, Jewish parents are instructed to teach their children 3 core things: the Torah, a trade, and how to swim. I’m not sure how well we are doing on the first two, but we’ve taken that last piece to heart.

I found myself reflecting on this as I watched them in the pool this morning. It was their second to last swim lesson before the new school year started. The progress they’ve made in the pool over the past few months is remarkable. They are confident, eager to try new strokes, eager to learn. They soak up knowledge and readily apply it in the pool. And their hard work is showing. Dylan confidently jumps in and can swim multiple strokes with a fairly high degree of skill nearly the whole length of an Olympic sized pool. At just 3 years old, Ruby is confidently jumping in as well. She shows no fear in nearly 5 feet of water, carefully keeping herself afloat as she watches her brother and begins to move her arms, the primitive beginnings of her own crawl stroke.
It was one of those moments when I saw my kids. I mean really saw them. Saw how much they’d grown up even in just one summer. They weren’t babies. They weren’t just keeping themselves afloat. They were really swimming. They were scanning the pool for my approval and thumbs up, not for my arms to encircle them and hold them up.

This seems right. Especially for Dylan who begins Kindergarten in just two weeks. While I know that I will be an emotional mess on that day, I have no doubt in mind that he is completely ready for this next chapter: a new bus, new school, new classmates and teacher. There will be a whole host of challenges and I can just see how ready he is to dive into it, ready to soak it up. I’m not worried.  I’m perhaps a little nostalgic and pregnancy-driven hormonal. But I have no hesitation about his ability to not just meet any challenges but even to embrace them; to struggle, to pull himself up for air. I know now he can do it.
For Ruby too, she is beginning a new year of preschool. Yet again she will surely be the youngest in her class which from a social and emotional perspective will almost certainly be daunting. But as I watch her in the pool, I see her readiness to go farther, a little deeper. She is not scared. I am, but she is not. At a lake that she had never been in yesterday, I watched as she ventured well beyond my reach. But I stayed close. I knew I could get to her in an instant if I had to. But I wanted her to try. To feel confident and free to go farther than she’d gone before. We were all out of our comfort zone. She flailed and floated and kicked and glided. She proved herself and all of us wrong and swam right on by.

Whether literal or figurative, the Talmud commands us to teach our children to swim. Regardless of the interpretation, I know we’ve made significant strides this summer to do just that. And in the process, they have taught me something about their ability to achieve and learn and progress through dogged determination, to readily exceed baseline expectations that I think we tend to set somewhat arbitrarily low for kids simply based on their young age. Our job as parents is to keep them safe. One way in which Phil and I are trying to do this is by reminding them of just how strong and capable and resilient they truly are, both in and out of the water. As we move forward out of our long wet summer and into a new school year, my wish for them is that they continue to go still deeper into the waters, testing, pushing, thriving. I will be there, not to hold them up but to encourage them to go farther than they’ve gone before, all the while cheering them on.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What It Means To Be The Third

One of my favorite things to do whenever I visit my father’s home is to pore through old family albums. I love looking at all the old pictures. There are multiple albums dedicated to the arrival of my oldest sister. Endless black and white shot after shot of a very new set of parents looking adoringly at their baby. There are many more of my next oldest sister, this time in color, of a set of slightly worn but still very excited and sort of new parents greeting their second child, their first baby toddling off in the distance.

And then there is me. There are a few of pictures of me as a baby. Mostly these are group shots with my sisters and me plugged in right before someone snapped the photo. There are almost no shots with that adoring fresh faced couple grinning at their new baby. I presume they were either too busy or too tired to pose. More than ever, this makes sense to me. When most of the photos of me do begin, it is around the time that my sisters became teenagers and I am approximately 7 or 8 years old. I’m assuming it is because my sisters boycotted all photography around this point, which would explain the boon in solo Jennifer shots circa 1984.
Such is the life of the third.

I have always relished my position in the family. You are born in to a well oiled machine, born to share. No one caters to what you need. You figure out somewhat independently how it works and then join in. There was no filming of my first steps, no big momentous trip to the store to buy me my first bike. My first bike was my sister’s old bike. The trip to the store was a walk outside to the garage. And by the way, I loved it. The third doesn’t expect anything else. In fact it is an honor to inherit the older kids stuff (most of the time). The third is proud to just fit in where she can.
The third is middle seats and cots in the hotel room that sleeps only four. The third gets away with stuff that the first never could because rules become much more pliable and less important over time. The third goes to sleep later and watches R rated movies that the first never would have seen at her age. It’s okay – she’s the third. She can take it.

The third is bootstraps and independence. The third teaches herself how to drive when no one else is free to do it. The third doesn’t even mind. It is all part of a crash course in grit and determination that will help shape her outlook on life. She seeks out what she needs, helps herself, and learns to love for its own sake, not because she needs something. To be the third is to be tough, but also sentimental, because she knows that she alone is the last chapter of the little kid part of her family’s story.
The third is about pure love. My parents were not nervous, first-time newbies or harried second time parents; they saw their role as somewhat uniquely defined by the care piece. There was a trust built into our relationship right from the very beginning. I would have to do a bit more on my own, but would find in them a well-worn spot in their hearts for their last surprise child.

And so it is with this new little one. You will be the third. It will be busy and far more loud and chaotic than anything your brother or sister was born into. You will be expected more than they ever were to do more, learn more on your own. You will never have less of me, but will have a different me than the one they first met. I will be lumpier and a bit wrinklier and certainly more tired, but I will have a peace and perspective with you that I could never share with them. I will have the wisdom to know how fleeting those first few months and years with you are. I will have the presence of mind to exert any energy I have left (which might not be that much) loving you just as you are, and not obsessing about milestones and matching baby bumpers and stuff that does not matter. You will be strong and you will be loved. You are the third.
Stay tuned… the newest Meer joins us at the end of January 2014 J