Sunday, December 28, 2014

December Thaw

Everyone has been sick here. It feels like it has been weeks since any of us has had a good night’s sleep and it feels like that way probably because it’s true. And this morning I woke up and everyone was all plugged in with the shades drawn, marinating in their own germs and I just snapped. I could not stay inside even one more day: especially not a stunningly gorgeous and unusually warm December one. So I started screaming at everyone that we all needed to get dressed in the next ten minutes because we were going ice skating.

Like, immediately. It was a completely random ice skating emergency.

I have no idea why this break with normal life happened. It’s just that I was so tired of being tired, of laundry and Tylenol and screens and I needed LIFE. Real life with capital letters and the kind that you can fill your lungs with. And everyone was running around looking for pants and Phil was asking if there was time for a shower and I was like, “… a shower?! Are you mad?! We have to go!” He looked genuinely afraid and said he was still going to shower, but really quickly. I silently promised myself right then and there I would never ever forgive him for being so selfish and not understanding my sense of urgency.

I bundled everyone and stuffed us in the car, grabbed the camera and the diaper bag and the keys and slammed the door. Phil asked if they served coffee at the rink. COFFEE? We are having a LIFE emergency cloaked inside an ice skating emergency and he is asking about coffee. Intolerable.

We drove to the outdoor rink silently. Dylan was mad at Ruby and Ruby was mad at Dylan because these are the roles they are fated to play in life. I think the baby was stunned into silence by the speed with which she had been dressed and placed in the car. Particularly since she hadn’t left the house in two weeks. I wasn’t speaking to Phil, obviously. And Phil was not speaking to me, either because he was angry, desperately in need of coffee, too afraid, or some combination of all of the above.

We arrived at the rink and it was already bustling with skaters. Tucked in the middle of the city, they offered free skates and your last chance to hear Christmas music on December 27th. The kids were nervous. Somehow at five and seven we’d never taken them before. And me? Well after all my bluster about needing to go and skate and live and be free and don’t be afraid – TRY! You can do it! I got scared. I remembered I hadn’t been on skates in 20 years and I hid behind the baby and said I clearly couldn’t because I needed to stay with her. Also, somehow the ground was much farther away than it used to be.

So my amazing husband and son and daughter, still wiping the sleep from their eyes, gingerly stepped on to the ice. It had been years for Phil too, but that wasn’t going to stop him. And the kids? Well they fell. They fell a lot. But the most amazing thing happened. They kept getting up. All of those moments when I had lectured them about not quitting and the power of persistence? They were actually listening! Or just really determined to figure out how to skate.

Eventually Phil glided off and I reluctantly stuffed myself into a pair and went out there with them. They took off without me like they’d been skating forever and deep down somewhere inside of me the nine year old version of myself took over and remembered sort of how to do this. Sort of. It wasn’t pretty. If anyone remembers that episode of Friends where Phoebe tries running? It sort of looked like that, but on skates. But it didn’t matter because I skated as if life was actually meant for living and not for scowling and fearing. And there was music and joy and wild laughing as we fell and skated and even briefly they let me hold their hands. It was amazing. Actually it was better than that. It was capital letters AMAZING.

And when we walked back through the park to our car I actually reached out to hold my husband's hand. Right there in the middle of the city, in the middle of winter, an unexpected late December thaw was upon us. With it came the promise of cooler heads and warmer hearts.

 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deciding How to Mother

Phil and I have one of those coffee makers that uses the little pods and you just push a button and it produces coffee. They are terrible for the environment and I’m sure there are all sorts of other reasons why we shouldn’t be using them. But we can’t decide on what other kind of coffee maker to get and so, as a default, we stick with this one. We are literally too tired to decide and so we keep pushing the button each morning, grateful for the opportunity to drink coffee and decide one less thing.

This tiredness played out in real time the other morning as I tried to make a cup of coffee using this coffee maker. All I had to do was literally push a button. Monkeys would actually be able to do this. Monkeys would remember to put the cup of coffee underneath the thing where the coffee comes out, not next to it.

Clearly, I am not a monkey.

And as I watched the coffee spill all over the counter and swirl all around the bottom and outside of my cup and nowhere near the inside of my mug which would allow me to pick it up and consume it in all if its caffeinated glory, it occurred to me that I am really, really tired.

For many years I have argued that it is my young children and motherhood that is in fact making me tired. Runny noses, restless sleepers, early risers and tiny toes making their way into my rib cage at pre-dawn hours have certainly not helped my REM. Without question, this has made me quite physically tired. But there is a different kind of mental fatigue that I have been unable to articulate until recently, that is most certainly tied to my day in and day out experience as a mother and is likely exhausting so many of us in so many different ways. I am mentally tired, and what is driving this mental exhaustion is something I’ve been reading more about lately, something described as “decision fatigue.”

As described in a recent Elite Daily article, “…decision fatigue … is a real psychological concept where a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.” Indeed even when the decisions are not substantial, it is the sheer volume of them that sometimes overwhelms me, mentally. I short circuit. I can’t even remember to put the coffee cup under whatever the thing is that the coffee pours out of. What is the name of that thing? You see?

The article talks more specifically about how powerful leaders like President Obama tend to wear the same thing every day to avoid making minimally impactful decisions in daily lives already so overcrowded with big things to decide. This makes sense to me. In a mind so cluttered with mindless choices that I can’t even seem to summon the cognitive energy needed to determine what kind of coffee machine to buy, I worry how I’ll ever make space for the big things. I worry that I am so exhausted sweating minutiae that it is sucking me of the strength to do the big things, the important things I need to do to be the leader of this family. Things like love them, and teach them kindness, and prepare them to learn how to decide stuff for themselves anyway.

I think of how most mornings begin - with coos and cries and running feet and then, the questions:

5:59AM: Can I play Mario?

6:02AM: Baby cries. What does she need?

6:03AM: Mommy where are my Legos?

6:12AM: Can I play Mario?

6:15AM: Do I have school today?

6:22AM: Can I play Mario?

6:29AM: Did I brush my teeth yet? Should I brush them again?

6:30AM: Can I play Mario?

6:37AM: Baby again – diaper. Did I change the diaper before?

6:45AM: When is breakfast?

6:46AM: What is breakfast?

6:49AM: What are we doing today?

6:51AM: What is the weather today?

6:53AM: Where are my shoes?

6:54AM: Where is my coat?

6:59AM: Why is Mario not working?

In my best guestimates, in that first hour of the day I make decisions for 4 different people every 4 minutes. This gives me enough time to do things in between each question and subsequent decision like, pee, put on pants, maybe turn the coffee maker on, and contemplate the larger questions in life like seriously, why the hell isn’t Mario working?

I grab three different dish towels and soak up precious coffee as it drips and runs all over the counter and in between the crack next to the stove. I am not doing this right. I am tired for all the wrong reasons. I think about my mommy uniform, one that reflects simplicity, one less decision to make. The call to arms and yoga pants makes sense in the context of decision fatigue. But more than excessive amounts of stretchy cotton and spandex, I need to be cloaked in rubber. I need their questions to bounce off me and reflect back to them. I need to teach them about choices and decision making, about how to find their own way. My job is not to make their choices for them but to teach them about how to sift through the noise of life to decide for yourself what is relevant and what matters. And as is the case with most teachable moments in parenting, perhaps I too can even learn something along the way.

And just like that I make my first, last, and easily most loving decision of the day: I decide to love them enough to let them figure all of it (whatever it is) out. So that we'll have the strength to conquer the really important stuff together that still lies ahead. I do not know where the pajamas are, you know the answer to Mario, go make a choice for snack. And when you're done come find me. It's Chanukah and we're making latkes and memories over here. And I've got just enough strength saved up for that.
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Season's Greetings?

Sometimes I write things that do not make sense. I usually do not share this stuff. Unfortunately for you, that is not the case today.

Life feels very busy right now. Busy isn’t always bad. But this feels like the noisy, transactional kind of busy that leaves you tired and unsatisfied with life. It isn’t the good, productive, and fulfilling kind of busy that shouldn’t be discounted as an equally valuable undercurrent in our lives.
It’s the bad kind of busy.

Right now I’ve got 5,062 unread emails. Now in fairness, I’m bad at staying on top of this stuff but that truly seems like a lot. This holiday season it just feels like more than ever before all we are giving each other is the gift of email, of this non-stop banter and back and forth. A perpetual volleying of words and tasks that literally never ends. Have any of your emails ever actually ended? Like with a, okay, thanks, this is done now, goodbye? No! They never end. They just live on and morph into new mindless tasks that actually have no real importance four days or even four minutes after they are sent. And yet it is 11:45 and I’m literally bleeding from my corneas trying to get through them knowing full well how exhausted I’ll be the next day, how I’ll take that exhaustion out on my family.
And for what?

More than ever, this holiday season I have to be okay with letting stuff drop. This is something I have always been terrible at. I am a rule follower. I am the kid who always had her homework done on time, who always followed up, who always showed up, who always outwardly did the right thing. But things are just so noisy and transactional right now that my body is literally screaming DO NOT SHOW UP. BE LATE. DO NOT RESPOND.
You know, I was listening to the radio the other night and a woman called in and they asked her what she wanted most this year for Christmas and you know what she said? A new iPad cover. And for some reason I just can’t stop thinking about this. More than anything, she wants a new piece of plastic or whatever to protect her iPad. Like, she already spent money on one. And it got some much use that she needs a new one. And this is what’s most important to her. And I just thought to myself, well that’s just it.

We’ve all lost our minds.
This year, we need to open ourselves and apparently our iPads up to vulnerability. Let yourself be bad or late at something, forgive yourself for that. Turn in and don’t be afraid of what you might find. As for me? I promise to give you the gift of less. I pledge to let my inbox keep growing and responding to almost nothing. I promise to send you almost no emails (I may have one or two more up my sleeve but otherwise I’m completely out of Internet gas). I pledge to share with you no social media snark. Because I am exhausted of a world seemingly comprised of camps of people who think in ways that never intersect on anything and who are all also entirely right about everything all of the time. For this makes no sense.

Instead, I am going to fill up on my family, gratitude, and good things. I am going to do less transactional stuff in the short term because it is making me exhausted. I am going to seek out more of the real kind of busy-ness, the good kind, that fills me up in a happy way, and that leaves me falling on my pillow with a smile on my face and a full heart knowing that it was all worth it today.
Does any of this make any sense? Probably not. Instead, I leave you with a bunch of happy random stuff. I call them links of awesomeness. Love on. Put more in to you and those you love. Do less. And fuck off with all the rest of it. Because that’s what matters this holiday season and actually that’s really all that ever matters.

Love,

Jenn
 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday!

Happy #GivingTuesday!
 
I love this relatively new tradition that piggybacks on national spending sprees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to focus our resources on what really matters. #GivingTuesday is a celebration of generosity, and an opportunity for you to make your community, your country, and your world, a better place.

Each and every day, too many different organizations too numerous to count pour their hearts and financial resources into any number of different causes, to help sick kids, lost animals, improve air quality, inspire and engage our hearts and minds, or just generally enrich our lives. Having worked in several non-profit organizations, I want to share with you a couple of important facts.

Nobody likes to pay the bills. Everyone likes to help fund cool sounding exhibitions, naming opportunities, or that next new exciting capital campaign. But the one thing that any organization will tell you they are always in need of is general operating support. They need cash to pay the lights, the water. It isn’t interesting, but it’s critical. It helps them stay afloat say that they can do the good work they need to do.

Smart organizations invest your money back into their program and create organizational savings to help ensure long-term sustainability for their services. You can take a look at how much each organization (approximately) spends on program by checking out websites like www.guidestar.org.

So why should you give? Because it feels good to help others, because these organizations more often than not rely on regular and consistent small gifts to help them run their daily operations, or because, to quote John F. Kennedy, “… a rising tide lifts all boats.”

A stronger community, global and otherwise, benefits everyone. So find your cause today. Celebrate generosity. Celebrate #GivingTuesday!

Below are a couple of my personal favorite places (and there are so many more great organizations to support!)

    

 

(That’s a very young me working the Peanuts exhibition at CMOM!)

 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why I Let My Kids Play in the Cemetery


On the Friday after Thanksgiving, my sisters and I packed up our children and headed over, along with my father, to the cemetery. Black Friday indeed.

In what is remarkably now our seventh thanksgiving without her, visiting my mother’s grave over the holiday weekend has become its own tradition in and of itself. We go, we say the Mourners Kaddish, we leave sea shells (instead of traditional stones which Jews leave) because my mother loved looking for seashells at the beach. When we are finished, we usually visit my aunt, my uncles, a great aunt and uncle, and some distant cousins, all laid to rest within reach of my mother’s stone. We almost always bring the kids.

In the beginning, during those first few years after she passed, things seemed to sting more than they do now. And the pain of loss and the sharpness of the wind and the way it hits you on top of that hill on cold November mornings would often leave us breathless. But time has a way of morphing grief. It doesn’t go away, it just changes.

My children, now 4 and 6, often skip happily around the stones. They frolic on that hill and their antics often mimic a Sound of Music parody more than a visit to a graveyard. They love playing with the seashells and placing them on her stone. Ruby loves running her fingers in the grooves of where my mother’s name is etched in rose colored stone. In the beginning, I used to scold them about all of this. Their behavior wasn’t appropriate or fitting for a cemetery. It was a time for reflection and respect. But what I was really saying is that I need you to be sad right now because that’s what I feel. Because loss and death equals sadness.

But the amazing thing about childhood is that it is the very antithesis of appropriate. Kids don’t pause to consider what’s right or fair or even what’s needed. They just breathe in each moment of life and live it to its fullest. They don’t drag around with them the heavy implications of death and loss. Even amidst a hillside of headstones that I view as markers of death, they always seem to remind me that they are also markers of life; of how these people lived and loved. They are reminders of who they were: wives, mothers, and daughters, grandmothers, who too once skipped with glee and joy across the stones on the hill.

One year the kids insisted on bringing balloons there. One year they painted the seashells and filled her headstone with beautifully decorated pieces of Crayola inspired art. This year, Ruby was singing. She ran around jumping and spinning until she wiped out in the snow. And the she laughed and laughed as she shook herself off.

And all of it was so wrong and yet so completely right. A part of me thought I should intervene and stop them. Stand up straight, cry, speak in hushed tones, and remember with a heavy heart. But that isn’t what that place is for them. It is where we go to think about grandma. And they remember the best parts of her life, her joy, her deep and abiding love for her grandchildren who inspired her to be silly and curious, to remember that none of it is ever really as complicated as grown-ups like to make it.

So I let my kids play in the cemetery. I was fully prepared to tell them it was wrong. Until I realized they were right. Even quite literally in the shadow of death, it is never really about that, but always about how we choose to live.

And so instead of sanctioning them, I stood back and admired rare gifts that only childhood bestows upon us: the space to live in relentless pursuit of gratitude and joy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A National Day of Thanks

Recently, I read an article in The Atlantic about the role of analytics in finding and crafting the next palatable pop song. It talked in particular about the role of “fluency,” or the concept of people finding comfort in familiar hooks and themes as directly correlated to the relative success of a song.

If we were ranking holidays in terms of fluency, Thanksgiving would be number one on the pop chart.

It is the ultimate in comfort and familiarity. Everyone has their own particular traditions of who, what, when, and where. We don’t even know why we do it anymore. All we know is that it must involve that favorite football game, those pearled onions, your mother’s apple pie.

Thanksgiving is only loosely modeled after that first meal between the pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1621. The national holiday we observe today came only after many states began to adopt a day of thanks in the mid nineteenth century. It was often observed in late November after the fury and strife of elections and after the farmers had finished with their biggest harvest of the season.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a native New Englander and editor of a women’s weekly, was on a quest to make a day of thanks a national holiday that occurred on the same day in each of the states each year. It was Sarah who ultimately petitioned Abraham Lincoln to issue the formal proclamation that officially made thanksgiving a national holiday. With a bloody civil war as her background, Hale was more compelled than ever that a national day of thanks was what was needed to help heal and unite the nation. In 1860, she wrote this: “If this November does not seem the time for rejoicing, then consecrate the last Thursday in the month to benevolence of action, by sending gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of kindness that will for one day make every American home the place of gladness and every American heart hopeful and thankful.”

And so we consecrate this last Thursday of the month to the benevolence of action, to the radical act of reaching out, opening our hearts and minds, and engaging, accepting and even learning from those who look different and think different than we do. In the words of Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” On this Thanksgiving eve, let us offer hope to those in the dark. Offer up love and peace and grace even for those whom you strongly disagree. Let us offer some light.

From our family to yours, we wish you a peaceful holiday filled with lots of love, light and gratitude.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Breadcrumbs

In the end, sometimes all we have left are bread crumbs.

When the people we love are gone, these bread crumbs are the tiny little glimpses into the lives they led when they were here. And we follow them as they lead a trail back to our heart. They lead back to a place in time, in our mind’s eye when we were together and healthy and happy. I’m quite certain this is that space they’re referring to, when folks so often long for simpler times.

Sometimes when I am in the pharmacy by myself waiting for a prescription, I find them. As I wait, I wander over to the skincare aisle and there on the shelf is a tiny crumb disguised as a jar of Ponds Cold Cream. I pick it up and carefully unscrew the top and inhale. Instantly, I am in my childhood bathroom. It is nighttime and my mother is getting herself ready for bed. In one whiff, I am there and she is here.

I call them crumbs because they aren’t much really. And who and what the people we love leave behind are so much bigger than this. But they pull on the senses, and beat a trail back to the past in a way that often leaves me longing and breathless, in a way that only those who have loved and lost will understand as equally parts painful and calming.
My mother’s recipes are central in my never ending search for these crumbs in the years following her death. There is something about the weathered feel of the more loved index cards, the loops and dips of her signature cursive/print hybrid scrawl, the spatter and smudge of gastronomic pleasures tried and true and failed. I love reading and looking through them. The way she would go back and annotate each one after trying it: use less oil, add more of this and that. Long before we looked to the modern day blog to offer a window into our families’ daily lives, there were well loved recipe cards.

There is something different about handwriting that makes it in some ways the most prized breadcrumb of all. Perhaps it is the idea of knowing that no one ever has and will ever again make anything that looks exactly like this. We can be alike in so many ways, but our signature is always and truly our own. Maybe because when you pick up something that was written by someone you loved and lost, you can imagine them holding that very same letter or recipe card in their hand, pressing pen to paper. She was there and now you are. You both touched it. You can’t reach out to each other. But you can travel the same space.

Indeed writing something down, regardless of what it is, is a transformative experience. Science increasingly proves that it is the writing of information, not the typing, that promotes a space in our brain that lends more to the processing and interpretation of information, not just the recording of it. In a recent study, researchers proved in three different clinical trials that when students typed the information in class on their laptop versus physically putting pen to paper, the students with laptops effectively transcribed the information. This is drastically different from the students who wrote it down. There wasn’t enough time to write it all down so they had to actively interpret what they heard. These students retained the information overall far better, and outperformed their typing peers on follow up examinations.

And perhaps this is why the words on these cards matter so much. I’m not just reading letters on a page. I know that tucked within the spaces of that card are pieces of my mother’s heart and mind. When there is nothing to hold on to, I can still find a trail back to her in the way that she interpreted and extrapolated meaning from even the most mundane parts of her world. I can still find her in these tiny crumbs tucked between the lines.

It’s a chilly afternoon, the first Sunday of November. The Jets are on in the background and it’s the kind of day that practically begs for a fire in the fireplace and mulling spices and something warm and hearty, like stew. I flip through a bunch of old recipes. But this time I stumble upon an old recipe card that is clearly not written in my mother’s signature handwriting. It is for veal stew, and has the name Blanche written in parentheses at the top.
 
For months now I’ve been staring at that recipe waiting for just the right dip in Fahrenheit to attempt it. I had assumed the handwriting was that of a longtime family friend of my grandmother, but as I look at it again this afternoon, it occurs to me that it is my grandmother’s handwriting and the she just had written this name at the top, perhaps to let my mother know where it came from before she passed it along. As always in these cards, there is a story that extends beyond the bounds of what we’ll need for stew.


You should use a little less flour than is called for and make sure to finely mince the garlic. The onions must be sliced. If you care for it, you can add some mushrooms or green pepper in at the end. In her words and writing, I can imagine her in her kitchen, cooking, tweaking, preparing. I feel her in the slants and curves in the letters. In the way she felt it was important to remember that it was Blanche that she got the recipe from, in the red wine smudge at the bottom of the card.
Hours later we gather around the table. The children are, as usual, picky and hesitant. But Phil and I greedily fill our bowls. I finely mince some of the meat and serve it to the baby. Of everyone at the table, she is its most vocal advocate, grabbing it up and asking for more. The meat is tender and the sauce is thick: not too runny or clumpy. I smile. Of course you were right grandma. A little less flour will do just fine. And just like that in one bite, I am having a conversation with her. Much more than time and space separate us, but she helps me feed my daughter.
Generations and light years apart, my senses are heightened; alive and warm. I follow the crumbs of this recipe back to my heart, back to a time when we, my mother, my grandmother and I once sat around a table much like this one, all together. With each bite, I feel nourished.

 
(This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Stella. 1922-2014)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Jenn-eration on The Washington Post


Good evening friends! We’re up on The Washington Post’s On Parenting section this evening sharing our reflections on one year after Distracted Living. I hope you’ll hop on over and join us J

 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Survival of the Fittest

The other day I was doing laundry and literally picking hunks of regurgitated food off the dirty clothes: gifts from the previous night’s puke fest. As I collected the curdled scrambled egg bits before they hit the washer, I found myself thinking: what the hell? No, seriously. What the hell? No one mentions this stuff about parenthood. And even if they did, there is no way you would believe them, that you would let your mind go to a place where it doesn’t even seem that insane that you would be holding in your hand food that no so long ago lived in your child’s stomach. And that after vomiting it up uneaten, it would make total sense to collect this food off of her soiled clothes before washing them.

This would make total sense if you are in the shit storm that occurs when a highly contagious illness strikes your house. It could be anything really: lice, a nasty virus. But when it hits, you’ll find yourself in a dark dark place and you’ll remember me and this moment. It will look something like this:

1.       Denial.

This is where you’ll begin. After the first child goes down, you’ll foolishly tell yourself you can contain it. You’ll quarantine her in your house knowing how totally unfeasible it is to keep her completely separate from the other two. You’ll downplay remarks from the others as they slowly begin to complain of things. You’ll tell yourself they just want your attention. They aren’t really sick. Until you see the bumps, or the spots, or the bugs or whatever plague has befallen your home. And then you’ll move on to the next stage.

2.       Lockdown

Everyone will stay home all of the time together. You will do things with the best intentions like google “how do I entertain my children for 18 hours straight” or “homeschool activities” and tell yourself that you will turn this lemon into lemonade. We will grow closer. We will learn stuff! This is a sweet phase. Try to linger here as long as possible. All of the cute crafts and printables take approximately 4 minutes to do. They look at you like, seriously, is this the best you can bring? And you put on your best cheerleader face and you’re like, “That was awesome! Let’s play that fun spider counting game again!” And again and again and again. Until you feel your sanity start to leak out of your shoes. Your son tackles your daughter because she scored a 100 on a completely meaningless spider game. An outright brawl breaks out and the baby starts to cry.

3.       Reality

The Academy of American Pediatrics was not referring to sick days when they came up with those screen time guidelines. You know that, right? There is a tiny asterisk in there letting parents know that but it almost never gets press. So you plug them in because honestly, even doctors believe that Phineas and Ferb can cure most of what ails you. And 24 minutes later you throw in a couple of Super Whys because they have to learn something! And maybe a Doc McStuffins as a bone for the 4 year old and also because I really like Doc McStuffins.

 


Here we are playing dress the baby: a wholesome non-screen time activity that was fun for about 17 seconds.

4.       Nutritional Meltdown

You make the same two meals on repeat. Highly nutritional stuff like Peanut Butter and Jelly or Noodles, or Scrambled Eggs. And you try to sell it like, “you know what would be so fun for a change!” Even though you know damn well they haven’t actually seen a fruit or vegetable in 4 days. Again, this is okay. They actually need fluids. Retaining water through their high sodium intake is helping them. Really, you’re such a good mom.

5.       Acceptance

You tell yourself that this is such a great opportunity to finally wash all of everyone’s bedding and hand wash all of the toys. And then when you can literally peal the skin off your shriveled dish pan hands, you remind yourself that it was probably cleaning that got you into this mess in the first place. Germs! Germs are the new black! Everyone is all down with anti-bacterial this year. So screw it. We’re just going to marinate in this stuff until it dies. Because that’s what’s good for your immune system. Didn’t Kelly Clarkson tell us this? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Remember, these are just general stages. Each phase for you will be your own special brand of hell, truly individualized. Maybe you’ll outwardly begin to look like The Walking Dead, or your children will begin to think of Tylenol as a healthy snack. And in the end, only the strong will survive. So prepare yourself now for whatever is inevitably going to visit your house this cold and flu season. Stock up on your wine, Netflix, bleach spray and microwaveable mac n cheese. Buckle up and thank me later.

 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Next Chapter

From the moment Hope was born, I began photographing me and me with her. It was never completely clear to me at the time as to why I was doing this. I only knew that I wanted a record of something, but I wasn’t sure of what. The other day I took a few moments to look back on these nine months in pictures. For perhaps the first time, I see them for what they were. My smile tells the story: it was a true season of healing and gratitude. I don't see myself standing in the mirror pinching my stretched and soft stomach. I am wearing my smile.

Indeed as is often the case, the pictures tell a story I did not realize was unfolding or fully appreciate when I was taking them, and living them. For this gift of perspective and hindsight, I am so grateful for each of these shots, in each of their blurry imperfectness.

This first photo was taken 24 hours after my c-section. There were complications during my surgery and what is usually a routine procedure lasted more than 3 hours. I am standing up on my own in this photo. Initially, it took two nurses and my husband to just help me get vertical. To be able to stand on my own two feet by myself, was an amazing accomplishment.
 


Here, we are getting ready to go home a few days later. I am still standing, and this time strong enough to do so while I am holding her. She is wearing the tiny ducky outfit my mother picked out for Dylan all those years ago. I am bringing a third baby home in this outfit, and am proud that my mother has been a part of each of those trips from hospital to home, even when I couldn’t have her with me.


Post haircut. It’s my first outing to take care of me after the baby and somehow the cutting of my hair shocks my whole system and reminds me to feel alive. I do not feel whole, but feel a slow return to something like that.


I am still in maternity pants here. She is nearly two months old in this picture, and I’m still in maternity pants. I remember this really bothering me, yet when I see myself I appear genuinely happier than I recall. It was special then. And I suspect I was too tired to realize some of this specialness. I can see her cradle in the background. She is wearing the ducky pants, a personal favorite for each of my babies.



She’s holding herself up. I suppose I'm doing more of that too. I am stronger.



I love how she’s looking at me here.


 

She’s becoming more curious, trying to grab the camera.
 


Hope steps in front. The picture is becoming less about me, and more about me trying to capture some piece of her.


It’s the last shot. We’re sitting because she squirms too much when I try to hold her. It’s blurry because she is moving on, literally and figuratively. Not so newly born, getting ready to toddle on to the next chapter. We both are.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Distracted Living: One Year Later

One year later, I want to tell you that I’ve got it all figured out.

It’s been exactly one year since I wrote Distracted Living. I had no idea that my story of that night, of that feeling of losing the ability to single task, of feeling that slip away from me like water through the drain, would resonate with so many. What was it that we were responding to? How it is that so many men and women across the country saw themselves in that moment? They know this feeling. What was it that was taking over us?

I have revisited this question many times over a long, wonderful, hard, and exhausting year. I believe there were two parts to my story that night. The first, was a desire that I believe resonates with many of us to feel frustration or boredom in the day to day minutiae of parenting and to use our phones as an escape from these hard feelings. The other piece of it was a desire to operate much like our phones, to try to do multiple things at once with increasing efficiency. Perhaps it’s not just that we’re glued to our phones, but rather that we’re becoming them.

I regret that after all this time, I still have more questions than answers. I wonder, are our lives supposed to have a headline, a main story that we could in effect be distracted from? Or are we supposed to be living in multiple places, spaces, and stories at all times? Were we designed that way? Is that preferred? Or are we adapting, literally evolving from an evolutionary place in terms of how we operate, based on these little devices we almost always have in our hands, next to us, in our back packet, in front of our faces, on our nightstands, never more than 2 inches from us.

For me, after much introspection I have come to realize that my desire to multi-task stems from a very human place, not just an overly aggressive attachment or dependency on technology. You see, what I missed in my post to you one year ago was that I pinned the source of this inability to single task, this feeling of chronic distractedness as directly correlated with the rise of smartphones and tablets. It was easy to blame this feeling on something and technology felt like the likely candidate. It doesn’t mean I don’t think there is some truth to that – that there is some sinister underpinning to the increasing scope of this stuff in our lives. But what I undervalued is what drives that increasing scope: you and me. Human desires, struggles, boredom, frustration. I wasn’t just externally distracted by other people and places and things that needed me, I was equally seeking distractions in a very human quest to evade tricky feelings through enough apps and clicks.

Over the past several months, I have taken some steps to increase my comfort level with the role of technology in my life, and to minimize distractions. I have specific moments in my day when phones and tablets are far away. These include: meals, driving, bathing, and bedtime rituals with our children. I have deleted all social media apps from my phone. If I want to check something I need to do so through Internet Explorer which is more cumbersome and less user friendly on a mobile device. This is good because it discourages me from doing so too often throughout the day. Perhaps most importantly, all of my notifications have been disabled. It doesn’t hum or rattle or beep or anything. It just lies there and does nothing, the way it should as a one dimensional piece of plastic.

But this feeling of struggling to single task, I would be outright lying if I said it didn’t still persist. It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can in fact mean more.

I recently read an article detailing a scientific study that people who read books, or who engage in “slow reading,” are more able to retain information than if the same thing is read on an e-reader. The authors write: “As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning.” And this is it exactly. This perfectly sums up this feeling that I continue to struggle with: this feeling of trying to do too much at any one time; this feeling of skimming through life, rather than absorbing the meaning.

Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them. Ask yourself, are you truly there in mind and body, or are you skimming?

Honestly, it’s harder than it looks. One year later, I still fight the impulse to avoid hard feelings by looking down instead of turning in, or to just multitask my way through the hours. Each day, I am at war with myself over the misguided and culturally reinforced notion that having it all, in fact means doing it all. It is a truly hard fight. But I continue to wage my own personal and daily struggle with intention. I fight knowing that this life and the people I love are worth it, knowing how much better and brighter it will be to put down a world filled with to-dos and mindless externalities that glow at me from within my phone, to truly stay present in the world I am blessed enough to be in.

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

First on the List

I serve Dylan his dinner and he gives me his signature glare: “Mom! It’s touching!”

Dylan hates when his food touches on his plate. Everything needs its own neat and tidy space, as if life and all of its gastronomic pleasures should forever be served in a Bento-esque container so that the ketchup never EVER touches the salad. Never. But that’s not life and sometimes the ketchup is going to touch the salad. Just sometimes. “Deal with it,” I perhaps too hastily snap. “Sometimes you just can’t separate it all neatly.” Which is entirely true about dinner and sometimes true about life.

Over the past week or so, everything has seemed to collide and touch: the messy, the uncomfortable, and the wonderful. Life’s ketchup made its way all over that salad. It was Rosh Hoshana and the whole family came together from near and far to celebrate a sweet new year. Ruby lost her first tooth. We celebrated my 37th birthday. We finally got around to giving Hope her Hebrew name just a few days shy of her 8 month birthday. And through all of these wonderful events I have just been waiting, waiting for the phone to ring, enjoying myself but with an asterisk: what if?

Two weeks ago I went for my first ever baseline mammogram. By most standards, I have zero risk factors for breast cancer. I am 37 years old. I have no family history of breast cancer. I don’t smoke. But I do have two very important things that put me at risk. I have breasts: two of them in fact. And the reality of what’s happening here is that if you have breasts, there is risk.

Everyone assured me that the spot that showed up on my mammogram was “friendly” looking but the doctors acknowledged they had nothing scientific to back up this friendly vibe they were getting from the symmetric looking circled spot on the images. They couldn’t find it on the ultrasound to investigate further. And the general wisdom was to just wait and see, to come back in six months and see if anything changed. But they acknowledged that it might not be friendly. That they really just didn’t know. And I couldn’t live six months in the gray of not knowing. I’d lived six days in the gray and I’d eaten my own weight in tater tots out of stress. For a variety of health reasons, I needed more information.

For me, more information meant a sterotactic biopsy. So right before the Jewish new year and the birthday and the baby naming and just after Ruby lost her tooth, I lay on a table last week with a hole cut out of the middle and my right breast dangling through. The whole thing took about 90 minutes. My breast looked like it had been run over by a truck. And then I waited.

All of this waiting and wondering for more information gives you lots of time to think and it made me wonder how in all of the things I manage to do for everyone else on any given day, I have never in all of my 37 years found the time to check my own breasts. The process of doing this, of carefully or not so carefully running my fingers in a circular motion over each breast would probably take approximately 45 seconds. Perhaps 60 if I’m trying to be particularly thorough. But there was always a reason I couldn’t. I had to rush in the shower before the kids’ show ended, I had to send this email, make this dinner, this lunch, shop, read, write, breathe, watch, talk, do anything but prioritize my own health.

This idea is turning over in my mind this morning as I pull into the pre-school parking lot where throngs of adorable children dressed in coordinated rain gear carefully make their way into the building. Ladybugs, dinosaurs, butterflies and fireman, all with their raincoats, rain boots and umbrellas, all selected to ensure that our little ones make their way inside in the safest, driest, and apparently most fashionable way possible. I look at the mothers accompanying them. Most (not all) look like me. They look wet, bedraggled, with babies on their hips and flip flops on their feet and up to their knees in puddles and not a raincoat or umbrella in sight. Of course this makes sense, right? That we should stand there completely soaking wet while we protect and care for our children? At what point did we make the conscious choice to put their needs entirely above our own? That the caring of them means we stop caring for ourselves?

We need to do this. And not for our children’s sake either. Women are often fed a number of messages of why they need to prioritize their own health, to do it for their children, their husbands and partners and jobs and families and a whole list of people and reasons but the truth is that women need to prioritize their health. Full stop. End of sentence. There is no because or for. Women just do because they matter, they are important, not in relation to other people, places or things but just because they have dignity and that means they take care of themselves for themselves. Because nothing and no one else matters on the list if they don’t start here.

So as I begin this 37th year, I hope you’ll indulge me by granting a few belated birthday wishes:


  • ·               Give yourself a breast exam today. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to look for changes.  Mammograms are annual and while useful, generally don’t start until you are 40. A lot happens before then. And bad stuff can grow fast. The best way to protect yourself is to check yourself.
  • ·               Remind yourself to check yourself. There are lots of useful clever little apps now that do just that. These include Keep a Breast and Your Man Reminder (an instant breast health classic).
  • ·               If you are 40 or older, make sure you’ve got your mammogram scheduled. If you are under 40, ask your doctor about the potential of getting a “baseline” mammogram.
  • ·               Make a donation to help support research for a cure. I am giving money to my sister who is walking in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Give what you can. Just give.
  • ·               Finally, share this post with anyone you know with breasts. Share it because you love them and you want to remind them that nothing else matters if they don’t start by prioritizing themselves and their health. This is important for no other reason other than the fact that they are important. Women matter not because they are sisters or mothers or wives or daughters but just because. They matter. Their health matters and it always needs to be the first thing on that seemingly never ending to-do list.

As for me? After six ridiculously long days I got the call yesterday from my doctor: just a lymphnode and nothing to worry about. I’ll be back in six months for a recheck. I don’t feel as though I dodged a bullet. I feel like someone opened my eyes, and an umbrella and reminded me to take care, and stay dry. I’m full of love and hope and some sort of titanium clip that now lives in my breast to mark where the doctors have been. I’m literally a marked woman now. But in truth, we all are.

So grab a boob, don’t be one. Take charge of your health today because you matter.