Monday, February 10, 2014

Catch Up Catch All

If you're one of the few who read this blog, you've probably figured out that I sometimes use it as place to journal, reflect, and, mostly, to record moments, mundane and momentous, in the kids' lives. You've also probably figured out that, as the years go by, I have less and less time to write everything down. As the kids grow, so do their interests and social circles. From September to June, their practices, lessons, rehearsals, games, homework, and time with friends keep our collective family schedule tight, overtaking any time for me to slow down and write. Summers bring more freedom and time outdoors, along with many welcome excuses to unplug and unwind. But today, I'm home with a sleepy, congested Noah and the girls are at school, so I think I should write some stuff down before it leaves my crowded head forever. Things have been pretty exciting since I last posted an update here...over a year ago already. So much so that there's way too much to rehash with any hope of maintaining cohesion, so I'm going to break it down by person. Let's start with...


She just turned 11. Crazy, right? Fifth grade. She's getting tall, just two inches shorter than me (which is no great feat, as I'm only 5'2", but still...). Healthy, strong and lucky, with no lasting consequences from her spinal fractures. Her body is starting to change, hovering on the precipice of adolescence and puberty, teenage trials and tribulations. All she needs is one big, hormonal shove and she'll be hurtling toward the cyclical vortex (kotex?) of womanhood. But not quite yet. Thank goodness for small miracles.

She's very bright, so school almost always goes well for her. Inherited traits help - perfectionism, thoughtfulness, creativity, and a sharp sense of humor. She doesn't get overwhelmed unless she is exhausted, but always seems to get the most homework on those nights and that's when battles tend to ensue. We're working on it, but I must admit that I'm fearful of how she'll be when her homework becomes more time consuming and difficult. She has so many interests and loves being busy, so I think we'll probably need to enforce some mandated priorities down the road. Time will tell, I guess.

She still plays Fall and Spring soccer, still tough in goal and on defense, still looks forward to every game. This winter brought her second basketball season, which she loves. And she's getting good, too - the whole team is, actually. It's fun to watch! She played softball last Spring, but is still deciding whether or not to play again this year. It's a lot, team sports plus Hebrew school, music lessons, book group, and sewing classes. I wouldn't blame her if she decided to drop the softball. Honestly, it would be awesome not to spend every lovely Spring Sunday tied to a team schedule (but that's just my opinion). It'll probably depend on her friends and which of them decide to play, too. She has a very close circle of girlfriends - an almost sisterly bond with a few of them - and they usually attempt to make these choices together. It's somewhat effective, although there have been a couple times when lack of interest has outweighed loyalty. They all get an A for effort, though.

Lilah is becoming more skeptical, but not so much that it will haunt her jaded soul forever. She is thoughtful in that she likes to think and enjoys making informed opinions, if she decides something requires an opinion at all. She's seen as a mediator by her friends and siblings because she's able to look at both sides of a conflict neutrally. It's a blessing and a curse, but it'll serve her well as she grows. The only thing she doesn't give considerable thought to is music. Her iTunes library is insane, unlikely, enormous. She literally listens to everything. Her taste in movies is more even-keeled and discriminating. She knows crap when she sees it and seems to have her own intrinsic Bechdel test. Television brings out her skeptical side in a big way, so she tends to seek out things that will teach her something, like Jeopardy, Nature, Nova, sometimes even Big Bang Theory. That gets balanced out a bit by her infatuation with British period dramas, though. There's no one with whom I'd rather watch Call The Midwife or Downton Abbey. She's a voracious reader and her literary preferences are evolving. One has to read some junk in order to eventually know it's junk, right? She loves and appreciates art, and even enjoys going to the MFA with me. She loves abstracts, but also loves the realists. She's a walking contradiction, I suppose, but that cognitive dissonance is probably what drives her to stay up late most nights, drawing in the sketchbook that she keeps under her pillow.

She went overnight camp for the very first time this past Summer and loved every minute. I was a bit of a wreck the first week she was gone, but then we got a letter telling us all about her new friends and my entire body breathed a sigh of relief. She came home wanting to practice archery, sew and play guitar. My child, equal parts hippy and Katniss Everdeen. Alas, if I can make her happy, I will, so she now has an archery set, a sewing machine, and shares Noah's acoustic. MG's folks let us use their land in SE Massachusetts for target practice. Regular lessons for sewing and guitar have been acquired. Amen. Ka-ching. Her guitar teacher is amazing, though, and worth every penny. A guitar geek of the highest order, he's a gentle Nordic giant (6'7"!)  and the most genuinely enthusiastic musician I've ever met. He teaches through jamming and improv. No books, just staff paper, a pencil, and two guitars. I adore listening to their lessons and hope she sticks with it. She's in great hands if she does. The sewing is slower-burning interest, but she's getting there. If you need a tote bag or a cute pillow, Lilah's your gal.


Aviva is 7 and she'll tell anyone and everyone who will listen that she had the "worst birthday ever" this past year. It was four days after the marathon, a gorgeous Spring day that we spent on lockdown while the BPD flushed out the bombers like rodents. Since it was during school vacation week, we had originally planned a day outdoors. We'd get her new bike from Landry's and ride along the Charles, meet friends at the park, get some ice cream, eat dinner on the porch. Instead, we were stuck in the house until we were told it was safe to go out. By then, it was too late to do much of anything, except play h-o-r-s-e in our driveway and chat with our neighbors. We made it up to her the next day, doing everything we'd planned and then some, but what was done was done. Terrorism touched her life on a day that was supposed to be purely joyful and she was shaken by it. It was a pretty brutal way for her to learn that the world is a big, sometimes scary place that doesn't give one whit about things like new bikes or birthdays. That said, I'm so grateful every single day that - at the last minute!- I decided to cheer on my friends (one of whom was injured, but is doing well now) from our neighborhood. It was a weather-based decision, a small judgement call that feels miraculous to me now. Just because it was uncomfortably windy, we are whole and here. I feel humbled, dwarfed even, and thrilled by the confluence of mother nature and free will that kept us safe, but it completely breaks my heart when Aviva randomly says "I really hope the bad guys don't kill people and ruin my birthday again this year."

She started 2nd grade in September and so far, so good. This is the first time she's been placed in a class without any of her best pals, but that's ok. She's in the same classroom with some soccer buddies and has made fast friends with a kooky, Ramona-esque girl who has a self-inflicted haircut and limitless energy. It's always an experience when she comes over, that's for sure. Their teacher is impressed with Aviva's reading skills, her thoughtful phrasing, and her social intuition. "She seems to just know when someone needs a buddy", we were told at our parent-teacher conference. So sweet.

She and I have started a book group with some of her close friends and their mothers, which is lovely. The women are my friends, so I love spending time with them, and it's been a great way to encourage extra reading time. The girls, even though they're only second-graders, are so thoughtful and articulate during our discussions. I love hearing their perspectives and watching them mature as readers. I hope the group stays together through 8th grade, at least. By then, they'll probably job-share a regular column in the NYT book review. Michiko Kakutani had better watch her back.

(Writing about this bunch got me thinking - one of the coolest things about being a parent is getting to know your child's friends. We've been so lucky that each of our three hangs out with a mostly lovable group of kids. It's a wonderful thing to be part of their lives and watch them grow, evolve, learn.)

She's in her second year of team soccer. She loves it and has become a very strategic, aggressive player for her age. The younger grades play 3-on-3 without goalies so that everyone can learn how to play offense and defense. It's so cool to watch these little 7-year old munchkins effectively run simple plays! Her coaches are fantastic. Both are European and grew up playing proper football, so their skills are incredible. They're tough, but fair, and make the whole experience fun for the girls. I really hope they stay on as coaches all the way through 8th grade. The team will be unstoppable if they do. She also takes tennis classes during the warmer months and loves to play basketball in our driveway. She definitely has some natural athletic ability - quick, nimble, fearless. It'll be fun to see what she decides to play as she grows.

While her siblings were away at camp, we had Aviva to ourselves for almost a month! Having one kid to look after, especially when you're used to having three or more, is like a vacation. During the week, she went to day-camp where she played, swam, and rainbow-loomed each day. But the evenings and weekends were adventurous! We were shockingly mobile with just one child in the backseat. We hit the beach, butterfly gardens, museums, zoos, good restaurants, concerts, quick jaunts to Toscanini's or Christina's for ice cream, impromptu trips to NYC and Rockport. Indulging in so much spontaneity felt pretty decadent to Michael and me, as we're constantly tethered to one schedule or another, but we welcomed it. Aviva loved it, too, and, while she did miss her siblings, she really enjoyed having us to herself for a good chunk of time. Don't get me wrong, we also miss Noah and Lilah terribly when they're at camp, but we're looking forward to another three and a half weeks of one-child freedom this Summer. Aviva is already making plans for what we'll do - does anyone want to join us when we visit the Ben and Jerry's factory in Vermont or the wolf sanctuary in Ipswich?

She's an enthusiastic kid, for sure. About everything. Even when she's bored, she's enthusiastically bored. This can be great, but it can also be quite tricky. If something makes her happy, big or small, she's happy all the way to 11. But if something upsets her, watch out. She manufactures some pretty enthusiastic frustration and anger, too. This joyful, fiery, temperamental enthusiasm is something she inherited from me and that's fine, I guess. It just means that I am so enthusiastically screwed when she hits her teen years.

Her saving grace in those moments of less-than-desirable enthusiasm is her sense of humor. She is clever and quick ad infinitum. She's funny no matter what mood she's in, but her feelings tend to dictate the kind of humor we'll get from her. A bad mood elicits purposeful over-dramatization (think Monty Python x Shirley MacLaine). Distraction or impatience begets snappy one-liners (Me: I think we might need to go to Target tonight. Aviva: Fine, sure. Cash only!), while ease and comfort often brings about copious silliness - crazy dances, improvised costumes with corresponding characters, occasional mooning. She loves comedy and appreciates it as an art form. I love watching her watch sketch comedy, especially when the main players are women. She studies them like a painter studies a muse. Every nuance is duly noted and used for inspiration. She could be an amazing performer one day, but only if she wants to. Right now, she's hindered by some fairly enthusiastic stage fright.

She's outgrown most of her toddleresque speech patterns, which makes me a little sad. No more tiny tots in my house and no more to come. She finally said "breakfast" instead of "brefftist" last month and I got a bit misty-eyed. That said, her exposure to televised sporting events and their corresponding ads has brought about a new mispronunciation that slays me. This came out of her mouth during playoffs: "So, if you get the reptile dysfunction, you should go cialis, right? Where does she work? They never say in the commercial." And then I had to leave the room and compose myself. My god, that kid cracks me up.


A teenager! Thirteen whole human years old, and he'll be fourteen next month. He's in 8th grade, off to high school in the Fall. I can't believe it and I'm kind of not ready to feel anything about it because it requires a big ball of feelings, to be sure. That kind of emotion needs breathing room and I have no reason to give it any air yet. He's feeling all the things he's supposed to feel before a big transition - good and bad - and being open with us about it. He's mostly worried about having a too-full plate. I think he's going to be amazing and do very well, as usual.

This last year has been insanely busy and transformative for Noah. So much so that I'm really unsure of how to explain without bragging or being too long-winded. Such terrible problems, I know. I'll do what I can to keep this unboastful and relatively brief.

Let's start with the basics. He's growing up and up and up. He's already 5'6", 130 pounds, and still growing. He's filling out and getting muscular, his features are growing more rugged, and his upper lip has a layer of downy whiskers. He's a starter man, a rough sketch of his adult self. It feels very strange to stand on my tiptoes if I want to kiss his cheek and it seems downright impossible that he's the same person who entered the world at 6 pounds, 18 inches. But so he is. Thirteen is a really interesting age because, every now and then, there are glimpses of true maturity. I'm starting to get a decent sense of how he handles himself without adult guidance and, most of the time, it's encouraging. He's a quick-witted, open-minded person blessed with common sense, street smarts, and a kind heart.

Eighth grade is going well so far. His marks are high and he's developed keen interests in history, computer science, design, art, and architecture. He has some great friends - a loud, musical, creative group of hooligans! - who come over all the time. At this point in the year, his class starts building their portfolios to hand into the powers that be at the high school. It's an exciting process - they present their work to the underclassmen (the schools here are k-8, so they give classroom presentations to the younger grades on a specific item in their portfolio - it's really sweet!) and submit peer reviews after seeing their classmates' work. In the Spring, they'll visit the high school and start registering for their first classes. Michael and I are looking forward to all of the transitional events that are planned for the rising freshmen and their parents, even though we're bound to leave all of them with a small mountain of paperwork. It'll be great to meet the faculty, see the school, and learn about the curriculum. A nice starting point for a big change.

Musically, Noah is still as busy as ever. He's still taking vocal and piano lessons, three years and nine years respectively. He's become a Garage Band aficionado and loves writing/producing his own music. He's still singing with Voices Boston (formerly PALS), still playing piano almost every waking second of the day. Just after Thanksgiving, he went to Montreal with Voices to perform with their elite childrens' choir and see some sights. He's performing with Boston Musica Viva this weekend. I told you all about China, which was super exciting. Once he returned, he had solos in Voices four subsequent concerts, sang at Carnegie Hall with the BSO, then scored the role of Ishmael in their production of The Tale Of Moby Dick. He was amazing and handled himself like a true pro. It was pretty impressive how well he managed everything, given that he was preparing for a very important milestone the whole time. That's a lot of pressure for anyone to deal with. He had the option of traveling to Austria for a music intensive over the Summer, but he declined and opted to return instead to his regular, non-musical Summer camp. He really needed a break after all that and a Bar Mitzvah, too.

His Bar Mitzvah was one of my favorite days ever. He did a spectacular job. His chanting was gorgeous, his dvar torah was thoughtful and reflective, his mitzvah project at the food pantry was successful - everything came together beautifully and created an unforgettable day. A sanctuary full of family and dear friends surrounded Noah with love and support, which made for an incredibly meaningful service. Just the thought of watching my father say shehecheyanu and wrap Noah in his tallit makes me teary-eyed. After the ceremony, we celebrated with fabulous party here, surrounded by all of our good company and a markedly relaxed Bar Mitzvah boy. Great food, wine, music, laughter - it was a wonderful time. Later that evening, our relatives joined us at a local park for a low-key wine-and-snacks picnic. Once everyone was hungry enough, we migrated to a local restaurant and stayed until they kicked us out.  We couldn't have asked for a more perfect celebration. And we get to do it again for Lilah in just two more years!

Noah's Jewish identity is a very interesting aspect of his whole self. He's not very religious and is more than a little bit skeptical about god's existence, but he is absolutely, 100% culturally Jewish. Holidays, celebrations, and even mourning traditions get his full attention. The music, food, and community get his love and devotion. After completing his Bar Mitzvah, he chose to continue with his Jewish education at our temple's Sunday evening teen program, where he learns about Judaism's role in our history/culture and helps to organize community projects. In the Fall, he accepted a (paying!) job helping out in the 3rd grade Hebrew school classroom and he loves it. He's pretty good at it, too, according to the school director. I think he feels most at home and understood around other Jewish people, which is why he gravitates toward other Jewish kids at camp and school (he's so lucky to have made so many Jewish friends through school - I only had two!).  I remember feeling that way, too, when I was his age. It's not a phase exactly, just a positive, selective expression of self-awareness. If he follows the same trajectory that my Jewish identity took, he'll become much more flexible with his comfort zone as he gets older, but he'll always be loyal to the tribe. It's a good place to be.

People always ask, because he is male, I assume, if Noah plays any sports. He doesn't in the conventional sense, but he bikes everywhere and loves to swim when he has the chance. He doesn't have any girlfriends, either, and we're fairly certain he never will. And that is fine with us.

Michael and me!

Oh, we're fine. Three kids, work, busy, busy. There's not much to report. Honestly, I can count the highlights of our year on one hand:

1. We got a new bed. This sounds like no big deal, but when your spouse outweighs you by over 100 pounds and every night you feel like you're sleeping on a steep hill, a new bed is perfectly level, tempurpedic, king-sized bliss. We've also reincarnated our bedroom alcove as a proper home office with a new desk and shelving. It looks so much better than it did in its former life when it served as a dumpsite for outgrown clothes and toys. One step closer to alcove nirvana.

2. We went to NYC to see the Punk exhibit at the Met, which was beyond amazing. While we were there, we ventured into Brooklyn and visited one of my oldest, dearest friends, brilliant wife, and their precious, perfect new daughter. Sometimes even punk rock girls cry a few happy tears.

3. I've decided to get my yoga teaching certification, which is very exciting. I'm doing it for mostly practical reasons (I'm already an advanced yogi, it's a marketable skill set and applicable to my current line of work, I'll be able to make some extra money for the college funds), but also because I'll seem less crazy when I talk about yoga.

4. We got four guinea pigs. In December 2012, we got Lucy and Ethel, who were Hanukkah surprises for the kids. The following February, we adopted Daisy and Clover just after they'd been abandoned outside of our local Petco. Michael had stopped in for piggy supplies, saw them in the adoption center, and couldn't resist their cuteness. They are surprisingly fun, interactive pets who cuddle, purr, jump for joy, and respond to their names. We've all grown very fond of our funny little clutch of cavies.

5. Michael recently upgraded his camera and tech equipment so he can do more with his photography. He's already done some nice, artful work and will probably have prints for sale soon. I'll keep you posted. When he does, I'll probably sell some of my collages and little paintings, too. Hobbyish jobbyish. Why not, you know?

If you're one of the few who actually read this oft neglected corner of the internet, thanks for bearing with this long, rambling mess of a post and making it all the way to the end. I hope this finds you exactly how you'd like to be found.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Great Wall

**I initially wrote most of this post last Winter, but was too busy to finish it. I'm home today, waiting for the contractor to fix a broken window, so I decided to come back to it. Better late than never, right? - SHM 8 October 2013

Protecting one's child is an instinct, a biological imperative. It's necessary for human survival and what all parents are hard-wired to do. It's also a form of self protection. In protecting our children, we protect ourselves from the pain of the unthinkable. In keeping them safe, we keep our own world intact.

It's easiest when they're little, of course. Babies and toddlers don't know much more than what they're exposed to and it's generally their parents who set the limits of exposure. We know what they can and can't handle. We read their cues. We plan our adventures around their nap schedules. A rocked cradle is peaceful at that age, but a rocked boat can lead to an epic meltdown and a prolonged shift in routine. With little ones, we factor in our own exhaustion when we decide the course of each day, weighing the benefits of a new experience over the white noise of a napless afternoon. Are we alert enough to take them out of the nest? Either way, the decision is based on what feels safe in the moment and is completely dictated by us, the parents.

Little by little, day by day, this cocoon of familial protection breaks open. Their curiosity gets an actual voice. Mobility takes little explorers to what catches their eye. Preschool broadens the small world of the small child with first friendships, new grown ups, new expectations, and new information. They learn how to use the toilet and say goodbye to diapers. Naps turn into a thing of the past. Little ones who breastfeed do so with less frequency and eventually wean. Parenting suddenly seems less physically demanding and more emotionally demanding and you're not sure whether to be relieved or terrified. And, just like that, they're off to Kindergarten.

The world of elementary school unlocks several doorways, all of them leading to greater autonomy. As they move past the early grades and become fully literate, socially influenced beings, our parental limits become more flexible simply because they have to. I will never forget the first time I let Noah walk to school on his own. He was eight and had been begging me for weeks, citing a list of classmates who had already earned this privilege. So, despite my own concerns and reservations, I finally let him. And we both survived. And he's being doing it everyday ever since.

When he was ten, we sent him to overnight camp for the first time. He had asked us about it the previous Summer, insisting that he'd be fine and have "way more fun". We ultimately agreed and got him packed for three and a half weeks in Maine, the furthest and longest he'd ever been away from us. I was a bit nervous and sad about him being away for so long, but he was ready, so we had to be ready, too. He came back the happiest I'd ever seen him, loaded with new friends, experiences, and stories to tell. He was more grown up, more confident in himself. He was ready for more freedom.

The following school year, he started taking charge of his own social life. He'd go to and from his friends' homes on his own, a five-thirty PM curfew his only guide. We got him a phone when he turned eleven, mostly so he could check in with us if he was running late or wanted us to pick him up. Bit by bit, his calm demeanor and trustworthiness chipped away at my parental anxiety and he earned even more freedom. We allowed him to stay home alone for a couple hours at a time if need be. He could bike to and from his after school activities. The next Summer, he had three and a half more fantastic weeks at camp, returning with even more confidence than the year before.

When he started 6th grade, he also started performing with PALS. I don't normally shout about Noah's talents from the rooftops, but, make no mistake about it, he's got some skills. Music is his native language. He's been playing piano by ear since he was a toddler, taking formal lessons since he was five. He can pick up any instrument and make it sound good. He sings beautifully. It's pretty amazing. Anyway, he fit right in and quickly proved himself to be a reliable soloist. This led to all sorts of opportunities. He's performed with the BSO, the Boston Pops, Boston Camerata, Boston Lyric Opera, and the NE Philharmonic. He had featured roles in the PALS performances of "The Little Prince" and "Moby Dick". There were many, many rehearsals and late nights for Noah and many nervous Mama moments for me (especially right before he sang that solo with the Pops!), but he loves it and has learned a great deal about how to be a performer. Meanwhile, I've learned how to make his life as a young performer as normal as possible without adding any rigidity to his already-packed schedule. I've also learned how to remain calm when he's literally in the spotlight. That's taken some practice, but I finally got it. I just do what he does - stay focused on the music.

The Summer of '12 brought with it a dilemma - he was invited to perform at Tanglewood as part of a smaller group from PALS, singing with the Tanglewood Festival chorus and BSO. Of course we wanted to let him go, but the week of rehearsals and the trip itself would mean that he'd miss 10 days of camp - about half of his usual stay. He insisted upon getting as much camp-time in as possible and we insisted upon him going to Tanglewood. With his happiness in mind, we let him go to camp for the whole Summer with the caveat that he'd spend a whole week at home before Tanglewood. The concert was wonderful, but I missed him so much when he was at camp. Six and a half weeks without him was too long for me. He had an amazing time, though, and came home tan, tall, self-aware, and self-assured. That being said, he only went for three and a half weeks this past Summer. That's the absolute maximum amount of time I'm willing to be separated from him until he heads to college.

Seventh grade came along rather uneventfully. Good teachers, good friends, good grades. His performances with PALS once again brought many solos and opportunities. He started studying for his Bar Mitzvah and assisting with the Hebrew school kindergarten each Sunday. You know things are good when your pride becomes mundane.

Less mundane was the call we got in November '12 and the pride that ensued. The director of PALS was asked to choose five children from the USA to be part of the Childrens' World Peace Chorus. "Noah was the first one I thought of!", he said. We were overjoyed...until we asked what it would entail. Our question was answered with a question, "Does Noah have a valid passport?" and "Can you get one for him quickly?"

The American choristers had been invited to attend a workshop and to perform Beijing. Which is in CHINA. Which is on the other side of the planet.

"He's never been out of the country before, so we need to make sure that he's comfortable with the idea before we commit. Would it be OK to take some time and think this out?" I asked Noah's choral director. "Of course", he said. "but do so quickly! We need to send in the visa applications within the week. If you aren't sure by then, then we'll need to ask another child."

So, um, no pressure then.

Our chat with Noah was pretty quick. We told him about our phone call and he immediately said, "Oh my god, I'm going!" We urged him to think about it, seeing that he'd never traveled further than Colorado before. He said, "No, I don't want to think about it. I don't want to make myself nervous or think about the possibility of anything bad. I'm GOING to CHINA!"

So, that was that. He was going and we had to hustle! We scrambled to get him a passport and must have broken some sort of bureaucratic record because we had it within 24 hours of submitting the paperwork. We had meeting after meeting with the chaperones, choral directors, and the parents of the other children going. We took him to the doctor for a typhus vaccine.We filled out what seemed like miles of paperwork - medical releases, visa applications, waivers. We reviewed packing lists and took him for fittings. We waited...and waited...and waited...and waited for the visas, which were finally approved ten days before they were scheduled to leave.

With every preparatory step, I grew more anxious and thought up more reasons that he should stay home - he was scheduled to leave on Lilah's birthday and she'd be sad, he was missing a week of school and would need to make up a ton of work, he might get really sick or hurt and need a doctor, he could get lost in Beijing and he doesn't speak Mandarin, the air pollution might aggravate his asthma, he could get lost in the airport and end up living there like in that Tom Hanks movie. They were flying to and from Beijing via Toronto, so my irrational plane crash worries included the possibility of polar bears and severe hypothermia.

But no. I had to tune my worries out, which was not easy. Letting him take the five minute walk to school or a friend's house on his own and sending him to overnight camp three hours away in Maine seem so are so insignificant compared to international travel sans parents. Yes, there would be chaperones, and yes, I knew two of them, but they are not me. I am the mama, after all, and I supposedly know best. My feelings echoed those of the kids' hazy baby days, when my own level of comfort would dictate how far the day would take us, but it's hard to reconcile feelings like that when the baby in question is twelve years old. If I didn't let him go, his anger and disappointment would be completely justified and could last years, maybe even a lifetime. Could I live with that? Hell no. Absolutely not. Protecting the kids from my own anxiety and fear as they become more autonomous is the most difficult and most necessary aspect of my parenting. Part of being the mama and knowing best also means knowing when to keep that shit to yourself. So I did. I allowed the limits of my trust in him, my faith in his ability to make good choices and to keep himself safe in my absence, expand all the way across the planet. He was ready, so I had to be ready, too. It was as simple as that.

So, very, very early on December 16, 2012, we dropped him off to meet the other choristers and hugged him goodbye. I held him close and kissed his face, reminding him to stay with his group and to call us when he got settled in, no matter what time it was stateside. We waved goodbye as the airport van pulled away and distracted ourselves by baking cinnamon rolls for breakfast once we got home. The ten days that followed involved insomnia and frequently reminding myself to breathe, but they also involved facetime and emails from a happy child who fell in love with international air travel, saw the sights in and around Beijing, learned loads of new music, and made many new friends from all of the world.

We were elated, of course, when he came home, safe and sound, full of smiles and stories to tell, carrying trinkets for the girls, a silk scarf and a hand-painted porcelain compact for me, and beautiful chopsticks for Michael. He talked and talked, telling us about recording music for Chinese TV, his new friends, the food (noodles! prawns! spicy!), the crazy miscommunications that happened because of the language barrier, the different cars, the weather (freezing!), and how happy he was to be home. Then he said, "I think they might want me to go to Austria or South America next year. It's gonna be so awesome!"

I agreed, yes, it will be awesome, then sighed to myself. At least they're both closer than China.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Goodness Gracious

Bored and perusing yoga blogs while plagued with insomnia last week, I came across this entry and it's gotten me thinking. Stewing, actually. While I think expressing gratitude is the most lovely form of navel-gazing out there, her list seems more like a word-association exercise than a sincere roster of truly meaningful things.

It actually bugged me because it seemed so flighty and cavalier. For example, if you're truly grateful for food, saying just that is sufficient. There is no need to list every delicious bite on the planet because, fundamentally, there is a huge difference between enjoying the taste of something and being infinitely grateful for it.

So there.

My curmudgeonly nit-pickiness has served a positive purpose, though, because I know I can write a better list. And that knowledge has forced me to think, really think, about the things I'm truly grateful for. This is that list, just in time for Thanksgiving and in no particular order...

  1. - My children. The joy and meaning they've brought into my world is immeasurable. My love for them renders words inadequate. My life is theirs, happily. 
  2. - My husband and our marriage. It's not easy sometimes, but we always seem to find a way to get past the bullshit and see the light in each other. That's real love.
  3. - My parents and sister. They're pretty amazing. I'm lucky to have them in my heart, my life, and my blood.
  4. - My friends. When I was growing up, my dad often told me that "friends are the family we choose for ourselves", an adage that is undeniably true. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful, fun-loving, and supportive friend-family.
  5. - My kids' friends. Noah has three very close friends who practically live here. Lilah and her gaggle of giggling girlfriends have the kind of bond that will last a lifetime. Aviva is only just beginning her independent navigation of the social world, but already has several strong friendships. I adore all of them. The kindness they show my children makes my heart smile, their energy and laughter fills my home with joy. They'll always be welcome here.
  6. - My extended family, especially my cousins, aunts, and the best uncle on the planet. 
  7. - My home. It's small, but it holds us.
  8. - Being able to live in such a fantastic city. Boston and Brookline are wicked awesome.
  9. - Having had a close relationship with my grandparents. I think of them and miss them every single day.
  10. - My struggles. They lead to...
  11. - My strength. I am a pretty tough cookie.
  12. - Food and its many purposes - nutrition, love, pleasure, nurturing, and ceremony. I'm also grateful that I can afford to feed my family and know how to feed them well.
  13. - Literacy. Books.
  14. - Excellent teachers, a good education, and the ability to give those things to my children.
  15. - Music. It's a microcosm of our cultures, a channel for our prayers and emotions, and it gives us a reason to dance. I can't think of a more powerfully unifying force in the human existence. 
  16. - Sex, orgasms, and uninhibition.
  17. - Dreams. They give us such an interesting view into our own minds.
  18. - Yoga. Exercise. Endorphins. Physical stamina and strength.
  19. - After school activities. Soccer, basketball, kids' yoga, piano lessons, theater group, choir, school magazine, art classes, reading groups - all of it! They may keep me busier than I'd like to be sometimes, but I'm so grateful to live in a community where fostering diverse interests is not only possible, but relatively easy, too.
  20. - Snuggling.
  21. - Animals. They bring out the good in most of us lowly humans.
  22. - My work, both professionally and as a parent.
  23. - Modern medicine and health insurance.
  24. - Old medicine. Nothing calms croup faster than steam and/or cool night air. Nothing settles a sore tummy more effectively than ginger.
  25. - Travel. Experiencing a new culture firsthand is the easiest way to open your mind.
  26. - The beach. I never feel more connected to the Earth than I do when I'm standing in the waves, feeling the pull of the tide.
  27. - The seasons. One of the many reasons I love living in New England is because we truly get all four seasons. I adore feeling the first real chill in the air and watching the leaves turn from green to red and gold. The first snowflakes of the year always make me feel like a little kid, anticipating holidays and days off from school. The Stravinskyesque brutality of Spring, as rain turns everything from brown to green and forces fat seedlings through the Earth, is a refreshing assault on the senses. And Summer, with its long days, bright colors, sticky children, and relaxed schedule, is a 3 month long reminder to enjoy the outdoors before that first chill comes around again.
  28. - Movies. Two (or more!) hours of escapism, complete with popcorn and sweets.
  29. - My old loves, especially the ones who are still good friends.
  30. - Imagination and creativity.
  31. - Silliness and humor.
  32. - Art and its many interpretations. Two of my oldest, dearest friends are artists and have taught me how to find beauty in everything, no matter how revolting, obscure, or mundane. They keep my eyes new.
  33. - Judaism. I am, at best, agnostic when it comes to religion itself, but I will always be Jewish because it's my culture. I was raised in a conservative Jewish home. I married a Jew and we're raising Jewish children. We celebrate only Jewish holidays. I don't keep Kosher, but I eat ethically - organic, humanely raised, and, if possible, locally sourced. I try my best to live as thoughtfully as possible. The tenets of pikuach nefesh and tikkun olam are not just Jewish, they are what most good-hearted humans aspire to do in their daily lives, regardless of religious affiliation. 
  34. - Computers and other gadgets. I try to use their powers for good most of the time.
  35. - Cursing. It's fucking great.
  36. - Television. I love TV, but I am such a TV snob. No Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, or Tosh.0 for me. Pass me the remote so I can put on my spectacles and watch Jeopardy, Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones, The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Globetrekker, Independent Lens, Love/Lust, Nature, the news, or some random documentary.
  37. - Clothing, shoes, accessories, and fashion. Wearable art!
  38. - Girly stuff - haircuts, manicures, pedicures, shopping. It's so shallow, I know, but a large percentage of looking good is feeling like you look good. So, those things aren't just aesthetic adjustments, they're attitude adjustments.
  39. - Babysitters. A good one is worth her weight in gold.
  40. - Family photos. Did you know that I had a hypercolor bikini when I was 15? You do now. 
  41. - Sleep. Remember sleep? That restful thing from before you had kids? It makes your brain work better, which is probably why "mommy brain" is a euphemism for sleep-deprivation induced forgetfulness. I love that, unless they're sick, my brood has reached the age where they all sleep through the night, every night. My energy no longer comes directly from the coffee pot.
  42. - My health. It's priceless and, without it, I wouldn't be able to fully enjoy everything else on this list.
There. I feel better now. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Funny Girl

Aviva, at age six, makes me laugh more than almost anyone else. She's whimsical and witty, but she's also incredibly blunt and saucy. She enjoys foul language immensely and knows how to work a room. And she only means to be funny about half the time. The other half of the time she's just being herself - a naturally funny girl.

Recent hilarity, in no particular order...

- While reading the NY Times Style Magazine, I took a moment to admire a gorgeous ring in a jewelry advertisement. I showed it to Lilah, knowing that she'd love it, too. And she did, saying, "If I ever get married, I want that ring." So, I took that opportunity to tell her what I hoped for the person she eventually chooses for her mate. "I hope you find someone worthy of you, who's as smart as you, and who makes you laugh." I was about to add "someone who respects your intelligence and your feelings" when Aviva chimed  in with "Yeah, and someone who's not an asshole." 

- She sings in the shower. Her favorites are songs from The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Singin' in the Rain, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, and whatever stuff she's heard on the radio recently. Last night, she performed a mash-up of Edelweiss and Call Me Maybe. It was awesome.

- At the dinner table, she occasionally stands on her chair and starts dancing. When she's done, she sits back down and finishes her dinner like nothing happened.

- Michael and I were talking about the election last week when he referred to one of Romney's talking points as "complete and utter bullshit". Aviva overheard him, started giggling uncontrollably, and said, "Oh Daddy! I just love hearing bullshit!"

- "If I ever see Mitt Romney on the street, I'll ask him why he wants women to have more babies than they feel like having. Then I'll tell him that I was a baby once and one of me is definitely enough!"

- She likes coffee and beer. We're usually good about keeping them out of her mouth, but sometimes Michael leaves his post-work beer on the coffee table and she takes a sip. When we inevitably catch her and remind her that beer is only for grown-ups, she grins like a Cheshire cat and says, "But I only took a tiiiiiiiiiiny sip, I promise!" Then she laughs diabolically. Oy.

- I walked into her room to put away some clean laundry and caught her rocking out on air guitar. Since there was no music on, I asked her what she was playing and she dramatically whispered, "If you close your eyes and listen verrrrrrrrrry carefully, you will hear because!" 

- Two days ago, she came downstairs dressed in underwear and a lab coat with a ribbon wrapped around her head, then insisted on being called "Dr. Sumo".

- MG came to visit last month. On his second day here, I made a big, pancake brunch with all the trimmings. It was a gorgeous morning, so we ate on the porch, talking and laughing, enjoying the food and the sunshine. The only problem was a lone bee who wanted a taste of Aviva's maple syrup. Just when we thought we had shooed him away for good, he buzzed right back to her plate, causing her to shout, "Voldemort's nipples! Buzz off, you stinging monster!" 

(It should be noted that, later in the day, MG said to me, "She has an admirable investment in mischief making. It's pretty impressive.")

- Our gecko, Dragon, nipped at her finger. She looked her right in the eye and said, "You don't know who you're messing with, lizard. If you do it again, I'll dip your crickets in chocolate and eat 'em."

- The following conversation is a regular occurrence in the car. Person in the front seat, passenger or driver: "Aviva, please stop kicking the back of my seat." Aviva: "I'm not kicking you, I'm giving you a massage."

- Noah was studying his haftarah and Aviva wanted his attention. "Mo-om!", he pleaded, "Could you please get her out of here?" Before I could say anything, she mumbled "fine, fine" and got up to leave...but not before turning around abruptly and serenading him with a few bars of  "Tradition!". 

Don't get me wrong, Noah and Lilah are funny, too, but their wit is drier, infused with preteen sarcasm and peer influence. Aviva is wild, uninhibited. I hope she can keep that feral streak as she grows, even if it means a few bumps along the way. Most of the untamed women I know bring laughter wherever they go. It's a gift. Her gift. I hope she treasures it forever.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

With Apologies to Judith Viorst...

Aviva's best friend, Elly, moved to Australia in June. Since then, Aviva's had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time adjusting to daily life without her.

They played at the park together when they were toddlers, but had really been inseparable since landing in the same preschool class. There was an instant bond from day one. They made up their own games, their own dress-up characters, even their own special words. Because of my unconventional schedule, I'd sometimes have to pick Aviva up during nap period and would often find them on the same mat, holding hands and sound asleep, cuddled together like twins. They're exactly three days apart, to the minute. They share a mischievous streak, boundless energy, and a deep love of Nutella, but balance each other out in other ways. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle; differently shaped, but perfectly matched.

They were in the same preschool class for two and a half years, then moved onto the same kindergarten classroom. Both girls handled their adjustment to kindergarten beautifully because they had each other. Eventually, they felt secure enough to branch out and make new friends, too, but that was also easier for them because of their solid friendship. Their teacher did her best to keep their social interactions balanced. In other words, they sat at separate tables in the classroom, but flew together like two wayward magnets once it was time for recess.

They had playdates often. At Elly's house, her mom, Freda, would make spanakopita or bourekas and tea. At my house, I'd usually bake something sweet and serve it with coffee. Either way, we'd talk and eat while the girls played. It was lovely.

I ran into her at Trader Joe's one evening this past February, where we chatted by the yogurts and eggs for awhile. I vaguely remember saying something like, "We should get together soon! Are you free this weekend?" Her response was positive, that Saturday would work, then she added, "We should really get the girls together as often as possible before we move." I blinked. The suddenness of that statement sounded like a record scratch in my mind. I asked for clarification and hoped that I'd misheard her.

I hadn't. They'd be leaving for Sydney at the end of June. Her research position at the hospital was nearly done and her visa was expiring, she explained. Besides, her husband was there already and had a research lab of his own. She wasn't happy to be going to Australia, she added. She preferred Greece, which is where her siblings, nieces, and nephews are. But her daughters needed their Dad and she missed seeing her husband everyday. And also, she added with a whisper, there was another baby coming, due in September.

I nodded in understanding. I couldn't begrudge her reasoning at all, but my eyes filled with tears anyway. I'd miss her. I was sad that I wouldn't get to meet the new baby. And what would I tell Aviva? Freda saw my tears and hugged me. "We haven't spoken to the girls about it yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I do. This won't be easy for our little ones."

Man, was she ever right about that. Telling Aviva that her best friend was moving to the other side of the planet was easily one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever had to do. I explained it gently and slowly, telling her that Freda, Elly, and Elly's sister really missed Elly's Dad, so, once school finished for the year, they needed to move to Australia to be with him. At first, she laughed and thought I was joking. But then she realized that I wasn't. That moment, I swear, I could hear her heart break. It was awful. She flung herself onto my lap and cried into my chest until her body was limp and hot. Then she climbed onto Michael's lap and cried some more.

What made this even harder for Aviva was that Elly didn't want to talk about it at all. I'd spoken to their teacher to let her know that Aviva was in the loop regarding Elly's move. She'd nodded, then told me that she already figured that out. She said that she'd heard Aviva ask Elly about it a few times, but that Elly had consistently brushed her off. That night, I told Aviva that Elly would talk about it when she felt ready and explained that she was probably just feeling really mixed-up about it. "But Mommy," she protested, "I'm feeling mixed up, too, and I'm ready to talk about it!"


Eventually, Elly did open up and start talking about her impending move, even if it was just to audaciously stomp and shout about it. Regardless, it made Aviva feel better to know that it wasn't a verboten subject anymore. We got them together as often as our schedules allowed. In April, Freda and I gave them a double birthday celebration at their favorite park and invited everyone in their class. The celebration was just as much about their friendship as it was about their birthdays. It was wonderful in every way - great weather, good food, friends, family, and hordes of happy children. We couldn't have asked for anything better.

The morning of their flight, Elly and Freda came by for a final hug. It was so funny - Freda and I were in tears, but the girls were fine. All the childhood development experts I know said that disengagement is a defense mechanism that most children employ when faced with an unpleasant reality. It's basic self preservation.

But Michael and I didn't realize that yet, so we thought our efforts to mentally prepare Aviva were successful. We had encouraged playdates with other friends and read books with plot-lines about friends moving away. We bought Elly a cute little messenger bag and filled it with fun things she could use on the plane. Michael and I both have dear friends that live overseas, so we let her know that it's OK to feel sad when a loved one moves far away, that we understand what it's like to miss someone very much. To these things, she humored us, listened, played, read, nodded. However, much like when a parent tries to prepare a young child for a new sibling, all the books and the playdates and the meaningful conversations were pretty much useless when it was time for the real deal. Big transitions, no matter how far in advance we prepare for them, will always come with emotional challenges.

The other shoe eventually dropped over the Summer. "I'm sad. I miss Elly", she'd say, then lay on the couch. Occasionally, she'd turn her sadness inward and say negative things about herself, which alarmed me greatly. That sort of thinking cannot be habitual, not for anyone and especially not in a sensitive, intuitive six year old. So, I talked to people - I have a few acquaintances who are child psychologists. Much to my surprise, they said to not leap to her rescue when those moments arose. They said the attention, even if it's only to soothe her or attempt to reverse her negativity, will serve to reinforce it. Instead, they encouraged me to keep her busy and distract her with fun, self-esteem-boosting activities when I saw her mood turning. So I did and, as long as she was busy, she was fine. If she had time to get really bored (or, even worse, bored and tired), though, that's when the doldrums hit. It was tough because my attention is constantly divided, so there were times where I couldn't immediately distract her from the negativity. But I did my best and things were going pretty well.

And started, her first school year without Elly. There were other good friends in her class, but it wasn't the same. She came home the first day feeling a mixed bag of strong emotions. She was happy and excited to see her friends, pleased with her new teacher, but deeply missing Elly. I expected this, but seeing her struggle with how to make sense of it during the first couple weeks of 1st grade was tough. At school she was fine, but at home she was grouchy and emotional, even a bit hypersensitive. Things that she'd normally laugh off were taken very personally and often sparked tears. She was in unfamiliar territory, navigating the social terrain without her trusty guide. That could make anyone a little testy.

Things have gotten better, easier, as we've settled into our Fall routine. Aviva has quickly proven herself as one of the toughest, most reliable players on her soccer team, which has done wonders for her mood and self esteem. She's been having regular playdates with a few of her classmates, one of whom was also good friends with Elly. We even invited her over to have a Skype playdate with Elly! She's smiling more and the gloominess seems to be slowly fading.

She still has her moments, of course. One of my dearest friends lives in the UK and there are days when I miss him more than I can adequately express. I know Aviva feels the same way about Elly. We Skype her, but the time difference makes it tricky to do on a very regular basis. And when we do Skype, Aviva is often sad for a couple days afterward, missing Elly even more than usual. That said, they are so funny when they talk. They giggle, show each other new trinkets, talk about school, marvel that it's yesterday here and tomorrow there, send each other silly emoticons in the chat window. It's like there's no time or distance between them, the true essence of friendship. Freda chats, too. Last time, we commiserated over how sad it makes our girls to be apart. "Aviva", she called through space and time and high speed internet, "Did you know that Elly cries for you sometimes because she misses you so much? I know you miss her a lot, too. It's so hard to be away from you guys!" Elly, trying to find room on Freda's non-existent lap, nodded in agreement.

Aviva smiled and nodded, too. Then she said, "Elly, I love you. You can just think that to yourself whenever you miss me, OK?" Elly grinned, shouted, "I love you too!", and blew a million kisses at the screen. Both girls dissolved into piles of giggles. Sometimes it helps immensely to know that someone feels just the same as you do. Even in Australia.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


It's amazing to me how instantaneously life can change. Mere seconds can alter the course of months, years, perspectives, emotions. A year ago today, I was at work, happily listening to the kids play and tackling a mountain of administrative redundancies. Around noon, the phone rang. Recognizing the number on the caller ID as Michael's, I grabbed it. "Hey babe!", I enthused. He cut me off, "I'm in a cab on the way to Childrens' (hospital). Something happened to Lilah at recess. I'm meeting the ambulance there.You need to leave NOW. I'll meet you in the ER." The thought of my own sudden, emotional panic in that moment still leaves me breathless and stings my eyes.

I tried to get the details of what happened, but he explained that he'd gotten a call from the school nurse's assistant, who only knew that Lilah had fallen and needed immediate medical attention.

So I bolted. I don't even remember telling anyone at work that I was leaving, but I must have. My sense of urgency in that moment clouded any hope of a clear memory. I ran and ran. In hindsight, I think I sprinted about ten blocks, carrying my shoes, until I finally found a cab to drive me the rest of the way. One of the many superpowers that all mothers have is the ability to jump to the worst possible conclusion from any given starting point. I was blinking back tears in the cab, thinking about what could have happened to my Lilah, so smart and strong. Broken arm? Skull fracture? Brain bleed? WORSE???

Upon arriving at the hospital, I wiped my eyes, threw a fistful of cash at the cabbie, and ran into the ER. Michael was standing outside of an exam room, talking to a woman who I didn't know. I ran to him, my expression clearly stating, in no uncertain terms, that I needed information immediately. "She fell from the monkey bars onto her back...", he said, just as I glanced into the room and saw Lilah, motionless and strapped to a board, surrounded by doctors and nurses. I gasped and started to rush into the room, tears flowing freely, but Michael grabbed my arm and stopped me. "They kicked me out", he said, "We need to let them evaluate her right now." I called to Lilah from the hallway, "Hey pumpkin...It's Mommy...I'm here..."

The woman standing with Michael, teary-eyed and visibly shaken, held out her hand to me. "I'm Jen Driscoll, Lilah's teacher." This is definitely not how you want to meet your child's third grade teacher for the first time, but her presence said a lot about her strength of character. I thanked her for staying with Lilah, gave her a hug, then she began to rehash the details that led to all of us standing in an Emergency Room hallway...

Lilah had been swinging on the monkey bars, throwing her legs up as high as they'd go so that she was basically laying parallel to the bars, directly beneath them. It was a warm day, so her hands were sweaty and she lost her grip. She fell straight down, about 6 feet, and landed flat on her back. Her best friend Dani was with her, thank goodness. She saw the whole thing, then immediately asked Lilah if she was OK and got no response. She asked again. Still nothing. So, crying and scared, she ran as fast as she could to get help. According to the teacher who accompanied Dani back to the monkey bars, Lilah was still unresponsive and appeared to be having a small seizure - twitching and unable to focus. They called an ambulance right away, kept her still, and, twenty minutes later,  there we all were.

The word "seizure" sent me running into the exam room. I needed to see my daughter.

"Hi Mommy", she said, still immobilized from the backboard and collar. I looked at the doctors, who clearly knew what I was going to try to verbalize. "It's OK", one of them said, "You can go to her, but she has to lie still."

What followed was an excruciatingly long day of x-rays and neurological exams. Lilah was clearly in pain and needed to stay immobilized until everyone was certain and in agreement about the extent of her injuries. The spinal specialist was in the middle of a surgery, so we had to wait for him to look at the films. Meanwhile, the ER attending determined that she did, in fact, have a seizure and a concussion, but no brain bleed. He made it clear that, because of the concussion and the fact that she "seized on impact", we weren't going anywhere for quite awhile. This is the probably the main reason why exam rooms at Childrens' have TVs. Thank goodness for Spongebob.

At some point, we heard a familiar voice in the hall. Michael needed to check in with work, so he went out to investigate before calling his office. As it happened, Lilah wasn't the only kid at her school who went to the ER right from recess. Our friend, her 6 year old son, and the enormous bump on his head were in the next room. He was fine - just a bad contusion - and made good company for Lilah as the hours passed in Bikini Bottom. Our friend, well aware of how shaken I was, just let me be quiet and rubbed my back every now and then while she chatted with Michael. It was nice to have them there, despite the circumstances. One of the attending physicians, when she realized that the kids were both from the same school that her daughter attends, was aghast. "She just started kindergarten there last things like this happen often?!!?" We all shrugged, stingy with our reassurance. Kids will be kids. Accidents happen. Mere seconds can change things.

Finally, six or so hours later, long after our friend and her son left, we got an official benediction from the God of Spines:  Fractures on her thoracic vertebrae, T5, T6, and T7 to be exact. All three of them stable, with no ill effects on her mobility, growth, or long term health. This was excellent news, the best possible news. It was such a relief that, I swear to god, I floated out of my own body for a second.

Despite the good news, we still had to stay until the doctors were sure that her head was OK. By then, my mobile had been ringing off the hook. (I just realized that "off the hook" doesn't make sense with mobile technology. I am old.) Word of Lilah's accident had spread through the school like wildfire. Noah and Aviva had heard the truth of the situation from the guidance counselor and from us. They were worried and anxious, but our after-school sitter, who we'd called with a brief run-down of the day's events, was wonderful - handling everything with humor and ease, taking them out for pizza, helping Noah with homework, distracting them with games and a movie, and getting Aviva bathed and in bed once she realized how late we'd be. The rest of the school, however, seemed to have heard the news via the telephone game. Other parents, friends and acquaintances, called us, frantic with worry, because they'd heard about "buckets of blood" and had been told that "Lilah can't walk anymore". It's difficult to laugh off the exaggerations of eight year old children when your own eight year old child is strapped to a board and unable to move, but I tried my best. Regardless of how convoluted the story became as it traveled around the playground, I appreciated so much that so many of our friends called. It takes a village and all that. It was very comforting.

Many, many hours after arriving at the ER, we were sent home with Lilah wearing braces on her back and neck, a prescription for pain medication, and instructions to keep her home from school for two weeks. The rules, until further notice, were that she was to do nothing that would cause stress on her spine. No stairs, no backpack, no sports, no gym, no raising her arms, no bending down, no running, climbing, or jumping - basically, no being a normal kid.

Dani's mom offered to drive us home, as Michael and I both took cabs to the hospital, and we gladly accepted. In the car, as we joked about needing a drink and a vacation, it hit me. The obvious. The fact that Lilah was incredibly lucky. The fact that, despite three fractured vertebrae, we were going home with a fully-functioning, otherwise healthy child.

I didn't cry until our sitter left. I was on the phone with my mom when the tears, which had been simmering for quite awhile, finally bubbled over. "I'm sorry", I choked, "It's been a really hard day." I could hear her hold back her own tears before telling me she understood, that she'd come up over the weekend to help out. I managed to squeak out a "thank you" and a promise to call her tomorrow, then I handed the phone to Michael and sobbed.

I took the next day off from work to be with Lilah, who slept most of the day. She was in pain - her head, her back, her neck. When she was awake, she was uncharacteristically quiet, so we watched Harry Potter movies and nature programs to fill the silence. I went back to work the following day and gave my employers the full run-down of what occurred. They didn't offer me any additional time off (jerks), so I told them I'd be sharing  the load with Michael until Lilah went back to school. Their response? "Can't you just get a sitter?" To that, I picked my jaw up off the floor and said, "Well, I would if it was just a normal illness, but her back is broken. She needs help with everything - dressing herself, using the bathroom, and all that. I'm not going to a pay a college kid to do a parent's job." That was the end of the discussion and it was not revisited, so I took it upon myself to leave everyday at 1 o'clock sharp until Lilah went back to school.

In the days that followed, waves of emotion would hit me randomly, like a static shock or a truck on the sidewalk. They ran the gamut - relief that she'd be fine, amazement at her luck, anxiety over the possibility that one of the fractures would become unstable and claim a portion of her mobility, and a fierce, primal sense of protectiveness. I'd get teary on a whim. I'd check on her constantly and ask her to wiggle her toes. After a few days of that, she started rolling her eyes at me, so I used every bit of willpower I could muster to dial it down a notch. It was bad enough that she was injured. I didn't want her to be pissed off, too.

We had visitors everyday. Her friends would come over after school with cards, little presents, books, and art supplies. They'd cheer her up, make her laugh. One friend delivered a huge manila envelope full of pure sweetness and love - a handmade card from every child in her grade. "Come back to school! I miss you!" "I'm so glad you're my friend and that you'll be OK." "You're a rockstar, Lilah! I love you!" "Art class isn't the same without you." It was enough to soften the steeliest, most jaded of hearts. I decided to save them and put them in an old chest, the perfect place for such treasures.

Lilah's return to school required several adjustments to her normal routine. Since her classroom was on the 3rd floor, she needed to take the elevator, which was normally reserved for the staff, up and down several times a day. The classroom chairs weren't supportive enough, so they let her use one of the comfy chairs from the library. She couldn't participate in gym, so she spent that time reading or drawing. Recess also wasn't allowed, so she stayed in her classroom with her amazing, incredibly kind friends, who took turns staying in with her, playing games and doing puzzles. It was a manageable situation, one that Lilah handled with grace and maturity well beyond her years, but I know she was extremely eager to fully participate in her own life again. She was missing out on Fall soccer, which made her really sad. I have to admit, I couldn't bear seeing her disappointed on top of everything else, so I indulged her. Sweets, games, art supplies, books - whatever made her happy. She seemed to make the most of my temporary immoderation and her free time, mastering chess and knitting, learning about different animals and plants, watching movies, and blowing through at least five sketch books while she convalesced. She ate a lot of cookies, too.

Every couple weeks, we returned to Childrens to meet with the spine specialist. The first few visits were painful and frustrating for Lilah - no visible changes in the fractures, no significant decrease in her pain level, no ease on her limitations. Then, a few days before Halloween, the doctor looked at her x-rays and smiled. "They look good", he said, "How about we get rid of that brace?" Lilah was so happy she almost cried, despite the fact that all of the physical restrictions were still in place for at least another two months. As we left his office, she chucked the brace in the garbage and strutted onward, smiling more broadly than I'd seen in over a month.

We went trick or treating on Halloween, something that we weren't initially sure we'd be able to do together, the five of us. Lilah decided to go as a broken doll. An ingenious idea! Her reasoning was that, if her back started to bother her, she could put on her cervical collar and the costume would still look OK. She looked fantastic, with and without the collar, and felt comfortable for about an hour before she really needed it. November brought a significant decrease in her discomfort, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was wonderful that she was starting to feel better, but it was much harder to keep her still! Reminding her not to overdo it became part of our everyday discourse. For as nerve-wracking as it was to keep such a close eye on her, it was amazing to see her bouncy, busy self slowly reemerging from injury's cocoon. We had a lot to be thankful for come Thanksgiving.

The day before her 9th birthday, we visited the spinal specialist again. "They're healed. She looks good. Lilah, you need to take it easy for the rest of December. But, once midnight comes on January 1st, you can officially be all better and back to normal." We high-fived, hugged and thanked the doctor, asked about small formalities, like physical therapy and easing back into sports. She literally counted the sixteen days, down to the very last second. As the clock struck midnight and we welcomed 2012, Michael and I breathed a mutual sigh of relief and, with happy tears, watched our lovely Lilah jump and dance around the living room.

After the new year, our goal was to rebuild her strength, stamina, and flexibility. We took walks and did yoga. We danced around the house. We played catch, horse, four square, and hopscotch. She still had some back pain, but it was nothing a little advil and rest couldn't fix. In March, I took a deep breath and enrolled her in Spring soccer. It took a few practices and games for her to hit her stride again, but when she did, it was like she hadn't been injured at all. She looked great out there, confident and fierce. After a particularly hard-won game, her sharp goalkeeping skills earned her the nickname "The Wall". She allowed zero points, kept her cool, and made it look easy. It was awesome. She was back.

Summer daycamp brought the challenge of swimming, which caused some pain for awhile, but ultimately made her even stronger. The other camp sports all went well, especially field hockey and volleyball. She loved every minute of it. Every afternoon, she'd come home filthy, tired, and hungry, just how it should be. We'd spend the warm, long evenings relaxing on the porch. Sometimes I'd gaze at her - tan, strong, bright-eyed - and remember how ashen and helpless she had been in the weeks after her accident. How close she was to losing her abilities or worse. It would take my breath away every time. It still does.

She started fourth grade last week and it's going well. I was nervous for the first few days, worried about her safety on the playground, but my attempts to remind her to be careful were met with eye rolling and "Yeah, yeah I know". She's doing fine and having fun.

As of this afternoon, it's been exactly a year. A year since my scariest day as a parent. A year since the most trying day of Lilah's young life. Just as I marveled at the brevity of change, I now marvel at my child's resiliency, too. It is truly marvelous how, just a year ago, she was rushed to the ER with a spinal injury and today she was out on the soccer field, playing like no harm had ever come her way. Our normal Saturday soccer game routine is extraordinary by circumstance -my child can run, kick, shoot, pass. How mundane, how amazing! So, with palpable joy, we'll keep standing on the sidelines, watching her play and cheering her on, thrilled beyond belief that she's completely healthy and fully able to enjoy her life. She is so lucky.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Confession: I am obsessed with sharks and shark attacks. I have been since I was 8.

It came about innocently enough. After a humid August day spent swimming, I went to sleep over at a friend's house. Her older brother and his friends were watching Jaws on a local TV network (as this was in prehistoric times, before cable and movie rentals). My friend and I, sticky and red-lipped from a dinner of popsicles, plopped down on a beanbag chair and joined them, despite her Dad's warnings that we might be scared. An hour later, we were equal parts engrossed and terrified. The next day, I couldn't even bring myself to dip my toes in the local pool.

Seeing as it was Summer and that I adore swimming, I got over my fear of the pool within days. My need to glide through the water and cool off overrode my need to squall about squali. At the beach, however, it was a different story entirely.

I did my research. Like a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Harriet the Spy, I took copious notes on whatever shark-related information I could gather. The most alarming things I learned were: 1.) Sharks are attracted to splashing and noise. 2.) Sharks can smell a miniscule amount of blood from a quarter of a mile away. 3.) Most shark attacks happen within a few yards of the shoreline.

To my eight year old self, this meant no ocean swimming whatsoever because my knees and elbows were perpetually scraped, plus I liked body-surfing and splashing my sister. This also meant that our trip to the Jersey shore the following week was not my idea of a good time. One can only collect so many shells, catch so many hermit crabs, and read so many volumes of Nancy Drew before turning into a hot, itchy grump. My mom was exasperated. "Just go in the water!", she'd urge from her towel whenever I'd complain, then she'd wave me away with her French manicure and resume her gabfest with my aunt. That made me even grumpier, so back to the tide pools I'd stomp with my furrowed brow and my sour mood. The only thing that brought a genuine smile to my face that week was my Dad's hilariously sissified reaction to being crapped on by a sea gull. Thinking about that still makes me smile, actually.

I avoided the ocean rather successfully after that Summer. On the rare occasions that I did go to the beach, I'd only go into the surf up to my knees. No one seemed to care. As time passed, my fear of shark attacks blossomed into a full-fledged phobia of deep, open water. I could swim in pools and lakes all day, but there was no way I'd venture more than a few feet into the ocean. After the internet became ingrained in our society, I started reading shark attack blogs in order to authenticate my fears. Boating, whale watches, and the like were out of the question. Cruises are one of my worst nightmares because they combine my fear of open water with my fear of becoming violently ill. Those cruise ship viruses, from what I've been told, are basically like living out that notorious scene from Bridesmaids for three days straight. Plus, while you're puking over the side of the ship, you might fall overboard, become stranded in the middle of the ocean, and get eaten by a shark, too. Best vacation ever!

When the kids were little and we'd take them to the beach, managing my pelagic fear was relatively easy because they simply weren't big enough to swim out. We'd have fun searching for pretty shells, building sandcastles, and lifting their plump, little bodies over waves in the shallow surf. As they've gotten bigger, though, it's become increasingly more difficult to manage my phobia by proxy. I try very hard not to project my fears onto them, which is quite a feat because, with each passing year, they seem to become more fearless in the water.

It also doesn't help that some very dangerous, very large sharks have taken to Summering off the coast of Massachusetts. Just over a month ago, a man was attacked by a Great White while bodysurfing just off of the Cape. After several more shark sightings and a dead Great White found on the shore of a beach that my parents frequent (and have taken the children to), a bunch of local beaches have been closed for the season. So, you'll understand my panic earlier this Summer when the kids and their friends swam out several yards from shore, bodyboards in hand, ready to let the ocean push them wherever it may. All I could do was stand, watch, and try not to let on that I was freaking out. I don't think they noticed my anxiety, but I know that I must have appeared markedly more relaxed when they were back on the sand. After that, I managed to steer them toward a large tidal basin where I knew I could breathe a sigh of relief. They were safe and smiling, catching shrimp, feisty little crabs, and starfish in the ocean's version of a kiddie pool.

This past Monday evening, our local movie theater held a screening of Jaws. The older two begged me to take them, but in the time it took to debate with myself and ultimately agree, the tickets sold out. They argued that we should watch it at home and have a Jaws pajama party, a notion so reminiscent of the seed that sprouted my fears. But I allowed it. After all, I did promise to take them to see it in the theater. That evening, we got comfy, ate ice cream, and watched Bruce the shark wreak havoc on Martha's Vineyard Amity Island. Noah had seen it before and considers it one of his all-time favorite movies, so he was fine. Lilah loved it and gasped in all of the spots where one would normally gasp, especially at the severed, eyeless head of the dead fisherman. And Aviva, who is still too little for scary shark movies, busied herself by coloring and playing games on our iPad, so she only glimpsed a few G-rated moments.

The next day, I asked them if watching Jaws made them fearful of sharks or the water and they laughed at me. "It's just a movie, Mom.", Lilah said, rolling her eyes. Her emotional boat is clearly bigger than mine was at that age.

I did fine, too, though. Watching it as an adult is a vastly different experience than watching it as a barely eight year old child. It's much easier now to make that delineation between fact and fiction, even when the waters nearby are currently being patrolled by the men in gray suits. So, I watched my kids enjoy it and let myself enjoy it, too. When the men compared their scars, I silently added my own. Childhood cuts and scrapes, chicken pox, broken fingers that healed crookedly, burn and knife imprints from cooking, a bumpy tailbone from a difficult birth, and a wounded sense of youthful fearlessness from seeing something too scary too soon. And at the end, after their ordeal, when Roy Scheider says "I hate the water" and Richard Dreyfuss replies "I can't imagine why", I smiled and nodded in complete agreement.