Saturday, February 13, 2021

Max's Bar Mitzvah - Part 1

I believe this is my SIL Allison's TV screen, watching from San Francisco

What a difference four years makes! When I posted about Hannah's bat mitzvah, four years ago to the weekend, it was also just after Trump's inauguration, and the women's marches, and everything felt scary, and incongruous to be celebrating. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and after the Capitol insurrection, it's scary still, but the Biden inauguration brings hope for a return to normalcy. In the days since Max's bar mitzvah, I can at least say I feel better about things than I did after Hannah's. 

And in that way, Max's bar mitzvah felt like a ray of light in an otherwise dark time. He led a lot of the service, which of course was virtual, with our family and friends watching online, the clergy in the sanctuary, and the four of us in the chapel. He chanted Torah and Haftorah perfectly, thanks to Marc's efforts in tutoring him, but also because Max brought such an unusual level of confidence to what he was doing. I've never seen a 13yo boy exude more presence on the bimah, and he commanded his performance. Max spoke about "kotzer ruach" which the Torah describes as a shortness of breath that the Hebrews experienced while in Egypt, due to their slavery. He translated it into our modern times, where COVID-19 is a shortness of breath, and so many other atrocities in 2020 took our breath away too. But Max then encouraged us to think of the times when we've had a shortness of breath from the positive things in our life, like he has had while singing and dancing at camp. He reminded us to maintain hope that even in these challenging times when it can be hard to breathe, there are still good times to be found ahead. 

That's what the entire day felt like it was about for me. As the pandemic settled in during those early months, we still thought there was hope for the day we'd been expecting to have, that by January we'd be able to travel, or at least host our friends, something, anything. Having gone through Hannah's experience, I knew I had vendors in place that I liked, and I also knew I could scramble during those last six months or so and still get everything into place. I waited as long as I could, until the fact that everything would remain virtual was undeniable. And so we pivoted. We threw the best damn Zoom party we could, and we honored the people in Max's life, and we celebrated reaching this day in our family.

It does not go without saying that I missed my mom so much, and still can't believe she didn't see this day. 

I will share more about what we did when I get the rest of our photos back - yes, we still took photos, which is one of the most important aspects of the whole thing for me, and I can't wait to see them. For now I'll close as I did with Hannah's post, but the pandemic-modified version. While Hannah and I had a "bat mitzvah high-five" for each task accomplished, Max and I had a "bar mitzvah elbow" instead. I told you four years changes a lot.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021


Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning seventeen.

So much of this past year wasn't what we wanted it to be, and it hurts a bit to re-read last year's letter and all the promise it held. There were many hard lessons this year, most of which I could not have anticipated. It was the year you attended four funerals that you will never forget. It was the year your shows and Kerem summer were cancelled. A year of tremendous heartbreak, and coping with the unknown. So much change and adaptation. I hope years from now, you can look back and realize just how strong and resilient you were.

Because change and adapt is what you did. You made the absolute best you could out of remote learning, staying dedicated to your classes and activities. You were the lead in Sense and Sensibility and worked harder than you've ever worked in a show. You led high holiday services over Zoom in a seriously impressive fashion. You took your first college course and blew me away with your architectural designs. You're driving cars, but you're also driven, taking on SATs and thinking about college and what you want from your life.

Even with nowhere really to go, you've kept your cell phone charged all year long. You make your bed every day, and keep your bullet journal and to do lists done. Thank you for being my television buddy, for finally seeing what I see in the Real Housewives, and for loving Jagged Little Pill as much as I do. Your friendships have continued to deepen and expand as you all faced these challenging times together, learning to give each other more grace along the way. Your brother may be taller than you now, but there's no one he leans on more than you. And I'm glad you still find Shira as endlessly entertaining as I do.

So little seems foreseeable right now. But the coming year will still bring performances, will still bring college applications, will still bring new experiences. Hopefully, it will bring a return to in-person school and singing together. No matter what, I know you will put all of your best into it. Happy birthday, my sweet Hanniebelle. I'm so proud to be your mom.

(You can also see letters for ages seveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteen,  fifteen and sixteen.)

Friday, January 1, 2021


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning thirteen.

While it shouldn't really surprise me, you've handled all that 2020 has thrown at you in a very Max way. You've asked lots of questions. You've felt your feelings. You've retreated and emerged. You've done what you needed to do, and often not one ounce more than that. Unless it was something you really wanted to do, and then you went all out.

Like taking walks. It's not enough to just go for a walk - you needed to walk to your old elementary school, then further than that, and then back again, just because you could. Or when you wanted to make a video on something you saw in Minecraft - you knew what needed to be done, and to do it quickly, to capitalize on the moment. You don't accept things at face value. There is always some other dimension to be assessed, another way to think about every concept. You know that playing the same song on your guitar, over and over, is not really the same song. You acknowledge and embrace the differences.

You are flannel shirts and #cupolaoftheday, your own merch and 100+ YouTube subscribers. You are totally prepared for your bar mitzvah, and accepted what it is to be and made your desires known. You are science and politics and economics and music. You have supportive friends who you help to grow into better people, and who help you to grow too. You and Hannah challenge each other and yet are tighter than ever. Shira is your best hammock buddy.

And now I'll have two teenagers in the house. I appreciate when you let me indulge in nostalgia for our own "back thens," when I look for the platinum blonde toddler in the size 11 shoes you wear today. We may not know what this next year will throw your way, but I know I can count on you to make it through it. I love you so much, buddy. Happy birthday.

(You can also see letters for ages threefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleven and twelve.)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

So long, 2020


2020 didn't start off from such a bad place for me. I was managing to see about one piece of theater each month, something that had become very important to me. I was traveling a bit more for work again, and felt I had some exciting prospects there. Like all of us, I thought a few weeks at home would be nice - so many naps! But it changed quickly for me, when my mother unexpectedly passed away on March 22, and the worst economic scenario since 2008 hit on March 23, followed by a few months of struggle before my 18 year marriage dissolved over the summer. My kids faced their own adolescent challenges, missing friends and summer at camp and so many lost opportunities for independence and growth. The three organizations I work with all struggled in different ways. While I am very grateful to be able to work from home, my job felt reduced to all the least fun bits as clients retreated to safety. 

I am not grateful for this year. There have been lessons learned, and I know I'm even stronger than I thought. But I won't pretend to be grateful for how I had to learn them.

I am, however, very grateful for my friends. So many of you have stepped up in deep and meaningful ways (while some have noticeably retreated), and I hope you know how appreciated you are. 

Instead of the usual photo card, this year I went with this tiny little sprout. Attributed to Christine Caine, an Australian activist and evangelist, "Sometimes when you think you're in a dark place, you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted." 

May we all grow in health, strength and happiness in the coming year. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020


 "You can't see the picture if you're inside the frame."

The above was said by a junior boy in my AP US History class, or as Hannah and her friends now call it, "A-PUSH." I'm sure Erik would be shocked that I remember it, as I'm sure he doesn't. I can't remember the context, but we had the best discussions in that class, and it could have been about anything. But that football player with the twinkling eyes said it, and I wrote it down, and remember and think of it often.

Because how often are we too close to the problem to be able to see it clearly? 

I work with three different organizations outside of my full-time job and parenting responsibilities. I have high-ranking positions in each, and I'm proud of the work I do to support them. But it is volunteer work, and is often outside of what I'm professionally experienced in doing. I have to leave my comfort zones to give input and support, and the time I have is often limited, but I do the best I can. Sometimes, that doesn't live up to what others expectations may be, and that's tough to hear and accept. But sometimes, I may be too close to the issues at hand, and getting feedback from someone more on the outside can be really helpful. It's hard not to be defensive and even overprotective of the group, and to take the comments in. That balance can be a difficult one to strike, but it's worth it. 

Deep breaths. Listen and absorb before responding. Dive in again. 

Friday, November 20, 2020


 I've been noting on Facebook lately that I've been doing so. much. adulting.

Maybe it's because life has, frankly, not been so enjoyable with this virus raging and not much to look forward to doing. It feels like life is an endless list of responsibilities and very little pay off right now. I'm not saying that to be depressing, just honest. By focusing on the things I'm getting done, especially those little things without much of a reward for having done them, seems like a way to still feel accomplished and like life is moving forward. 

So this week started with paying to have two dead trees removed before they became threats, and it ended with me ordering a new lightbulb for the refrigerator. I also changed the batteries in our door lock, ordered more compost bags, and refilled the JetDry in the dishwasher. I picked up groceries for our local pantry donation, and the supplies for Max's at home science experiment next week. I registered Hannah for an online event that required an absurd amount of forms. I made incremental progress on details for Max's bar mitzvah. I held my office hours at work and checked in on my teammates. 

The other day I was driving Max to Hebrew school, one of his only in-person activities, and he admitted that if I hadn't told him it was time to go, he wouldn't have had any idea he was missing it. We talked about how people can use tools to help them stay organized, or they can try to design a life where there are few time-sensitive tasks. Or maybe you rent an apartment instead of owning a house, so you don't have to coordinate tree trimming services. But no one can really get out of growing up. 

And sometimes, when you're a grown up, you get to decide that you're just having candy. Because candy is good. So there are some perks. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Okay with Okay

It's November, and in the past for me, that's meant "NaBloPoMo," or National Blog Post Month, where people attempted to blog every day for the month. I've done it a few times, and each time, I found it to be a fulfilling experience. I liked the challenge of making time to show up for myself each day. And it really was a challenge to figure out something worth saying EVERYDAY, or even a picture worth posting. I never continued to post daily after it ended, as the end always seemed to come through with a limp at Thanksgiving and such. I managed to do it from 2014 to 2016, and again in 2019.

This year, my blogging friend Melisa astutely recognized the challenge that is 2020 all on its own, without things like manufactured blogging challenges to keep us on our toes. But she offered to aggregate links and send them out to people, and so I signed up again for this exercise, and told myself that I'd aim for once a week. If I hit publish today, that will be two for two. 

But dear lord I am dragging today, and showing up is hard. And The Bachelorette used the phrase "show up" so much in the last few weeks that it's basically lost all meaning for me. 

I made it to another Friday. Hannah had her wisdom teeth out this week and while it wasn't fun, she's made it through the worst of it. Max is going back to some in person school on Monday and enjoyed some extra time off this week. We're all okay.

For now, that's really all I've got. A lot of telling myself that we're all okay, that I'm okay. I'm learning to be okay with okay.