Thursday, January 30, 2014

Working (Mom) Moment: In the Audience

Fourth Grade Concert
The best part of my week has been sitting in the audience. On Tuesday night, I was honored to be at Hannah's fourth grade choir and instrumental concert, and on Wednesday afternoon, I watched one of my bosses take part in a panel discussion at a swanky hotel with a celebrity moderator.

It feels like yesterday that I was the one who needed a freshly ironed white shirt, or my treasured pale yellow Orchard Ensemble T-shirt, or the polyester but formal-looking black dress we wore for high school concerts. As you can probably guess, I *loved* these concerts. I was good at singing and really enjoyed doing it (I still do, and wish it was a bigger part of my life today). I'd practice my choir songs in front of my bedroom mirror, keeping my hands at my side and enunciating the final consonants. Now, it's Hannah's turn, and I've found I love being in the audience even more than when I was up there myself. I love the misplayed notes, I love that kids still sing washed his face in a frying pan "Old Dan Tucker," I love the corny choreography. But more than all that, I love the sense of pride and accomplishment that taking part in an event like this instills in kids. Sitting in the audience, my heart was bursting in pride for all of them.

I attended the panel discussion at the last minute, not realizing I was going to be accompanying him despite having helped prepare him for the discussion. Panels are tough, because participants are expected to be experts in their field but not actually sell the products they manage. Most of the time, we focus on what makes us unique, and remembering to stick to the general is challenging. But it all went well: the other panelists were interesting and covered diverse points of view, the moderator was clearly a pro, and my boss did well and was happy to have me there supporting him. And again, I was proud, just getting to sit in the audience.

So often, we wish we were the ones at the center of attention, on display and heard by the masses. This week was a good reminder that being in the audience and actively listening can be a real joy too.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The (GIANT) Israel Post

Hannah, me and Max, watching the sun set in Tel Aviv
To make a very long story short, I will say the following: our trip to Israel was amazing. Fantastic. Life-altering. The realization of a long-held dream and goal for Marc and me. Unforgettable and unrepeatable.

I literally took 1000 pictures, and you can see them all at my Flickr photostream. My new camera was a joy, even though I barely knew how to use it, and I loved capturing as many moments as I could.

I've struggled with how best to tell this story, as I realize it's just too many stories. So this is going to be the highlights for me, and I'm sure in future posts, I'll go into more detail on certain aspects of the trip. That will be one way for me to stave off the depression that the trip is already part of my past, and not the longed for future anymore.

The four of us arrived in Israel late on Thursday evening, and had three days on our own before we were joined by another 75 members of Temple Emanuel. Marc and I really wanted the kids to have the experience of a Shabbat in Jerusalem, since so much shuts down in a way that doesn't happen anywhere else.This turned out to be an unexpectedly good turn of events, as we had time to do some exploring on our own, but we also had time to simply rest. We took naps and adjusted to the time change, and when the main part of our trip began, we were ready for it.

In Jerusalem, we stayed at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, which was an easy walk into the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Walking there was the first thing we did on Friday morning. We got to experience the rare snow in Jerusalem. As we walked, the kids were fascinated by the differences (all of the golden stone work) and the similarities (it still feels like a city, not something they couldn't identify with). We finally turned a corner and saw the iconic view of the Kotel (the Western Wall), and Max pulled on me saying, "we're really in Jerusalem now."

Hannah's and my hands
I was completely overcome as we approached the wall, and I'm actually teary as I write this. For as much as I participate in Jewish life, I don't think of myself as deriving much from the actual prayer and spiritual experiences. But standing outside the barriers (men and women are separated at the wall), with my little family, knowing that families just like mine have traveled here together for thousands of years to touch the stones, well, I found it hard just to breathe. I was overwhelmed by gratefulness in that moment, that we had actually done it, we brought our once hypothetical children to this place, as a family, to experience the interconnectedness of generations to this place. I will never, ever forget it.
Max, in blue, putting his prayers in the wall.

On our second visit with our group.
An historic moment: as a family, touching the newly-excavated section of the Kotel, expanded for pluralistic prayer experiences.

Now, on to the rest of the trip. I'll never finish this post if I write about everything, so here are pictures with captions, and you'll just have to trust me that it was all amazing.

Shabbat lunch purchased the day before at Mechane Yehuda, including the best pita ever.
With the "ahava" (love) sculpture at the Israel Museum
Services atop Mt. Masada

Camel riding at Genesis Land (Hannah is in orange)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Christmas Eve
Ethan and Max's hotel room shofar blow off
Exploring Tsfat
Hannah and Julia after our jeep tour of the Golan
Jocelyn and Hannah after dinner at a Druze village
The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa
Israeli dancing at a Haifa elementary school

Getting ready for Shabbat in Tel Aviv

Shabbat afternoon walk along the Mediterranean Sea
Dates at Tel Aviv's Levinsky Market
Exploring Latrun with some Israeli soldiers
And finally, a quick hello to Big Ben on our London layover.

So that's the really, really high level version of events. Believe it or not, but there are things we did that aren't even in the pictures above! It was a very busy trip. Just how I like it.

A huge thank you to everyone at Temple Emanuel who helped make our dream a reality, especially Michelle, Terri, Wayne and Ilene, and our excellent guides Abraham, Bill and Tal from Da'at. It was such a pleasure getting to travel with everyone, deepening friendships and creating new ones.
All of us!
The only question that remains? When can we all go back?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Cougher's Lament

I'm a cougher. I have been one for basically as long as I can remember. I remember getting sick and coughing a lot in college. My roommates and I would pass colds between ourselves, but I'd always be coughing for weeks longer than everyone else. I've learned that's what my body likes to do. I always thought I eventually stopped coughing, but probably not for very long before I'd get another cold again.

At many points in my life, I've had family members, friends and coworkers annoyed by my persistent coughing. My dad, who doesn't really intervene much in my life, would notice it and mention it when I'd be home for a visit. My mother-in-law has told me that I'm lucky not to be knocked out by my upper respiratory issues. Every once in a while, my back would even be annoyed by my coughing, despite being so much better than it was before my surgery.

And it's probably because of what I went through with my back, and other diabetes issues and thus high-risk pregnancies and so on and so forth that I've tended to ignore the cough. I've had enough pressing medical issues to deal with and maintain that I didn't really want another one. I try never to be far from a glass of water, and cough as needed.

I was sick again some time in the fall, I can't even remember exactly when, but nothing too serious. The usual coughing was happening. But the cold went away, and the cough didn't. It was annoying enough that I started to pay more attention. Life was busy, and I figured the cough would go away when we spent two weeks in Israel and drier air. It didn't go away. So after various snow days and taking the kids to their own doctor for their annual well visits, I finally booked an appointment for myself. I worried/prayed the cough would magically disappear in time for my appointment, but of course it didn't.

After a thorough line of questioning, my doctors think that one of the medications I've been taking for preventative diabetes-related reasons has caused the cough. I've been taking it since 2009, and it's a side effect of the drug. The plan is to stop taking the medication for six weeks, and see how the cough is then.

I should be thrilled. Not only does the treatment not require additional medical intervention, but it actually gives me a reason to cease another medical intervention. That's a good thing. But I'm mostly just frustrated. I hate that I don't want to go to the doctor for fear of having another thing wrong with me. I hate the idea that taking one of my medications, something that's supposed to help me, has actually done me some other harm. I hate that most of the time there's not a lot we can do when a doctor says we need something; we take it, hope for the best. I hate that I never, ever, ever get a break from diabetes, that it is my constant companion for the rest of my life, that it or complications from it will most likely ultimately end my life.

Before today, it was just a cough. Now it's a symbol, a signifier of so much more.

I really hope it goes away.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Long Day

We have to use a buzzer to get into the school after hours now, for aftercare pick up. There's a light that shines out into the late-afternoon darkness, and I imagine us parents look like shadowy figures at best. I'm wrong though. The aftercare director has caught me mid-yawn, and tells my daughter that I need a nap.


I had the kids take the bus home some random afternoon, when we were anticipating snow. This year our ability to cope with snow seems incredibly diminished. I've always been anxious about dealing with the snow, but it sounds like the rest of society, or at least the weather forecasters, has caught up to my level of fear. Now, everyone is shutting everything down all the time. Max doesn't ever take the bus home, and I don't think he understood that it was because of impending snow. The next day, he asks if he can take the bus home every day.


I'm back at aftercare pick-up. Max is making a snowflake, but has cut the wrong side of the paper and it's more of a skinny X than an intricate, symmetrical design. "It's a long day," the teacher tells me. I internalize this failed snowflake, but tell Max it's just like every other snowflake out there: perfectly unique.


My mind works in song lyrics.

"It's a long day, living in the suburbs,
When you don't have, time to play in the yard.
I'm a bad mom, cuz I can't be at the bus stop,
I'm a bad mom, cuz I'm breaking his heart."

I cry as I walk to the train in the early-morning darkness.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out of Favor Party Favors

Having kids born four days apart (you can see my whole journey to motherhood over on the Listen To Your Mother Boston blog, hint hint) has worked out well for our family. Obviously, we don't know anything different, and celebrating more often over the course of the year is probably fun, but it's worked out okay for us. We get through the extended holiday season by adding in birthdays, and so long as we try to purchase any "hot" toys in advance of Christmas that they might want for their birthdays, we haven't had many issues over the years. Last year we threw both of their parties in one weekend, and we're doing it again this year.

So far, we've done a lot of "big" parties. Maybe I'm compensating for times when I was left out of things as a kid, but I hate limiting a guest list and try to include as many people as we reasonably can. Sometimes it's been a bit chaotic, but honestly, I've thought every party has gone well. There's only one side effect of a big party that I don't enjoy: party favors.

I'm not creative and I'm always low on time. Other than the pregnancy-induced hysteria of buying expensive prepackaged goody bags for Hannah's party two weeks after Max was born, I've always managed to find some things to throw together and hand out, but it's an experience that always leaves me stressed. There are so many factors involved. I hate having silly clutter in my own home, so the idea of passing it out to others has never felt that great. Some years we've done one bigger item, but those can be hard to find and are usually not much better than the silly clutter. My kids don't want to pass out books, despite having happily received them at other parties. I don't mind including some candy, but it has to be individually wrapped and nut-free. And then there's the quantity. Do you plan for only the kids that RSVP'd? Or all of the kids who could still potentially show up? What about siblings that might end up coming as well? Ugh. I end up thinking about it all way too much. But when I think of cutting them out, all I can see is disappointed kids at the end of the party. Including mine.

This year, the favors aren't going to be that great. I feel like I'm toeing the line between something my kids will consider passable, and my desire to to keep things simple. There are no cute gift bags, but there are also no noisemakers, so you have to give me some credit. The candy meets my guidelines, and the toys are small enough that they shouldn't add much clutter to a home.

I'm already thinking ahead to next year though. I'm hoping this is our last year of "big" parties. The kids are getting older, and they don't look like this little girl anymore. Because I definitely didn't have the willpower to deny this child a noisemaker.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Faking It, and Somehow, Making It

Have you heard about the concept of "imposter syndrome?" According to Wikipedia, the term was first coined in 1978, but surely the authors of the original article knew that one year old me was going to be aspiring to success someday, and they created the concept to be all about how I feel on any given day. Here's the synopsis:

"The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."

I've talked about feeling this way before, in a post where I wholeheartedly attribute my career success to luck and timing. That post was written less than a year ago, and while I still acknowledge that luck and timing helped a lot, I also realize I was cutting myself short. But that's honestly how I felt, and feel even now.

I'm trying to change that though. My friend Liz is hosting a panel coming up soon as part of the promotion for her book, and she asked me to be part of the panel. The event is for an Emerging Leaders Program at UMass Boston, and upon receiving the invitation, I paused. Aren't I still an emerging leader myself? What would I really have to say about anything at all? I'm only entering my...


Fifteenth year in the workplace. And for the past ten of those years, I've also been a parent. And Liz must think I'm capable, because I think the world of her and so I can't be a total waste of time. Perhaps this is the tipping point. I still think I have a lot to learn, but maybe I have things to teach and share, too.

Meanwhile, there's Listen To Your Mother Boston eating up tidbits of my time each day, and it is so, so fun. I've never done anything like producing a show before, and yet, it doesn't feel all that scary. Of course, having the backbone of the national organization, two Facebook groups and two amazing teammates doesn't hurt at all, but I also feel like I'm making things up as I go and that's totally okay. Everyone I've dealt with so far has been kind and supportive of this new endeavor. I'm sure there will be discouraging moments along the way too, but I don't feel like they will make me doubt my capabilities. That's certainly something.

What about you? Do you ever feel like an imposter, or how have you gotten past it?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Word of the Year 2014: Impact

I'm sure you've all been waiting impatiently for my word choice of 2014, the thought that I hope will guide me on my way in this new year. I do like this exercise, choosing the word. As I said before, "more" for 2013 was pretty easy to fulfill, and it served me well. It wasn't very difficult though, not something I'd really fail at so long as I didn't maintain the status quo.

And I'm so over "leaning in." I've done enough of that for a few years. I just want to do well enough in my new role(s) for now. I've always tried hard on my own; I'm not sure having someone else telling me to do that changed anything.

I'm a bit tired of "having it all" too. Though I've always taken the phrase in a positive light, that we have a lot of "all" in our lives, well, it's a lot of pressure. I know it doesn't work for everyone. I'm not changing my tagline ("Having it all, at the exact same time.") just yet, but I'm ready to move on from that too.

So 2014 is going to be all about impact. I've achieved enough success for the moment. I want to use my position in life to have an impact on others. Obviously, my actions have a large impact on my immediate family, but I want to make sure it's a positive impact to any extent possible. I want to think about my direction at work, and what will make the most positive impact on my community there. I want my words here to have an impact, and I know my involvement with Listen To Your Mother can help change lives, including my own. And maybe, just maybe, I can impact my body and health somehow along the way too. It's a step further than thinking before I act or speak. It's considering the landing space, and whether it creates a tiny scratch or a deep valley.

So I had it engraved in stone, to create a touchstone for me to see on my nightstand each day. To start and end my days with that word in mind. A year of considering my impact. It may be harder to quantify than "more," but I think it will end up meaning quite a lot.

Purchased from sjengraving,

Sunday, January 5, 2014


In Hebrew, "ahava," meaning love.
Today, Hannah Ruth, you are ten.

It's kind of breaking my heart to write this letter, and I've procrastinated on it as long as I can. How can you possibly be turning 10 already? How can so much of your childhood have already happened? I can feel the ball rolling down the hill of time now, picking up speed with every rotation, going too fast.
It's hard not to see myself in you. You are a reader and a writer and a singer, all things I like to think I helped influence. But then you insist on mustache-shaped earrings and hipster glasses, and I know that you're all yourself too. You're still neon and glitter, but with more sophisticated shades thrown in too.

This year, we passed that less-recognized milestone of you singing along to the new song on the radio, when I'm hearing it for the very first time. You played piano, recorder and clarinet. You received your prayer book in a special ceremony and started going to youth group events. You were a sailor, a sea creature, a chef and a princess all in one night. You held my hand in Israel, because you wanted to, not because you needed it. Or maybe you did need it--you needed to feel little for a while, because you know you're not so little anymore. And with more patience and grace than I can often muster, you still permit your brother to be your very best friend.

Hannah, you are incredibly kind and compassionate, and you think for yourself. I hope you always stay that way, even though it might be a struggle sometimes. You know the right things to do, for yourself and those that you love. You are a smart, strong, beautiful young lady, and I'm so proud to be your Mom. I love you, kiddo.

(You can also see letters for ages seven, eight and nine.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Max, with his own sense of style.
Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning six.

I looked back over the letters I’ve written you in other years, and it’s shocking how much of your personality has already been so fully formed. Not that much has changed between five and six—you still do flying karate kicks, still love Cinnamon Toast Crunch, still count down to almost everything—you are astonishingly you. Favorite blankets, old imaginary friends, and talks of space still factor into your life, but you’ve made room for more math facts, for sounding out words, for more and more complicated art projects.

Five was an awesome year. You learned the fundamentals of beat boxing and can often be heard muttering variations of “boots and cats” under your breath. You told me about life during the “back thens” when you were around to witness the Passover story firsthand. You were so proud at your preschool graduation ceremony. You explored new camps and played a bass in your group’s production of “Rainbow Fish.” You lost your first teeth. You started kindergarten and aftercare without a single worry, because you were big and you were ready. At the Kotel, you prayed for peace, health, safety and freedom for all.

Few things in life are better than your hugs, even if you don’t always want to give them. It’s hard when things don’t go your way, and it breaks my heart to have to say no sometimes, especially when you “pretty please” me with those blue eyes of yours. And while she might not want to admit it off the top of her head, I’m pretty sure your sister is still your very best friend.

In past years, I’ve been able to foresee so much in the coming year that you’d have to look forward to doing. But as we’re about to come home from this amazing adventure in Israel, I don’t really know what your next big experience will be. Whatever it is, I know you’ll dive into it headfirst, ready to soak up every possibility. You are a truly great kid, and I’m so lucky to be your Mommy (and sometimes, in the very quietest of moments, Mama). Happy birthday, buddy.

(You can also see letters for ages three, four and five.)