Sunday, January 25, 2015

To the Woman I Couldn't Help

To the Woman I Couldn't Help,

You got on a standing room only train on Friday morning, but the crowd parted as you entered. A young girl like you is probably used to turning heads, but this time it was entirely different. You were coughing and stumbling, a real sight to see among the conservative black wool pea coats and the ubiquitous North Face jackets. You looked like you belonged anywhere but here.

On this 20 degree morning, you were dressed in short shorts and sandals. Your legs were covered in bruises, with giant bandages on your knees. Your strappy white sandals might have been hard to walk in on a warm summer's day, but today you were really struggling. You had a thin scarf that you used to cover your mouth, and wrapped around your hand as you grasped at the pole to hang on. A floppy hat was perched on your head; I don't think you had any hair. You were all skin and bones, thin beyond levels I encounter on a day to day basis. If you hadn't come to a stop right beside me, I might not have noticed the strangest detail of all: your very pretty pink pedicure.

I asked if you wanted my seat, but you said you were getting off at the next stop. I paused a moment, to carefully choose my words, and then asked, "Do you need any help?"

"Oh no," you quickly replied, "I just have a medical condition." You tried, unsuccessfully, to make your shorts longer. You got off at the next stop, lurching and acting like you had no idea where you were.

Maybe I've read too much on domestic violence. Maybe I spent too long watching the Amtrak safety video, warning of human trafficking, while we waited to come home from NYC a few weeks ago. Maybe you were on something. Or maybe it was the mother in me desperately wanting to give you my scarf, my coat, heck, even my pants. Because I knew that what I was witnessing wasn't right.

We were on that train together for less than 10 minutes, maybe only five. You've likely already forgotten me, but I haven't been able to forget you. I wish there was something I could have done, though I'm not sure what it would have been. With all of my means, I didn't know how to help you in that moment. I still don't.

Maybe you're okay. Maybe I'm just seeing things that aren't there. I really hope I was wrong.

But I don't think I was. And for that, I'm very sorry.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Paralyzed by Perfection

I have three things I need to confess to all of you.

First off, I didn't send out any sort of holiday cards this year. And I love holiday cards. But I didn't get them done.

Second, I professionally straightened my hair. I first did this four years ago, absolutely loved it, but have held off doing it again for a lot of reasons. But I got it done.

Third, I've been trying to pack my lunch again. Only not in my cute little Bento lunchbox, but in this kind of haphazard way. But I did it three times last week.

These actually aren't three different confessions, but one giant confession instead. The real confession is that I'm a perfectionist, and if things can't be done just so, then I'd rather not do them at all. I didn't have a photo that I was thrilled about, so I didn't design cards this year. I didn't want to spend the money on straightening my hair (even though it makes me ridiculously happy), so I didn't do it for years. And somehow, it's more acceptable in my mind to buy lunch everyday than to produce a little bit of extra waste by buying individual hummus and yogurt containers and leaving behind the Bento box. All three of these things have been making me feel very guilty. Some of these are good reasons--but a lot of them are really, really stupid.

So I skipped sending cards for the first time in 15 years. We saw a lot of our family members over the past few months, and I'm in touch with more friends than ever thanks to social media. We've always sent WAY more cards than we receive, and while it's an activity I've always enjoyed, it didn't happen this time. And it's okay.

So I spent a bunch of money straightening my hair. But I've been, as I said, ridiculously happy with it since I did it. I've wasted so much time stressing over bad hair days, with Hannah telling me my hair has expanded and looks bad by the time we've reached the bus stop on a humid morning. I feel guilty for being so vain. But honestly? It's okay too.

And I just don't have the time in my day to be cleaning the crevasses of my Bento box, or dealing with the ramifications when the yogurt leaks in my bag, or feeling frustrated that my cute little food items don't fit in the confines of the box. This doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing exercise. I can buy individually packaged items. It's totally okay.

Despite the many achievements I've had in my life, I still struggle with little things like this. Making decisions and giving myself permission to not get everything perfect, but good enough, and then not feeling guilty about the outcomes. No one is holding my lack of a new year's card against me, no one else really cares about what I do with my hair, and no one else is judging me for my lunch. And yet I'm beating myself up, failing to move forward, paralyzed by the need to be perfect.

I'm working on it, obviously, but I wish it was easier than it is.

What about you? Has perfection ever paralyzed you?

I might have used this on a card. Wishing you all the best in 2015!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The End of a Birthday Era

With two kids born four days apart at the beginning of January, the "holidays" in our house never really ended until both of them had their birthday parties. Some years saw our "Birthdaypalooza" extend all the way into Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Planning their birthday parties was a task I've always taken seriously. Okay, not Pinterest-seriously, but I've put the time in.

Max's 7th birthday party
I've stressed over carefully worded Evites, and even a couple rounds of hand-printed invitations. I've hosted parties at home (this remains one of my most-read blog posts), with live entertainment, and beyond, at a few plaster painting places, giant gym complexes with huge play structures, even built a few bears (and oh, the lost coat story that accompanied that party--thankfully years later I can say the girls are still friends). I've tracked down last minute RSVPs and respectfully tried to limit non-invited siblings. I've reluctantly filled goody bags and dutifully sent out thank you notes. But I am confident enough to say that this is the year it's all coming to an end.

We had Max's seventh birthday party this past weekend, and we kept it simple. We only invited the boys in his class, and they came to our house to watch a movie. We had pizza and a homemade (by Max and Marc) cake. No goody bags, no tracking down email addresses of kids in other classes, no monitoring constantly for RSVPs. It was loud and chaotic and we're lucky no one got hurt, but Max had fun. It was exactly what he wanted it to be. I just don't think he's going to want that again.

Hannah's 11th birthday event
He won't want it again because Hannah raised the bar with her birthday. Instead of having a party, the four of us took the train into New York City for the day, to see the Broadway show "Matilda." Hannah had been wanting to do that for about six months after learning some of the music at camp last summer, but we didn't take the request seriously until it came up in conjunction with her birthday. We realized we would all enjoy going together, and added a few extras like a stop at a magic store for Max and a fabulous Kosher meal for Marc, and the day was made. The show was fun, we enjoyed being in New York, and despite a bit of rain and the long train rides, it was a really great day. I loved having this adventure together, and so did the kids.

They're growing up, and a day like that is just another sign of things to come. I'm glad to be moving on. I've had my fill of glitter-covered plaster figurines and remember-to-wear-good-socks climbing structures. See ya, birthday party stress. So long, goody bags. Bring on the new adventures.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I Keep Going: A Response to Targeted Attacks on Jews

I've been feeling unsettled since I first saw Twitter last Friday morning, that hostages had been taken, and eventually were killed, at a Kosher market in Paris. So many news stories over the past year have been unsettling--far too many--but the Jewish aspect of this attack hit me on a different level. 

Rationally, statistically even, I know that the odds of being personally hurt in an attack like this are extremely low. But this post isn't about being rational or carefully calculating the odds. It's about how I feel knowing that my people are being targeted doing an everyday thing, something that harms no one, something I have done and will continue to do.

It's different than the situation experienced by many other minority groups, because while I don't hide my religious status, it's not as obvious either. I don't have to fear the kinds of systemic discrimination that accompany virtually every aspect of life for other minority groups. I could even live my life in a way that limits the opportunity to be a victim of one of these targeted events. I could never enter a synagogue, or shop at a Judaica store, or attend a Jewish film festival, or dance at a Jewish wedding held in a hotel ballroom. But then I wouldn't actually be Jewish, at least not in how I define that in my life.

So I keep going. The next morning, I attended services at my synagogue that had been specifically coordinated by the Sisterhood group. I had the high honor of carrying the Torah scroll throughout the congregation before it was used in the service, stopping so hundreds of congregants could touch their prayer shawls and books to the scroll. Over the course of the morning, I was reminded so many times that the Jewish people will have a future. A two week old baby was welcomed into the congregation, surrounded by three other generations of his family. Our high school youth group had a leadership convention, and they received a special blessing. A college a Cappella group from the University of Pennsylvania sang us songs urging peace. These kids are all just starting out. They will keep going, too.

I keep going. I’d like to say, I keep going, and I don’t think twice about it. But I do think twice, three times, four times. I think about how I could protect my children if the horrific were to occur. I pray that I am never tested in that way. I think about how I work hard to teach my children not to hate. I pray that other parents are doing the same.

I can’t say I’m not afraid. But I think, and I pray, and I keep going.

Monday, January 5, 2015


The essence of Hannah at 11

Today, Hannah Ruth, you are eleven.

Ten has been such an amazing year, that another birthday already is bittersweet. I don't want to leave 10 behind, and I don't think you do either. There was so much magic in being 10. But knowing you like I do, I know you will always keep making the magic happen.

You began the year with your first clarinet and choir concert, beginning a string of concerts we won't see end anytime soon. Your schedule kept getting busier as you added swim lessons and events like Funtastic Fridays to your life. We got your bat mitzvah date - look out 2017! You couldn't wait to get back to Camp Yavneh and became an instant celebrity after your solo got a camp-wide standing ovation. You were a Who over the summer, but it turned out to be time well-spent for your amazing turn as Gertrude McFuzz in "Seussical." You had the best teacher of your elementary school years, and you became a stronger writer. You got your first phone and love to text me strings of emojis. You read more books than I can keep up with, and thankfully you've inherited my love of Broadway. 

You continue to be sweet and kind and well-loved by all of the adults in your life. For the most part, you're patient, which I find astounding. And though he drives us all crazy, I know deep down that your brother is still your very best friend. 

I type this sitting next to you on the train home from our very latest adventure which you inspired, a spontaneous trip to NYC to see the show "Matilda." You're happy of course, but you're mostly happy because there was an element of today that everyone in the family got to enjoy. Even on your day, you know that it's about more than just you. I'm so proud of you, my Hanniebelle, and so happy to be your Mom. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Word of the Year: Choose

My 2015 word of the year stone

First, there was "more." Then there was "impact." Now, it's time to "choose." My word of the year to guide 2015 is choose.

It's actually been there, hovering on the horizons of my consciousness, for the last few months. I was asked to do something that would require a major commitment, and I actually took the time I had to consider it carefully. I ended up saying no, not now, despite a great desire to take part, but also knowing that now was not the time if I want to do that position justice. There are too many other things I've already said yes to, both in my day to day life, and in my own mind.

I've always loved the theories behind decision making, but what I've also realized is that having choices in life is a real luxury. Because of the often abundant nature of choice, it's easy to be bogged down in it. I want to remember how lucky I am to have choices, and to remember that it's okay to take my time in choosing. So many of the big things in life are determined and set for right now, that it's the choices on the periphery that I'm focused on, but it doesn't mean I should take them any less seriously. In a way, "choose" is a lot like "more," in that I'll hopefully make the choices that lead to more good things along the way.

That's my new stone above, made by sjengraving, which will join my "impact" stone on my nightstand. Here's to lots of choices in 2015.

What about you? Do you have a word of the year? I'd love to hear it in the comments!

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Max, flying high on a bald eagle

Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning seven.

Unlike in past years, there hasn't been some massive need to count down. You can monitor that in your own mind now, keeping track of the days and who will be where and when and why.And it just seems inevitable that you should be seven, how have you not already been seven? Perhaps it's first grade, but you've grown up so much this year.

You jumped on in to your birthday party to start 2014, and haven't stopped jumping often since then. You'll remember this as the year of getting injured, so much so that you decided to wish not to get injured in 2015, though even a broken wrist didn't slow you down. This is the year that swimming connected for you, and you were a kindergarten chess champion. You had a starring role as Amos in "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" at camp. You have a BFF who you refer to as such, Ethan, and love to play chip factory with him and Yonatan. You love to make French toast and instructional videos on how to draw, and belt out "Let It Go" with the best of them.

When I ask if you like something, you respond that you don't just like things, you LOVE them. Hugs from you are the best medicine I know, and you carefully guard your position as the best hugger in the family. Your sister doesn't like getting your hugs as much anymore, at least that's what she says, but I know that you two continue to be each other's very best friends (sorry, Ethan!).

Despite you having looked through the full calendar for 2015, I'm going to hold off on predicting too much for you. You keep surprising me, and I like it that way. You're not such a little boy anymore, though I see traces of it when you ask me to brush back the bangs from your forehead and call me "Mama." I'm so proud to be your mom, and can't wait to see what you do next. Happy birthday, buddy.

(You can also see letters for ages three, fourfive and six.)