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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Themeless

A few little things I've been wanting to write about, none of which are developed enough to be their own post, but all felt worthy nonetheless.

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A month or so ago, Max started using a checklist he'd written on our dry erase covered basement door. The list was of all the things he needed to do before leaving the house each morning, and contained mostly run-of-the-mill items: brush your teeth, put on your shoes and socks. Then he created a row where he could mark off the numbers of days he completed everything on the list, which then grew to a month, which grew to the entirety of second grade. "When do I get to stop?" he asked me. "Never kid. You never get to stop. You have to do those things for the rest of your life."

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Around 9:15 on a Friday night, I'd already gotten into bed and was watching an episode of "Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" when my neighbor texted that my camp counselor from when I was 10 was sitting in her kitchen, and did I want to come over? I was stunned by the invitation, but I threw my clothes back on, walked down the four houses, and spent a couple of hours catching up with my neighbors and someone I hadn't seen in decades. The amazing thing was that it wasn't the slightest bit awkward, yet I'm sure that if I'd known about it in advance, I would have stressed over it for some reason.

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I traveled around Philadelphia for three days this past week, though none of my meetings were in Philadelphia itself. I was all over the suburbs and in New Jersey and Delaware too, which I find fascinating. It's not really my job to know where I am, as I am taken around by various sales people who cover the territory, and my story is largely the same no matter who I'm talking with at that moment. But I couldn't stop looking out the window as we drove from town to town, as it was just so different from the other trips I've taken so far. I feel like it's expanding my view of our country, and I'm grateful for these opportunities to see places I wouldn't have gone on my own.

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I read this post on the NYT Motherlode blog, "Parents of Teenagers, Stuck Taking Out the Emotional Trash" last month, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The gist is that often teenagers unload their problems on to their parents, and then the teens feel much better while the parents sit and stew and try to come up with (generally unwanted) solutions. I don't think this pattern is exclusive to teens though, as I know I've unloaded my problems on others, not wanting a solution, but perhaps wanting empathy. I seem to be entering a new phase of life, though, where the problems of my soon-to-be-teen aren't the only problems that seem to be getting heavier. My own friends are going through a lot, and I often feel ill-equipped to help. I'm not a therapist, a physician, a financial adviser, an expert in scenario X, Y or Z, but I can try to be a good listener. It often doesn't feel like enough, but maybe sometimes, it is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Twelve

Her shirt says "one of a kind." And she is.

Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning twelve.

When I took the photo above, one Sunday morning before religious school, I knew I'd use it on this post. It's the perfect representation of you at that moment: long hair, nerdy glasses (though you just got contacts), hairbands on your wrists, a phone within easy reach, hot chocolate and a killer smile. I'd do almost anything to keep that smile on your face.

You say ten was the greatest year of your life, but eleven was pretty good too. It was hard to say goodbye to elementary school, but you've made a fantastic transition to middle school, earning straight A's (and an A+ in math!) while keeping up with new and old friends. You spent the year singing, with many solos at school and in All City choir, and in "Annie," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" and soon, "Joseph" and "Oklahoma." Lots of singing in the car too. You got Invisalign, danced to "Shut Up and Dance," and started practicing for your bat mitzvah, now just a year away. You spent all summer at camp, and then saw your phone "blow up" with texts on the day school team assignments were announced.

You are "Grey's Anatomy" and and North Face and Converse, both sparkly and non-sparkly. You are a million pillows - emojis, mustaches, the letter "H" - on a full-size bed with a chevron duvet. You are constantly switching purses and walks to Newton Centre on early release days. You are organized and patient and somehow still allow your brother to be your very best friend, but with many others sharing a close second ranking.

Each year, you continue to break my heart, just a little, as you get ever older. I'm never going to be ready to let you go, but I know I'm raising you to be strong enough to leave. This next year will be the biggest juggle you've encountered yet, but I know you can do it. I'm so proud of you and thrilled to be your Mom. Happy birthday, kiddo.

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

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 Word of the Year: Nachos (Yes, I'm Serious)


I'll admit that it was just a joke at first. I tweeted that my word of the year should be nachos, since I found myself having nachos for the second time in less than a week. That's not typical for me; nachos are not a core food group, after all.

I've been thinking about my 2016 word of the year for weeks, without any luck. Last year's word, "choose," was a bit of a dud. I did make SO MANY choices this year, and like I predicted, some of them were difficult choices. I thought the more definitive "choose" would guide me towards picking the right thing, towards making those tough calls, and it did, but it had a negative connotation that I didn't find very motivating. Prior words of the year "more" and "impact" had the positive vibe I was going for with this exercise. "Choose" did not.

Another part of my hesitation in selecting a word for 2016 was that I'm kind of project-less. In the last six months, I thought I'd come up with something that I found personally enriching, but I haven't found that thing yet. I'm surprised to be getting to 2016 without that thing in place. I realize, too, how much I need that thing, because without it, I've noticed I can let other parts of my life (namely work) take over to a degree that isn't great for me. I'm struggling with finding that thing, my project, and I've been hard on myself about that.

During this past week of vacation, the kids and I spent a lot of time cleaning and de-cluttering their bedrooms, assembling new furniture and not leaving the house much. After a few days of this, we went bowling at one of those places where they bring your food to the lane, but we timed it badly and couldn't get a lane when we arrived. We ate our lunch at a regular table, and given the wait time, I ordered nachos to make the meal take longer. An appetizer with lunch isn't something I do often, but the nachos were really, really good. The perfect thing to have that day. And then I ended up at a mall food court Taco Bell a few days later, again a very rare experience, and found myself ordering nachos again.

Suddenly, the nachos took on a bigger meaning. They weren't just nachos, they were word of the year nachos, emblematic of what I want in the coming year. It's not just about nachos. I want a little less typical, a little less core, a little longer lunch time, a little more perfect thing for that day. A little less hard on myself, a little more fun just for the sake of fun. The recognition that "impact" and "choose" are big and important, but that spontaneous moments of nachos can be big and important too.

So it may seem silly, but yes, I'm going to order my engraved rock with the word "Nachos," but more than that, I'm going to try to document my "nachos moments" over the coming year. I'm going to shoot for one nacho moment a week, and see how I do. I need a little less serious all the time, and hopefully a rock saying "Nachos" will help remind me of just that.

Happy 2016.

(You can see my prior word of the year posts: 2013, 2014 and 2015.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Eight

A laptop and the fifth Harry Potter book. Who is this grown up?

Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning eight.

There will be less fanfare today than in prior years. No major counting down of days happened - you can make your own calendars now. You got your present from us in advance, a new desk that you picked out and helped assemble. You chose not to have a party this year, but an experience instead, and somehow, I kept it a secret for as long as possible.

Seven had its ups and downs, but you took the downs with typical Max spirit. You were hospitalized for pneumonia last February, but you had THE BEST time while you were there. We took you to the White House and the Lincoln Memorial (Abraham Lincoln is your personal hero). You were a French class pirate, and finally passed the four foot swimming test. You missed the builders when the renovation was over. You took piano, beat box and basketball lessons, and spent play rehearsals correcting everyone in "Joseph."

You loved the Disney movie "Descendants" and dressed like one of its characters for Halloween. You proved that Netflix binge-watching isn't just for adults. You love Legos and art projects, and do really well in school and religious school (your teacher calls you "Rabbi" and it's the perfect nickname). You started reading the Harry Potter series this fall and you're already on the fifth book. And while I know I say it every year, somehow, your sister is still your very best friend. The fact that that is true feels like one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, yet I know it's really all about the two of you and the respect you have for each other.

Eight is going to be big. No more car seats for our family. You'll be tall enough for the big rides and water slides when we go to Disney this February. You're going to overnight camp with Hannah, and while you're signed up for two weeks, you think you might stay for four. I'm not sure how I'll get by without your hugs for all that time, but you've promised to use your best handwriting on at least one letter home. I can't wait to read that letter, and to keep watching you grow. I love you. Happy birthday, buddy.

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