Monday, January 30, 2017

Hannah's Bat Mitzvah - Part 1

At the rehearsal, reading from the Torah
It's been an incomprehensible two weeks since Hannah had her bat mitzvah. I've been struggling with what to say here, because in the days that followed, President Trump officially took office, and chaos has reigned every day since then. Our family has marched, sent letters and emails, and struggled to keep up with and explain every day's new catastrophe. It feels crazy to have had such a joyous, meaningful celebration in light of all that has happened.

But celebrate we did, and it was a fabulous, amazing, spectacular day. There aren't enough words to describe all of the emotion and joy that I experienced as Hannah helped to lead the service alongside our Cantor, then chanted her Torah and Haftorah portions, and delivered her speech to our community. Her speech was particularly amazing, and a real reflection of who she has become. She talked about growing up, recognizing that she needs to care about important issues, and that she can use her voice to alter the behaviors of others. She spoke about body shaming, and contributing to a culture that only prizes the privileged, and the lack of compassion we often have for others. She pledged to lead her life as a Jewish adult differently, committed to doing the right things. She proved it the following weekend by not giving up when we had a hard time getting downtown to the Women's March for Equality in Boston. She went from leading the congregation in prayer to "praying with her feet" in just one week's time.

Sitting in the front row of the sanctuary, I was as "in the moment" as I could possibly be. I couldn't see much of what was happening around me, and so I focused on Hannah. I realized I was singing louder than I typically did with certain prayers, because her weeks of nightly practicing them with me had improved my own knowledge of them. I stood next to her for the rabbi's blessing, a moment I've probably witnessed hundreds of times before, but this was finally our moment. In the months leading up to this day, I'd cried so many tears. I'd even cried on two separate moments earlier that morning. But in the service, watching her, standing next to her, blessing her, I had no tears left. Just immense pride in her and who she has become, pride in myself and Marc for the role we have played in it, and pride in the palpable love we felt from so many people in that room.

I listened to all the advice I'd gotten. For me, it wasn't over in a flash. I felt every moment. I took it in and savored it.

All of the planning, worrying, thinking about this day was completely worth it. The party went off beautifully. I really can't say that anything didn't go as planned. My wedding distills down to a few stories of mishaps, but not this party. Even the girls who were missing their shoes at the end of the night eventually found them. I got the thing I most wanted, which was a selfie with Hannah and her Snapchat filter. Hannah had an amazing time with her friends, especially her Bowen girls and her Camp Yavneh friends, including some who came from NY and CT to be with her. I took a few videos she didn't want me to take at the time, but I know she will love having them some day. We were so fortunate to celebrate with so many of our friends and family, and most fortunately, all four of Hannah's grandparents were there to spend this special day with her.

I will not gloss over how much work and expense all of this was, and I am very grateful that we were in a position where we could do it. I learned a lot, and while it was a more anxiety-producing process than I had expected, I wouldn't change any of it now. But I do hope that at Max's bar mitzvah, I'm a little more chill. Thank goodness I have four years to recover before then.

I'm labeling this as part 1 as I'm sure I'll want to share more photos when I get the official ones from the photographer. For now, my Snapchat selfie, with no promises that I will ever log in to Snapchat again. And Hannah, "bat mitzvah high five."

Thursday, January 5, 2017


Hannah as Pig #1 in Law & Order: Fairy Tale Unit

Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning thirteen.

This is one of the hardest posts I've ever written, because 13 is simply too old. I'm not ready. But *you* are ready. You've practically been 13 since you were 3. At least, that's what I used to say. Now that we're here, well, you're not that different from how I imagined you'd be. It's still you, but with more Instagram and Buzzfeed Tasty videos.

Twelve was a pretty great year for you. You starred in "Joseph" and handled being a synagogue celebrity fairly well. Then you got to be an understudy in "Oklahoma" and had a fabulous performance for the 5th graders. We took a Disney cruise and you stayed out until midnight every evening. Winning the Camp Yavneh singing competition, Zimriyah, was probably the highlight of your year. And while it's not without its frustrations, you're still doing a tremendous job at middle school, maintaining straight A's while singing with the Newton All-City Troubadours, attending religious school and practicing for your bat mitzvah, and going to drama rehearsals all of the remaining days of the week.

You love Broadway almost as much as I do, and I'll never forget our trip to see "Fun Home" together. You are "can I have a hug?" and overtired giggling. Converse are still appropriate for every situation, and wearing a coat is only valid in extreme circumstances. You are bat mitzvah parties and sleepovers and following recipes. Your brother is your very best friend, but your Bowen #squad is tight, and the most supportive group of middle school girls I've ever seen.

With your bat mitzvah just a week away, we'll soon get a chance to exhale from all of this preparation and stress, but I know it's going to be an amazing day. The great thing about life, and I have a feeling this will be especially true for you, is that there are going to be so many more amazing days to come after it. I love you, Hanniebelle. Happy birthday, teenager.

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Word of the Year: Celebrate

I don't even need the word. An emoji will do.
This is the fifth time I'm selecting a word of the year to guide me and the decisions I make in the coming year. I've found it's much easier to stick to than a resolution, as I'm not trying to make a change so much as inform my choices.

I started with "more" in 2013, and then "impact" in 2014, both of which I liked. 2015's "choose" was a bit of a dud, but I rebounded well with 2016's "nachos." I mentioned at the end of 2016 that I was going to amplify 2016's choice in 2017, and so here it is. My word for 2017 is "celebrate."

I'm fairly certain that the coming year is one I'm going to want to remember, and to remember in a really good way. Hannah's bat mitzvah is the big celebration kicking things off, but the coming year will also include my 15th wedding anniversary AND my 40th birthday. Those are definitely all milestones worth celebrating. But I hope that having "celebrate" as my word of the year will also lead me to acknowledge the smaller, but worth celebrating moments, a little better. The good report card. The positive feedback from a client. Whatever the small successes in life may be, I want to get better at celebrating them too. With "nachos" last year, I was looking to add a little more fun to life, and "celebrate" should help encourage that too.

I've ordered my new rock to add to my collection, and I look forward to celebrating as much as possible, and sharing those moments with you.

So what about you? Do you have a word for 2017?

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning nine.

With the chaos of your sister's upcoming bat mitzvah, your birthday has taken a backseat this year, and you are so totally okay with the whole thing. I never would have expected that from you, but I should have. Your love and devotion to others is fierce. And you know you are loved, too, so your party can wait. Especially since you got your new guitar a couple weeks early.

Eight was a pretty cool year. You were Zebulon alongside your sister in "Joseph," and a baker and a wolf and then a wolf again. You tried snorkeling and almost joined the dark side. You entered your first spelling bee, going far but getting out on the word "linen." You came home from your first month at Camp Yavneh and were a changed person, more mature and aware of the world. You lost some teeth and gained a retainer. You loved the presidential election process, and took the whole thing in stride, better than many adults I know (self included).

You still binge watch A LOT of Netflix, particularly "Brain Games" but at least try to include me with "Fuller House." You are "oooh yeeeeah!" when you figure something out. Your personal hero is Neil deGrasse Tyson. Your ear for music is insane, plucking out "Maoz Tzur" on your new guitar without even having had a lesson yet. Your love for TMLs -- that's turkey, mayo and lettuce for uninitiated -- is unending. You're still a great hugger, but now you like high fives too. And I still feel so very fortunate to write that your sister is your very best friend.

So, nine. The last single digit year in our house. For every time I get choked up about how old Hannah is, you reassure me that you're still little, but that's not for much longer either. We don't have many plans yet for 2017, but I know a year from now I'll be looking back once again and seeing how much you've grown, even if life just continues on as it has. I love you, buddy. Happy birthday.

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