Tuesday, December 21, 2021

2021: My Year in Review

Still terrible at selfies, but this one is sparkly.

With the kids' birthday letters in early January, I usually spend time around now looking over the last 12 months on my calendar. I’ve never been more shocked about how little I remembered than about this year. I’ve been saying for months that it didn’t make sense that Max’s early January bar mitzvah was the same calendar year as this one, but I also seem to have completely forgotten that he participated in Speech (virtually) last school year, and I spent several Sundays judging tournaments, fully absorbed in how to rank groups of 5-7 middle schoolers who all clearly wanted to do well. Of course I now see that yes, that happened this year too, but the way so much blends together now is scary. 

I think a lot of that blend is because I’m not only home so much, but also at my desk at home so much. I like my workspace a lot…but using my laptop at home used to feel like a treat. Finding time to write on an evening or weekend felt like a break from the kids or errands and was something I really enjoyed. Now, I’m at my laptop almost every single day, for hours and hours on end. The kids leave and I’m there. They come back and I’m there. So finding the mental space to write when the physical space is always the same seems to be a challenge for me. Right now, I’m writing this from my couch in the Notes app instead, with Shira at my feet. My constant shadow. 

Anyway, more to come on Hannah and Max when I write their letters soon, but I thought you might like to catch up on, well, me! Going through the college process with Hannah took up a significant portion of my year. We spent three full days in April doing 12 virtual tours and information sessions, trying to come up with a list of where she would apply. Another few vacation days were spent in August touring a few schools in New York and New Orleans. This fall has meant cramming in essay brainstorming and editing around school and all of her activities, and it all culminated in a huge but unexpected “Yes!” from NYU just this past week. I’m so relieved that she's happy, and yet, it’s all the more real that she’ll be leaving so soon. I feel lucky to have had the time to invest alongside her, and that she let me in as much as she did. And I'm also very grateful to the friends going through this with their own kids that I could also lean on!

I spent a big chunk of my summer in Ohio with my dad before and after he had open heart surgery. Even though all went well in the end, it was an incredibly challenging time for me. I was alone in my parents’ house, taking care of their dogs, and there again for the first time since my mom unexpectedly passed away. Thank goodness Betsy was able to rescue me a few different times, and that Ryan was able to get there for when Dad was discharged. I was home in Newton for a few minutes before going back to Cleveland for my mother’s (delayed) unveiling. I think of her all the time - particularly when something juicy happens on the Real Housewives (she would have loved the return of Heather Dubrow). 

We rejoined the JCC and I’ve been regularly seeing a personal trainer since the end of September. I’m trying to exercise at least twice a week, but I’m also acknowledging that life happens and the couch is appealing. But I’m now the owner of bright pink boxing gloves, so that feels like something. And that I’m going in a mask feels monumental too, as I definitely would have used that as an excuse to avoid it before. 

I’ve seen as much theater as I could. Eight shows since August, and the count would have been higher if not for Omicron (the highlight was a perfect day in NYC with the kids to see Sara Bareilles in “Waitress"). I’ve watched livestream productions and shows at 54 Below and, of course, every production at South Stage. I’m still co-chairing the South Stage Supporters Group, and still on the board of Camp Yavneh, and finished a three-year term with the Temple Emanuel Board of Directors, with two years spent on the Executive Board. I tried to leave, but I’m still pulled back in working on Yom HaShoah stuff, as well as part of the cast for TE’s production of Hello Dolly. It’s been great being back with most of my Fiddler family for that, and hopefully we’ll be able to share an outdoor, more COVID-friendly production in May. 

And work chugs along. This year I spent time with an executive coach, and it’s been a time for a lot of reflection, and hopefully growth. I’ve become involved in our new Virtual employee resource group (ERG), and was asked to join our Women @ Work ERG for the coming year. Some of the women on that committee remembered my writing here and figured I should bring that part of myself to the office too. 

I still think in blog posts. There’s a lot I’d like to tell you, but the bandwidth. And the policing of my own self, the guarding of my own heart, that I feel the need to do when putting myself out there now, which is probably just my own issue, but still feels like it’s there. I miss the days of the Having It All Project and the galvanizing force of Listen to Your Mother. But I feel very lucky too. There isn’t a lot of conflict in my life right now, and I think that’s what I need. It’s still really busy, but I also enjoy the silence when it's not. Over the years I’ve noticed that I long for quiet, and I think it’s been really nice to find it sometimes. 

So I guess that’s my 2021. Too many meetings, not enough writing, pink boxing gloves, college essays and the occasional sparkly shirt. I'm still here. Onward.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Max's Bar Mitzvah - Part 2

Max with his custom yad

I didn't think it would be 10 months until I'd sit down and share these photos here, but I'm a very lapsed blogger these days. As with Hannah's bat mitzvah, we used the amazing Amy Emily Photography to capture this day. Given all that we had to give up having such a milestone in the middle of a pandemic, the photos were really important to me, and I'm so glad we have them. Here's all about Max's bar mitzvah.

Me holding Max's invitation

I can't help but think Max looks a bit Obama-ish in this one.

My biggest accomplishment in life? How much these two love each other.

Posing with our masks and the monitor where we saw everyone on Zoom

They've moved on from dabbing to the woah!

Our pandemic party set up from behind the velvet ropes.

Shira couldn't help but pose.

Havdalah kicked off the festivities

A portion of our Zoom party attendees - we had one for family, and another for Max's friends

Max giving Hannah her "Max Award"

Grandma Fillis and Grandpa John accepting their awards over Zoom

So much vamping.

Hannah had a "bat mitzvah high five" - for Max it became a "bar mitzvah elbow."

And one last photo of genuine gratitude from Max. How lucky we are.

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.)