Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Story Changes

Over the past 12 months with Hannah, her senior year and last one as a child living at home, I’ve had plenty of opportunities for crying. There were so many “lasts,” particularly from March through June, and many nerve-wracking, stressful, crazy joyous moments. Hannah wears her heart on her sleeve, and seeing her cry always makes me cry (I think that phenomenon goes both ways). For example, we cried both before and after she got accepted to NYU, her dream school. But most of my tears have been fairly well-contained, at home, in private. 

I didn’t cry at graduation. I didn’t cry at prom, even when the sight of all of her closest friends in their finery literally took my breath away. I didn’t cry at her final South Stage performance or Senior Showcase (maybe because I immediately had to launch a letter-writing campaign to save a teacher’s job, but anyway). 

I could have cried the other day, in the Target parking lot, as it hit me that this last shopping outing to buy dorm supplies was at the same store as her very first shopping outing, or outing really anywhere beyond her pediatrician’s office. At two weeks old, on a Saturday night in January, her dad and I took her to Target for the first time. We needed more diapers, of course, but I remember feeling desperate to go *anywhere* at all. It was cold, she was tiny, I didn’t really drive then, and being at home alone with a newborn was so hard for me. Hannah was a good baby, but I was missing the rest of the world, and so excited to roam those aisles. I could have cried today for that me in 2004, for how much I’ve changed since then, as much as I could have cried for the tiny infant somehow buying very different items today. 

I’ve said it a million times already, and I’ll say it a million times more: I am so incredibly proud of her. She has worked so hard, been a good person and a great friend, and she deserves every bit of happiness (and some struggles to be sure) as she enters this next part of life. But I’m also so incredibly proud of myself. Eighteen years of making so many decisions on her behalf. I won’t claim to have done everything perfectly, or that there aren’t other paths that could have been taken, but I am really satisfied with the one that led us here. 

I recently spoke with several old blogging friends, most of whom don’t write anymore, citing “the kids got older” as the excuse. It’s really hard to know where the boundaries are in writing, and we all didn’t want to get it wrong. It’s why I’ve written less too. But so much of her story is my story too. And my story is changing too. 

So I’ll definitely feel the lump form in my throat when we drop her off in her dorm later this week. And I might actually cry a bit. I’ll rely on Max to get me through it, though I’m sure he’ll just ask how I’m going to manage when it’s his turn in four years. 

I wonder who I’ll be by then.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Grief in the Form of a Coat

Today marks 15 years of writing here. It doesn't seem possible, and yet the adult-sized Max, who I wasn't even pregnant with then, exists fully today and is going to high school in the fall. I don't write as much as I used to, but I still often think about life as I would write it. A lot has changed for that 29yo me, but the 44yo me still feels like I have a lot more to go. Here's a piece on grief and a coat. My mom passed away two years ago next week.


As the parent of a theater kid, it’s not unusual for them to go rifling through your closet, looking for potential costume ideas. For my daughter Hannah, I think that’s been happening since she was in the sixth grade, and needed to dress as a somewhat “professional looking” character for her role in a production called “A Play Without Words.” For her latest role she was to play an everyday teenager, but for some reason her everyday puffer jacket wasn’t appropriate, according to the costume department at her high school. So she went to my closet and found a blazer that she liked, and then I suggested she look through the coat closet, because who knew what might be lurking in there.

The following morning I came downstairs around 6:45, before my son was due to leave for school, and saw her findings hanging on the back of a chair at the dining room table. There was the blazer that I had already seen, and then another coat that looks, well, a lot like the coat I wear every day: black and white checkered. Knowing that it might be the last time I saw the coat for a while, I walked over to get my gloves out of the pockets because I didn’t want to be without them for the next couple of weeks. Reaching in the pockets to retrieve the woolen gloves I expected to find, I found a wadded up ball of tissues instead. I didn’t remember having left any tissues in there - usually I’m throwing out used masks these days - but there were tissues. I reached for the other pocket only to find more tissues. That wasn’t right at all. But it wasn’t until I turned the coat around and saw the black mourner’s ribbon still attached to the front lapel that I knew I was looking at my, well, not everyday jacket.

Apparently I hadn’t worn my heavy black and white checkered, fancier jacket since my mother’s funeral in March of 2020. 

It’s been so long now that I didn’t remember I even had that jacket anymore. I’d completely forgotten about it because I hadn’t had an excuse to wear a nice jacket like that in the past two years, other than the funeral. I’ve barely left the house over these last couple of years, much less needed a nice dress jacket. Who was I going to impress, the people I was going to see driving around the carpool lane as I picked up the kids from school, or maybe going to the gym? No, I hadn’t needed that jacket.

So being confronted with it just moments into the start of a regular day? It wrecked me. I wasn’t expecting a reminder of my mother’s passing. Those days after the funeral are a blur in my mind. We rushed to Ohio for the funeral and returned late at night a few days later. I probably came home and shoved that coat into the closet and never thought about it again. Never thought about needing to remove the mourner’s ribbon because I didn’t remember getting a ribbon. I don’t remember much about standing beside my mother’s grave, because it was freezing, and there were so few of us there in those early, terrifying days of Covid. We huddled under a tent, just a handful of us, my brother’s family over FaceTime from San Francisco. And that was it. Because it was less than two weeks into the lockdown and my mother passed away so unexpectedly, nothing happened in a traditional way. No shiva, no people back to the house, no deli trays. Not even a Zoom memorial; I thought surely we’d get to something when this all ended in a month or two. But it didn’t. 

So now, two years later, why would I have had this ribbon still attached to my coat? Almost nothing about that time even seems real to me, and yet here it was, a very stark reminder that it did indeed happen. That my mother is still gone, and that it still hurts.

Of course, I let Hannah take the coat to school. I removed the ribbon, threw out the tissues, and let her take it to be judged by the costume department. They agreed, and the coat was in the show. Hannah was great, and the coat was barely on stage for a moment. Nobody would’ve known that the last time someone wore that coat, it had been worn at a funeral. But I knew.

After the production run, Hannah brought the coat home and I hung it back up in the closet. I’m due to go back to work in person soon, and it will likely still be cold enough that it might make sense to wear that coat again. But I’m not sure that I can anymore. I’m not sure that after two years, and this vast experience that I have had to navigate without my mother, I can go back and put that coat on ever again. It’s still a nice coat, and I’m going to pass it on to somebody else who could use it well, without my memories attached to it. Maybe they can make better memories when they wear it. 

Hannah wearing the coat

Wednesday, January 5, 2022


Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning eighteen. 

Wow. Just taking a moment to let that sink in.

I think this will be the last letter to you that I share here on the blog. I'll still write them if you like, but it's not going to be the same. Because if all goes according to plan, in a few short months you'll be off to NYU, and maybe I won't know all about the little accomplishments of your life anymore. I'm not ready for that letting go yet, but I'm trying to get there.

I've been incredibly lucky to have a daughter who shares as much of her life with me as you do. I like to think that I'm helpful in whatever I bring back to you in this journey, but I also know you could do it all on your own. You are an incessantly responsible, thoughtful and empathetic young woman. You even out-busy me, and that's how it should be at this point in both of our lives. You got your license and drive yourself everywhere now. You were a merry murderess and a swashbuckling Musketeer. You had your first internship and learned all about managing corporate email and slide decks. You had a HaZamir solo and floated on stage during a choir concert upon receiving your first college acceptance.

You are TikTok musicals and sticker-covered water bottles. You are USY events and feminism and singing alone in an empty house. You're a good friend to many, and you take that role very seriously. You love love and you cry easily (never stop). You look after Max because you just can't help yourself, because you love him so much. And yes, I accept that you might miss Shira more than you miss me next year.

These next few months are going to go so fast and have so many major moments: HaZa festival, your last South musical, prom, graduation. I know you're ready for the rollercoaster of emotions ahead. And New York City better spend some time getting ready for you. Proud isn't a big enough word. Happy birthday, my BusyBee, my Hanniebelle, my Han. I love you so very much.

(You can also see letters for ages seveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteen,  fifteensixteen and seventeen.)

Saturday, January 1, 2022


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning fourteen.

A second teenage pandemic birthday. You started asking me months ago about what we could do for your birthday, almost like the countdowns you used to enjoy when you were younger. I definitely offered up taking a few friends out to dinner as an option. It's so disheartening that it's not one anymore. 

That hasn't stopped you from making the best you could out of this year. You shined on your bar mitzvah day and raised over $2000 for charity: water. You play guitar almost constantly and you've started writing your own musical arrangements to Jewish prayers, and complete songs as well -  I found myself humming along to the one about elliptical orbits while washing dishes the other day. You explored some of your analytical tendencies in a Speech club last year. You had a fabulous summer at camp on your own, and one perfect day with me and Hannah in NYC.

You prefer savory to sweet, wolfing down spicy tuna rolls and whatever my leftovers are. You are part of the library task force and the GSA, and love being a Madrich (teacher's aide) in the first grade at religious school and with the children's choir. You're now the tallest person in the family, which means you want your arms to go on top when you give me one of your famous hugs, and I'm trying to get used to that. You were a great support to Hannah during the crazy college process and I think you've grown even closer over the past year. You give me regular "pupdates" on Shira, who you still can't get enough of.

As you've gotten older, these annual letters can't actually contain all of the things that you are, and that you are to me. I love you because you're my son, but I also love you because of who you are as a person. You give me something to be proud of every day, and I'm very lucky to be your mom. Happy birthday, buddy. 

(You can also see letters for ages threefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve and thirteen.)

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.