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The Luxury of Watching Our Kids Dream

27 Aug

 

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My son is curled up beside me. He cannot sleep. This is the second or third night in a row. Always the same. He cannot sleep. He nestles in next to me, his head fitting perfectly in the spot between my neck and my chest, his legs wound around mine so many times I wonder if they are boneless. Within minutes, his breath deepens and slows. He is asleep.

I wonder how much longer it will be that I can provide this instant consolation for him. How much longer that he will let me. How much more time do I have of the luxury of watching him dream.

My friends have children going off to college. They are decorating dorm rooms, setting up proper desks, buying school supplies and filling meal cards, all the while trying to forget that their kids are leaving the nest and learning to fly on their own. It is hopeful and heartbreaking and wondrous and devastating all at the same time. I have watched these kids grow up; they are not even mine and still, I am struggling with the passage of even their time. Because soon, it will be my kids. I know that that is years away for me but I also know the way time works and that I have seemingly months. It is like trying to reverse the mileage on your car but there is no such magical gear and it is inevitably impossible. And at the same time, it is Life. And it is good.

He grabs a lock of my hair and rolls to the right. He is content. And so am I. And again, I watch him dream. Because I still can.

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Swinging the Bat

13 May

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I do not know how you measure success.

Is it wealth, fame, good health, love, all of them, none of them. I don’t know.

Maybe it’s just making an effort you thought you could never make.

My son is on his school’s baseball team. I am not betraying him when I tell you he is not the best athlete on the team. But he loves being on a team and part of a team. Recently, my mother told me she had a conversation with my son about his method of playing. In essence, his approach was to never swing with the hope of getting walked to first base. This was heartbreaking to me. I was also unaware of it because he instructed me not to attend any games because he was mainly in charge of keeping the bench very warm. Although I am not exactly athletic, I confronted him:

“You need to swing the bat. Even if you miss. You still have to try because you will miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at.”

I am not sure if he was frightened of the speed of the ball, the shame of an earned strike, or just simply taking a chance. He promised he would try. And with that, he was able to allow someone else to keep that bench warm, at least some of the time.

Academically, my son is, for the most part, thriving. He has recently struggled, however, with a couple of subjects and was less than thrilled about grades he received. I’m not exactly sure, though, that he was swinging the bat at those plates either. We had multiple, similar conversations about the importance of making an effort, trying your best, aiming for a hit instead of a walk. I’m not sure how many of these talks sink in or how many translate to the Charlie Brown teacher language of “WOH WOH WOH WAH.” My expertise and life experience are not impressive to him. It seems not to matter that I have already lived all the days he is living. He probably just wants me to stop talking. Oh well, too bad. It’s my job.

This combination of some poor grades and baseball ineptitude was starting to wear on his confidence. I cannot blame him though, again, he wasn’t actively participating in his own life enough to change his situation. It is hard to watch your child struggle with self-doubt and think you can give them all the tools and praise needed to remedy it, but it is, ultimately, up to them to cure their problems themselves.

Yesterday, on one of spring’s most beautiful days, and with my son’s blessing, I finally attended a baseball game: my son’s team’s last home game of the season. My son was at bat. He swung a few times, accruing two strikes. His team and coach continued to call his name, encouraging him. On the final pitch, as the wind blew its warm, gentle breeze over the field, I sat in a lawn chair and watched my boy make his very first hit. It was solid. It went to third base, and he made it to first base safely with his team cheering him on. And later, during the last inning, and only minutes after my husband arrived, we both had the privilege of watching our son make his second hit, into the field, right over second base. Again, his team cheered. And so did we.

While I have been largely focusing on the importance of his school work, perhaps excelling here, on a baseball diamond with friends and teammates, is just as important. He needs to feel good about himself in all arenas, and those two hits, likely inconsequential to most kids on the team, were home runs for all of us.

Had my son not swung, he never would have hit those balls. He never would have known what the impact of the ball against the ash in his hands would feel like. He never would have known that he too could create that familiar “crack” symbolic of a hit. He never would have known the joy of hearing his friends and teammates root for him and the thrill of reaching first base because he proactively earned it as opposed to watching for the pitcher to err. He never would have known what it was like to cross home plate on that beautiful spring day, the completion of the story that began with his first hit. This type of knowledge he gained is every bit as useful and meaningful as the type learned from a textbook. If not more so.

Maybe success is just swinging the bat.

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An Open Letter To My Son

19 Mar

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My Sweet Son,

I know there are things you are anxious to try: things that your friends might be doing; things that are wrong. Please wait.

You may not realize it but you are still a child. You have your whole life ahead of you to do grown-up things. I know you may think you’re ready for these things. You are not. You only get one childhood. You should live it as a child.

I wonder if you also know how dangerous some seemingly innocuous things might be. Perhaps even lethal. There are multiple reasons why some activities have minimum legal age limits. One good reason is because your mind and body are not mature enough to handle them. You should respect that. And while we’re on the subject, you should respect girls too. Listen to what they say and remember to be kind always.

It is ok to say “no.” Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are lesser than they because you won’t try something stupid. If you say no and that person gives you a hard time, you should lose them as a friend because they are not your “friend.” A true friend would never do that.

I know you are bound to make mistakes in life and it is my job to let you fail and make them. It is the only way you can learn. But you are too young to make some mistakes you may be contemplating. You are too young to pay the price of such errors. You are too young to learn these lessons. Trust me. I am your mom.

Most important, if you do make some wrong decisions, or if your friends do, your father and I will always be here. We respect honesty and will always have your best interests at heart. If for any reason you feel you or a friend is in jeopardy, please call us at once, even if you are unsure. I am more concerned about the safety of you or a friend than lecturing you on a rule you may have broken. I promise.

I’m not going to tell you about the innocent days of my youth when none of this existed and everyone just rode their bikes around until they left for college. That did not happen. There were plenty of ways for kids to get into trouble, just like there are now. And I’m not going to tell you about the car accidents, hospital admissions, and deaths of people I knew who made such decisions. They speak for themselves.

I’m just going to tell you that I get it. That I’ve been there.

Life is full of crossroads. No matter which ones you may reach, I am always here to guide you and to love you, even if you make wrong turns along the way. But please, do not make those turns just yet.

Love always,
Mom

Shared Moments

8 Nov

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A few days ago, I wrote a post about a moment I was lucky enough to share with my son.

It was moving and special and wrought with emotion. It was also ours.

That post, for whatever reason, did not save. And perhaps that is because some things are meant to be kept as gifts just for ourselves.

Unplugged

3 Nov

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When my husband and I got engaged, he wanted to keep a kosher home. It was important to him and he had grown up that way and that was fine by me. We spent an inordinate time searching the inventories of several stores covering Manhattan and Long Island to find two sets of every day dishes and two sets of silverware. We finally settled on a white Wedgwood pattern that I have never liked and which I have also used as grounds to hurl empty threats of vegetarianism at my husband.  So imagine my surprise, when we set up our tiny New York City kitchen as newlyweds, my husband ordered Won Ton Soup and took out a “meat” bowl in which to eat it.

The pork dumpling in the designated kosher meat bowl event may likely have been the deciding factor upon which we practice Judaism. Kosher but with exceptions. We are spiritual yet lazy. Devoted yet lapsed. We are, regrettably, high holiday Jews.  Shabbat dinners fall by the wayside as takeout is ordered and everyone spends the night warmed by the glow of their Apple devices. Promises to do more and do better evolve into catching up on programs stored on our TiVo while my Shabbat candles remain sadly unlit. Again.

When I think of my mother, I often imagine her lighting the Friday night candles, a paper towel on her head as a makeshift act of respect, offering up a silent prayer to God. When I reflect on my grandfather, I picture him draped in his tallis, wearing tefillin, and dovening in a corner with his timeworn siddur.  Jewish holidays with my family and extended family permeate my entire childhood. Seders, break fasts, horas and menorahs create a vivid Judaic tapestry on which I was raised. While I emphasize the importance of Judaism to my sons — specifically, that they know where they come from and that they be proud Jews, and, importantly, that it be part of their fabric as well — I am not doing enough. I am failing my children as a parent and as a Jew.

Last weekend, my synagogue along with synagogues all over the world participated in the “Shabbat Project” in which Jews were encouraged to experience Shabbat in the traditional fashion that it so deserves: no electronics; no driving; no shopping; and most of all, no smartphones. I was committed from the start. I could not wait to unplug and refocus on what really matters: the people in my life, not the things we have.

While we did drive and use lights (because we live too far away from our temple to walk and because we ease into things slowly), we otherwise powered down as a family. The weekend began with a service and a Friday night dinner at my temple that hosted 600 people including my family, my parents, and many friends. The following day we spent in the park, talking to friends, watching the kids play, and looking at the faces of my sons. As we walked from the park back to temple, I listened to the animated stories told by my kids — really listened to them. There were no distractions other than the birds and a passing breeze. What a gift it was to concentrate on my own life rather than my battery’s life. It was nice to feel the sun on my face and linger in 1997 or 1979 or any year before the advent of  the oversaturated techonological market that is slowly killing necessary human interaction. A literal juice cleanse for my soul. We ended the day at a Havdalah service at my synagogue, as my sons battled to hold the candle and smell the spices.

As we drove home, I turned on my phone. Lo and behold, I missed 74 messages from retailers wanting to sell me goods at discounted prices. Delete. That  night we made a decision: we are going to celebrate Shabbat with a family dinner and the shutting down of all devices on Friday nights. On Saturdays we can return to being those high holy Jews we have mastered. Baby steps. But for now, we are concentrating on loving the things that can love us back.

Happy Birthday to the Boy That Made Me a Mom!

19 May

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I was pregnant forever.

My son had no interest in leaving his comfy womb. And now that I know him, it does not surprise me at all. He may have had a laptop in there with Netflix streaming, or it may have been that he had a test he did not want to study for, or he just may have been enjoying another lazy morning. Regardless, he wasn’t leaving and he was already 10 days late. Apropos.

I knew, instinctively, I was going to have a boy and that he would look just like his dad. I was right on both counts. After a very difficult pregnancy and a genuinely horrific labor, I would finally encounter the baby that was creating all this drama. In an instant, we went from a married couple to a family on this day, 14 years ago, at 12:20 am, in a room that looked like a drive-by birthing occurred, after 23 hours of labor, and 42 weeks of waiting to meet our baby. My son was beautiful and perfect and sweet and calm and miraculous. And thanks to him, I was now a mother. Within hours, I was able to identify my baby’s cry when he would be rolled down the halls of the hospital. I was nursing him, I was studying him, I was loving him. My mom sat next to me on my hospital bed and said “enjoy him. Before you know it, he’ll be off to college.”

At the time I’m sure I thought she was being dramatic. There are moments so redundant they are suspended in time. They are simply palpable. I can tell you the playlist I quietly sang to my son by his crib every night (Sweet Baby James, Moonshadow, The Way You Look Tonight, the 59th Street Bridge Song, You Can Close Your Eyes, The Circle Game). I can tell you the lyrics of all the Wiggles and Laurie Berkner tunes we listened to while we played with blocks and stacking toys. I can tell you the way the sun fell across my son’s window facing 1st Avenue and East 74th Street each evening. I can tell you about all the things I packed in my diaper bag to keep my baby clean, and fed, and warm, and happy. And I can also tell you that my mother was right.

I cannot recall my son’s changing face over the past 14 years. From chubbier cheeks to the beginnings of a tiny pre-pubescent mustache to the emergence of small angles and large brows. The only face I see is the one that is always right before me: soft brown eyes, an honest smile, and the pronounced dimple that melted my heart when I laid eyes on him in that delivery room.  I am constantly trying to recreate those initial feelings of love and motherhood. I linger over witch hazel pads which perfumed the first two months of my son’s infancy. I obsessively smell my hands after washing them at my doctor’s office with the same antibacterial soap I used for the first year after my son was born. I keep many of his baby clothes with rags in my laundry room just so I can unfold them and look at them and imagine his tiny body filling them up all those years ago. My mother was so very right. She always is.

These memories have become part of the fabric out of which the tapestry of our lives is still being made. Days do become years and years seem to become decades. I find myself marking the lives of my children with milestones and events and hourglasses. My son will begin high school in the fall. He will get a learner’s permit in two years. He will take the SATs in three years. He will go to college in four. And I am clinging to those four years so hard that my heart aches. Perhaps they’re called milestones because they’re so devastatingly heavy.

My son’s voice is changing. He is becoming more independent. He is making his own plans and becoming a little man. It’s ok. It is what is supposed to happen. I just don’t know if I’m ready for it. It would be nice to dig my heels in, like a dog that doesn’t want to be walked, and just stop the world. But I want the world for him too and he deserves that much.

After all, he has been a gift every day of his life. From his first steps to his first “mama” to his first hug to his first kiss to his first bike ride to his first “I love you” to his first scraped knee to his first playdate to his first bus to his first day of school to his first year at camp to his first girlfriend to his first drink of Manischewitz to his first day of being 14, I have been there. And it has been an honor and a privilege and again, a gift. He has literally grown up before my eyes like a beautiful time-lapse film I never want to end.

I am fortunate. The people I love are doing all right and we are surrounded by a strong and very wonderful network of family and friends. And although I’m now several inches shorter than my sprouting boy, he nevertheless often manages to fit himself onto my lap and rest his head on my shoulder. He is warm and affectionate and sweet and generous with the hugs and kisses. He has not yet stopped coming into my room every evening to kiss me and say goodnight and I am hoping this is a tradition that will endure. Thankfully, it seems he still needs his mother because I know that I will always need him. Yes, he is growing up. But then again, so am I.

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