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The Night Before

10 Sep

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The Night Before it was beautiful.

It was September. It was the 10th. It was my brother’s birthday. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant on Third Avenue. I ordered Penne Pomodoro after learning that the Spaghetti Bolognese I really wanted was made with veal and pork. We sat at a table for 9 people that included my parents, my husband, my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, my brother. My husband and I were only a family of 3 at the time and we toted our toddler son everywhere. It was a non-event. And yet, it was monumental because it was The Night Before the world changed.

We stood on the sidewalk of Third Avenue, looking up at the sky. It was painted with pinks and purples, and tones of burnt orange. It was still warm outside even though it was mid-September in New York. We all remarked on the perfection of the evening.

And then it was gone.

We remember the most meaningless details of time because they precede those that are the most horrific. That birthday dinner is etched in my mind, its details engrained, the seating chart and round table at the back right corner, still vivid. That small stretch of time we all looked up at the sky. We record moments of normalcy because they ground us, because we yearn to get them back, because we wish to just exist in a time when things are so routine we remember choosing Penne Pomodoro over Spaghetti Bolognese in what might otherwise be another tiny decision to forget over a lifetime of countless tiny decisions. And we want that night, that moment, that simplicity back.

The next day the sky was cloudless, clear, blue, until it turned thick and acrid from jet fuel, airplane debris, and the unthinkable spontaneous combustion of two buildings that graced New York City’s skyline for my entire life, their contents, and the lives of nearly 3000 people and their families. It went on like this for days, the smoke downtown visible from the park in the East 70s where I pushed my son on a swing. He had no idea how his life had changed slightly after 8 am just days before. He had no idea he was about to inherit a world I had never contemplated. His sky was still blue.

Perhaps our children are better for not knowing The Night Before, what they are missing, what simplicity might have graced their days. My sons sleep soundly in the world they inhabit, not aware of What Might Be and What Might Have Been. I wish it was different. But it is not. The best I can hope for are meaningless moments, simplicity, and a lifetime of clear, beautiful skies.

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My Mother’s Party

22 Apr

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I was born in the middle of a winter storm.

I look at pictures of my mother, pregnant with me, holding me, standing with me then, now, throughout the years, and always she smiles. Most times, when you take a picture of someone, you tell them to smile. You say “cheese.” You pose. You capture a tiny choreographed moment in a lifetime that is hopefully a good memory.

I look at these pictures of my mother. Someone may have told her to pose. Someone may have said smile. Someone might have said “say cheese.”

My mother did not need any of this sort of prompting. These pictures of my mother are real.

I look at my mother from the point of view of a child, a teenager, an adult, as a mother of children myself, then, now, throughout the years. And always, she smiles. Her moments are not choreographed. She is a person who sees and does and is the best. And she smiles. Always.

I know very well what it is like to be a mother. I know what it is to lose your patience and your temper and at times, your heart. I do not know this from watching my own mother. She never displayed it though it is hard to imagine my brother and I did not, at times, compel her to feel it. I also know what it is to fiercely love your children, to know a boundless, intense adoration. This, I learned from my mother.

You may all know what it is like to have my mother as a friend, an aunt, a cousin. Can you just imagine what it is like to be her daughter. It is a gift beyond measure.

In the middle of that storm I was born in, I imagine my mother smiled. I imagine she still saw the sun beyond the snowy sky, just waiting to shine. I imagine she took it all with the same grain of sand she manages to take all the storms she has weathered in her life.

She tells me how it was a cold winter and she used to swaddle me in so many layers she could not see my face, just so she could take me for a walk outside. This is the perfect analogy for how my mother lives her life. She layers herself and those she loves with enough protection and she goes outside for a walk. She does not let a little cold or a snowstorm stop her. She goes outside.

Almost 15 years ago I gave birth to my beautiful son, Charlie. I think it was the happiest day of my mother’s life. And, only one year later, she retired from her full time teaching position to be a full time grandma, a role she has taken on with joy and dedication. My mother traveled into the city every Wednesday night, at a minimum, to see her beloved Charlie, who was just a baby. But he knew. He knew her. He knew her presence. And he loved her.

And three years later, she completed her grandson trifecta with my boys, Ben and Eli. I don’t know if my sons realize how good they have it. How fortunate they are to not only live around the corner from my mother but also to live inside her heart.

She turns every day, every moment spent with them, into an adventure. She does not ever babysit. She babyacts. She finds books, movies, travels, parks, attractions, shows, and events which will spark the varying interests of each different boy and she gleefully spends her retirement money and time on making their very dreams come true. She is incredible.

My mother is a living, beating heart, that pumps love and life through all of us. She is the sunshine that warms us. She is the clear sky we all look to. She is love.

I am so very happy to see my mother to 70. I am so blessed and lucky to see her age, to have her here, to see her with my children, to spend time with me. Each line in her face was earned by years of these smiles, these natural postures, these moments of genuine love and bliss.

Mom, It is, by all accounts, a joy and an honor to be your daughter, to receive your love day in and day out, to be by your side.

Happy birthday, Mom.

I love you then, now, throughout the years, always.

The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

The Things We Almost Didn’t Say

18 Dec

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I had a fight with my husband.

We don’t argue often and when we do, it always seems to be about the same things. Sometimes you wait for people to change, but they don’t. Not really.

And sometimes you remember why you fell in love with them to begin with.

What we fought about is not important; the outcome is. For the first time, literally ever, my husband wrote me a love letter. It is, without question, and aside from my children, the most beautiful gift he has ever given me. I have read it and reread it over and over and over. It makes me feel like a teenager. It makes me feel like the luckiest woman in the world to be married to this man. It makes me so grateful to know that I have decades ahead to spend with him.

Arguments are not fun. But sometimes, they are necessary. Quiet conversations about disappointment don’t always pan out. And let’s be honest, I am not a really “quiet conversation” kind of girl anyway. I am passionate and loving and very much a woman. I am also stubborn and impatient and very much a woman. Incredibly, he loves all of that in me. I don’t but he does. That is love.

When you start your life with someone, you don’t really know how it will turn out. You don’t know what kind of father, husband, friend, supporter they will be when you decide to legally bind yourself to them until you die. People evolve, life happens. I am so grateful that, as our life happens, we are still evolving together.

Today is his birthday. He does not want to go out for a nice dinner. He wants to bring home take out food so he has more time to spend with his sons. He is quite a man.

I hope he continues to say the things he almost did not. I don’t want to miss a thing.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BROTHER!

10 Sep

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I wanted a sister like nobody’s business but my parents, people that they were, wouldn’t let me choose.

My brother was born, premature and ailing, on September 10th, not that I recall anything about it, being a baby myself at the time.

My first memory in life was my birthday three months after he arrived. My mother gave me a big, wrapped box and inside I found a tiny piano. Each key, when pressed, played a familiar Disney song.

“This is a birthday present from your little brother, Jonathan.” He was still in the hospital at the time. We didn’t really know each other that well yet.

But, I remember–very clearly–saying and thinking “that’s so nice of him! He is so nice!”

Not much has changed since then. He thrived, physically, exceeding all of his doctors’ expectations, and eventually came home where I would torment him, and dress him up as that sister I never had, and call him Joan, and smother him. He grew up to lead a tiny Black Jack ring in our basement, ruin my car in a series of mishaps after I entrusted it to him freshman year of college, and learn all the words to every James Taylor song against his will because I was the first one with a driver’s license and he had no choice as my hostage I mean passenger. But he always remained the “nice” generous person I thought him to be when I was that little girl with the tiny piano. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my birthday gift was never that piano. It was him.

Thirteen years ago, we went out to dinner to celebrate my brother’s birthday with our family at a restaurant on the Upper East Side. It was a gorgeous night in New York City. The sky was streaked salmon and orange and yellow. I can still see myself standing on the sidewalk on Third Avenue, staring up at that sky and admiring it.

The next day the world changed. Thankfully, my brother still hasn’t.

Happy birthday to my soulful, sweet, handsome, devoted, kind, hilarious and all around perfect baby brother. Thank goodness you came just as you are. Who needs a sister when I have you.

xo,

Lisa

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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Happy Birthday, Mom!

11 Apr

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Happy birthday to the woman whose laughter sends me.

Happy birthday to the woman who leaves me voicemails telling me she loves me; voicemails I save so I can hear her voice whenever I want.

Happy birthday to the woman who brought her ukelele to the hospital when I broke my femur at 5 years old, and who played “Puff the Magic Dragon” for the entire children’s floor. And happy birthday to the woman that slept beside me the whole time I was there.

Happy birthday to the woman who made me believe in myself.

Happy birthday to the woman bold enough to sit in the passenger seat when I learned to drive. And happy birthday to the woman bold enough to sit in the passenger seat decades later, knowing how I drive.

Happy birthday to the woman who has made every holiday special every year of my life, and who continues to do the same for my sons.

Happy birthday to the woman who, after major surgery, discharged herself from the hospital early so she could see me off to the prom.

Happy birthday to the woman whose glass is always half full, no matter how many circumstances may have threatened to empty it.

Happy birthday to the woman who never told me that my grandma was dying because she knew it would crush me, but instead took me to Florida once a month to visit her.

Happy birthday to the woman that puts up with me.

Happy birthday to the woman who raced behind me as I drove my son to the emergency room on a horrible day in January. And happy birthday to the woman who sat and held my hand as I wept.

Happy birthday to the woman who only wants the people she loves to be happy.

Happy birthday to the woman who recorded a video of my grandma begging Oprah Winfrey to set me up with a Jewish doctor. And happy birthday to the woman that sent it in and told all her friends when it aired.

Happy birthday to the woman that’s been diagnosed with so many things so many times it is impossible to keep track. And happy birthday to the woman who smiled up at me from every hospital bed she’s ever been in, only wanting to make sure that I was ok.

Happy birthday to the woman who found me a kitten when I was lonely, and who snuck it into my NYC apartment with a bed, kitty litter, and food, while I was at work.

Happy birthday to the woman that has always been kind to everyone.

Happy birthday to the woman who was there to witness my first love and happy birthday to the woman who was there to nurse my first broken heart.

Happy birthday to the woman who rescued my 3 year old son after he intentionally locked the babysitter in the basement, and then fled the house.

Happy birthday to the woman who cut my hair off when I was 5 because she heard it would grow back thick. And happy birthday to the woman who let me wear a hooded raincoat in the sunshine because that haircut was the worst.

Happy birthday to my first friend, my best friend, my most incredible friend.

Happy birthday to my role model, my good luck charm, my superhero.

Happy birthday to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen or known.

Thank you for all this and more. Thank you for every day you are around the corner and in my heart. Thank you.

Happy birthday, Mom!

I love you.