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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.

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My Mother, The Bell Ringer in Pink

3 Oct

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She said she would be there with bells on and she was.

When I was a high school senior, my beloved mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were unfortunately familiar with this because my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s sisters all had it too. A genuine hit in the gene lottery. I don’t recall my mother talking to me about this before she entered the hospital for her first mastectomy. All I remember is that for several weeks before I knew anything, I knew something was very wrong. She denied it, but I knew.

My mother checked herself out of the hospital, against her doctors’ advice, a day or two early so that she could see me off to the prom. This woman, with drains still attached, in serious pain, yet with a smile on her face, threw me and my friends and their families a small party. This is what keeps her going. This woman loves her family.

And we love her back.

That summer before college she lost all her hair. She lost her eyelashes, eyebrows and even arm hair. She lost her dignity. She sat with me in either a turban or a terrible wig and we played board games with my friend, Andrew. This was in between aggressive chemotherapy treatments where she would lay in bed and close the door to her room for several days until she felt well enough to emerge. We did not even cook dinners those days because the smell of the food would seep under her door and make its way to her nose and nauseate her. Every night when I thought my family was asleep, I would sneak outside and sit on my front step and cry.

At the end of August, my parents took me to Ann Arbor and helped me move into the dorm. I wanted to let everyone know that my mother was wearing a wig. That that horrible hair did not belong to her. That she had the most gorgeous hair I had ever seen, hopefully underneath her scalp, just waiting to grow back and make her whole again.

The second time she was diagnosed I was a newly married, young lawyer. It was exactly 9 years and 10 months after her first mastectomy. My mother was frightened and devastated and, again, a warrior. She had a second mastectomy and thankfully, due to a very early diagnosis, no treatment.

The third time was in 2007 and that was a horror show because she had no breasts left to remove. It was a mere six months after her beautiful sister, my incredible aunt, died. I think my mother’s heart literally broke from the loss because that was the neighborhood in which her cancer returned. My mother underwent major surgery and a severely complicated post-operative extended recovery period, and never once looked back. In the recovery room, she was awoken and told of the lengths they had to take in the operating room. Sedated, she responded, “I don’t care what I look like. I just want to live.”

And she did and she does.

We often “forget” that my mother had breast cancer because she has never dwelt on it. She never let it define her or become her life. It only became part of our conversations when she was living it or, more typically, when she was celebrating her survival.

And that she does as well. And often.

Early this week, my mother was contacted by a producer from The Today Show, inviting her to attend their kick off of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She asked her friend, Lydia, another survivor, and some other friends and family to join her. She made signs. She brought 6 pink sweaters for me to choose from because we had to dress in pink. My mother does everything big. And thank G-d, because she does life big too.

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At 6 am we were funneled into a VIP line full of survivors and their families. Many of the women were bald. All of them were smiling. My mother, with her beautiful, long, blonde hair, gratefully accepted a “GOD IS BIG ENOUGH” pink bracelet from the hairless woman in front of her. I started to feel badly about my mom’s hair, which she has grown out so she can donate it to Locks of Love, and how it might make these women feel. Then I thought, not only has she earned it, but she is an inspiration to these women who are currently fighting so hard for their lives. My pretty mama and her Rapunzel-like hair were a gift to these women who must see her and hope that they could one day be just like her: a mother; a sister; a daughter; a friend; a grandmother; an aunt; a survivor.

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My mother told the producer that she would attend this event “with bells on” and she literally did. She bought breast cancer awareness ribbons and bells and made all of us necklaces to wear.

She rang the loudest.

And she always does.

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Roots of Hatred and Prayers for Peace

23 Jul

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Day after day, we are bombarded with Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic news. The latest is direct attacks on Jewish owned shops and synagogues in Paris.

This is Kristallnacht.

This is history repeating itself.

This is terrifying.

Whether or not you are Jewish, understand that this is wrong. That when there are rioters marching, armed with bombs and batons, destroying the property and livelihood of total strangers just because they are Jewish, that this is wrong. That when those rioters scream “Death to Jews” and “Slit Jews’ Throats,” that this is more than wrong. This is horrific.

This is also a story we have all heard so many times before: Anti-Semitism.

Throughout history, the Jews have been vilified. Whether it’s as seemingly innocuous as Shakespeare’s grotesque depiction of Shylock, or a Renaissance artist’s hyperbolic portrayal of the “big nosed Jew” or as heinous as the Holocaust or the kidnapping and murder of 3 innocent Jewish teenagers from a highway in Israel, it is the age old tale of Anti-Semitism.

Don’t be dissuaded by people who try to separate the issue by calling themselves the less inflammatory Anti-Zionist. That’s a euphemism for Anti-Semite and you know it. And I’m not going to debate the entire Middle East conflict but I will tell you that I support and love, 100%, Israel. Israel, where my oldest son was bar mitzvahed only 11 months ago at the Wall, a remnant of another attack on the Jews millenia ago. Israel, a living testament to the countless historical attempts to exterminate Jews over 1000s of years, and their incredible struggle to survive. Age. Old. Tale.

The other night I went to a concert at Jones Beach, New York. On a beautiful summer evening overlooking the bay, I watched a man wearing a yarmulke make his way through the aisle and take his seat with his wife. A month or so ago, I would not have given this a second thought. And yet now, at the James Taylor concert, in an arena full of aging hippies, I was frightened for this man’s safety. This was the first time in my life, in my home on the shores of the very Jewish Long Island, that I have ever felt this kind of fear.

How long until these acts of hatred arrive in America? Almost 13 years ago, my husband was working in the World Financial Center when a plane flew into the WTC, right across the footpath that connected his building to one of the towers. It was a devastating time engineered by Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization. Do not forget that Hamas, the government for the Palestinians, is also a terrorist organization, regardless of how you may feel about the Gazans and their plight. Hamas, whose very charter calls for the obliteration of Israel and the killing of the Jews. Hamas, who was responsible for time and again strapping bombs to their own people and dispatching them to Israel’s crowded public areas only to detonate themselves and kill as many civilians as possible in the process. Age. Old. Story.

How do I explain this to my sons? How do I prepare them for a world that largely hates them just because they are Jewish? How do I make sure that they are still proud of where they come from and who they are? How do I guarantee that they will stand up and make a difference? I wish I knew.

Hatred is a horrible vehicle. It seeps into cracks when you’re not looking and grows roots and limbs and buds until it evolves into an entire network of destruction. It may flourish and bloom and multiply and before you know it, it is a strong grove, a forest, an entire landscape. It may look good, but it is poison. And its enemy is peace. Rooting for the enemy. Praying for peace.

Amen.

The F*U

26 Apr

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My son has not had an easy year. Neither have I. It is so difficult to watch someone you love struggling with something you want nothing to do with. He is not prone to complaining, which has made his tears that much more terrible to witness.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was simply the flu.

“Mrs. Goodwin, your son’s temperature is 103. You need to pick him up.”

That morning he was fine. He was fine all the other mornings too. Everything seems to come out of nowhere. And that is why, on the afternoons and evenings and middle-of-the-nights of those days, the mornings always look so normal and beautiful.

My son is delicious and unique and lovable and brilliant and determined and kind and good. He needed to be well for so many reasons, least of which was just handling a flu virus. We sat outside the lab in the pediatrician’s office, while I silently prayed over and over that the flu test would not come back positive. It was positive. And he crumpled in my arms.  My son had had enough and I did not blame him. I did not blame him as a 10 year old child or as a grown woman. I had had enough too.

For a month or so, all my child was looking forward to was a birthday party for one of his friends. This small handful of kids was to meet at someone’s house for pizza and follow it up with a night of ice skating. Thanks to the flu, he could not go, and I might have been more crushed than he. His face turned red. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He cried so hard he did not make a sound.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I will remake this whole party for you when you are better. I promise I will do the exact same thing. You won’t miss out on anything. I promise. I’m so sorry.”

Last night, and after a terrible week or two for my family in general, this birthday party do-over finally happened. As I watched these kids at the pizza parlor laughing, I took a Polaroid with my mind. My breath caught, my heart sang, and I cried tears of joy. My son was happy.

For all the times I beat myself up, wondering if I am a good mother, wondering if I am doing enough, wondering if I yell at my kids too often or too loud or for something seemingly trivial yet created by years worth of frustration over the same little thing they keep doing, last night I gave myself a break. I did ok. I gave both of us a “moment.” And I felt, whatever happens, we will be alright.

The kids ice skated, took pictures, enjoyed churros, and ended the night laughing in the car the whole way home. After we dropped everyone off and got inside the house, my son hugged me.

“Thank you, Mom! I had the best time.”

No. Thank YOU.

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.

Separation Anxiety

6 Apr

I hate the thought of my parents getting older. I am very fortunate for the Everybody Loves Raymond situation we have. They are around the corner. My brother is also not far away. My kids are the greatest beneficiaries, having an extended family in their backyard, which is a gift I didn’t grow up with.

Both sets of grandparents moved to Florida when I was young enough to not remember them living anywhere but Florida. My mother’s parents at one time had an apartment in my hometown but I don’t recall anything about it except for the moment they packed it up. I was 8 years old and doing an excellent job of crying myself to sleep. My mother must have heard me because she opened the door, turned on the light, and said “get out of bed. Let’s go see your grandparents.”

This was a big deal. It was after my bedtime. Nothing ever happened after my bedtime. She took me in my nightgown to their apartment which was filled with boxes containing their life. I sat in a chair, weeping, inconsolable. My grandma, in an effort to stop the tears, handed me a royal blue glass soap dish. I can’t imagine an 8 year old appreciating a soap dish, or maybe even soap, but to me, it was beautiful. And for some reason, it meant everything.

The other day, my mom casually dropped a bomb on me. She mentioned tax implications. She mentioned inheritance money. She mentioned financial loss. She mentioned that she would be MOVING TO FLORIDA. This was in between where would we eat dinner that night and something similarly insignificant.

I probably stopped the car. I probably would have liked to have told her to get out of it too. Instead, I used my words:

“What?! What do you mean you’re moving to Florida? What are you talking about?”

“There’s money you and your brother would have to pay in taxes if we don’t.”

I don’t know how much money that amounts to. I don’t care either. There is no price you can put on having the best people in the world–the people that gave you life, loved you, raised you, held your hand, laughed with you, cried with you, kissed your tears away, told you you were right, told you you were wrong, listened — truly listened, and then cycle back and do it all over again for your children–just a short bike ride away. No price.

“Mom, I would pay all that money just to have you near me. Just to have you and Dad in my life. Just to have you here with me.”

“Ok, it’s settled. I’m not moving to Florida. Where are we going for dinner?”

Anywhere you want mom, as long as it’s with you.

Eleven Years: A Countdown

3 Apr

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My babies are 11.

My babies are 11! Which is incredible because they were born yesterday. Their arrival, via planned C-section, was the last scheduled event I’ve successfully pulled off since their birth. Their entry into the world marks an over-decade long maternity leave for me and a reminder of a law degree that quietly collects dust in a closet otherwise filled with crayons, blocks and board games.

When they were babies, the days were long. One sunny afternoon, strolling them in town, a woman stopped me to ask how I was “stimulating” them. Stimulating them? I recall answering her: “Lady,  I’m just trying to keep them alive.”

During their first year, I remember as the sun started to dim each day, I would count down the hours until I would safely deposit them into their cribs for hopefully a long night.

For the past few years, I find myself still obsessively counting; counting the years I have left with my sons. Worrying that they will turn 18 and I will never see them again. Worrying about the mistakes that I’m making as a mother. Worrying about the mistakes that I’m not making as a mother that would lead them to one day move back into my basement with a futon, a bong, and an Xbox (because then at least they would be home!). Worrying.

How I wish I had those days back. How I wish the time would stretch interminably before me like an ocean, with 18 years of those babies just across the landing of my home and my life.

As my boys stand on the precipice of puberty, caught between little boys who love their mother and big boys who love other girls, I wish so much for them:

That they find love.

That they find love for themselves and each other.

That they consider each other best friends.

That they laugh every single day, even when something terrible happens.

That they get into trouble because that is the best way to learn.

That they fail at something and then try again and again.

That they know how to cry.

That they find music that absorbs them, books that envelop them, moments that overwhelm them.

That they know kindness.

That they choose happiness.

And mostly, that they always look for the good.

Happy birthday, Benjamin and Eli. You are worth more than that decaying law license. You are worth more than those hours I foolishly wished away. You are worth more than any sunset I gleefully welcomed.  You are worth everything. And I love you.

Triple Digits

2 Apr

Yesterday, my son, who will soon turn 11, came to me and told me he is afraid. This is a big step for this boy who likes to put on a tough front and occasionally growl. (Yes, we are working on that.)

“Mom, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of one day when you won’t be here and Dad won’t be here and it will just be me and my brothers.”

I assured him I’m not going anywhere, that I love him, that I would never leave him. And with each promise I made to him, I silently hoped that my words would come true.

He is growing up so fast. They all are. I wish I could stop time. I wish I could lean out of this boat—just a little bit—and let my hand drag in the water, slowing things down. Just for a year. Or ten.

My son is losing his baby fat. Soon his voice will deepen and he won’t want to sit on my lap all the time. He’ll stop coming into my room every morning and wrapping himself around me, his legs intertwined in mine. He’ll stop asking me to soothe his fears and kiss his boo boos. He’ll stop telling me all the details of his day and probably won’t let me kiss him as excessively as I do. And I really do. I can’t help myself.

But right now I’ll take it all. Because he lets me. And I am lucky.

“Mom, promise me you’ll get past triple digits age. Wait. That’s a lot to ask. Just promise me you’ll get to triple digits.”

“I promise.”

I promise.