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Gratitude

26 Nov

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Possibly one of my top ten favorite words and something I try to keep in mind when confronted with things I’d prefer not to think about because things could always be worse:

G R A T I T U D E

Perspective is so important and today, like every day, I am so grateful for

  1. My children
  2. My husband
  3. My parents
  4. My brother
  5. My extended family
  6. My friends
  7. Good health
  8. James Taylor
  9. Licorice
  10. Music
  11. Warm chocolate chip cookies
  12. When Harry Met Sally
  13. Medicine and science
  14. Taxi
  15. The NYT crossword puzzle
  16. Laughter
  17. Words
  18. Not turkey — I could skip that
  19. Meatballs
  20. My pizza oven
  21. My grandparents. They were the best.
  22. A well told story
  23. Games of all kinds
  24. Good coffee
  25. The University of Michigan
  26. Shehecheyanu
  27. The gym (not while I’m there, only when I’m leaving)
  28. Frizz Ease
  29. Blow outs
  30. Public School
  31. Kindness
  32. Sunshine
  33. Pickles
  34. Bloody Marys
  35. The ocean
  36. My Kindle
  37. WordPress
  38. My GPS even though she sometimes sucks
  39. The freedoms granted to me in the Bill of Rights
  40. Love

Thank you so very much for reading and for your encouragement. I am grateful for you all.

Shehecheyanu.

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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

Farewells and Rites of Passage

11 Oct

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It is the eve of the bar mitzvah of the son of one of my oldest, dearest friends. We still talk about our first day of kindergarten together even though we knew each other years before we started elementary school. It is therefore that much more poignant that I learned tonight that our kindergarten teacher just passed away.

Life strikes chords and balances at the most poetic moments sometimes.

On our very first day of school, we were met by a grandmotherly lady who ushered us past wooden trees bearing our names, and new vocabulary we were to learn. She would go on to teach us about the bicentennial, most likely from first-hand experience. It was going to be a great year.

In the strange way that our memory decides to archive information, mine categorized the most pieces of my elementary education from my first year: the three balance beams that formed a small set of risers around the piano our teacher played every morning; the soundtrack of our classroom created by the steady hum of scissors working their way down construction paper; the line we were required to form in height order so we could proceed down the halls in an orderly fashion (I was first); the smell and taste of Stone Soup, a book we studied and brought to life with a recipe; and the kindness and love our teacher managed to show each child day in and day out.

I still recall, with anxiety and relief, my birthday party that almost wasn’t. My mother was so late that the teacher made us all put our heads down on the desk and remain silent.

“If your mother doesn’t come in the next ten minutes, we are canceling the party.”

In my tiny neurotic mind, I envisioned car accidents, crime scenes, literal nightmares. I have not changed much. It never occurred to me that late might mean a traffic jam, a delayed schedule, a mere slip of the mind. It was always a catastrophe. At long last, I spotted my mother through the narrow, rectangular window in the door — keys in her mouth, knocking with some body part because her hands were occupied. She entered bearing boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and her ukulele (she was a real pro at “Puff the Magic Dragon”). I probably could have used a stiff drink, but I didn’t know about that either.

Kindergarten was also the year that everyone was getting their snacks stolen. It didn’t mean much to me until someone swiped my Funyuns. Enough was enough. Through early deductive logic and sleuthing skills I would continue to hone, I figured out who the thief was with a pretty crafty sting I engineered. That girl fell right into my trap. I confided in our teacher, not knowing whether this kind octogenarian would believe me but she must have had similar suspicions because my Funyuns mysteriously reappeared in my lunch box in time for snack.

Kindergarten was everything it should be, with great thanks to this teacher and her beautiful approach to teaching, to children, and to life.

On that first day of school, my friend and I sat next to each other on one of those balance beams, coincidentally wearing the exact same green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. I mean, what are the odds? Even in the 1970s. That fashion faux pas, however, was just another cornerstone on which a lifelong friendship was formed. This friend went on to light a candle on my own bat mitzvah cake, backpack through Greece with me, stand on the bimah as a bridesmaid at my wedding, attend the brit milahs of my sons, and celebrate with us only a year and a half ago at my own son’s bar mitzvah. She has loved me through some of my bitchiest days as a teenager to the woman I am today. Old friends are gifts that never lose their splendor.

It is six years after my youngest children entered kindergarten. I look at them and their friends sometimes and wonder if they will be as lucky as I have been. I hope so. There is nothing like someone who has traveled down life’s path alongside you– it is the comfort food of friendship, the roomy old sweater you wear on a rainy day, the favorite film you’ve watched over and over and over.

Tomorrow, with my husband and sons, I will celebrate my friend and her family. I will watch as the circles turn, as generations evolve, as tradition endures. I hope she’s not going to be wearing that green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. That would not look good at all.

Thank you, Mrs. Arkus, for the beginning. I hope your ending was just as lovely.

Thank You For Being a Friend

7 May

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Some time ago, my mother asked me if I would like to watch a taping of “The Chew” and have lunch with Carla Hall at Otto. I didn’t pay much attention to the details or that it was through the “Adult Education” program of our home town. The day for this extravaganza finally approached and my mother was unable to attend. I called on my friend, Amy, to spend the day with me, and let me tell you, she was the perfect substitute.

This friend of mine has been my best friend for nearly 40 years. We literally grew up together. She is the one person (aside from my brother) that I get “the giggles” with. Any situation, at any moment, can send us into fits of laughter and render us unable to make eye contact the rest of the day for fear we will embarrass ourselves due to massive immaturity and poor behavior. Thank Gd for her. For real.

Amy was late, as usual. I got on the bus and lo and behold, it was Cocoon. I looked around, thinking I must be in the wrong place because clearly, they emptied out the local retirement home for the day and I was on a slow bus to nowhere with the Golden Girls’ mothers. I looked out among the sea of short-white-haired women in bifocals and thought “I can’t wait until Amy gets here. This is going to be the best day ever!”

I first checked in with an old woman I kept referring to as Bette Davis, I don’t know why. Bette Davis was very concerned because Amy’s name was not on the list and the list was already given to the folks at ABC. I asked whether we could persuade them to allow her entry but she was not so sure. She insisted we hop off the bus and head to the main office to let the ABC people know ahead of time so they could make sure that Amy was not operating an Al Qaeda cell. I shouldn’t have judged Bette Davis so fast. She turned out to be pretty spry.

Bette and I reboarded the bus and I anxiously awaited Amy’s expression when she saw we were taking a field trip with the Fixodent crew. I stepped over some canes and sat down. Finally, she got on the bus and our eyes met and it was just the moment I knew it would be: giddiness. We took seats in the way back of the bus and did the silent laugh (the best kind), until we collected our maturity and resigned ourselves to a day of fun with the widows of the Bartles and Jaymes dudes.

We arrived at ABC, and a woman with a Jane Fonda-esque hairdo (albeit very strangely bleached in some sort of Ombre fashion gone terribly wrong — maybe she did it at home?), rose right before the bus could fully stop. “Ombre” knew just what she was doing. She pushed aside several old ladies, making sure she was the first one off that bus, but for what? We had Ombre’s number.

We waited for an hour or so in a holding room where granola bars and water were offered. Ombre shoved in front of that line too. Finally, a guy who looked exactly like Shaggy from Scooby Doo (inasmuch as a human being can resemble a cartoon character), started to funnel us into the studio. Ombre cut this line too. She was really starting to get on our nerves.

We taped our applause, we taped our laughter, we taped our surprised expressions. The warm-up comedian asked who was single. Ombre raised her hand. Amy and I exchanged knowing glances. Things were taking a little long to get started and it occurred to me that I made a critical error in not rationing those free granola bars. Maybe there was a loose Tic Tac in my jacket pocket from 2008. No such luck. The Golden Girls theme song played on a loop in my head while I watched the hosts and the guest diners eat all the food they discussed in detail. This was my Guantanamo Bay and I did not like it at all. Rick Springfield was the special guest star. Or was that simply a hunger-induced hallucination?

After a few hours, the taping of the show was finally over and we were ravenous. Amy looked for an Advil to chew on after offering to split her last LifeSaver, as she wondered whether we would have to walk long to find the bus. Who was she kidding? This crowd wasn’t even going to make it  across the street! The bus picked us up right in front of the studio and we headed south to 8th Street.

Knowing we might be hungry, Bette Davis came prepared. She had the foresight to bring 2 boxes of matzoh (matzoh!), which she offered to everyone seated, as she weaved her way down the bus aisle. I refused but Amy ate that matzoh like someone just sprung her from POW camp. Otto came into view like a mirage. We entered the restaurant (Ombre pushed again!) and the old ladies stuffed their purses with anything that was free, which amounted to business cards for all of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

Lunch was delicious. I sat next to Carla Hall (who I loved! Hootie Hoo!) but don’t recall talking to her until I reentered society with my 3rd piece of pizza. Carla offered to autograph books that could be purchased and Ombre made a stink about how she thought the book was supposed to be given to us for free. You’re wrong, Ombre, get over it.

We boarded the bus to head back home. After all, it was almost 5, time for these ladies to hit the hay. Amy and I reconvened in the back of the bus. I looked around at these women and eavesdropped on some of their conversations. Several of them discussed the invention of the television and its emergence in popular culture and more specifically, the homes of the people they knew. They laughed and joked with each other. They discussed old memories they shared. Even Bette Davis, who worked the bus mic with more feedback than clarity (or was that one of these women’s hearing aid batteries going off?), spoke eloquently about the old days and her job at Good Housekeeping.

And then it dawned on me: these ladies were pretty amazing. Here they were, living their life and enjoying it to boot. They weren’t sitting around in a recliner, nursing a prune juice and crocheting booties for their great great grandchild. They were on an adventure, having a beautiful day with their friends. Even Ombre wasn’t so bad. Maybe. So what if they knew Abraham Lincoln personally. These women were storytellers. They were vital, they were important, they were lovely.

I looked at Amy, who napped most of the way home, and I thought, this is going to be us one day. We should only be so lucky.