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Doing Good

12 Feb

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When the world seems to be falling apart, it is comforting to see the people you love trying to put it back together. One of those people is my son.

He’s a quiet kid. He’s shy and unassuming and once you are lucky enough to get to know him, he’s hilarious and kind and genuine. He still needs to work on the regular teenage stuff like being nicer to his brothers or answering me in a more patient tone. But all in all, he’s a truly fine human being and I am honored to have the privilege of being his mom.

In the fall, my son participated in a Midnight Run. Together with his friends and our synagogue he collected necessary every day items we might take for granted: soap, pillows, a warm jacket. On a cold November night, my son and husband drove into New York City and handed out jackets to the homeless. They helped people find the right size coat, the color they preferred, and ultimately the jacket that would keep them the warmest. They handed out jackets until there were no more jackets to hand out. But there were still people who were cold.

A few weeks later, I saw a segment on the news about a company in Michigan called The Empowerment Plan that was making jackets that converted to sleeping bags. The labor hired to sew these jackets is sourced exclusively from homeless shelters. These women are trained and given skills that will hopefully allow them to find full time employment. It was an incredible story to behold. I told my son about the jackets and he began an online fundraiser via Crowdrise to raise $5240 (the cost of 50 jackets plus shipping to NY), so he could continue to help keep our city’s homeless a little warmer.

With the help of many friends and family, more than $6000 was raised allowing for the purchase of nearly 60 coats. And on a cold January night, our family and my parents loaded the jackets into two trucks and drove to Hebrew Union College in The Village to distribute the coats to those patronizing their soup kitchen.

As we unloaded the coats onto a table and started demonstrating them for the people there, a small crowd began to gather. A very tall man was the first person to take a coat, explaining how happy he was because he has not been able to find a warm jacket that fits him in years.

We met a man named Matteo who sleeps in his van and was grateful to now have some semblance of a bed. He marveled at the utility of the jacket and how it was an item fashioned for those in need with respect for those in need in mind. He thanked my son and began to cry.

When a woman named Fatima saw the jacket, she broke into a wide smile and laughter, confiding that this was something she could really use. Her joy was palpable. She took a jacket and returned 15 minutes later just to talk to my son.

“You did this? How did you do this?”

My son explained his fundraiser. Fatima began to cry.

“I can’t believe you did this. You’re only 16. Do you know what you’ve done?”

And then she asked him for a hug. And they embraced.

When the shift was over only 5 jackets remained which we donated to the soup kitchen. Several hours later, after eating dinner at a local restaurant, we started walking back to our car. On the way, we passed Hebrew Union College. Outside was a man in a lawnchair, laughing with his friends, and wearing one of the jackets we gave him earlier that night.

Things have certainly come full circle. To have begun the Midnight Run program in our synagogue and to have ended this coat drive in the basement of a seminary was a beautiful living brush stroke of tikkun olam: repairing the world.

And the world is indeed in need of repair.While the country’s delicate seams have been mercilessly ripped apart, small acts of kindness, like this one, are the thread we all need to sew us back together. Because regardless of where we live or what we own, people are people are people. And yes, you do things for other people. You do it because it is the right thing to do. You do it because you can. You do it because you can make someone’s life better, even if it is just in the smallest way, like a giving a stranger a fresh bar of soap. But you also do it because it makes you feel better too. And it feels good to do good. It does.

My son may not always be the type who sits on my lap to hug me, or who holds my hand while I’m driving and rests his head on it, or who comes into my room to hug and kiss me as a study break. But I hope he is. I will never be too old to accept any of those expressions of love.

Soon my son will be going off to college. When he leaves the home in which he has grown up, I wonder if he is ready for what the world will throw at him. But mostly I want to know that he is a good person. That I am sending my best work, a really good human being, into the world. That he will love and be loved. That he will be kind. That he will help those who need it. And that he will be good. And he is.

My son is already repairing this world, doing great things, and giving back. He’s going to make his mark on this world. In fact, he already has.

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Love, Marriage, & Singing in the Car

1 Sep

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19 years and one day ago I married my best friend. He was smart and tall and smart and handsome and smart! He was mildly funny and he was smart. He was nice and good at being Jewish and decent. And he was so smart. Just my type.

We moved through our marriage by years, by 3 homes, by 2 births, by 3 children, by many vacations, by some disasters, by 3 separate times I took the car and drove around for hours until I was less angry enough to return, by the loss of 3 grandparents, by several jobs, by 1 fire, by 6 deceased goldfish, and by multitudes of laughter.

Along the way, I wished on many occasions that my husband be something, actually many things, that he is not. I wished him to be more laid back (he is not!). I wished him to be more thoughtful (so so but perhaps making progress). I wished him to be more fun (……). I wished him to be the kind of person that would crank the music up in the car with me and belt out the very best Sirius radio has to offer (sigh).

I am an unabashed, reckless car singer. Maybe you have driven next to me and seen me so you know. Maybe you have just heard about me. Or maybe you have even heard me over state lines. I am a legend in this regard. It’s not pretty and I am seldom able to get through a song without being told to stop singing but it is what it is and I am who I am and that person is an avid, unapologetic car singer.

I have begged my husband, in and out of 19 years, to please sing with me when a good song comes on (and come on, there are so many!). He will not indulge me. He does not think that it will be fun. I continue with “how can it not be fun?! It’s singing! It’s a great song! Pleaseeeee.” No dice. He simply will not sing.

I compare him to past boyfriends and tell him about the wonderful guys before him who would sing in the car with me and the great times we had. They are so much more fun than he was. He waits for me to finish talking and then changes the radio station to 1010 WINS which we listen to on a 22 minute loop until we die.

In the space of all the songs he is not singing with me, he is helping our kids with their homework, sometimes coming home early so he can properly accomplish this task. He is walking my parents’ dog when I am too lazy to do so. He is running out at night after realizing our sons do not have any food to make lunch for the next day of school. He is volunteering at our synagogue and as a basketball coach for our son’s CYO team. He is shoveling my parents’ driveway when there is a snowstorm so that when they return from vacation, they will have one less thing to worry about. He is doing everything except sing in the car with me.

Until finally, one day, he does. He belts out a song with me in the car. I can’t even remember which song it was. But I will tell you this: it was nothing like I thought it would be. It was terrible. In fact, it was so bad, I begged him to stop before the song was even finished. He can’t sing. He can’t car sing. He can’t even sing badly. I don’t know what the word is for the sound that was coming out of his mouth, but I will never be asking him to sing in the car with me again, even if the song that comes on is “Domino” or “Caravan” by Van Morrison. That dream has died.

Sometimes we fantasize about the things we want in our marriages, our lives, ourselves. The patience we wish we had. The parents we wish we were. The fun, breezy, car singers we want to be. Sometimes those fantasies are better left imagined. I am not going to ask him to be who he is not. But that is ok. Because who he is, is for the most part, more than I could ever ask for to begin with.

Happy anniversary to my tone-deaf beloved. For better or for worse. But mostly, for better.

 

Entering a Party

22 Apr

I know I haven’t written in months. I am so sorry! I have been busy planning my sons’ b’nai mitzvah and specifically, working on this: Please give it a look. I hope you love it as much as we do.

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Things We Gained in the Fire

14 Dec

Have you ever had a fire in your home? Probably not. Fire happens to other people. Not to you.

Fire happened to me. And for a multitude of reasons and strokes of luck and fate, I was home and no one was hurt. But still. I did not expect to find the entire second floor of my home filled with smoke. I did not expect to find my bathroom wall in flames. I did not expect to find the need to call 911.  And yet all that happened in a matter of minutes.

Do you have smoke alarms? You should. Do you have fire extinguishers? You should. You should also make sure that they have not expired because otherwise, they’re just taking up precious space in your home in which you could store something that will help you should your house catch fire. And while we are on the subject, you should also make sure they are “ABC” fire extinguishers for all levels and kinds of fires. I did not expect to gain this type of education.

We have smoke alarms. Ironically, for a few weeks they were without batteries (also a no no) that my husband only recently replaced. While previously I thought of smoke alarms as annoyances, this one happened to save our house and possibly, our lives, as I never even smelled that smoke filling up the second floor of my home.

We also have fire extinguishers on every floor but I did not use them to try to put out the fire because I estimated I would first have to read the instructions label and I just did not have the time to do that. I knew the fire would not wait for me to figure out how to kill it and it was already speedily climbing up the wall and charring surfaces on adjacent walls. Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? You should. You pull the pin and shoot.

Do you have a fire drill in place? A family plan? You should. We did not. I recalled seeing some kind of program that advised that in an emergency, you must direct specific people to carry out certain tasks. You cannot merely say “someone call 911” because someone may never get around to it. I told my son, Eli, to call 911, and I told my son, Ben, to get me a bucket.

My sweet friend, Stacey, has been sending me birthday gifts every year since college. Typically, they arrive on my birthday or the day before. This year, a tin of cookies showed up on my doorstep about 10 days early. Thank goodness. I used that tin to put out the fire.

I did not think about electrocution although I surmised the fire was electrical. I thought about my home. I thought about the place we love, the roof that shelters us, the kitchen and den and dining room in which we have shared so many wonderful holidays and memories, the deck where we love to entertain, the couch on which we gather to watch old home videos, and the bedrooms we retire to at the end of the day. I thought about this space that we love and that loves us and that this recent slight betrayal was going to end right now with me and several cookie tins full of water. I thought that if I did not act immediately, my house was going to burn down along with beloved irreplaceable photographs, ticket stubs from games my sons attended with their father and uncle, knitting needles owned by my adored Aunt Sandy, dirt memorialized from Yankee Stadium for Derek Jeter’s 3000th home run, a needlepoint of the alphabet my mother made for my sons, an old chenille cardigan that my beautiful late grandma used to wear, my son’s cherished stuffed Bunny, Cocky Pancho, my wedding band, and the dress I plan to wear to my sons’ b’nai mitzvah in April. I thought we could lose our history.

Then again, maybe I did not think at all. Maybe I just reacted out of instinct because you when you see flames threatening to destroy something you love, you just want to extinguish them. 911 instructed all of us to leave the house immediately. I sent my sons outside and I went back up the stairs. The fire was still contained to one wall which I took as a good sign. I wondered whether it was a bad idea to try to drown an electrical fire and whether I might short out my entire house. I wondered whether the fire could spread fast enough to trap me in my own bathroom. I also wondered where the towel rod went and if I was doing all the wrong things. I probably was. Perhaps I should have immediately left my home. Instead, I filled and refilled the tin with water and threw it at the fire until I could see no more flames. And then, wondering what might be lurking behind the wall, I threw a few more tins of water, dampening the area as much as possible just in case. And then I ran out the door in my socks.

Only then, while standing in our socks on the driveway waiting to hear the relief of sirens, did one son start to cry while the other one dribbled a basketball. But I told him about how lucky we are, about how we lost nothing we really cared about, and about the death of that goddamn fire. And then, after seeing many firemen and firewomen, and several police officers in and out of my home, we went out for dinner. Because life goes on.

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The fire happened the first night of Hanukkah. I never lit my menorah that night. Instead, we were evacuated from our home. The only thing I really worried that we might have lost in that fire – our sense of security – has been restored. And what we gained, hopefully reclaimed perspective, appreciation for all that we have, and gratitude for just how lucky we are, is worth much more.

Last night, on the final night of Hanukkah, we lit our menorah and slept soundly under the roof we love.

Shehecheyanu.

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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.

Thankful for Human Kindness

26 Nov

— and Stephanie Robinson of Oxford

 

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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.

With Thanks, To My Mother, On Her 70th Birthday

11 Apr

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Most children don’t want to see their parents get older. But I know firsthand what a privilege this is.

I know how to live my life, how to love my children, how to acknowledge an ordinary day as a good one, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be selfless, how to value health, how to enjoy the sunshine, thanks to my mother.

I know how to laugh, how to write, how to create, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be kind, how to do crosswords, how to be patient, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be a friend, how to be a wife, how to be a human being, thanks to my mother.

I learned how to light the shabbat candles, how to be a good daughter, how to be a good sister, thanks to my mother.

I learned how to be strong, how to be generous, how to forgive, thanks to my mother.

I learned, thanks to my mother.

Happy 70th birthday, Mom! Thank you for all the lessons. Thank you for making our lives better day in and day out. Thank you for sharing yourself so selflessly all these years. Thank you for the layers of love, richness, beauty, and depth you have added to our canvas with such deft brush strokes.

Our world is infinitely better with you in it.

With all my love,

Lisa

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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

The Greatest Show on Earth

20 Jan

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I never liked the circus.

Even as a child, the format of three rings with three simultaneous acts made no sense to me. What was I supposed to be focusing on and regardless, all three acts were not entertaining. At all. I didn’t buy into the costumes, the acrobatics, the parades. I finally just started to beg my parents not to bring me anymore.

When I got around to having my own kids, I felt obliged to take them to the circus as a rite of passage. It was as awful as I remembered and my kids were not sold on it either. Thank goodness for good taste.

Last weekend I walked my own tightrope as my oldest son was in an emergency room in Massachusetts and my mother was in an emergency room in New York. I have been in this position so many times yet each time it happens it is a shock and I yearn for the luxury of a monotonous existence.

When my oldest son was a baby, he let us know he was ready for a bed by launching himself out of his crib. The next morning he was seemingly fine with the exception of a slight alteration to his usual routine: he danced to The Wiggles but he used only one arm. I could not fathom that he might have seriously injured himself. He was such a champ that we did not even know he had fractured his clavicle until a follow-up x-ray revealed a healing bone. On Sunday, this same son broke his clavicle in two.

Inhale.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, I went to Mexico with my family and my parents. While walking back to the room with my mom to call my aunt, my mother began to have a heart attack. We did not know what it was at the time, and it did not unfold in the typical way in which it is often depicted: a man with left arm pain grabbing at his chest and directing someone to call 911. Rather, it was as if she had a sudden and severe reaction to something she ate, vomiting until it was over. And then she was fine. Until we learned she wasn’t. On Sunday, my mom called me in the morning to tell me she did not know what came over her but she couldn’t stop vomiting. But once you have a history of something kind of terrible, you cannot just crawl back into bed and assume that you have a virus. Thankfully, after an EKG and blood work, she learned she had a virus.

Exhale.

On Sunday, as if not to be left out of the disastrous emerging trend, another son of mine injured his hand and wrist simply while walking in the hall of our home. Nuts. But no broken bones; just a sprain. You try leaving an orthopedist’s office with two wounded boys and not being  looked at suspiciously. I joked with the woman at the front desk, asking if she was going to contact CPS. She just eyed me and went back to questioning my children.

Repeat.

When I was pregnant with my twins, the sonogram technician advised that I was going to be having two more sons. Broken bones was in my future; it was a given. Although you never expect it when you get that call, when you see that dangling arm, when you hear that primal scream that alerts you that something is very wrong, you always know that these things are possible, that they happen all the time and you are not going to be excluded from this club. After all, if I got through this life with 3 sons and no broken bones, I would worry that I was somehow failing my boys.

Aren’t we all performing some kind of high wire act? Teetering between news–both dreadful and wonderful, striking the great balance of life and making careful–extra careful–to keep our balance and not succumb to a mere slip of the foot.  The more we love our people, the more we’re going to be walking that tightrope. Because we care. Because we are lucky.

Maybe the circus is our introduction to life. Maybe by throwing so many things at us at one time, we are learning how to focus, how to zero in on what makes us the happiest, and to filter out all those tricks we see right through. Life is both the Worst Show on Earth and the Greatest Show on Earth and I wouldn’t want to live it any other way.