Tag Archives: #families

Sailing

21 Sep

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We are drifting aimlessly on the sea. The water is so placid even our boat does not create a ripple. We stretch back and let the salty air wash over our sun-kissed faces. We are good.

And in an instant, the sky turns dark and stormy and our boat is upended. We are swallowing the sea water that protected us just seconds earlier. We are desperate to right our boat, to climb back into its safety, to escape this disastrous storm. But it takes time.

This is what it is like to live with a chronic illness. One minute you are navigating innocent waters and the next minute you are laying with your son on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, struggling to find stillness.

Last week, out of nowhere, our boat was toppled. My son experienced what can only be described as “labor pains” for nearly a week. He winced, he cried, he dug his nails into the flesh of his wrists to feel something other than agony. And with each tear that traveled down his cheek, the vise around my heart tightened its grip. I tried to act casual, I cried and told him I wish it was happening to me instead, I tried everything. There is literally nothing I could do to soothe my son, to make it better, to be his mommy.

“Can’t you just hug me and make it go away?” He cried.

Oh, how I wish.

On Friday morning, after a long and very sad week, my son woke up feeling no pain. He later called me from the nurse’s office at school:

“I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that my stomach feels fine. The bad news is that my wrist bent back in recess and then I fell on it and it hurts a lot.”

“So you have good news. I love you.”

Later that day, my son managed to take his iPhone for a night swim. He called me from his friend’s house in such distress that it was difficult to hear actual words.

“I’m an idiot. I did the dumbest thing. You’re going to kill me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Are you ok? How do you feel?”

“I feel fine.”

“So you’re ok.”

I told him I don’t care. I told him it’s just money. I told him I’m just happy he feels good. I told him to hang up with me and go be a kid.

When I picked him up that night, he again cried, saying he made a mistake.

“I’m glad you did. That’s how you learn. You will never go swimming with your phone again. I make mistakes, Dad makes mistakes, we all make mistakes. It is part of life and no one gets out of here without making some along the way. And by the way, you mean way more to me than a phone.”

The following day was spent going to Urgent Care and getting X-rays for his wrist. As we drove to the clinic, my son reflected on the broken phone and the possibly broken wrist.

“Yesterday was the worst day, Mom.”

“Yesterday was the best day.”

“No, I mean because of my phone and my wrist. So it was a really bad day.”

“Yes, but you woke up feeling fine and your stomach no longer bothers you. Your phone can be replaced. Your wrist, even if broken, will heal.  These are things that happen to everyone. But you feel good. So it was a great day.”

When the dark clouds gather and the storm rolls in, I worry that my son’s whole life will be like those moments on the bathroom floor: a tiny ship tossed around helplessly in a maelstrom. I remind myself of the things I must believe in: medicine, Hope, and my son. I remind myself that this disease should be the worst thing that ever happens to him. I remind myself of the serene seas in which we have been fortunate enough to sail. And then I look out for those starry nights, the traditional harbingers of the promise of beautiful weather ahead.

The phone was irretrievably broken.

The wrist was not.

And neither was my heart.

And our ship is again floating under a beautiful, cloudless sky, hoping for endless starry nights.

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The Scream Chart

3 Jun

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Raising kids is challenging.

I remember when my babies were babies, strung out on hours of lost sleep and coffee, and patience frayed, I snapped. I screamed at my kids so loudly that I was hoarse for a couple of days. I was plagued by guilt. I was certain that all the hours I spent loving them, playing with them, laughing, watching and rewatching Wiggles videos (that is love for sure) would be outweighed and even forgotten by those intense moments of primal hollering.

I thought myself the only mother that ever yelled at her child. After all, everyone is always on their best behavior when you see them and if they’re not, can you just imagine what kind of monster they must be in their own home? Unable to shake myself of remorse, I asked a wise friend if she ever yelled at her kids. Her reply, which stayed with me, was “we all scream inside our own house.” She was right.

Sometimes we do lose patience. Because we are human. And while I have not lost my voice again since that time when my babies were babies, I still raise it here and there, mostly because no one seems to listen the first 8 times I say something.

Recently, my son complained that there was too much screaming in the house. To be precise, his belief was that one of the five of us, at the very least, yelled every single day. I was surprised at his perception of how our home functions; probably because I’m more of a positive person and definitely because I am his mother. Regardless, he should not feel that way and if, to my horror, that was accurate, we would all have to change because I wouldn’t want to live in that house either. I decided it was time to experiment.

I made a “Scream Chart.” For an entire week, my son was to track our “screaming activity” and assign a tick for anyone who screamed. If someone yelled more than once, they received more than one tick. No one was to behave any differently than usual (not that we are all self-aware enough to act otherwise) and frankly, no one did.

One week later, I approached my son to review the final results of the Scream Chart. Lo and behold, there was very little yelling in our home that week, similar to every other week, except, apparently, for Sunday (I cannot remember what occurred and I am pretty sure I don’t want to either). Indeed, throughout the school week, there were only two incidences of shrieking (although, to be fair, a raised voice counted just as much as outright caterwauling) and one of them belonged to the very son who thought there was too much yelling in the house to begin with.

Perceptions and misperceptions are so important. I hope my son remembers to lean towards the positive memories and viewpoints as opposed to coloring our world with darker shadows just because someone screams here and there. I always tend to remember and view things more fondly (except for laboring 23 hours to deliver this same child; that was pure agony) and I think it has served me well. It has also provided a grounding optimism sorely needed for challenges faced along the way. I explained this to my son. I discussed the value of believing in good and happiness over constant misery. I told him that just because someone in a family gets angry (which happens! people living together are bound to bounce off each other at times!) doesn’t mean it is an angry family.

About a month later, I checked in again with my son. His perception of our family’s life together had thankfully changed. He no longer believed that there was daily bickering and acknowledged that part of the screaming he had to endure was his own. There are so many things I feel I don’t get right as a parent, but I was so grateful to be able to change his appreciation of his own life. He should think better of it. And I am so glad he actually does.

Had that Scream Chart filled out according to my son’s expectations, I would have been devastated. I would hate to think that this family we have created out of love and desire and joy would be so overshadowed by constant conflict. Although 18 years sounds like a long time to raise a child, it moves faster than I would have ever imagined. Those 18 years should be a filled with laughter, beauty, kindness, love, and warm, screamless nights.

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 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.

 

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.