Friday, October 12, 2007

It's October, For Heaven's Sake!!!

I walk to work. It is 16 long avenue blocks in the city and at a brisk clip it takes me twenty minutes. I like the walk, I like the view, and it is the only part of my day that I am not listening to someone, or figuring out what to make for dinner while I'm supposed to be listening.

As I was walking toward work the other day, I realized that it was October already. Having grown up in the big city, October means a lot of things to me: Halloween, pumpkins and apples, the time you finally get to wear all those cool back-to-school sweaters you stocked up on, and it is the month when the landlords start sending up heat to their apartments. This stopped me in my tracks. I had to do some mental calisthenics to make sure I was in my right mind. Yes, it actually is October; yes, it is the time of year when the landlords start sending up heat; and yes, last night I ran my air conditioner. Something is not right about this.

Not only was I not wearing a new sweater, I was guiltily wearing an obviously "spring" outfit that I should have packed away in the spare closet by now. I had actually had the thought, when getting ready for my day, that I hoped no one "in the know" would see me in my floral skirt and linen-like camp shirt so far past Labor Day. But with temperatures still in the eighties, I just could not bring myself to wear something more seasonably appropriate.

Many will say, and they are certainly right, that we should rewrite the fashion laws, among others, to more accurately reflect modern times. But I am a creature of habit. I grew up with certain heuristics, rules of thumb, and I have steadfastly held on to them. And that is why, knowing that I ran my air conditioner in October has been gnawing at me lately.

My friends say that warmer weather all year round will be delightful. No more bitter winds and slush to slog through. It feels wrong. When my older cousins abandoned calling the parents by "Aunt" and "Uncle," I could not. It felt wrong. When my doctor said I could call him "Peter," I could not. It just felt wrong. And I don't care how hot it is or how much I needed to run my air conditioner in October, it just feels wrong.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Daughter Wants a Doll for her Birthday

My daughter is turning five and has asked for a doll for her birthday. There is nothing unusual in this, I asked for dolls when I was little. As I anticipated the arrival of my beautiful daughter, I dreamed of playing dolls with her, setting them up on pillows and having tea parties together. Unfortunately, the doll she wants is a Bratz doll.

For those who don't know, Bratz dolls are scantily clad dolls with oversized lips which have that annoying line outlining their lipstick, ostensibly from lip liner (apparently Bratz girls don't read the magazines; you are supposed to match your liner to your lipstick). Even the Bratz baby dolls are heavily made up and adorned with jewelry. From the looks of these dolls, I think they would eschew tea parties in favor of the latest fruit laden martini.

I played with a beautiful effanbee baby doll which smelled of powder and had cute baby rosebud lips. She was my baby, my friend. She later shared my affections with Chrissy a doll with a hole in her head so that you could give her long or short hair, depending on your mood, by pulling it out of the hole in her head and then pressing her navel to roll it back inside. When Chrissy's hair got too tangled, I fell in love with my Baby Tender Love, a doll with pores and soft baby-like skin. None of these dolls would have inspired the Police to write Roxanne. Not so with the Bratz dolls.

The Bratz dolls look like juvenile delinquents. Bad news. The kind of girl your mother warned you about, the kind of girl a decent boy would never bring home to his mother. I've told my daughter that we don't approve of Bratz dolls in our family. But she is really too young to tell her why.

She isn't getting her hearts desire for her birthday. And what makes me so angry is that someone must be buying these dolls or they wouldn't continue being sold. There are people who actually think these dolls are appropriate. I don't know what age the dolls are marketed for, but in my opinion they aren't appropriate for ANY age.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tonight, a mother cries...

Tonight a mother cries. She is the same mother who, on Friday night, continued to have hope that her son would beat his leukemia as he had his cancer. The cancer treatment put the cancer into remission, but caused the leukemia. He would have graduated from high school in June. Tomorrow he will be buried. My heart is broken for this woman I have never met.

I, too, have a son who is a high school senior. Tonight his fresh mouth and snarly attitude made me feel awful. So often, lately, I question why he hates me when all I want is for him to grow up to be a fine man. And I thought of the woman who will never see her son grow into the man he would have become. I cannot fathom her grief, her despair, her limitless faith.

As mothers, we all too often point fingers at each other: she lets her kids drink soda, she lets her kids play violent video games, she doesn't seem to care what grades her children get, she stays at home, she leaves her kids in day care. All of the criticism we level at each other means nothing tonight. A mother is crying because the best person she ever knew, the person she loved best, has died. We feel a pain, but even as we do, we know that it is nothing like hers.

Tonight, a mother cries. And every mother cries with her.

Top Ten Ways You Know We Are Back at School

School has started. I have a high school senior, a sophomore, and a kindergartener. And I am a teacher. How do you know that we are all back to school? Here is a list:

10. My house is a mess.

9. I no longer have time to Gather.

8. There are four school bags plopped in the foyer.

7. My checking account is empty because of all of the back-to-school sneakers, shoes, jeans, underwear, boxer shorts, gym socks, binders, pencils, pens, erasers, folders, notebooks and fees that I have been shelling out money for.

6. My TiVo is no longer taping shows because I have not had time to watch anything and it is full.

5. I am making lunches while I put on my make-up.

4. I've been tempted to tell my principal that the dog ate my plan book.

3. Despite buying all of the aforementioned school supplies, I had to fill out emergency cards in brown crayon.

2. I sent tissues and paper towels to everyone's teachers, but we have no toilet paper in the house.

And the number one reason you can tell we are all back at school:

1. My idea of cooking a homecooked meal has dwindled to Top Ramen noodles and a sliced tomato.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Happy New Year

I am a teacher. I make New Year's resolutions twice a year. Like most people, I make them as the new year approaches, after the busyness and chaos of the holidays. I take time to take stock and figure out where I can make improvements in my life. But I also get a clean slate and a new beginning each September as the new school year approaches.

There is an old joke about teaching that the three best things about the profession are June, July and August. Any teacher worth her salt knows that these are the months, after the busyness and chaos of the preceding school year, to reflect and ask the hard questions about what you could have done better, brush up on your subject matter, and make improvements. Somewhere in there you try to rest up and restore yourself to yourself.

Although I hate the end of summer and its slower pace, I do feel excited by the prospect of a new year. I mark this fresh start with tangible tokens of newness: new pens, pencils, papers, and the latest organization system that I am sure will beat the one from the year before. And then I buy tissues, vitamin C, hand lotion, jugs of hand sanitizer and granola bars. It all gets packed in my "new school bag" which I convince myself will be sturdy enough to last the whole year.

Before long, the school year will start to drag. I will feel stressed, forgetful and bone-tired. A thought will creep in that I've got to make some changes fast, or the quality of my life will be strained. And it just so happens that this will occur right around December 31st: the perfect time for a clean slate and some new resolutions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Review: The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

I picked up this book because I had read Coelho's book, The Alchemist. I very much enjoyed The Alchemist which was stunning for its simplicity. It is a fable which convinces the reader that we can achieve our truest calling if we pay attention to the ways in which the universe works in our favor. To believe in the message of The Alchemist in no way vitiates a belief in a higher power.

Coelho begins the novel with a quote that explains the novel's title. It credits Islamic tradition with the idea of the Zahir, which has come to mean an obsession which occupies every thought. The quote, from the Encyclopedia of the Fantastic, says that a Zahir "can be considered either a state of holiness or of madness." We learn that the main character's Zahir is his missing wife.

The Zahir is a love story. The narrator is a best-selling author who is initially suspected of foul play in the disappearance of his wife. The novel delineates the narrator's stages of self-discovery as he begins his quest for his wife. During the search, the narrator tackles many philosophical questions and looks deeply into his own soul. As he learns more about himself, he learns more about his wife, the nature of their relationship, and of the institution of marriage itself.

Had Coelho just written a novel that delves into questions of love and relationships, I would say that the novel was wonderful and he achieved his purpose. However, early on, he teases the reader with questions about the nature of happiness and fulfillment. The narrator remembers questions his wife posed before she disappeared. She wonders what brings true happiness and challenges the happiness she sees in the eyes of a couple who she feels are denying what they really feel:
“Look across the street: a couple with two children. They feel
intensely happy when they’re with their children, but, at the
same time, their subconscious keeps them in a constant state
of terror: they think of the job they might lose, the disease
they might catch, the health insurance that might not come up
with the goods, one of the children getting run over. And in
trying to distract themselves, they try as well to find a way of
getting free of those tragedies, of protecting themselves from
the world.”

These questions prompt Esther to take work as a war correspondent. She does not want to protect herself from the world. She wants to feel true fulfillment. Her quest is one that her husband cannot understand: to find out if there are any truly happy people in the world. Alas, in following the narrator’s quest, Coelho loses track of Esther’s quest, which I found to be much more thought provoking and relevant.

One idea, which he does see to its fruition, is that of the acomodador. The acomodador is the “giving-up” point at which we stop progressing in our lives. It might be a disappointment, a hurt, or even some good fortune that we did not understand. In order to move beyond it, and keep growing, we must go back over our lives to find that point in order to free ourselves from it. For the narrator, his acomodador was the point at which he stopped trying to accomplish anything beyond “reasonably well.” Because he feared mediocrity, he failed to master anything.
Perhaps Coelho attempted to take on too many philosophical questions in one novel. As he broached each one, I felt the excitement of being on my own quest. When his characters learned about themselves and each other, his novel succeeded. But when the characters left some questions unanswered, the reader was left with no context against which to form her own answers.

Set in exotic locales, with a very diverse set of characters, The Zahir is a thought-provoking novel. At the heart of it are two people with the courage to pursue their dreams, while advocating for each other. It is a very different kind of love story.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gotcha Day!

Today is a very special day in my family. Today is what we call "Gotcha Day!" It is a celebration of the day when all the planets were aligned, the heavens were watching their handiwork and a miracle occurred. It is the day when my daughter, born in China, joined her brothers, her father and me. Four years ago today, after three long years of paperwork and fervent prayers, my daughter was placed in my aching arms. And now, four years later, it is so evident that she was intended for our family, but ended up in China during transport. She is our joy. Her two brothers love her fiercely. She is so like each of them in so many ways. I think today of her biological parents and hope that somehow they know that she is safe, flourishing, and dearly loved. I pray that God gives them grace and blessings. This daughter of mine who fills my life with laughter, wonder and love is such a gift. Happy Gotcha Day, beautiful girl.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Don't YOU tell ME who I am!!!!

I didn't support the war and you labeled me unpatriotic. You said I did not support the troops. I did support the troops and I wished they were better equipped, and better prepared. Then I wished they were better rested. Now I just wish they were home.

I support equal rights for everybody. When I lamented the unfair advantages of men in the workforce, you labeled me a "feminazi." When I said any two adult people should be able to form a legally recognized union, you questioned my morality. How can it be immoral to accept my fellow human beings as human beings?

I don't support our president and you think me un-American. I worried about the Patriot Act and you said I aided and abetted terrorists. It might surprise you to know that I have an abiding love and respect for the living document that is the Constitution. I fear for our liberty because of the liberties which have been taken with the Constitution, and the ramifications of such on our future.

I complained about illegal immigrants and you called me a bigot. Oh yes, I know my own ancestors were immigrants, but they were here legally and they paid taxes until they died. And many of them, because of their ethnicity, took jobs that no one else wanted.

I am an American. Generations of my family, including this one, have fought for the freedoms I do not take for granted. We pay our taxes, vote in every election, and love our country. Don't presume to tell me who I am.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I live in a beautiful neighborhood. It is actually the neighborhood I grew up in, but not the neighborhood my children grew up in.

Until two years ago, we lived in a lovely little house in the woods where it was no surprise to see wild turkeys, deer, rabbits, a fox or two, raccoons, voles, and bears, in addition to the usual squirrels and chipmunks.

My boys played in creeks, played in the woods, and believe it or not, went to the same school from age three to fifteen.

Life does hold many surprises and one of them, for us, was the necessity to carve out a new life. I went "back home" where my parents still resided. While it was familiar to me, it was all new to my children. They must be made of resilient stuff because they have adjusted beautifully. My daughter had only lived in "Pennsylvania House" for two years, so the move was less stressful for her. But my sons had lived their whole lives in the country (13 and 15 years respectively) and they had to adjust to living in the big city, new schools, new challenges.

It hasn't been easy. Sometimes it seemed that we would never be happy again, that we would always feel uprooted. Problems abounded and the turmoil we felt was mirrored by the rocky shore we now ride our bikes by.

Eventually, we looked at our move as an adventure. We've celebrated birthdays, holidays, a graduation from middle school, a graduation from pre-Kindergarten, and we have even had dinner, al fresco, in Little Italy.

This summer marks our two year anniversary here. We can now call it home. All of us agree that it has turned out to be a good thing, even with the pains and challenges. We are a family, and we live in a beautiful neighborhood.

Monday, July 30, 2007

George Foreman for President

Sorry, folks, he isn't running. I just wish he would. I saw him on the television show, American Inventor, and I continued to watch subsequent episodes of the show just to see how kindly he handled the contestants, and his no-nonsense attitude. He seemed to embody so many philosophies at once: persevere and you will succeed, don't sweat the small stuff, and a kind word is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

A look at his biography will show that he believes in hard work and giving back. In addition to his work as an ordained minister in Texas, he opened up a youth center. In his interviews he is quick to talk about his love of God, his love of his family and the importance of forgiveness. His successes in the ring and in the field of marketing prove him to be an astute businessman.

My son turned to me while we were watching American Inventor and saw my smile and said, "I bet if we didn't already have one, you would go out and buy a George Foreman Grill." I laughed and said, "You know, that's probably true, but I will go you one better: if he would run for President, I'd vote for him tomorrow."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Open Letter to Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay, I realize you don't know me and that you are probably being given advice from a lot of people. In fact, someone may have already said these same things to you already. Humor me and read what I have to say.

You are a talented, beautiful young lady. You are also strong, which is evidenced by just the little I know about you: you have been able to achieve success in a highly competitive industry all while you have dealt with some difficult family situations. Take pride in this. It is not easy.

You must stop looking for happiness outside of yourself. You will never find it. In fact, when you look for happiness outside of yourself, you will only find trouble, grief, and disappointment.

You have to start giving back to the best friend you have ever had: yourself. You are the one that has gotten through the tough spots in your life. You can do it again. In order to get past these recent mistakes you have made, you need to reach inside and ask yourself for the help to do it.

Be good to yourself. Be proud of your accomplishments. Learn from your mistakes. Be happy in who you are. If you need to change something, do it. For yourself. Be the friend you so desperately need.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Rules

For years I had a list of "family rules" tacked up on the wall in the upstairs hallway. I had printed it out on the computer and hoped that we could make them instinctive. I really wanted them to just be a reminder of the rules of behavior we talked about as a family. There were major headings like "Respect for Our World," and "Respect for Our Family," and "Respect for Others." A rule under the heading "Respect for Our World," was "Leave a Place Better Than You Found It." This was because I just couldn't stand it when the boys would not put something away because "they hadn't taken it out." My son once picked up litter by a creek in our favorite park. He was disgusted that someone would defile such a beautiful spot. As he went over to the trash receptacle, he said to me matter-of-factly, "I'm leaving a place better than I found it."

I found that some rules needed to be added as we went along. When my oldest boy was eight he went on a playdate where there were older siblings. He came home with a bruise on his chest from someone giving him what is called a "purple nurple." I was absolutely horrified. Quickly I added "Respect for your own body" to our list of rules.

When the boys became teenagers I needed an updated list of rules. They were really the same rules, but more explicitly phrased. "Respect for your own body," is now a heading over "No drugs," "No alcohol." I was squeamish about posting rules which pertained to sex, so I worded them in a way that the boys know exactly what I mean (because we've talked about it so much). So under "Respect for Others" as well as "Respect for Yourselves" is "Don't do anything that will bring you consequences and responsibilities."

In many ways, the boys think I am silly. They roll their eyes and sometimes even laugh. But they know what I stand for and they know what is expected of them as members of this family. And so, as my four-year old daughter learns to read, I will make a new "starter list" for her. Ideally, the boys will even help me with it. It shouldn't be hard since the list is just a written reminder of all of the things we stand for as a family.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


My 15 yr. old son quit smoking. I know what some are thinking after reading this: he should never have started in the first place. This is true, and I make no excuses for him. I don't smoke and I had drummed into him the dangers of smoking since he and his brother were little. I would point to celebrities and family members whose health declined from the ravages of smoking. Despite all my best efforts, he had his first cigarette when he was thirteen. I was devastated when I found out, but I was also frustrated at his lack of sense and embarrassed at what I perceived as my own failure as a parent.

My son had a few frustrations of his own. He hated wasting his allowance on cigarettes, and he hated the time it wasted when he had to leave the house to have a smoke. He wanted to quit, but he knew how bad he felt "between cigarettes" and was a bit frightened to experience that torture magnified. He mentioned that he might try to quit after school let out for the summer. I crossed my fingers, but didn't say anything more than "You can do it." Two days after summer vacation began, he came to me and said that he hadn't had a cigarette in two days. I hadn't realized that his desire to quit had hardened into a resolve.

It hasn't been easy for him. Like most smokers, he had a routine which he has had to forgo. There have been days that have truly been awful - he says that the cravings can come out of nowhere. When we went on vacation, he felt a terrible pressure and gave in to "just one cigarette." Luckily it made him feel, in his words, "stupid and not worth it," so he has gone another two weeks without another one. I am really very proud of him.

I have learned a few things myself. I feel that I cannot take credit for his strength and determination, so I shouldn't feel guilty about his smoking either. Both starting and quitting were entirely up to him. Also, I have learned that the addiction to nicotine cannot be taken lightly. As a never-smoker, I did not realize how hard it is to quit. Realizing that, I feel even prouder of my son for quitting on his own.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Being a Nerd

I love school. My college experience was a little disappointing because I had expected (really!) to mingle with lots of like-minded people who wanted to go to class, then grab a cup of joe or a cold beer and discuss and debate all of the wonderful things we were learning. Instead, I met people who, rabid with sudden independence, slept through their morning classes, and lived for "free keg."

After college, I worked in marketing and loved to attend professional certificate classes. I didn't make a career out of it, though. I found my true calling when I went back to my high school alma mater for a luncheon in honor of one of my favorite teachers and landed a job teaching sophomores and seniors.

Then life happened: I had two children and bought a house in the woods. After getting accustomed to country living I realized I wanted (needed!) to go back to school for another degree. So, after running around with my two and four year old boys all day, I would go to the local university and marvel that I was there, and being older, even better at learning and understanding.

I am starting another certificate program tomorrow. I can't wait. My teen aged boys think I am insane. They can't believe anyone in their right minds would actually want to go to school. They laughed at me as I got my folder, notebook and pens ready. I wonder how this happened to me. Was I born loving school? Is it a consequence of how much I love books? And why didn't my boys inherit my "school gene"? These are things I will ponder now because tomorrow I will be weighed down with ideas and reading assignments. Ahhhhh!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Family Vacation

Tomorrow I am leaving, with my children and father, on our annual vacation on the Cape. My oldest son is coming along, despite the fact that for two years now he has said he is too old for "family vacations." I am very happy he is coming, but my happiness is tempered with dread for the sullen attitude which will inevitably surface. My four year old daughter is so excited that it is nerve-wracking: not only have we been counting the days for over two weeks now, but she has been putting things aside to pack - we'll need a refrigerator box for it all to fit. My 15 yr. old son is sleeping now, but he will be the one to help me get the show on the road.

We've been doing this for so long that we have a system. My mother is the co-pilot. She calms me down, offers conversation to keep me alert on the seven hour trip, and keeps my father, the ultimate backseat driver, at bay. Unfortunately, she is already on the Cape, caring for my brand new twin nephews. Believe me, I am terrified of making the trip without her. My father wants to leave before dawn, drive more than halfway before the first stop and, if we do not "make good time," refrain from making any more stops. I like to take a more leisurely drive, maybe stopping and doing some shopping at my favorite stores along the way, have breakfast and maybe lunch, too.

I have packed little wrapped trinkets for my daughter to open along the trip. It has become a tradition, and it keeps her occupied. My father will worry about every little scrap of paper littering the rental car. I am more laid back. Once we get to the hotel, I will clean everything up in one fell swoop. If she tries to talk to me, he will interrupt, "No distracting the driver!" My father will keep his eyes on the road, but also on my son who I have elected to be my co-pilot. If he fidgets even a little, my father will yell, "Don't touch anything on the dashboard. No distracting the driver!" This is okay, though, because it means that my son will not be able to flip the radio station when I begin to sing along.

My oldest son will put his earphones in his ears and fall asleep. However, when he wakes up he will revert back to his toddler days and ask how much longer the trip will be. He will do this every 20 minutes until the end of the trip. Unless my father yells at him, "For crying out loud, grow up. We'll be there when we get there. If we hadn't had to wait for you to go back upstairs for your earphones, we'd have made it to Rhode Island by now. And, do we still have to remind you to use the bathroom before we leave? That pit-stop in Jersey cost us at least an hour's driving time by the time we got past rush hour traffic." Now I am the driver and referee.

We will get there. We will have fun. We will laugh, we will swim, and we will have peppermint ice cream. I know this because we have been doing this for so long. The night before we have to trek home again, we will all wish for just one more day. And I will pray that God keeps us well until we come back next year.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

I was drawn to this book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, because of the title and, I admit abashedly, because of the cover. A look at the inside recommendations showed only blurbs from periodicals, and none from any author of merit. Despite this, I picked it up and I am really glad that I did. It is, all at once, fun, interesting, spell-binding, and thought-provoking. At the least, it is a game of "How Culturally Literate, Are You?"

When I first began reading this novel, I admit I was a little put off by all of the literary and cultural annotations. I almost put the book down. When I got to the heart of my reaction, I realized I was reacting with that emotion that hits all bibliophiles at some point: why can't I have thought of/written this? Once I got past my petty jealousy, I was too far gone in the novel to put it down.

The heroine, Blue Van Meer is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She loves her father fiercely and is plucky and brave, but at the same time, vulnerable and sweet. In fact, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, reads like a classic bildungsroman or coming-of-age story. We cheer for Blue as she tackles yet another school, and begins to make friends. And while we are being charmed by this motherless genius, who is learning about the real world, we are being drawn into an exciting mystery which Pessl unravels deftly.

I very much recommend this novel. It is a high-brow romp of words and an exciting mystery.

Friday, June 29, 2007


My neighborhood is reeling from a horrific car accident. On a very busy thoroughfare (four lanes of traffic, two in each direction), someone saw a parking spot on the opposite side of the street. She decided to make a u-turn across three lanes of traffic, and failed to negotiate it. She slammed onto the sidewalk, critically injuring one and killing another (the details of the injuries are too awful to delineate here). The site of the accident is directly across from a municipal parking lot. This woman now has to live with the fact that at least one person is dead because she needed a parking spot.

Technically, the word careless means indifferent to the consequences. We use the word careless when we forget to pick up the dry-cleaning; or when a child forgets his assignment pad. I've called myself careless on those occasions when I have gone to the grocery store for milk, but walked out with $35.00 worth of groceries and no milk. In none of these examples, has the person been forgetful or lacking in the face of consequences. But the woman who caused the accident committed a traffic violation, willingly, because her needs were paramount. She needed a parking spot, and she was willing to risk a ticket to land it.

The horror is that she risked so much more. She risked people's lives. She was truly careless: she was indifferent to the consequences. Of course she couldn't envision that she would take a life, but when she failed to care about the consequences of crossing three lanes of traffic, illegally, she opened the door to the probability of random, indiscriminate consequences. And while she has to live with that fact for the rest of her life, I'll venture that the families of both of her victims are not consoled by that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Summer Vacation

The summer is a magical time for me. It is a time when I don't have to fight with three children to get up, get dressed, and get to school. It is a time when I don't automatically have to say no to playing another game of Candyland with my four-year-old, or to leaving the playground a little bit later. I can actually watch The Daily Show with my teenagers and talk about the thoughts it provokes in their maturing minds. In other words, I am blessed in the summer with being able to enjoy my children without having to worry about getting enough sleep, making appointments, and going to the office.

I know that this is a blessing and I cherish every moment of my time off. I realize that I am luckier than most to have the summer off, even if it means I don't drive a Lexus or summer in the Hamptons. Oh, but with every blessing comes an obligation: to appreciate it, to make the most of it. And so, I start out with some very lofty plans: my daughter and I will do lots of crafts and my boys and I will explore the city and listen to some of the many free concerts. I will market daily to avail myself of the freshest fruits and vegetables, and then prepare tasty and very healthy meals (not the processed "mother's helper's meals" I turn to when I am working). I will have tea with my mother several afternoons a week. We will read together as a family, and take walks after dinner. My apartment will be spic and span all of the time. These are just a few of the plans I make.

Plans, being what they are, are really just goals. For me, goals are healthy ways for me to stay sharp, keep moving, and grow. Even if not every goal is accomplished, a sincere setting of that goal is still good for my soul. So there are nights when I order a pizza, and we might just settle for an evening of cards or a bowl of popcorn and a movie. But we will do what we do together, mostly unhurried, and I will be conscious of the how precious our time together is.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Living in the Moment

I just came back from my daughter's "Stepping Up" ceremony which heralds the leap from pre-K to Kindergarten. As I arrived, I saw balloons gracing the yard with "Congratulations" and "You Did It," and a table laden with donuts, cupcakes and juice boxes. Parents started to arrive with grandparents, older and younger siblings, and even aunts and uncles. Such a fuss!

And why not? When I considered how important each one of the "graduates" was to his or her family, and the effort that the nursery school and families had expended in marking this small milestone, I was overcome. I wished everyone in the world could feel all the love that was concentrated in a tiny school yard on an unassuming tree-lined street in Brooklyn. It was a wonderful moment when there was no need for synchronicity, or planetary alignment, or good luck. Love was all around and I was truly happy to be aware of it.

I don't always live in the moment. Truth be told, I probably worry about the future more than most people, and have to steel myself against languoring in the past. I am sure that there have been moments like today when I have missed all the beauty and meaning. But today, in that moment, I was present to the love I saw and I savored it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Love of Reading

I was very studious. I loved to read, I loved to learn and, appropriately enough, I became a teacher. I begin each term by telling my students that I am a "book freak." I hope that this appellation might make being an avid reader more acceptable to my very "cool-conscious" middle and high school students. It also helps to make a connection with those students in my classes who love books as much as I do. As summer break approaches I look forward, with something very akin to a dog salivating over hamburger meat, the books which I have stacked on my bedside table.

As a teacher, I have talked to my students about books I am reading, about the books they are reading, and I believe that I have led some reluctant readers to the joys of immersing oneself in the beauty of words with a well placed suggestion. I have not, however, enticed my boys and I deeply regret this. I have provided them with wonderful books and I have read to them. Neither of them are readers, although I secretly pray that their sister will be. My sorrow is that I have not been able to convey the excitement I feel when words are crafted into art, or the joy I can feel when a character is real and true, or the thrill of an intricate plot.

I can only hope that, for them, reading will be an acquired taste like full-bodied dry red wines or steamed lobster with drawn butter: delights I have enjoyed only since becoming an adult. And perhaps that is best. Starting to read avidly as adults, they will never know the irrational fear that they could read everything there is and have to live without something to read.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The (sometimes) Dubious Joys of Raising Teens

I have always been a very hands-on mom. When my boys were little, their dad was always working, and so I tried to make up for that by doing things that I thought a “dad” would do. I took them trout fishing and hiking. I played in the woods with them and collected rocks. I bought them a bug box which we put bugs in, examined through the magnified cover, and then released into the wild. All of this despite the fact that I have always been a very “girlie girl.” At night, after they fell asleep, I would look at them and see angels: pink cheeks and curled fingers and hair as soft as whispers. No matter how tired they made me during the day, or how frantic with worry I might have been when they got lost in the clothes racks at the mall, I could have this peaceful reminder of how God had entrusted me with these innocent, beautiful beings.

Well, now they are teenagers who have absolutely no time for me. I have become stupid, out of touch, and a wet blanket. I stand in their way of freedom and fun. Daily, it seems, there is something to fight about because I refuse to take the path of least resistance. These fights can sometimes wear me out so much that I have nothing left. But it is so important to me that they know that in this very fickle world, their mom has values which she refuses to abandon to be popular. And since they go to bed long after I do, I no longer have that peaceful reminder of watching them while they sleep.

Enter my vivacious, perky and adorable four-year-old daughter. She puts me back in touch with the boys when they were the same age. I often hope that she puts the boys back in touch with the mom they thought was fun, clever, and cool. We are happiest as a family when we are marveling at her spirit and antics. In addition to all of the wonderful gifts she has brought to our family, she gives me the chance, right now, when I am flustered by all of the mistakes I seem to be making with her brothers, to slow down and cherish the warmth of a child curled up in my arms or the splendor of finding treasures on the sidewalk. I never paid attention when people told me that they grow up too fast, to enjoy them while they are young. I won’t make that mistake again.