Category Archives: parenting

The Gift of A New Year

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Both of my parents are Jewish and were brought up with Jewish customs and culture. But they were atheists for most of my childhood, and we seldom celebrated Jewish holidays. We lit the menorah some years, and when we lived near my mother’s parents, we went to their house for the holidays. But that was about it.

I will admit that I really knew very little about Judaism growing up. I don’t think I even knew that Rosh Hashanah (the holiday currently being celebrated) is the Jewish New Year. I only learned that a few years ago!

My mother-in-law does all the major Jewish holidays at her house, but in a very loose way. We gather, eat Jewish food, and make merry. We’ve tried to do some kind of Seder during Passover, but it’s totally thrown together ourselves, with my two children acting out the parts of Moses (my younger son is baby Moses; my older son is Moses all grown up).

The point of all this is that this year, for the first time, I have been embracing this time of year as a new year, a kind of beginning. And it’s been wonderful to think of it that way. We all need new beginnings sometimes, and why not have more than one occasion to start over? The fact that the weather is cooling off, fruit is growing ripe and falling off trees, and a new school year is underway—this all seems fitting as well. In fact, I almost always think of the school year as a time to reframe my life,  especially since my husband is a teacher and my son is in elementary school.

So, to that end, here are some of the things I want to focus on this year (on the Jewish calendar we are entering 5776!):

  1. I want (no, I need!) to carve out more time for self-care. I have a tendency to want to do, do, do—for my kids, for my work—until I run myself ragged. It’s not good for anyone. So I want to remember to take things slow. My goal is to meditate five minutes a day (a little goes a long way), and give myself the gift of a solo run twice a week, even if that means doing it at 5pm when my husband gets home and it’s right smack in the middle of the dinner/homework rush. I’ll still walk/jog with my toddler in the jogging stroller and throw on the TV so I can do some yoga, but I want to find times to do things on my own, in my body, without kids, even if all I get is 30 minutes a few times a week.
  2. I want to spend more real time with my kids each day. Life is ridiculous sometimes. It feels like some days there is literally no time, even for my kids, who I spend every waking second with. We are either on our way somewhere, in the middle of one of our many meals, or transitioning to something else. Each evening, I spend one-on-one time with the kids when I put them to bed. I want to strive for more than just that. But on the days when that’s the best I can do, I want to be as present with them as I can. Listening, cuddling, inhaling their essence. Yes, please.
  3. I want to read. I read a lot. But it’s all online! This summer I read a few books and it was divine. It was so much more silent, delicious. I could focus on the words, the feel of the book in my hands. It’s tougher to find reading time during the school year because by the time the kids are asleep, I am too tired to do anything but check Facebook or watch TV. But reading actual books is so enriching, so I’m going to find time. My goal is to read one book each month (Book of the Month style!). I think that’s a reasonable goal, especially since I usually choose a slim book of poems.
  4. I want to make more time for my friends. A lot of my friends have moved away in recent years, but I have a few dear ones who live nearby. And yet, it’s so hard to make plans. We each have full lives and opposing schedules. But I’m going to do it. Now that my little one is older, I need to get out more. For real.
  5. I want to find ways to make work to fit into my life, not take over my life. With a little one still at home with me all day, it’s hard to find time for my writing and lactation business. But I do them because they are my passion (and I need to pay the bills!). It’s a constant balancing act to fit it all in, but I have gotten better at doing so. And yet, I know that as the school year advances, it’s going to be harder to do it all and stay sane. So I need to remember that it’s OK to say no to things. It’s OK to put my children and myself first. And that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

That’s it, I think! L’Shana Tova to all who celebrate.

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End of Summer Sorrow

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of the last week of summer vacation. Sigh.

It’s been a good summer in many ways. In July, my husband (who is a full-time teacher during the school year) worked part-time and the big kid had some day camp. We went to the pool a bit, played outside in the sprinklers some too.

In early August, we all took a trip to visit my dad and stepmom in California. It was really nice to see everyone, but traveling with little ones is far from relaxing. Still, the kids (especially the big one) remember it as an awesome time and are excited to travel again.

But now. This right here is my favorite thing in the world. No one has had work or other outside commitments for the past two weeks (and counting). It took me a few days to really relax into it, but oh my goodness, it’s good. I know that some people don’t love being home with no activities. And I have heard the words “I’m bored” uttered more times than I’d care to, but it doesn’t really matter when both parents are home to help (and our kids are finding stuff to do with a little nudge here and there).

I just love feeling this relaxed. I can feel each breath enter and exit my body. I can feel my heart beating slower. And I can enjoy the children—spend those few extra minutes inhaling their hair, watch the precise angle of their backs as they lean into the couch. I love the freedom of it all, not having to plan my day up to the minute so I can fit everything in and make everyone happy.

And sleeping. Taking turns sleeping in if the kids wake up too early (and dare I say that sometimes the kids are sleeping in themselves—wow!).

I know it will be impossible to bottle these feelings of slowness, solitude, and relaxation. But I hope the goodness we have been feeling—that feeling of all being together, in sync, loving on one another—will propel us forward into the busyness of September with a little more patience and understanding.

Let’s face it—the busyness of modern life can kind of suck sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful that my husband has a good job, that my kid goes to a school he likes, and I have the kind of flexible work schedule that allows me to be home for my kids pretty much all the time. I know new adventures await us all in the new school year, and I’m excited for them.

But I see this summer ending, and I feel a little sad. No, very sad. I just want to hold on a little longer. I like the nothingness of our days. But most of all, I like these people. They are pretty much the best thing I have in life. I am eternally grateful, and so in love.

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Family photo from the other day. The best we could get. Love the pile of junk next to us on the couch. Totally authentic.

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Crazy Commenters on Social Media (Or, What is Wrong With the World?)

huhWriting for internet publications is a funny thing. I have been blessed to be published widely, and it is thrilling to be able to connect so readily with my audience, and get paid for it! As a writer who wrote primarily for print publications for years, I rarely had feedback on my work. If I did, it was mostly from friends and family, not total strangers.

I have been blown away by the positive comments on things I’ve written—people who have been moved to tears, people whose lives feel changed by my words (at least for a minute!). Yes, there are haters out there, but that’s par for the course, and I don’t usually let it get to me. I mean, I’ve had a post go viral in which I talk about breastfeeding a (gasp!) two-year-old, and there were some ugly responses, all of which I let roll off my back.

So I was pretty shocked when a post I wrote for Kveller got slammed by comments, replete with personal attacks on me and my family. It’s an honest, blunt piece about how in this season of my life with young kids at my feet, making phone calls is annoying and nearly impossible.

I should mention that the response to the article was overwhelmingly positive. It’s been viewed by over 14,000 users (and counting), it was shared publicly by the actress Mayim Bialik, and the comments on Facebook are mostly from mothers who identified with it and found it refreshingly honest.

But the comments on the website itself were just… well, you should read them yourself. I was called self-centered, pathetic, insufferable, and my kids were described as ill-mannered brats. Not only was my parenting slammed, but I was also declared to be a terrible friend and an even worse family member (because, you know, my family will die eventually, and I haven’t appreciated them enough while they’re alive).

All of this because I don’t have time to call people on the phone. THE PHONE. THE PHONE. Is that really the only way for people to connect? What?!

It doesn’t matter that I say in the article that when someone really needs to talk, I am more than willing. The article is about the fact that catching up, making chit-chat, shooting the bull—the kind of phone conversations that are just check-ins—they are what are difficult. The article says nothing about how often I see my extended family (which for the record, is OFTEN), my friends, or anyone else. It doesn’t say anything about all the other ways I show up for my family and friends. It was simply about the fact that I don’t prefer talking on the phone. Period.

I know that these comments aren’t really about me. These people are venting about their own problems. And most people don’t think of authors as real people who might read what they say (I don’t read every comment, but I check in to get the gist). Commenters have this feeling of being removed from the situation and feeling like they can spill any shit they want on the page, unleash all their rage and anger about someone else’s words.

My Kveller article is not a literary masterpiece. Maybe I could have made certain parts clearer, certain parts less snarky. But for goodness’ sake, when you read something that someone has written about her life, you are only seeing a small slice of that person. To make judgments about the writer’s moral character is not only insensitive, but ridiculous.

I NEVER comment on my own posts—but, because I felt that my piece was being misunderstood, I stepped in to clarify. What happened next was even more appalling. Even when the commenters knew they were speaking directly to the author, they were still rude and insulting. It was awful.

I am left wondering what it is that touched such a nerve with these people. I can understand people getting into heated arguments about politics or religion—but phone calls?! Maybe these people have been burned badly by family members who don’t stay in touch. Perhaps they don’t realize that in this day and age, phone calls are becoming obsolete and many people prefer email or texts. I, for one, would much rather have someone stop by my house to say hello than talk on the phone. Maybe it’s that the piece points to the fact that my children are the center of my world right now (because by gosh they are little and won’t be forever), and some people think that is exactly the wrong way to parent (those people can eat my foot).

Whatever the case, I am basically over the whole thing, and I kind of regret engaging with the commenters at all. None of it will stop me from writing and putting my thoughts and opinions out there, but boy oh boy has it made me wonder what the hell is wrong with the world.

UPDATE 7/21/2015: Happy to report that Kveller took down some of the worst comments. Criticism is one thing. Critiquing a kind of parenting or kind of writing is usually fine too. Direct insults, name-calling, blasting the character of an individual and her kids? Something else entirely. Being mean on the internet is the same as being mean. Period. All of this has caused me to think even more about what I post on the internet. We all need to be certain we are practicing kindness, in real life and online.

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What I Hope For My Children Now That Same-Sex Marriage is Legal

I was so incredibly happy when I heard the news that gay marriage was legalized everywhere in America. It struck a chord on so many levels. I have lots of dear friends who are gay and are raising families, and this news means the world to them. Not only does it offer couples and families the rights that all Americans deserve, but it sets a precedent, and it lays the foundation for acceptance and healing (though we still have a long way to go).

More than anything, I thought about what the decision means for my children, and for the generation of children growing up now. Happy to share this essay I wrote about that, for Role Reboot.

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I hope that someday no children will have to grow up living in fear of the enormous love their hearts hold.

Since becoming a parent, when anything big happens in the news—good or bad—I immediately think of how it will affect my kids. The news that the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage for all 50 states brought big, fat tears of joy to my eyes. I cried not only for the countless men and women who will finally have the rights and respect they deserve, but also for what it means for my children, and the whole generation of kids growing up now.

I remember all those years ago, when I was a senior in high school—practically a child myself—and my dear friend told me he was gay. We were sitting in his parked car, tears streaming down his face. But his were tears of fear and anguish. I was one of just a few kids at our school he was telling, and I was sworn to secrecy. What would happen if anyone at school found out? What about his parents? He took a drag on his cigarette. I wrapped my arms around him, wordless, scared for him, knowing all I could do was love him, and hope for the best.

I knew then and there that I would do the same for my children if they ever told me they were gay—I would hold them in my arms, and tell them I loved and accepted them. But back then, I wasn’t sure love from a few supporters was good enough for gay children, teenagers, women, and men. I was scared for my friend, and for anyone coming out then—professing their feelings, their love to a world that didn’t always love them back.

Click here to read the full article.

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Nursing In The Dark

My son will be three in September. Nursing has been changing lately. Most of it is done at naptime and bedtime/wake-up. I realized today that I can’t remember the last time he nursed during the day. A couple of times I have asked him if he wanted to, when he was really upset and I sensed that nursing could help him relax. He declined. I know the way weaning usually works: there is a lot of back and forth. Nursing sessions aren’t just dropped overnight. So I’m not ready to say that he is never going to nurse while we’re snuggled up on the couch again. But I have no way of knowing for sure. Maybe he’s just done with it.

I feel proud of him for not needing that afternoon or mid-morning nurse with the urgency he did before. And I feel a sense of wonderment about it because my older son wasn’t at this point when he was this age. I feel a bit of sorrow too, of course—that bittersweet feeling you get as your child reaches a milestone.

So lately we have just been nursing in the dark. Sometimes it’s light enough for me to watch him nurse—other times not so much. In just a few months he might be done napping, and that session will slide away. Today I realized all this with a rush of feeling, and so I decided to take pictures of our naptime nurse, in the half-dark.

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Oh my child, growing, changing, loving, breaking my heart, putting it back together again.

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Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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My Grandparents’ Garden

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The old aqua blue telephone on the patio table. The pansies my grandfather planted in a neat row. And the dahlias—oh those beautiful, intense, many-petaled dahlias—in a tall wooden pot next to the telephone.

But what I remember most is the wooden fence, and the tight alleyway my sister snuck through to get from their house to ours. My sister: Dahlia. My grandmother had planted the flowers for her. Dahlia, 8 years-old, the same age as my first child is now.

She snuck through with my grandpa because he would walk her home. Every day afterschool she would go to my grandparents’ house, and stay there until my mother got home. She did her homework, ate a snack (probably challah, soup, or toast). Sometimes she sewed with my grandmother.

And then my grandpa would take her hand, walk her home, through the alley, out the other side, around the corner to our house.

And why, when I write this, am I moved? Why I am shattered?

Why is that path between the houses—my grandfather’s hand, my sister’s afternoons eating and gardening and sewing with them—so triggering, so meaningful?

Partly because they are gone, of course. The flowers, the telephone, the wooden fence (now shiny white). My grandparents, buried together under a cherry tree in Staten Island. And my sister’s 8-year-old self—32 now, across the continent in misty Seattle.

What moves me the most is the love, the protection. It’s my mother finally having help and family nearby after all those years as a single mom. All those years alone, 3000 miles away from her parents, in California. It’s my mother not having to worry that her little girls had to stay at an afterschool center, or be latch-key kids. It’s that my mother didn’t have to do it alone, for the first time in many years.

The other day I was pushing my two-year-old son past my grandparents’ old apartment building. And I was swept back to that time. I could see myself then, 13 years old, reckless, full of teenage angst and lust, missing my father, my friends, my California. But a little calmer too, a little more settled, a little closer to home.

And my mother—I didn’t understand any of it until I became a mother. I didn’t understand at all how lonely she had been all those years in California, how hard it must have been for her to raise two girls alone. I didn’t understand what great solace she must have found moving back home.

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photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons 

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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