Thursday, May 1, 2014


So when a blogger friend recently wrote about an incident in which she wished she had stood up for herself more with a confounding confrontational stranger, I couldn’t help but think of my own related memory. This is about one of those moments: a little incident that took no more than three minutes, and yet six years later the memory can make me cringe. 

In the spring when we first moved to London, Ruby was three. Bella started school within days of our arrival, but Ruby’s new preschool was on a month-long break, so most days I had to entertain her, for hours. We were an outgoing pair, meeting new friends in parks all over north London, taking trains and buses, and exploring our new home.

One morning, with no other plan, I took her to the small playground a few blocks from our home. As was often the case in the morning, there was no one else there for a long while. Ruby ran around, happily exploring the novel equipment: including a merry-go-round type thing (maybe called a roundabout in British?) that I have rarely seen in an American playground, probably because, like most really fun playground equipment, it invites litigation.

Ruby loved to spin it even more than being on it, which suited me because I have always been the kind of mom who prefers to sit on a bench (!), rather than spin or push or otherwise get involved in the release of energy that occurs on the playground. I’m not a hoverer.

Anyway, at some point a toddler showed up with a woman who was probably his grandmother. When he climbed up on the merry-go-round, I called over to Ruby to be careful, and not push it too fast. And the grandmother chimed in with more of the same, admonishing from the get-go.

But of course Ruby didn’t listen. She had no understanding that the baby was too small (although, one thing I remember her saying, later, was that he was enjoying it: he was laughing, if holding on for dear life). She was three. And she was also Ruby at three, which meant that if she was engaged in something, she couldn't hear a thing we were saying. And engaged she was. So spin she did. Before I could even go over to intervene, the grandmother, bold and British and bitchy, told little Ruby off. She yelled at my three-year-old, with me standing right there. She said, “You are a bad girl. You didn’t listen to your mother, and you didn’t listen to me. You should be ashamed.”

And here’s where I cower in shame. I was a new immigrant, I was juggling many novel situations while also doing my best to keep my young kids' lives stable, and I had so much trouble all the time trying to get Ruby to listen to me. I grabbed her by the hand and dragged her from the playground, and as we left I said, loudly, so the grandmother could hear, “She’s right. You never listen. So we have to leave.” And Ruby wept, all the way home.

Never mind that my daughter had just as much right to play with the dangerous playground equipment as the younger boy. Never mind that the grandmother could have taken her grandkid, who was probably too young, off said equipment instead of banishing Ruby, who was there first. Never mind that Ruby was three and three-year-olds, even ones without attention issues, don’t often follow directions immediately. I couldn’t process any of this right then and there. That grandmother had made me feel ashamed of my child, and of my skills at parenting her, and I practically high-fived her instead of telling her off.

I left not, in truth, to punish Ruby, but to get away from the crazy stranger, because I couldn't stand to be judged in that way. It was an escape. But within minutes of returning home, I was furious. The chutzpah of that lady, who probably decided from the moment she heard our accents that we were wild, untamed Americans. If only I had lived up to my nation’s reputation with my response.

More than anything, what I remember from that day is the guilt of not having stood up for my child, or myself, in an effort to placate, subdue, and generally make the conflict go away. 

Time has passed. I still don't hover in the playground. But watch out, Granny, if you're gonna try and discipline my kid, while I'm sitting on a nearby bench.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Watching '80s Night with a Child of the Twenty-Tens

Last night, as we sometimes do, Bella and I watched American Idol together to unwind. She DVR's it and doesn't miss an episode, whereas I usually only half-watch, while cleaning up dinner or folding laundry.

(Watching American Idol with her feels all-too right because the only time I ever watched it from season's start to end, was the second season, the winter/spring of 2003, when she was an infant. With lots of time and no other kids, I sat in front of the TV nursing her, and avoiding news of the brand-new and too-frightening Iraq war by not missing a minute of the all-out battle between Ruben and Clay. Maybe it seeped in to her more than I realized...)

But last night was the "'80s" theme, so I perked up and paid attention. I felt a strange camaraderie with Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick, Jr. because we remember the 80s! Those two judges are like critical yet encouraging parents to the contestants, none of whom were born when the songs they sang last night were recorded. I wanted to jump into the screen and shake J Lo's hand when she said exactly what I was thinking, that that dope Alex totally ruined "Every Breath You Take" by ignoring the melody (there's no point in "making a song your own" if you're going to ruin it--but, I digress).

Bella wanted to know what I was talking about, so we started watching videos. "Yeah, that is much better" she agreed when we watched The Police.

And then she had lots of questions for me: did you love that song, way back when? And I had to explain that, yes, I liked that song, but no, it wasn't my favorite Police song because it was overplayed, kind of like I can't stand "Roar" by Katy Perry, but not exactly in the same way because "Roar" isn't a good song to begin with, whereas "Every Breath You Take" may be one of the best pop songs ever (it's amazing how much better it can sound after thirty years of not hearing it incessantly on the radio, and also compared to some shlep's mangling on American Idol). So maybe, for a current analogy, more like how I'm starting to not be able to stand "Let It Go."

Oh, to instill musical values on young minds! It takes patience, craftiness, and skill. We so enjoyed watching the video for "Time After Time", even though we couldn't really figure out the story that Cyndi Lauper was enacting. But she was so dynamic, so interesting to watch! "See? That's the look the American Idol stylists were going for with Jena's weird mismatched plaid outfit," I was able to helpfully point out. Then we googled "scrunchy socks" and I explained how to fold and tuck your stone-washed jeans at the ankle.

It's good to feel like I'm instilling sage wisdom on my daughter.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sometimes We Need a Quick Escape

Sometimes we urban dwellers long, this time of year, for a glimpse of sky and freshly budding greenery.

Sometimes, the closer the better. Sometimes, it's enough to walk down the steps at the end of our street into Riverside Park. But sometimes, that's too close. Sometimes we need to get in the car, in order to get away. But not stay in that car too long.

Sometimes, when the parents have decided that's it's time to escape, during the planning and packing up stage, the kids revolt. Sometimes they say they are not leaving the apartment at all today under any circumstances. Sometimes they claim they have very essential TV to watch or very essential hanging around to do. Sometimes they say that it's so mean for you to make us go on a hike. Sometimes, the parents must cajole and threaten and find themselves somewhat miserable just trying to shake these tired sacks out of their stasis.

But sometimes, once we get there, just twenty short minutes over the bridge into Fort Lee, where there is a lovely, wild public park that straddles the riverbanks on the north and south sides of the George Washington Bridge, everything changes. Sometimes the kids pick up walking sticks, and look for trail markers, and get excited following winding paths across the entry lanes to the bridge, which we all find to offer a very neat, new vantage point on a familiar place. Sometimes, even the three-year-old walks on her own two feet the whole way, since she's a big girl and she wants to do just what her sisters do and this is no place for strollers anyway. Sometimes, when we find that the walk down the cliffs to the river involves steep switchbacks and hundreds of winter-wet, all-sized, often-loose stone steps, the children step up to the challenge. Sometimes they focus, sometimes they sing. Sometimes, they seem like different people altogether from the humbugs they were in the apartment just hours before.

Sometimes, when they're busy smelling and listening to the wind and feeling their own flowing blood, they actually say Thank you for taking us on a hike. We really like hiking. When are we going to go camping? Can you please take us camping? And sometimes we reply by saying, I know.

(These photos were taken a week and a half ago, in Fort Lee Historic Park. My guess is by now it looks a lot greener. A week makes a big difference, this time of year.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Born Yesterday

Today is Louisa's third birthday. It's funny, having a three-year-old. Literally, funny.

The other day, as I was saying goodnight to the big girls, we recalled a few hysterical things that Louisa had said. For instance, that day watching me typing on the computer, she asked me in her absurdly cute three-year-old voice, "When I grow up, will you teach me how to work?"; and at bedtime, she told me a story about her Wu-wu (favorite stuffed puppy) eating candy and chocolate in the playground, and then she cackled and said "that's so silly!" Bella, Ruby and I were laughing out loud discussing their sister's one-liners. Bella said, "the amazing thing is that she said all of those things today!"

Loulou's hilariousness means that we laugh whenever she talks, which is always (she's a chatterbox, and full of questions), and she doesn't like that at all. She often cries when we laugh at something funny that she said. She looks really offended and says, "No laughing! I don't like laughing," which of course cracks us up. 

Josh recently said, "You know she won't talk like that for much longer." 

"I know," I replied.

It's one of those things about watching kids grow up: marking time, becoming aware of the fact that nothing ever stands still. I can look at Louisa and imagine her at Bella's age. I couldn't do that with Bella, but I can do it now. I know how fast it will go. And part of me looks forward to what's coming. To having a beer with my daughters, seeing real movies with them, traveling with them. What seems like the distant future will arrive before I know it.

One of Louisa's signatures is that she has a simplified view of time. Everything that happened in the past happened "yesterday" and everything that will happen in the future will be "tomorrow". Hence, the moment at a family dinner when she announced, to the hilarity of all: "I was born . . . yesterday."

Louisa's view of time is simplified, but in some ways, more accurate than not. The yesterdays quickly meld together, and the tomorrows creep up fast. It feels like yesterday that I held a newborn in my arms, that I carried her everywhere in the Moby wrap, that she was nursing and physically adhered to me for much of the day. And it feels like tomorrow she'll be going to kindergarden and sleep-away camp and preparing for her bat mitzvah.

Funny, that.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hamantashen Helpers

Making hamantashen is exactly the wrong kind of baking for me. Anything involving cookie cutters and having to make things all look exactly the same: uh uh. I'm more of a bar cookies / mandelbroit kind of baker, if I'm baking at all.

But nonetheless every year, I do make one solitary attempt. It's really an obligation to eat these cookies on Purim, and store bought hamantashen taste, well, store bought. I usually just pick a random recipe from a cookbook or the internet or the ether and give it a go. Some attempts have failed tremendously. Once I could not roll out the dough for the life of me. It just wouldn't stick together. Another year every single hamanatash opened up while baking: they were smushed circles, not triangular at all.

Making hamantashen is more like crafting than cooking. And I'm no craft-er.

Luckily, I have kids. Ruby grabbed the recipe (which I found on Facebook, and printed out -- apparently my FB universe is obsessed with crafty cookies this time of year, as there was a new recipe posted almost daily.) She mixed the batter, rolled out the dough (a skill acquired at ceramics class, she informed me), and started passing me circles which together we filled and squeezed into shape. I was so free-handed during this process that I was actually able to record the events! (As Ruby was rolling her eyes and saying, "Are you going to put this on your blog?")

In under 30 minutes (on a school night!), we were putting the first batch into the oven. Please, please don't open while baking, I begged the Purim confections. Hey, sometimes begging works. 

Louisa was not happy about having to wait for the hamantashen to bake. She wanted them now!

My prayers (and Louisa's) were answered. There were so few "ugly" hamantashen, that it was hard to decide which ones to allow the kids to eat (because of course we had to save the nicest looking ones to bring to the friends who had invited us for Shabbat).

Feast your eyes on that. Okay, the shiksa baker would not be impressed, I know. But all I can say is, there are hardly any left here and it's not even Purim yet. Success.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Springtime is For Writers

Yesterday, March made me feel like a new person, like anything was possible, even blogging again. It was sunny and reached 60 degrees in New York yesterday, and best of all, it was light out when I went to pick up Ruby and her friend from their after school class across town. The light and the warmth. How do we live without them all winter?

The short reason why I've not posted anything here since February is that I've been busy. (I mean, who hasn't?) I have limited writing time each day and I've been working on fiction projects: things that take more time than dashing off a blog post. These types of projects take a long time, requiring planning, thinking, editing, writing, more writing, and then changing.

Writing a blog post is to writing a novel (or a play, or even a good short story) like fixing a piece of toast is to making family dinners for a year.



I've never done anything that takes as much self-drive as working on long projects that may or may not ever be seen by anyone but my writing buddies. And I have nothing but admiration for people who write and produce all the time.

One of my writing partners just dashed off a draft of a novel since last summer. A really fun, entertaining, complete novel. My admiration for her is unbounded. Even if that novel never makes it to Amazon (which I hope and expect it will), she seriously rocks.

For me, it's more like fits and starts. I have handfuls of half-finished projects spinning around, and when the time is right I come back to something and can't put it away for a while. I wish I was better at finishing things.

It's been a surprise to me to see that my daughter has caught the writing bug. She takes a creative writing class that she loves, and can be found at odd moments typing away. The trouble now is that she wants to know what I'm writing, always. And I'm not about to show her. Yes, I know, terribly unfair. I find myself shielding my screen from her prying eyes. Maybe one day, long into the future...

Sending you writers, scribbling away somewhere because you must, sweet spring vibes.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Disney Digest

We survived. Four days of queuing, strategizing, fast-passing, running, waiting, laughing, eating frozen chocolate-covered bananas on sticks, getting insanely ill after a dastardly space flight simulator, and dinner reservations for 17 people (2 high chairs).

Bananas, I know.

By the second day, Louisa and I needed a different game plan. So we fast-passed the character rides and rode the steam train around the Magic Kingdom, with the old folks. Orly was kind enough to ride Dumbo with us, a second time. 

Best hour of the trip.

The reward for our dedication? Sunny weather in the 80s, and a weekend in South Beach. 

It's okay, we're back in freezing NYC, now.