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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Johnny Weir's Fabulous Olympics

Since I wrote my Olympics-fever post, I've been thinking about Tablet magazine's very righteous or, even, self-righteous declaration that in order to protest Russia's persecution of gays, they are boycotting the Olympics, and, in fact we should ALL boycott the Olympics: "By turning off our TVs, we’ll be sending an unmistakable message that we wish to have no part in the Kremlin’s glories."

Now, Tablet, "a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture," is not exactly Sports Illustrated. I wouldn't have expected them to cover the Olympics, nor would I go there to look for my Olympics coverage. So it's rather easy for them to refuse to cover an event that they didn't really have to cover, anyway. But, still, is their response the correct one? The New York Times, a consistent defender of gay rights, is covering the games in full tilt (I subscribe to their daily email Olympics as not. to. miss. a. thing.) Am I effectively high-fiving Putin by following these games? 

Consider the athletes. Think about the three American men who swept the slopestyle skiing in the event's first-ever appearance at the Olympics. Think about the women ski jumpers who after years of petitioning a sexist Olympic committee, were finally given their due, and a berth at the Olympics. Think about Matthew Mortensen, a luger from Long Island, who narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2010. Here's what he said on WNYC about making it this year: "I've been literally working towards a single goal for sixteen years. And to get that goal is such an incredible feeling." 

To boycott the Olympics because of Russia's unquestionably detestable human rights abuses is to punish these and other amazing athletes who have dedicated their lives to their pursuits. So we ignore them, and their accomplishments, to punish Russia? Somehow, I think Russia doesn't care. But I know the athletes do. 

Since I've been watching, and not boycotting, I've had the pleasure of witnessing what may be an even more effective form of protest. Johnny Weir, the former figure skater, has been rocking it as an NBC commentator for these games. Each time he appears on screen, he looks more fabulous. He has impeccable make-up, gigantic jewelry, and a beautiful television presence. He is the gay man that the Russians are so afraid of, and he is appearing in Sochi full-on "out." No rainbows, sure. No need. The rainbows are radiating from his jewels. 

Why would Johnny Weir even agree to go to Russia, knowing what we all do? One would assume he wanted to be on TV, and he's good at it. But maybe he also went because he wanted to boost up those athletes, gay and straight, who have worked so hard to be there, and weren't about to give up their dreams. Maybe he wanted to tell the world, and Russia, that gay people are an integral part of sports, just like they are integral part of all of our communities. Maybe he just wanted to say, "Hey, look! I'm not scared of you." 

Well, thank you, Johnny. You're teaching us as much about pride as you are about triple axel salchows. Tablet, you don't know what you're missing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Olympics Fever

Hooray for the Olympics! We can't get enough. Every time it comes back, summer or winter, I always think, why does something this fun happen so infrequently?

We are not a sports-y family. I mean, in the spectator department. We watch the Super Bowl (or, some of us did) and the World Series, the Tour de France, and the occasional soccer or tennis match. We are an active bunch, though. Among us we swim and bike and practice yoga and do gymnastics and snowboard and ski. (I've even, lately, discovered a new and wondrous way to get fit: the exercise videos that come free with Amazon prime membership. Jillian Michaels, you kill me. Sorry about all the jumping, downstairs neighbors.)

Both the summer and the winter Olympics capture our attention, but as downhill enthusiasts, we especially enjoy the skiing. We love watching the skiers fling themselves down the hill, imagining ourselves, of course, in their place. We are full of terror and empathy when they go hurtling off course. And we have nothing but admiration for the incredible athletes who make it to the podium. You can have the best run in the world in practice (poor Bode) but if you don't come through when it counts, you're outta luck.

Bella as Team USA Olympic skier (and Ruby as a pig), Purim 2010

We also, of course, love the perennial winter favorite, figure skating. All that glitter obscuring so much grit and practice and fearlessness. And youth! Did you see the amazing and flawless 15-year-old Russian Julia Lipnitskaia? Barely old enough to remember the last winter Olympics, and now a dominating force. Really makes you appreciate what teenagers are capable of.

Ruby loves the luge and the bobsled. It's like an amusement park ride in the guise of a sport. Except it's a ride that none of us would even want to try.

Sure, the Olympics are full of weird nationalism and posturing, but ultimately, they are a grand stage to display the talents of a group of super-human athletes, who train tirelessly for years to be under the lights for a few minutes. It happens to also be fantastic family entertainment. We can't get enough.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Full Days, Leisure Time and Headcheese (Guest Post)

Very pleased to continue my series on moms and work today, in which I invite mothers to consider these questions: how do you manage to work and also care for your kids, both in a technical sense (how the time is divided up), and an emotional one? (Be a part of the series: send me your thoughts!)

Today I welcome guest blogger Deborah Churchill who discusses how much effort it takes--or should take--to do the work of a mother. Does reading the Little House books make you feel weary, or, as it does Deborah, quite lucky?

Full days, Leisure Time and Headcheese

I’ve been feeling that my days are pretty full. That is, until I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (shameful: I’d never read it before, but I am British).

There’s a chapter in it about butchering the pig. It’s full on. The pig is slaughtered, scalded and scraped. The meat is butchered, salted and smoked. Then, just when you’d think that, really, they must have had enough of the pig-work and surely it’s time to catch up with a box-set (excuse the anachronism), Ma chops and boils all the last scraps making the (to my mind unspeakably unappetising) headcheese. It got me thinking.

On Mondays I get in at 8 and do a short day at the office. I’m contracted for a three days week but I’m lucky enough to be flexible with my hours. It means that on all but one day of the week I get to pick my kids up from school when they finish at 3.25. I leave almost no contingency for the journey time; it’s pre-rush hour. I almost always get away with it.

So anyway, Mondays, we execute a swift turnaround. Snacks, wees, goggles and head to the pool. It’s fun; a family swim followed by Felix’s lesson. Then it’s back home for kids’ tea, spellings, handwriting practice, put a load of washing on, put a load of dry washing away, make tomorrow’s packed lunches, unpack the dishwasher and chivvy and chide the children to clean teeth, wash faces and get ready for bed. All climb into my bed for cuddles and stories. (Side note: I thought Little House might be too advanced for my youngest. Imagine my gratification when halfway through the chapter on maple syrup he asked a technical question about sap extraction.)

You know what? By the time it hits 7: I’m finished. I call my partner and ask him to bring something home for dinner. I’m pretty relaxed about this. I’ve done enough for one day, right? 

I can’t help wondering what Ma Ingalls would think about my sudden collapse of effort. Of course our times and situations are very different. But you don’t have to go back far in my family to find a much tougher lifestyle. My grandmother (95, oldest of 10, with six children of her own) had a far more gruelling day than mine. Not only were all her household chores harder to do, the expectations were also different. She cooked three meals a day, every day, for at least 8 people for many years. It would tip me over the edge in less than a week.

I have no intention of signing up for the servitude endured by countless women. But, next Monday, I’m going to take a moment to remember that I’m living in a very privileged place and time. The idea of leisure time is so ingrained that I consider it my right. I’ll try to feel less hard done by and, who knows, I might even cook dinner. If I do, I’ll consider it the headcheese.

Deborah Churchill lives outside London in Kingston-upon-Thames and works part-time as the editor of a property magazine. She and her partner Allan have two children, Annabel, 7 and Felix, 5. She’s recently become interested in preserving food and made 10 jars of marmalade over the weekend. An interest that can only be reinforced by reading more Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Birthdays Are For Mothers

You may have heard me say it before: birthdays are for mothers. We're the ones that hold the memories, and we're the ones who were there. For. Every. Second.

So, memories of this day, eleven years ago:

After giving birth in the early hours of the morning, I was wheeled to a hospital room. The nurse insisted that the baby had to be taken to the nursery for washing or checking or who-knows-what, while my parents took Josh home for a shower and a rest. I protested, but truly, I was in no shape. After several days of early labor and a whole night awake doing the hard work that brought my girl into the world, I was beat. As soon as I laid down in the hospital bed, I fell fast asleep.

I woke up two hours later (at maybe 7 am) and couldn't find that nurse call button fast enough. I sat up, full of anticipation. Ready. The nurse came and put my beautiful red-headed, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked baby in my arms. I held her, and stared at her, and nursed her, for the rest of that day. I felt so many intense emotions: accomplishment, pride, wonder, and love. I'd never felt love like that.

(Makes me think of Stevie Wonder, who got it just so right.)

It's strange watching her grow up, as it all happens so fast that I can remember, though she can't, exactly what she was like when she was 18 months, and three, and six, and nine, and now, eleven. I can see all of those stages in her face: her resourcefulness, her social acuity, her impatience and her kindness. I remember what it felt like to hold her pudgy baby body in my arms, even though now she is almost as big as me.

Watching your kids grow is like experiencing a time warp. They give you a perspective on the passage of time, unlike any that you could otherwise experience. I can't really remember myself eleven years ago. But I can remember Bella, in so many details.

Even a glimpse of someone else's newborn--their slumped bodies, their squinty eyes, their little, desperate yawns--brings it all back to me. I remind myself that grandparents and parents with older children were once smitten with love for their own helpless little sacks. All parents are newborn parents. Our kids may outgrow our nipples and our laps and even our homes, but they're still made out of the magic that we first saw that day when they showed up in the world, teeny tiny, but fully formed.

Photo copyright Julia Smith

Monday, January 27, 2014

Someone Told Me It's All Happening at the . . . Library

This is something in the almost-too-obvious-to-say category, but I'm going to say it anyway: I love the library. Whenever I put a book on hold, and the forget I did, and then get that email saying it's my turn, and then go find my book on the "holds" shelf, and then scan a couple of barcodes, and then slip the prize in my bag to take home, I think: score. It's like going shopping with a magic card that never sends you a bill.

And, bonus, when you're done you get to give the book back so it doesn't gather dust or take up space in your apartment that has zero free bookshelf space.

The books themselves, when they arrive, are beautiful artifacts. They have stamps from branches all over the city (well, almost: not Queens or Brooklyn). They are well-worn, with curling pages and softened bindings that tell a story of appreciation. People have read these books. These books have done their jobs well.

Louisa is in heaven at the children's room in the Bloomingdale library, dashing around, pulling books off the shelf ("Read this! Read this!"), choosing which two will come home with us, and, then, often, will go to bed with her. (Sleeping with books: is that a thing?)

Our new m.o. for voracious reader Ruby is borrowing books for her Kindle. She can be very picky about her books, so borrowing books this way has a myriad of advantages: 1. she can't see the cover, lest there (gasp!) be some deal-braking image on it (say, a girl in a dress); 2. she can try the book, and if she doesn't like it, I haven't lost any money or killed any trees trying to get her to read it (This goes for me, too. Have you ever bought a book you didn't like? I have books on my Kindle that did not get finished. It's depressing.); 3. if she loves the book, and then reads it in one sitting, and demands the sequel RIGHT NOW, we can usually oblige.

(Although, there is always a risk. After borrowing the first Artemis Fowl book, which she adored, we discovered the other seven books in the series were not available to borrow electronically from the NYPL. So she used her Amazon gift card from her birthday to buy them, one at a time.)

I'm on the waiting list right now for a handful of electronic books. (#146 on 109 copies of The Lowland; #13 on 60 copies of Little Failure, #73 on 103 copies of The Goldfinch). This wait-wait-wait-read approach to fiction consumption has its pitfalls: you have to read fast (usually you get 2 or 3 weeks to read a book), and if your number comes up twice at once, that can be a challenge (especially if you happen to have a sick child or a lot of work to do or a husband insisting that you catch up on episodes of True Detective).

Using the library is not as uncomplicated, ethically, as you might think. I do feel a pang of guilt about borrowing books. Just as strongly as I believe that public libraries do a great service to the public, I also believe writers should be paid for their work. The last time I bought books in a bookstore may have been last summer, when we picked up some reading for the big girls to bring to camp. That said, as an avidly book-consuming family, I feel confident that we're still contributing financially to the well-being of writers. Despite our library use, we still easily buy more than half of what we read. But those books we do borrow make a difference in the bottom line, and add variety and ease to our reading habits. So cheers to that.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tale of Three Hungry Sisters

This is what happened one morning last weekend.

It involved teamwork:

And following directions:

And taking turns:

And patience:

And collaboration:

And independence:

And a tiny bit of help from Dad:

And results!:

And Mom felt like she might be out of a job. Which was just fine with her. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One Year Later

One year! This blog began one year ago, yesterday. Oops, please excuse the passive voice. I started this blog one year ago, yesterday. (Surely, the "I" is central in blogging: something that still makes me nervous). One year of sharing my reactions to dramas big and small in my family, in the media, and in the world.  I'm not sure what possessed me. I'm sure it doesn't feel like a year.

This is actually my second blog. The first one was meant to be an expat-family-log, and only lasted a few posts. When we were preparing to leave New York, a friend told me I should blog about our experiences, and it seemed like a good idea. I stopped because I felt very self-conscious writing about tiny everyday things as they were happening. Our two-and-a-half-years in London were enlightening, life-changing, even--but I was barely able to register how, and in what ways, back when we first arrived.

I knew I wanted to write while we were there, and instead of journaling about the present, I began writing fiction. I wrote story after story, and then, a novel. Just about everything I wrote took place back home in New York. Interestingly, though I had two young children and was pregnant within that time, I wrote very little, if anything, about motherhood. My writing tended to focus on young adults, forging their emerging identities. Perhaps part and parcel of the impulse that kept me from writing about my life in London. Ah, to live the life of the expat writer, examining the familiar from afar.

So, thinking back to a year ago, I wonder what changed. I began this blog soon after I decided I wanted to be a childbirth educator (and have since, indeed, become a LCCE -- Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator). I imagined a forum in which to write about why birth is important, and why every mother deserves a good birth experience. Identities are formed and re-formed throughout life, and the identity of mother is a big one. How that begins, those first minutes and hours and weeks of motherhood, matter.

But then, as I began to write about the world through my two central identity lenses (that old classic, the Jewish mom), I found that the topics on here varied far and wide from pregnancy and birth. The becoming is still interesting to me. But the journey is equally important.

I love reading everyone's responses to posts, and the feeling of community--that we're all in this together--is heartening, indeed. Thanks for reading, and for giving me the support I've needed to keep it going.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Too Close to Home

It's a retort that people offer when defending dangerous behavior, or making an argument to seize the day: "well, you can die crossing the street". But we don't actually expect it to happen. Not here in NYC, a place where pedestrians are everywhere, and motorists are trained (one hopes) to look out for them. No one should have to worry about dying while doing something we all do--by necessity--dozens of times each day.

For one nine-year-old named Cooper Stock, who lived just blocks from us, life ended steps from his own front stoop this past weekend. Crossing the street with his father Friday evening, Cooper was run over by a taxi and killed. 

Hearing this unspeakable news shook me. An acquaintance lives on that corner and heard the father's loud, terrible screams. Three blocks away, I didn't hear the father's screams myself. But I could feel his pain nonetheless. I can't imagine. And yet I do. Yes, there are tragedies that take place every day, in places far and near. But this is our home. 

Crossing the street with children is one of those things that city parents learn to manage from day one. Even pushing a stroller makes the experience different: you can't poke your head out into the street to see if a car is coming when your stroller is out in front of you. As with many aspects of going places with a baby, you relax your timetable and learn to be more patient. You also learn to be defensive when necessary: you stare down the aggressive taxi driver who is inching out into the crosswalk. You teach your children, as soon as they can walk, the meaning of the "walking man" and the "stop hand". You tell them they must hold your hand in the street. Then, you teach them how to cross themselves: watch the lights and the traffic, don't run, be aware.

I have to say that I felt a sick relief when I learned that Cooper Stock was crossing with his dad. That's because had he been alone, there would be some who would automatically blame the child, and assume that it was his inexperience that allowed the terrible accident to occur. And then, by extension, there would be a clamp-down effect, where parents would be discouraged from trusting their kids to cross the street. I still believe that many 9-year-olds, including my own, are capable of crossing the street on their own. If anything, this accident reminds us that we can't protect our children from the roll of the dice that is life. 

No one should have to worry about dying from crossing the street. Saying that makes it sounds like I'm angry at someone--that there is some systemic failing at fault. But, while I support recent efforts to slow down traffic in this city to protect pedestrians, it's unclear whether such efforts would have saved this boy. The taxi driver, no doubt, was negligent. He wasn't looking; he didn't see them. Perhaps he was in a rush, thinking of something else. He did not flee the scene; reports say he was in shock.

 How terrible. Life is fragile. Life can end as oddly and unexpectedly as it sometimes begins.

Today I'm crying for Cooper, a local third grader whom I didn't know, and hoping his family can come to terms, one day, with their loss. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Skipping My 20-Year High School Reunion (Guest Post)

Welcome to guest blogger Erica Sininsky, who chose to skip her 20-year high school reunion. Why? Not because of a previous commitment, or because it would have been expensive or inconvenient to attend, but because she still shudders at the very thought of high school. Thank you, Erica, for this honest piece about finding refuge and refusing to be a victim. It makes me, for one, reflect on how becoming a parent has changed the way I reflect on memories of my youth. We all have stumbling blocks in our past that we hope our own children will avoid. What are yours?

On Skipping My 20-Year High School Reunion

I am a 38-year-old woman, mother of two, and I consider myself a no-nonsense type of gal, practical and with my priorities in order. Why oh WHY then do I still have nightmares in which I show up to school for first period 10th grade biology in a towel? The very thought of walking down those cavernous high school hallways makes me shudder. It's not that I think about high school often; but when the thoughts do arise, they are powerful, even frightening. There must be some part of me that continues to lament my high school experience. 

In addition to the towel dream, I sometimes imagine myself in a bathing suit, standing before the entire high school football team, teetering on the edge of a full-blown panic attack. Oh, wait a minute—that wasn’t a dream. That actually happened. 

My high school had a pool, and a graduation requirement of at least one semester of swimming instruction. Co-ed. For some, (hormonally raging 17 year old boys), a fantasy; for me, this was the stuff of nightmares. While the majority of the girls could have stepped out of a J. Crew ad, their lanky figures barely filling out their swimsuits (or so it seemed to me at the time), I represented more of the zaftig type—well endowed, curvaceous, and hippy. (I wore -- no kidding -- a size H bra, according to the Russian saleswoman in a Queens lingerie shop.) To top off the whole dripping wet package, I wore a Star of David around my neck. I soon heard the rumor going around: people were calling me the Jewish slut. Not because of anything I did, but simply because of the way I looked. 

For many, high school represents the epitome of youth, the formative years, the height of everything: socially, physically, and emotionally. Rich carefree days spent gallivanting and partying, sexual discovery, challenges presented and overcome. And I did experience much of that during those years -- just not in high school itself.

My high school was physically imposing and classic at the same time, with a vast, velvety-green expanse of lawn, towering columns, and red bricks. The campus was “open”, meaning students could come and go as they pleased. For me, being inside the building was like serving a prison sentence. But once I stepped outside those doors, I was free. No need to avoid the ‘commons’, where the jocks and cheerleaders lined the walls, nor the dark corners where the angry “goths” conspired and shot baleful looks; no cliques to wade through between classes; no swimming pool to agonize over. I knew that my ‘spot’ on the lawn would be waiting for me, along with my friends (two without whom high school would have been unbearable), and that for the next forty two minutes I could completely let down my guard.

As it happened, my family's synagogue was situated directly across the street from my high school. The synagogue was my refuge—between Hebrew school, youth group and weekend retreats, it was inside that brown brick, oddly designed structure that I spent the bulk of my teenage years. Having that balance was an essential part of what helped to shape me during those years, and more than made up for what high school lacked. Between local activities affiliated with USY (United Synagogue Youth), and summers spent traveling the country and abroad, I had a very fulfilling young adulthood. I was anything but a deprived or depressed teenager. I managed to escape the confines of adolescent 'hell' unscathed. In fact, I went to college with a rich sense of identity and profound confidence in myself. But as far as the “high school experience” is concerned, mine was definitely not run-of-the-mill.

So twenty years have passed. I’ve grown more outspoken, no doubt the result of life experiences, maturity, and motherhood. Back when I was agonized by swim class and my peers' awful rumors, my parents suggested I remove my Star of David. Even though I know they were trying to help, I can't imagine making the same suggestion to my daughter (age 9) now. In a sea of insecurity, that Star of David was what made me feel most secure; connected to my cultural and religious identity.

Twenty years later, I have no need for small talk with my past-tense peers. I would rather spend time with my two dear friends from the high school lawn, whom I still see anyway.

When it comes to my daughter's turn in high school, I plan to share my experiences with her so that she knows that high school is not the end-all-be-all of life, though sometimes it can feel like it.

I'm living proof that you can still have a fulfilling life without attending senior prom. Or your 20-year reunion.

Erica Sininsky is the mother of Sofia, 9 and Dylan, 6. She lives on Long Island and teaches English to children from all over the globe. In her free time (ha!), she enjoys writing short stories and creating beaded and metalwork jewelry.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Back-to-School Bliss

There is no calm like that which follows the end of a two-week school vacation. I actually had two out of three in school last Thursday, which didn't make much of a dent in the chaos since the one who was still home was the almost-three-year-old (she is, suddenly "almost three"--not sure how it happened but there was a shift and she's hardly two at all, anymore. She's on a M/W/F preschool schedule, which, in this new stage, does not feel like nearly enough).

And then, on Friday, it snowed a few inches in New York and de Blasio, the show-off, cancelled school. The snow day did have some plusses:

First, I went sledding with my children, for the first time. Ever. We used to live in the plains of downtown, where the biggest hills were the snowdrifts blocking the crosswalks around Union Square. We built some snow-people in our downtown days, padding around Stuyvesant Square in full-body snow gear. But sledding required planning, and a subway ride (!). But no more. We are now just blocks away from a Riverside park sledding hill so desirable that the local CBS news station was there filming when we arrived! (And this is why no one watches the local news). It was a brisk 14 degrees out when we got there, and sled we did, hopping up and down in between runs to keep the circulation going in the toes. It was a classic New York family moment. Newsworthy, even.

Second, Josh made soup.

That's it for the plusses. School is good for the kids, good for the parents. Especially those of us writers/ artists who need a room of our own (or at least a quiet table) to work. Sometimes it feels like school vacations are black holes on the calendar--projects in progress will be suspended until the children leave again. I mean, I'm not saying these black holes aren't enjoyable. It's nice to have a relaxed relationship with time and schedules, and to loll with family and friends. But when it comes to personal productivity, I can't even open a file without a kid reading over my shoulder. Without privacy and the promise of prolonged quiet, it's not even worth trying.

For those of you hunkering down with your kids beneath the talons of the Polar Vortex, all I can say is I feel for you. My parents love to tell stories of their Omaha days, where you couldn't open the door for all the feet snow, and the minus minus minus wind chills (and 100's+ in the summer!), and forget sledding--it really is the plains!--and all I can say is, all the power to you middle-of-Americans. Enjoy the football and let me know when they clear the ice off the runways so you can come visit us in our mild-weather paradise.

Here's to 2014, and many happy days of school ahead.

What we all want to do after two weeks of vacation.