Friday, March 30, 2007


The movie "She's Having A Baby". That Kate Bush song, the whole "I was given more than I gave, I was loved more than I loved" thing. Perfection.


Payless shoes. If you are buying black ballet flats, why shouldn't they be $9.99?

The flip side of your pillow.

Mentos. And the friend who gives you all the pinks.

Blog commenters that you have never met.

Watching the simple delight created by a sandbox, pail, and shovel.

Exact change.

The way you looked in high school.

Bath sheets.

Just calling to say "I love you".

Hot dogs.

A well stocked fridge.


Scratching your itch.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spring forward, Fall back

Spring, with all of its promises of renewal and redemption, can't always be trusted.

In the Northeast, it often arrives on the calendar without its promised reprieve from itchy wool and down coats. Even if the winter has not been harsh, it has been long, it has been dark and in New York City, it has been irritating. We have been blown about for months, slush in our shoes, subway grit in our eyes and not enough places to defrost. The holidays are long gone and now half priced versions of their evergreen promises. We are ready for thaw.

I spent my nineteenth spring in Tel Aviv, Israel, on a spring semester exchange program with my home university. I actually arrived mid-winter, after a fitful year of college-born angst, complete with extreme dieting, heartache and passionate arguments with friends. It was an escape -- and while I was going with a few friends from college, I was set on disappearing, on starting over.

Tel Aviv in those winter months still felt like spring. Partly because I was desperate for renewal, but mainly because of the weather. Cold air nipped only between the hours of my earliest classes at the University. By mid-morning, the breeze had warmed, layers were shed and the promise of new made me giddy.

The campus was a sight to behold. Maybe not for those hailing from the University of Florida or the like, but for me, who had spent three years in an often gray and frost-bitten suburban Massachusetts campus, I was in love. It was lush and green and rolling. Students sat on the grass and scattered on towels with radios in a manner that I had only seen in that college catalogues that I had discarded despite my father's urgings to go to a different school that was bigger, and newer and more. My dorm room boasted a huge balcony that overlooked it all where I would sit for hours, listening to local radio, trying to decipher the words, desperate to feel like a native.

It's amazing how you can carve beauty out of madness when you set your mind to it. That particular year was riddled with terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv. The ground beneath me would rattle and I knew something had happened. The students would be coralled and counted, hoping that no one would have to make a terrible call to parents who were wringing their hands near CNN at home. None of this fazed me. I ignored my parents pleadings for my immediate return. I focused hard on the new me, desperate to avoid any reality that might permeate my efforts towards total reinvention. Our dorm room was on top of a night club called "Focus", and I would lie in bed, walls shuddering with disco music, focusing on my magical new life.

And it worked, for a while. I had the perfect partner in my new roommate B., a new friend with the same curls, sense of humor and likely the same demons. But she was different in a crucial way. She was a risk taker, an enabler. "No" was not in her vocabulary. Every day was a delicious adventure, the kind that fills your mouth like an unexpectedly sweet peach, juices dribbling down, leaving you desperate for more. I don't know exactly what we did together -- mainly because much of the time was spent intoxicated either in truth or in metaphor. But the smallest things - the new piercing in my ear cartilage at a run down drugstore, the stolen handfuls of supermarket candy, the long walks along the desert sky (when I begged for a taxi) filled with secrets...these things were all new and freeing. We would dance on tables, hike mountains and sing out loud. The weather always agreed with us, adding heat to our constantly flickering fires. And as much as I was unloading, I was just as quickly building fences between the new and the old.

When I felt the semester slipping from me, I became desperate. I underwent a significant makeover. I straightened by dark curly hair and dyed it red, and then blonde. I greeted summer in Tel Aviv in the smallest clothes possible. I stayed out all night at clubs with names that translated into English had names like "Corruption". There were a variety of boys and drinks that I did not remember, and narrowly escaped some life altering mistakes. I tried to sever the ties to my past, my college friends who watched me from a distance, shaking their heads in disbelief. But like the sand on those Mediterranean beaches, it was slipping through my hands, and the more I grasped, the more that spilled - tiny grains everywhere, impossible to gather back into original form.

The night I headed back to New York, I cried in the manner of the child I had behaved like for so many months. When I came of the plane, my mother was clearly horrified by the sight of my hair, my faraway longings. But there was life to return to, an internship in New York City. I had to remove the ear piercing. My hair straightening routine became too time consuming to maintain, and my dark roots grew in defiantly. There were relationships to heal, a senior year to deal with and another winter ahead.

When I returned to school, there were bits of my personal renovation that had remained -- shorter skirts, a penchant for bad techno music and expensive highlights, my lingering friendship with B which kept my life juicy. And there were other things -- like my extra earring hole and friendships that had eroded from neglect -which would gape open and slowly heal but leave scars in its place.

I no longer rely on seasons to heal me, or on makeovers to change my insides. But a well planned escape - to the colorist or the Carribean, can do wonders to spring me forward, in a never ending quest to keep things warm.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Golden Arches

The following endorsement is going to shock the hell out of anyone who knows me in real life.

In general, I am a healthy eater. In the past few years I realized that my weight is more determined by exercise than by diet, so I eat well for longevity, and not the scale. Since becoming a mom to a daughter, I know longer scoop out bagels or ask for things "on the side", but I do opt for grilled over fried and whole wheat over white, when I can.

But lately, you'll find me at McDonald's.

Let me explain. As a kid, McDonald's was rarely a part of the repetoire. My father is a health fanatic, and would never set foot in an establishment that did not offer a fruit plate (and in those days, McD's didn't). Mom would take us once in a while when Dad wasn't around, but that was it. My friends did not eat there, and it was not a pit stop routine on long car trips. I watched "Super Size Me" with the requisite disgust and probably entered the golden arches only once or twice in my adult life.

And I never, ever imagined taking my child there, with her pristine body and unmarred digestive tract. I condemned things like fast food and television when I was pregnant, swearing that I would be grinding up organic meals and reading endless books.

As I write this two years later, my daughter is sitting in an unblinking stare, fixated on Curious George, a belly full of nuggets.

When Chloe started eating solids, it became clear that she would rather do anything else. Always something more alluring beckoned, like crayons or crawling or clapping. She would first shake her head from side to side, lips clamped in indignation. When she learned to talk, it became "no!!" and "out!!" and me picking up linty pasta off the floor, tossed in a mini revolt.

We tried every trick in the book. Eating together. Reading while eating. Having her help in the kitchen, pick out which egg she wanted scrambled. Bribery. Nothing worked. And my chubby infant was evolving into a spindly toddler.

My generally nonplussed doctor was concerned, especially as she began to lose weight. "Try milkshakes" he offered. "And hot dogs". Buttered bagels. Sauteeing in oil. Nothing was working.

I should insert here that even the slightest concern from my doctor lead me into a tailspin. My child was starving!! As a mother, much less a Jewish one, it was my job to feed. I had spent a whole year sacrificing my breasts and independance to do just that. I watched other children in restaurants and playgrounds, opening their mouths like baby birds in response to a rubber tipped spoon, filled with anything. Chloe would study each morsel presented to her with the eye of a scientist, rendering many specimens unacceptable to taste.

Being a Manhattan mom, I sought the advice of a specialist -- a feeding expert, catering (no pun intended) to children with varying degrees of dysfunction in the areas of feeding and speech. Her office was a studio apartment with a small kitchen, a table, and oodles of toys. Much like the car you take to the mechanic, Chloe offered no troubling "noise" as she dutifully consumed her hot dog. The doctor watched Chloe eat and play and asked a million questions. Finally, she told me that she was normal, but may have some sensory preferences that were keeping her from trying certain things. For $100 a session, she could do things like squeeze flavored gels into Chloe's mouth to desensitize her. And as much fun as THAT sounded, and as strongly as I believe in early intervention, I had to believe something else would work, once a developmental delay had been ruled out.

"Have you tried McDonald's" a friend asked, likely tired of hearing me complain about this problem. I regarded her as if she had suggested shock therapy, or poison. This friend is a more experienced mom, who I often disagree with. But her daughter was a picky eater, so I could not totally disregard her comment. "Chloe would never eat there. I make her nuggets at home, and the last time I put ketchup on her plate she dissolved into tears." "She'll like it. All kids do". A few days later, while my mother was babysitting, she called me at work. "I want to take her to McDonald's", she said. "Fine." I acquiesced. "But no meat." Just then, the McDonald's pushing friend came into my office. "It's FINE" she said, pooh-poohing my mumbling about Ecoli. I gave my mother the green light for the happy meal and sat back, smugly anticipating the frustrated call I would receive after Chloe would spread ketchup on the table and eat half a fry before declaring "Bye!". The phone rang two hours later. "She ate everything!" my mother declared. "What?!" "Everything. The nuggets, the fries, everything. It took two hours, but she ate it all.

I had to see for myself. And I did, every Wednesday, after her gym class (how appropriate). I should mention here that part of my McDonalds digust was based on the physical space. Manhattan McD's are not like the suburban ones -- here they are dilapidated and almost embarassing when you consider the top cuisine offered in this city. And the one closest to my home is on a particularly busy and grimy street, surrounded by construction. Still, once I entered, I had to admit that I found it somewhat intoxicating. It was warm -- and I am not sure if it was due to the heat, the deep frying, or the bright yellow walls. It was cheap. And the happy meal was pretty damn happy. McDonald's has perfected the lukewarm temperature which is perfect for toddler food, limiting the time spent blowing on plates. It came with a toy that I was able to withhold until all food was completed. And it was. Not only that, Chloe was upbeat, attentive and patient, a combination never seen at mealtime.

I tried to infuse some depth to the experience, goading Chloe to count all the "M"s that she saw, admiring the animals on the Happy meal sac (it's no longer the cardboard box of years gone by). But I had to succumb to the lowbrow decor, the salty, greasy offerings and the unsophisticated clientele. It was all worth it, as her face filled out, and she proved that she did not have a problem eating - she just wanted the "good" stuff.

And I know McDonald's is not the good stuff. Sanctimommies who read this are likely to throw stones, and that's ok -- I was one of them. I know that the food is less than vitamin-packed, that the grease makes Chloe's face break out, and that the dining companions are often unsavory (like the one who announced mid-cheeseburger "I just lost my tooth!"). And I also know that to really work, I need to partake as well, shunning my own concerns about what this food will do to my thighs. But here's what McDonald's does have, which works for my kid. It has ambience. It has other kids, toys, and fun. This is hard to find in Manhattan restaurants. And the food, whatever they put in there, works for a kid's palate. At Burger King, the nuggets are too spicy and Wendy's uses Hunt's ketchup, not Heinz. So there is something magical within those amber walls, and despite my usual Type A brand of parenting, we indulge. And since then, her eating has gotten better, not just at McDonald's but everywhere.

I have found that the most important attribute of good parenting (for me), is flexibility. It's learning when to stay on course and not to give in, and when to let go. When I have been too strict, too scheduled, I have found myself ignoring my gut and generalizing my very specific kid. And sometimes we need that helping hand. And even if mine is wearing a yellow glove and attached to a creepy clown, I'll still take it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Infertiles often speak of the fact that once pregnant, they feel a pressure to revel in their good fortune, and keep their mouths closed. This means no complaining about morning sickness, exhaustion, aches and pains. And god forbid, no talk of gender preference.

When I was pregnant with Chloe, I tried to keep my mouth shut. But when I indulged a secret wish in those early months, it was to have a son. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my husband worship of sorts, and I longed for a little clone of him. Wanting a little boy seemed natural to me - since I had been longing for male company in one way or another since early adolescence.

But then I started really thinking about my husband, and the adoration that comes from little girls. I thought of dresses and braids and ballet. I considered my own penchant for all things pink, and my husbands ignorance of sports. So when the technician announced "It's a girl" without any great fanfare, we were thrilled.

And it has been one of those things that turned out to be only better than expected. There is hair to ribbon, never ending dance recitals on our hardwood floor and clomping around in my stilettos. She is star struck around my husband, whispering "Dada" with unrestrained delight whenever her ears capture the "ding" of an elevator. She announces his presence on our walls, pointing to his photos and asking to hold one while she eats when he is traveling. He has learned to create almost symmetrical pigtails and choose outfits that blend, if not match. She is sugar and spice with a dash of tomboy. It's sublime.

As the taffetta burst from my every closet, I could not imagine having a son. Two sisters, giggling and sharing and wearing matching outfits. Tea parties and tap dancing and of course -- wedding dress shopping. I was so sure that my next child would be a girl, that I did not even wonder of boys names, baseball gloves or peeing while standing up.

Almost two years later, another technician stood over my same belly, smeared with the same warm goo and announced "It's a boy!", but this time, with real excitement. There was no denying it - as a very perceptible nub was viewable between two very immodestly spread legs. We were shocked. And again, a shift in fantasy. The ruffled socks and canopy beds were replaced with dirty overalls and matchbox cars. And while these are all gender stereotypes, as my friend whose son loves show tunes and barrettes readily reminds me, when you are imagining, it is often in broad strokes with little nuance. I expected my heart to tug, at least a little, at the loss of ten additional fingers to polish.

But as soon as I saw him, wiggling unhelpfully in skeletal black and white as the technician tried to capture a shot of his heart, the details of my dreams evaporated, and I wanted only for healthy, for happy, for ours. In that immediate moment, he was nothing less than my child -- my son -- my very first choice for my likely last child.

Monday, March 12, 2007


...what are yours? Just a few of mine:

1. I hate sharing a toilet and regularly squat, even in my own house.
2. I can't sleep if a single strand of hair touches my face.
3. I am compulsive about being on time. If I am late, call the police and assume the worst.
4. I have the TV on as whenever I am home alone, regardless if I am watching it.
5. I love hearing new words and immediately demand that they are spelled.
6. Re-reading books calms me down.
7. I definitely have unmedicated ADD.
8. I invent stories in my head about strangers that I see.
9. I love the smell of heavy cologne. If you are offending someone else, I am loving it.
10. Talking on the phone exhausts me.
11. I am afraid to throw out photos of loved ones. I fear it is a bad omen.
12. I have a death fear of heights. Even a few inches off the ground makes me weak in the knees. 13. Good music makes me cry.
14. Panty hose give me the chills. I never wear them, regardless of season or event.
15. Ever since I weighed thirty pounds less than I do now, I have needed to sleep with a pillow between my knees to prevent the feeling of bones touching.
16. I love the smell of beer and cigars but hate the taste of both.
17. I always say I love you or I am convinced something terrible will happen.
18. I leave money in my pockets so I can find it again.
19. Bar soap disgusts me.
20. I look for magic signs in ordinary things.

Friday, March 02, 2007


Talk of milestones starts early. I visited my daughter's pediatrician almost every month in the first year of her life, and we always discussed milestones. "Is she tracking an object? Rolling over? Crawling? Does she have two words?" and some were more complex. "Does she have a sense of humor? (how can you assess this from someone who can't talk?) and "does she imitate you around the house?" (when she starts barking orders and rubbing her temples I'll let you know, doc!) It's all about meeting milestones. And especially in that first year, where a problem can appear only as a nuance, when new parents don't know what normal is and isn't -- there is an immediate pressure to be sure your kid is making the grade. My husband and I had bought an obscure book about parenting that listed gross and fine motor skills expected each month in a confusing grid not unlike an excel spreadsheet. We would read a month ahead and grow excited about what was to come, but also, to ensure that our kid was keeping up.

But milestones are not only reserved for infants. It's a bar mitzvah, a graduation, a first time behind the wheel. These moments are just as large as the ones we watch in our babies, and just as easily analyzed and obsessed over. The details, the disappointments, the pressure can all but erode the experience. At my bat mitzvah, the boy I liked danced all night with my best friend. It rained the whole day of my college graduation. I failed my drivers test three times. In the moment, it was hard to see what I had achieved once it was all over.

And let's not forget relationship milestones. Did you sleep together? Meet the parents? Take a vacation together? Talk marriage? Sometimes, these milestones happen seamlessly, without the "but what does this mean?" moment. Other times, defense mechanisms kick in. A break, not a break-up. Engagement ultimatums. Tear filled arguments and trial separations. And even when it all ends with forever, what does the avoidance and acceleration of milestones do to the story of us?

Anna Quindlen changed my life in one very specific way. She wrote an incredible essay "On Being a Mom". I have copied it below. It is easily transferrable to life in general, kids or no kids. It's about living in the moment, a manner of existing that I never before embraced. And while I still struggle with thinking too far ahead, I pause every day to notice the appreciate the things I have, right now, even when those things arrive late, only after a lot of resistance, or in a totally unexpected way.

On Being Mom

by Anna Quindlen

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the blackbutton eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin. ALL MY BABIES are gone now.

I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like.

Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete.

Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations -- what they taught me was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all. Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit- up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing.

Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk,too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons.

What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.\n",1]
Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts.

It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were...