Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Shabbat #8

Guests: Nikki, Ben and their children P. (3) and F. (5). P. is Sarah's best friend and partner in crime ... a pretty important role when you are 2.

Menu: Blue Cheese Crackers, Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, Parmesan Encrusted Mashed Potato Casserole, Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic, Cherry Angel Food Cake, Roasted Marshmellows

What I Learned:

Up until recently I was "that" mom at Sarah's preschool. The one who rarely dropped off and picked up late. Abandoned craft projects and fundraising notes piled high in her cubby. I missed co-op twice ... though I'm honestly not sure I am fit for two hours with a room full of two year olds on my best day. The morning I actually remembered to bring the snack my Trader Joe's Alphabet Grahams were rejected as contraband. Tree nuts ... the ultimate offense. May as well have been crack.

But I was not disinterested. I was disconnected.

Based on my less than stellar showing, preschool seemed an unlikely place to find a dinner date. Until a year of shabbats.

Sarah has good taste. P. is as terrific as her parents. A night I expected to spend talking about our kids (not that this is a bad thing), was spent talking about food, wine, the virtues of The Incredible Pizza Company versus Roberto's and all the other topics that you would expect to cover with a couple you have known for years. The fact that Ben (my Ben that is) was completely smitten with F. was icing on the cake.

Cleaning up the dishes after dinner (and way after the kids bedtime - proof that it was a good night) Nikki gave me one of those pauses. The kind that is typically followed by "how are things" -- my least favorite question. If I say fine -- I'm lying. If I respond, the questions just keep coming. So I usually lie. But that's not what happened.

Nikki told me that she and Ben had seen the story. Ben remembered Steve from college. Nikki and Ben discussed. He seems like a decent enough guy. And he does does drop off at preschool.

And the plan was born. Nikki would casually mention to Steve that Ben had gone to Denison with him. Code for "we knew you then and we think you still might be okay." (Or as Nikki more tactfully put it, "we're sorry about what happened and we're here").

I remember the day Steve came home and reported that Ben had gone to Denison. The two were a few years apart and the acquintance had been distant. That was pretty much the extent of the conversation. I paused just long enough to file the bit of information in the giant abyss of things I should know or might need to know.

Four months later as I was searching for dinner guests I remembered the conversation. Sure our girls were friends, but the fact that our husbands had gone to college together sealed the deal. Even if the preschoolers ended up acting ...well ... like preschoolers, at least our husbands would have something in common.

And that's how my re-connection started.

I began talking at preschool pick up. First to Nikki so she would not think I was crazy for asking a virtual stranger to dinner. Then to the other moms. And the teachers. Instead of sitting in the car, I was sitting cross legged on the preschool floor singing the bumble bee song (which by the way now has far less violent lyrics than back in my day). I arrived (on time) for my co-op with a non-offending snack, plus my very own craft project. "That" mom was gone and this mom was back.

When I was little we lived in a ranch house with a hardwood hall connecting the bedrooms. The perfect stage for setting up dominoes. Judy and I would gather all of our tiny black blocks and carefully line them up. Our designs curved and meandered down the long (or what seemed long then) hallway. Once assembled one of us would hit the first block sending each block tumbling into the next. But sometimes we miscalculated. The dominoes wouldn't connect. One of us had to jump up and tap the next one for the show to continue. In the end we would admire the twisting trail that our dominoes left and celebrate, even if we had to give a few of the blocks a little tap. It didn't matter as long as they all fell down.

I have spent years carefully setting up the tiny black blocks that make up my childrens' experience. Reading to them from birth, introducing the new foods at just the right time, checking off milestones, volunteering in classrooms, providing them opportunities to safely explore their world. But I missed a connection.

Thankfully Nikki tapped the next domino. And the show continues.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Dear Mr. President:

Please bring back family dinner. It saves money. It saves calories. It might even save families.

It's saving mine.

Your friend,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Chip Off the Old Block

Shabbat #7

Guests: Judy, John and their three kids J. (2), N. (4) and C. (4). Four adults, five kids, all under five. Recipe for disaster, but went off without a hitch.

Menu: Steamed Halibut with Boursin Cheese Sauce, Steamed Asparagus, Israeli Couscous, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah, Cherry Angel Food Cake with Coconut Icing, cookies for kids

What I Learned:

I've known Judy forever. Literally. We grew up across the street from one another. She was my very first friend and I am certain she will be with me to the bitter end.

When I look at Judy I see my childhood. Instead of the sleek-haired, uber-business woman, wife and mother of three, I see the curly-haired girl who raced big wheels, ran around in knock off plastic Dr. Scholl's and spied on her older brothers' parties through the crack in the basement doors. And I was right there with her.

Having a friend to share the trials and tribulations of parenthood with is a blessing. That Judy is the same girl I played "house" with nearly 40 years ago is downright surreal.

These days Judy and I aren't running around in the front yard imagining that we're solving crimes as two of Charlie's favorite Angels. We're chasing kids. And when we manage to squeeze in some adult conversation it invariably relates to a detailed dissection of the various child care options, who ate what when, the closely-related topic of poop, or a careful assessment of whether our children have achieved all of the items on the tidy lists provided in the "What to Expect" series. We busily plan playdates, craft our days around music class, stage "candid" shots for holiday cards and lament that we have not pasted enough pictures next to handwritten memories in our baby books.

But the conversations pretty much boil down to a single question:

Are we doing the right thing?

Memory is funny. I have to struggle to remember what I dressed Ben to be on his second Halloween. Despite thinking at the time that I would never forget the moment, pausing to iron it permanently into my mind. Yet I can remember that Judy's cat JoJo played Baby Jesus in our impromptu Christmas pageant when we were six. (Judy was a year older so I got stuck with the role of Joseph and she was Mary.)

Our lives were unprogrammed. A playdate amounted to our mothers pushing us out the front door and across the street. COCA and Music Together classes were replaced by basement talent shows (yes we charged admission) and duets on Judy's electric organ (she still has it).

A few days after our dinner with Judy, Steve and I took Ben skiing with my Dad. Riding up the lift I saw my Dad standing at the top of the hill next to the race shack. Skis off, hand resting on propped leg carefully standing watch over the skiers out of the gate and down the course.

The same thing happened. I saw my childhood.

I saw an energetic young father (partly because he still looks half his age), who wanted to be the first one on the mountain and the last one off. Who rode next to me on the chairlift sharing granola bars and blowing into my gloves to warm them. The dad that always played one more game of Chutes and Ladders and fixed things no matter how long it took. Had Steve not been sitting next to me and Ben blazing a trail beneath I would have believed that I had turned back time.

Which got me to thinking.

What will my kids remember?

My childhood memories seem to have nothing to do with carefully orchestrated parental planning, bygone holiday cards or baby books that lay tucked away in someone's basement. Energy put into those endeavors was lost on me.

Maybe my time is better spent doing less planning and more being. Avoiding the urge to make every moment "memorable" for my kids. Meeting "down time" with anticipation instead of intimidation.

Thirty years from now when my kids look at me what will they see?

That's a pretty powerful thought.

I'd like them to see someone who is energetic. Someone who will always take one more run. Someone who fixes things.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Wow. When I try to spend one night a week teaching my kids about gratitude and generosity, it gets a whole lot more uncomfortable to act like a selfish arse the other 6 days of the week.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hit Reset

Shabbat #6

Guests: Rebecca and Jason. Both are graduate students at Washington University in the Social Work School and Business School respectively. Jason worked on Steve's campaign. My son still affectionately refers to him as "running for office Jason."

Menu: Chicken Stuffed with Garlic Herbed Goat Cheese topped with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce, Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah, Angel Food Cake Topped with Strawberries and Kahlua

What I Learned:

Last June I purchased new linens for my bed. This was one of a string of purchases I made in an (unsuccessful) attempt to buy back happiness and peace of mind after all hell broke loose. My Frette sheets are topped with a black silk coverlet, two large euro squares covered in coordinating red silk and a array of cream pillows in varying sizes each adorned with hand sewn flowers. Once made up this is the kind of bed that can only be admired from afar. It is neither kid proof nor drool proof. Just pretty to look at.

Making the bed was never a priority until last summer. Some days it got done, other days it didn't. And if it didn't get done in the morning, what was the point of wasting the effort if I was just going to get back into it that night?

Things are different now. I make the bed.

I have always subscribed to the theory that a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind. So when my mind is cluttered I become extraordinarily orderly. My husband calls this "tazing" -- as in the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil -- as I spin around the house like my hair's on fire. If I am tazing (i.e. using ALL of the attachments on Oreck vacuum to eradicate dust from the moulding) this is usually a sign that he needs to ask me what's wrong. Unless of course he knows that he's what's wrong. In that case he just gets out of the way.

Making the bed helps declutter my mind.

A made bed is also harder to get back into. It's a preventive measure. On days that I wake up, recall what has unfolded and and want nothing more than to pull the covers over my head, I will myself out of bed and make it. Quickly. And then I trust that if I can just get a little momentum going I can push through the day.

For the most part this has been a successful approach. But sometimes I hit the proverbial wall. This week I hit that wall. Dead on. Monday was compounded by Tuesday which rolled into Wednesday. By Thursday I was climbing back into my carefully made bed.

All week our Friday dinner loomed over me. The thought of cooking and socializing was almost more than I could bear. I made a few unsuccessful attempts to scare up some dinner guests, but my heart wasn't in it. Not wanting to "let the dream die," I delegated the guest list to Steve. He invited Jason.

I like to compartmentalize my life into tidy fragments. Before college. During law school. Pre-marriage. After kids. And ... post politics. Until Friday, I never really thought that Jason would be a part of "post politics."

Turns out he may just have been the most important dinner guest to date.

I fully expected to spend the majority of the dinner discussing politics. Which for me pretty much means listening and waiting for the opportunity to interject a new topic. Especially now. That's not what happened. Sure, politics came up a time or two, but most of the conversation circulated around Jason and Rebecca and all that is possible when you are young, educated, childless and just waiting for your life to unfold.

Then Jason said it.

"My resolution for 2010 is to go to services once a month."

He was talking about going to temple.


My response was pretty uninspired. But not because I was uninspired. I guess I was just taken aback by the fact that a single, 20-something was talking about religion. Or maybe it was just too much to unpack right there at the dinner table. Whatever the reason, I didn't pursue it. But his statement stuck with me.

During my 20's I was not thinking about religion. In my 30's the possibility of becoming Jewish was all but dropped in my lap. Nearly 40, I am still not sure I would call myself a religious person -- whatever that is.

But I do know this.

On Fridays I am filled with energy -- even when I have been dragging all week -- as I prepare for the night. At the dinner table -- even when Ben and Sarah are crawling on top of it -- I feel peace with our family and friends. Post-politics I have gone to temple a few times by myself hoping to find ...well, hope. Have you ever been crying inside, but holding it together on the outside hoping no one notices, but secretly praying someone does? And then that someone wraps their arms around you and a giant weight is lifted without anyone saying a word? In those dark moments, that's what it feels like to sit in services.

Jason was important not just because he came, but because he made me think about why I made this resolution in the first place. In my first entry I described shabbat dinner as as "a "lifeboat" that helps ferry us out of troubled waters -- even if just for a night." Sort of like hitting the "Pause" button only to "return to the program previously in progress." But maybe it's like hitting "Reset" instead and "restoring the original factory settings."

I hope Jason keeps his resolution.

I know I'm keeping mine.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Will You Marry Me?

Shabbat #5

Guests: Jill and Brett and their 5 year old daughter C. I originally met Brett and Jill through biking and a mutual friend. We never bike together anymore and seldom see that mutual friend -- proof to me that this friendship is the real thing.

Menu: Chicken Parmesan with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Steamed Broccoli, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah, S'Mores

Lesson Learned:

Two years ago shortly after I had Sarah, Ben came home from school and announced that he was "going to marry C. and make her tummy big."

Fortunately Ben is 5 and not 15.

While Ben's actual articulation of his feelings for C. never ceases to amaze me, I am not surprised by the target of his affections. Ben has known C. forever. Literally. Jill and I were pregnant together and spent lots of time bemoaning the havoc that pregnancy wreaks on the female form. When the kids were born we took "epic" stroller walks to reverse these effects and occupy our newborns in a way that did not require us to engage in "tummy time" or "peek-a-boo".

There has not been a time when C. was not Ben's "girlfriend." I can't remember when Ben actually told me that this was so. I am sure I thought it was cute and probably called Jill to report on the budding romance, but I certainly did not suspect that the announcement would be so ... permanent. If I had I most certainly would have marked it in the baby book. (Something I did when I only had one kid).

C. and Ben started out at the same school. (OK - daycare, but calling it "school" makes me feel like a better mother). They were never in the same classroom, but rendezvoused on the playground together. They've celebrated New Year's and birthdays. The best Valentine always goes to C. One year he even gave her a ring pop.

Last fall C. moved onto a new school. I thought that would be the end of the relationship. I was wrong. Just a few weeks ago Ben came home and announced that girlfriends are better than best buddies. Why Ben? Because you can marry your girlfriend and live with her forever. He was talking about C. Pretty profound for a 5 year old. Or a 39 year old.

Not to be boastful, but Ben is a catch. He could get some play on the playground if you know what I mean. But his love for C. is steadfast even after 5 years. Last time I committed myself to someone for that long I married him.

This got me to thinking.

Puppy love at age 5 is cute. Ben's adoration for C. is completely uncomplicated. Which also means it is completely uncomplicated for me. But I know that won't always me the case.

Seems like every time I find myself complaining to a friend with older kids about the trying times of parenting a 2-year old and a 5-year old they have to go and remind me that it only gets harder. Really? Thanks. Then they launch into the same monologue about how the problems get bigger and your handling (or mishandling) of the situation becomes even more critical. Are you serious? Please point me to the closest bridge. I'd like to jump off.

And that whole puppy love thing. Cute when they are 5, but what about when they are 15. Suddenly you're going to need to worry about whether the bedroom door is open.

So I asked Jill. What are you going to do if these two are still exclusive 10 years from now? She told me that while she was sure I would love it, she'd probably encourage C. to cast the line. A bit surprising given that Jill married her college sweetheart instead of sowing her oats into her 30's. Or maybe not. She does know a fair amount about Ben's gene pool.

Me? Well I think it would be pretty great if Ben stuck with C. There is something to be said for going with your first instinct. It's just like at the grocery when you change lines hoping to get a faster check out. Invariably your second choice puts you right behind the guy that needs a price check. Plus, I had a boyfriend in preschool. His name was Chip. I think my mom once told me that he turned out okay. And with a name like Chip I surely wouldn't have missed a lurid story about him on the 5 o'clock news. (Note to self: Google Chip).

Last Rosh Hashanah I stood before our congregation and announced that I was going to slow down. Savor each Shabbat and the moments with family and friends. I'm sticking with that promise. So I won't worry about Ben's love life quite yet. Or all of the other complications my friends keep warning me are coming. Life is complicated enough as it is.

(But if he picks C. I approve).