Bread-making for the soul

Rain is pouring down as I write this, as it has threatened to do all day long. The sun has emerged and then hidden itself multiple times, much in the way my mind has been bobbing from pleasant thoughts to dark, hard memories of this day one year ago—a day in which the weather was eerily similar.

Last year, the Friday before Labor Day, my son and I were violently attacked by 3 dogs, as we walked home from his school bus. The images, sounds, and pain of that day are not far from my thoughts.

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If I’m honest, not a day goes by when I don’t think of that time—a pang of remembrance, residual fear when I see or hear a dog, a moment of gratitude,  a realization that we are OK and we have been blessed in so many ways. While external and internal scars remain, we’ve come so far in the past year.

Today, I just couldn’t summon the energy for all of the errands and projects I’d intended. Instead, I spent the afternoon baking a challah, the traditional braided bread for Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath). I have only made challah a few times in my life and I had forgotten how time-consuming the process can be.

Making Bread

The recipe requires considerable patience after mixing the ingredients:  letting the dough rise, kneading it, putting it aside to rest and rise, kneading…  again and again, braiding it and then gently turning up the temperature as it bakes. The recipe is a variation on a tradition that has existed for centuries.

This afternoon, it was just what I needed: pounding the dough, stretching it, transforming it, making something nourishing for my family.

As the sweet aroma of the baking challah fills our kitchen, I think about the ways in which healing resembles the bread making process. It takes time, patience, warmth, attention, pounding through hard moments, stretching oneself, resting, working through it, and repeating. The good and the bad of the last year are braided together, inseparable.

We are different than we were one year ago but I hope as we eat this bread tonight, we will focus on the sweetness of being together, with gratitude, and with a renewed commitment to showing kindness and empathy toward others who go though challenging times.

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Mother’s Day Uncensored (or Stepping In It with Style)

FB_IMG_1494796346870Mother’s Day is bouquets of fresh flowers, the pitter-patter of little feet running through the house while Mama half-dozes, giggling outside the bedroom door, handmade cards, a mocha coffee delivered bedside, and a bagel brunch on the back deck with thoughtful gifts and sweet words. It’s lovely and divine.

But this year, I discovered the night before could also dish up its own spot-on, hilarious tribute to motherhood:

We were sitting around the table picking at the last bits of Chinese takeout, when my husband and I heard a small but persistent voice from the bathroom.

“I’m duh-uhn!”

“Just a sec, honey…” I said, as we continued chatting about our plans for the week ahead.

“A little help here?” the voice called out again.

And then, “Mama?

Finally, taking the hint, I joined my 4-year old throne-side.

“Um, I had a little accident, Mama… sorry.”

I looked down and saw his Super Mario briefs lying on the floor—looking remarkably accident-free.

“No problem, Sweetie,” I said, scrunching a handful of toilet paper into my palm so I could help him.

“You know what, Mama? I saved Lego bag number 3 so you could help me tonight since Papa already got to help me… and tomorrow, you can give me a bath because it’s gonna be Mother’s Day and usually Papa does that…  so tomorrow will be special.”

I smiled at his concept of Mother’s Day. As I wiped him, he continued to chirp away, using a tone most women reserve for the nail salon. “And I’m working on a secret art project but I can’t tell you about it,” he said, “because it’s a surprise and…”

I thought back to earlier in the day and my older son’s sad eyes when he heard that Mama wouldn’t be at his baseball game. My husband explained that I was going to take the afternoon off and go shopping, as an early Mother’s Day present. But one look at that face and I changed my plans.

“I’ll join you at the park,” I’d told him.

As it turned out, I never had to leave. En route to the park, his tummy started hurting. With vomit an imminent possibility, my husband quickly drove him home to be under the watchful eye of Mama.

20170514_123542“Mateo!” my husband called from the kitchen, rousing me from my reverie. “Don’t tell Mama everything.”

“I’m not, Papa,” he shouted back.

“I have a special, surprise Lego project,” he flashed his little imp smile. “That’s what I mean,” and continued his beauty shop banter.

“Ok, that’s it,” I said. “Time to flush and wash your hands, mon cheri,” and I stepped away to wash my own.

But as my foot came down, it suddenly slid in the opposite direction.

A delicate stripe of brown “mud” streaked across the floor.

Except. It. Wasn’t. Mud.

I managed to keep it together while reaching for the Lysol wipes.

“Sorry, Mama.”

“It’s OK honey, I’ll just clean that up.”

As I wiped the floor and cleaned out the grooves in the treads of my slipper, I heard the water running in the background.

“Here, Mama! I’ll help you, ” he said, holding a sopping wet hand towel—my favorite—in his little hands.

I couldn’t help laughing as I looked around. And that night as I snuggled on the couch with my boys and we watched the opening scenes of E.T. together, a favorite movie from my own childhood, I thought how lucky I am to have them.

When Mateo climbed out of bed long after he should have already been asleep because he was scared and wanted a hug, I thought how wonderful it is to be needed and loved and entertained by these little boys every day of the year.

This is motherhood. And though it can be exhausting and frustrating, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

 

Life’s Best Medicine: funny stuff courtesy of the kiddos

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Brush your teeth or else…

Sometimes we forget to laugh.

The world has become such a serious place that humor can seem frivolous, a luxury for a happier time. But life without laughter is empty.

Thankfully, two of my favorite live-in comedians, age 8 and 4, are killin’ it daily. We just have to pay attention.

(And be ok with the living room’s new decor of swirling, floating, tiny feathers because, well, the 4-year old took a bite out of an over-stuffed cushion during a no-holds-barred pillow fight…)

On Being Healthy (courtesy of M, age 4):

– Are you ready for some exercise? Because we’re about to do some exorcism!

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On technology’s limits (courtesy of N, age 8):

Alexa, play “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay

Here’s “Little Bit of Whore” by Johnny Thunders…

On the perfect pet (courtesy of M, age 4):

I’d like a penguin.

Reasonable parent: Cute idea but how about something a little more practical?

– Ok, I guess I’d take a small dinosaur.

On the art of debate (as demonstrated from the backseat):

-Yes, he can!

-No, he can’t.

[Voices rising… tension’s building in the car. Clearly, this is important!]

 I saw it. Batman can fly.

No, he can’t. You don’t know anything.

Yes, I do.

Oh, yeah. If you’re so smart, what’s 15 + 15? [Victory fist-pump for the 2nd grader…]

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Even at an early age, this masked man knew his stuff…

On describing a teacher [courtesy of M, age 4]:

Well, she’s got brown hair and looks kind of like God.

One more for the road… Overheard at Sports Clip (as stylist makes small talk with young child in chair next to us):

– That’s a cool action figure you brought with you!  What’s his name again– Captain Morgan?

[Awkward moment follows as child’s mother sweetly suggests stylist mistook superhero for Rum spokes-pirate because she works long hours in a salon where sports shows and liquor ads must play all day. But stylist corrects her…]

-Nope, just too many late nights partying!

After trauma, I am grateful for everyday heroes

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A few months ago, something terrible happened.

In early September, my son and I were suddenly and violently attacked by three dogs, about a minute after my 7-year-old Noah stepped off his school bus. With his forehead ripped open, Noah had to undergo emergency plastic surgery. He spent two days at Levine Children’s Hospital, where he began the long road to physical and psychological healing. I was also injured while trying to protect him— my arm and leg punctured by the powerful jaws of the attacking dogs—but my heart is what hurt the most.

Despite the range of feelings we experienced, from fear and anger to sadness and anxiety, this traumatic incident also reminded me of humankind’s profound ability to do good.

So many people—friends, family, and strangers —have reached out to us to help.

There are good people out there, everyday heroes who make a huge difference. Sometimes it’s a professional calling, people who have made rescue and healing part of their daily lives. But just as often it is someone who makes an extra effort to do something kind, generous, and restorative.

Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s TV host, summed up these types of heroes well: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Thinking back on this challenging autumn, there are an extraordinary number of helpers to whom I want to express my gratitude. They have given me hope for a better world—people of all backgrounds, differing politics, from preschool aged kids to 95 year olds. Their instinct to do good reassures and reminds me that each of us has within us the capacity to help, heal, and improve the world.

We will never forget what people have done for us during this difficult time and I intend to pay it forward for the rest of my life: in daily actions, in choosing to do and help rather than shake my head in frustration; in reaching out when there is a need.

Do not believe anyone who says your actions don’t matter or can’t make a difference. They do. They can change the world—starting with the very first person you reach out to help.

I am grateful for…

  • 14368658_10157321205435417_3831717987397763119_nThe man who appeared on our doorstep, offering his tickets so Noah could see his first Carolina Panthers game
  • The custodial worker who loaned her cell phone charger to my husband in the ER  
  • The Child Life Specialists who eased Noah’s worry before each new step—sewing stitches on the forehead of a stuffed toy alligator to cuddle, showing Noah how to spray Mama and Papa with syringes filled with water, giving him a certificate of bravery when he had to return to the ER for rabies immunizations 14225556_10157268366100417_7244498196059035147_n
  • The bus driver who gave Noah a heartfelt card and gift, sharing her own worry and sorrow over what had happened, and who ensures his safe arrival home with such love each day 
  • The hospital chaplains who held my hand and listened 
  • The dear friends who saw a need and jumped into action organizing meals and funds to help with medical expenses 
  • The firemen who came by a week later to check on Noah and invited him to tour the firehouse when he felt better  
  • Friends, family, and strangers who sent cards, emails, texts, and messages of encouragement 
  • Those who sent Legos, puzzles, magic tricks, books and more to help Noah recover 
  • 14237743_10157282649700417_8798556737170770263_nThe paramedics who showed such calm and reassured Noah at the height of his pain and panic 
  • The Missouri school teacher and her students at the French immersion school who heard about what happened and sent Noah a care package full of well wishes and gifts 
  • Folks who appeared on our doorstep with cookies, gifts for the kids, and soup 
  • Friends and strangers who thoughtfully sent notes and gifts for Noah’s 4-year-old brother Matéo too 14355792_10157302199265417_4270704502750235806_n
  • Our caring pediatrician and her staff who supported us immeasurably and even made a house call
  • Friends who told us how important self-care would be and offered support in multiple ways
  • My sister and brother who dropped everything to come help
  • An elderly woman who saw Noah’s story on the news and sent him a care package filled with superhero mementos
  • A school counselor and school psychologist who went above and beyond, visiting Noah at home and ensuring his positive readjustment to school 
  • Handmade cards from Noah’s schoolmates as well as from other local kids 
  • 14269753_10155171614135410_1676238903_nThe Animal Control Officer who stayed with us at the hospital, long after his shift ended, to ensure our safety and the police officers we never met who scoured the surrounding neighborhoods for the attacking dogs 
  • Friends who sat with us in the hospital and made sure we ate something
  • Neighbors who sprang into action—on the scene and in the days that followed
  • Reporters who showed compassion
  • Friends who helped with childcare in our most challenging hours
  • A principal who called Noah at the hospital
  • Nurses who eased Noah’s worry (as well as our own) and made him comfortable during his hospital stay 
  • 20160912_165043Teachers who came to visit, called Noah, read to him, and checked on our family repeatedly
  • A surgeon whose superior technical skill was matched by his ability to relate and empathize with his patient and parents 
  • Cousins, aunts, uncles, and dear friends who reached out from across the US and around the globe
  • Mental health professionals who have helped us stay afloat and progress
  • Those who lovingly prepared meals and sent gift cards, cleaned our house, or did our laundry 
  • Our parents who ran errands, sent thoughtful gifts, entertained the children, gave hugs from near or far, and provided shoulders for us to lean upon

We are forever grateful for your acts of kindness.

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7 signs you’re living with a child under age 7

There’s no denying it. You have all the symptoms. You’re living with one or more kids under age 7… aren’t you?

 

 

1. Your Netflix cue and cereal selection are both chock full of animated characters.20160324_075524

 

 

2. You occasionally rock out to a children’s CD even after the kiddos have gotten out of the car.20160324_111450

 

 

3. Your colleagues have caught you slurping up a Gogo Squeez apple sauce pouch during lunch.07d3bb85d2183ba8a8a5982fa57f2d80

 

 

4. Your vacuum suffers from lego-indigestion.20160324_081825

 

5. You’ve exceeded the surgeon general’s RDA for listening to knock-knock jokes.20160324_144841

 

6. You automatically cut up your meals into bite-sized morsels or wacky food art.8575e94a53391d4e827290e4b3c75bc2

7. Your highly developed sense of smell can pin-point the child responsible for producing offending odors in a nano-second.disgusted-mom-holds-nose

 

 

 

I am a Jedi like my MOTHER before me


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Cue the theme music… here comes “Good Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, with the blue light saver (sic),” also known as my three-year old son. Lately, we can’t go anywhere without that light saber.

This little guy has an incredible passion for all that is Star Wars. From books and cartoons to Legos and mini action figures, he simply cannot get enough. Well, with the exception of the actual movies… which, after several trial viewings, he has deemed too scary.

Even without the Lucas films to reference, he’s memorized most of the plot line and convoluted family tree. Plus, he’s got an unquenchable desire to make-believe. In one favorite game, he pretends the guest bed is the Millennium Falcon and we have to scoop in to save Padmé or others in distress. Other times, he instructs one of us to play Darth Vader to his Luke. It goes something like this:

Me: [with labored breathing sounds] Luke, trust your feelings and you will know it to be true. I – AM – YOUR – FATHER.

Mateo: [gasps] What?! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Then we redo the scene. Again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to share his enthusiasm.

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Even his older brother, age 6½, our Star Wars Lego building expert, is getting fed up. He loves the movies and can’t wait to get his hands on all the latest Star Wars toys but his little brother’s total fixation has become rather annoying.

This got me thinking about another set of siblings in a not so distant galaxy where little sister (that would be me, age 3 in 1977, the year the first Star Wars movie came out) became similarly obsessed with the Star Wars merchandising machine. I coveted the impressive collection of toys my big brother, age 7, had acquired. He seemed to have it all — Death Star, Millennium Falcon, Tie Fighter… and when his Star Wars figures would get a little worn out, guess who would get them?

Yes!

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I loved Star Wars and started to amass quite a collection of my own. Prized possessions included several dozen action figures, an x-wing fighter, a ton-ton which Luke or his comrades could actually ride and the planet Hoth with a built in at-at.

Oh, Lord. Is it obvious that I’m not quite over it all yet?

Eric, Liz, Leslie Rothaus, 1976

Me with my older bro and younger sis, circa 1976.

I’m not sure if my obsession riled my brother’s nerves though it probably did, especially when I cut off the tips of Obi Wan and Luke’s light sabers to make them more realistic and tried to slide Vader and Leah’s cloaks on other, bulkier characters. (He seemed to have a sixth sense that these toys, or at least their non-mutilated twins, would have value someday.)

My parents surely worried that the only times I’d play with my 3-story doll house was to reenact an elaborate scenario in which the resident family hid beneath the removable kitchen floor to escape the ruthless Storm Troopers who came looking for them.

Behavior like this (not to mention my questionable taste in naming my baby doll, “Carwash”) must have led to some serious eyebrow raising but they never let on that I was an unusual child. They let me be me, quirks (especially quirks!) and all. I’m glad for that now.

All of this has left me wondering a few things:

  • Is this all a coincidence or is age 3 a moment when most children fixate on a particular passion?
  • How important is the influence of older siblings or do all children go though a similar phase?
  • Finally, should I worry that my son is obsessed with Anakin and his struggle between the light and dark sides of The Force or is it actually the perfect metaphor for the impulses he’s experiencing now?

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No doubt, my Star Wars youth prepared me well for having two boys. Each time I was pregnant, I wondered what on earth I would do if nature bestowed a girly-girl upon me. How would I handle it? I guess I would have done the only possible thing, dug down deep, marched into the American Girl doll store to buy a brunette doll who could fit a custom-made Princess Leia costume.

Parenting: It’s a Dirty Job… so why do we do it?

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“Sounds like you have been knee deep in actual puke lately!!” was the way my friend delicately summed up my last few weeks in a text message. And it’s hardly an exaggeration. This winter, we’ve been bombarded with more than our seasonal share of colds, allergies and stomach bugs.

It got me thinking, as I sprayed down my son’s sheets yet another time in a pre-wash ritual that’s become a little too familiar: How do we do it? How do we parents and caregivers deal with all the puke, all the poop, all the pee-pee?

Before I had kids, these were the things that I dreaded most when I imagined parenthood. How could anyone, I wondered, deal with all of that… YUCK?

Let’s start with the basics. Picture it: six years ago this month, our new baby arrives and the nurse helps us put on a diaper…once. After that, it’s up to us. I’m so desperately afraid I’ll break the baby, that he’ll squirm right off the changing table, that I don’t even know where to begin.

I look back now and wonder when did it start to become natural?

How did I go from freaking out about soiled baby clothes – choosing rapid disposal over the repulsive prospect of washing them – to the mama who can play it cool in even the most challenging of situations? Like the time I sprinted from the breakfast buffet to a casino bathroom with a child whose four-day potty strike had abruptly ended, only to discover a baseball sized wad of caca had already emerged at the bottom of his pant leg.

Nothing prepares you for that!

This is simply life with kids, my friends, and probably why that catch phrase “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” sounds a lot different to me now.

There must be something that transforms us, allowing us to rise to the occasion and face the utterly disgusting. Could it be instinct?

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No different from the cat that meticulously licks her kittens clean or the bird that teaches her young to aim carefully for the large grey Mazda below, we find ourselves trying to sweet talk a 2-year-old into peeing in a cup at the doctor’s office when he still hasn’t made up his mind about this whole potty training business. It’s a tall order but we do our best to make it happen, as doubtful as the outcome may be.

Attempting the impossible: that’s part of the job description whether or not we knew it when we signed up for this parenting gig.

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But then I think about the other moments – those that are much cleaner – and easier to delight in:

– that huge smile from my preschooler when he leaps into my arms for a hug

– the touch of those soft, little palms when one of my boys holds my hand

– the way my kindergartener runs into school with his backpack bopping up and down

– how they stretch on their tip toes to see themselves in the bathroom mirror while brushing their teeth

– their efforts to one-up each other with absurd knock-knock jokes

– their total lack of self-consciousness, one wearing a Spiderman costume to go shopping and the other coming home from school with his shoes on the wrong feet

– their ingenuity when they “skateboard” into the room on a toy cutting board

– the pride I feel when they share willingly or say thank you without a prompt

These things may seem insignificant to others but they are exactly the kind of everyday moments that remind me why I can now handle all the other stuff.* Is it love? Is it maturity? Is it because if we don’t, who will?

I think the truth is that day by day, we grow into our roles as parents. For my kids, I can be brave. I can try to find a solution and I can deal with the poop.

*Insert scatological word of your choice. [Ok,I admit it. I was dying to use the word “scatological” somewhere…]