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.

 

Lessons from my children: Mourning but Moving forward after the Trump victory

20161030_122047.jpgDevastation doesn’t quite sum it up.

I am in a state of disbelief, disappointment, and grave sadness after Donald Trump’s vision for America was chosen last night by a majority of my countrymen and -women. This is a hard, hard morning and is making so many of us reflect on what this means for our country, our children, our place in the world.

As I struggle to make sense of it all, I can’t help thinking about my two boys and how I must be a strong example to them in this painful, defining moment in American history. This morning, my husband and I spoke to our boys and told them that despite our hopes (and even our assurances) the night before, the election had not gone the way we had hoped and, indeed,  expected.

Noah, our 7-year-old, burst into tears. “What will happen to my friends?,” he said.

 

“I’m scared they will be taken away. Lots of them come from other places.” We had to dig deep to show optimism despite our own fears– reassuring our sweet son about his beautiful group of friends and classmates whose families are Mexican, Moroccan, Muslim, African-American and whose shining faces represent such hope for the future.

We told him this will make us work harder and that we will not abandon his friends or our vision of a better future for all children. We told him that it is very hard to lose but one of the great things about America is our democracy and that we must accept the will of the people and its choice for a new leader.  I believe this. I also believe that we must do more, become more involved in local politics, in national politics, in expressing our views and not simply allow the next 4 years to destroy every bit of progress we’ve made and still hope to make.

Our 4-year-old Mateo asked, “Why would someone vote for Donald Trump?”

 

I struggled to find an answer when I am still in such a state of disbelief that people could choose such a severely flawed candidate, lacking experience, and espousing policies of hatred and division. But his question reminds me that part of our work going forward is understanding “the why.” What explains our radically different views on the world and what has motivated them to vote for Trump? Is it racism? Is it economics? Is it fear? Is it one issue or many? Is it their educational background? Is it their daily experience, which must be so different from my own?

We tend to surround ourselves in real life and especially on social media by people who share our ideas. This election is a wake-up call that the reality of America is quite different than how I saw it, how most of the pollsters and pundits saw it, and that there is a huge disconnect between our differing visions of America.

The last thing I’ll mention is the one that I must remind myself of today and hold onto tightly. Over the weekend, when we were eagerly anticipating the week ahead and what we expected to be a historic, glass ceiling-shattering moment, we talked about our schedules.

“No school on Tuesday or Friday,” Noah told us.

“And we have the election on Tuesday — it’s a big week,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “It is… And on Wednesday we have the Book Fair!”

In his 7-year-old wisdom, he saw that there is a day after, that the sun would still come up this morning and that the world would keep turning. Let’s not give up hope. We owe it to our children. Let’s call this Day 1 of our renewed commitment to doing more to make our vision of a more just, equal, and inclusive America a reality.

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?

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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…]

If I could put time in a bottle

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No matter where I go, I always receive the same advice from total strangers:

“Squeeze those boys tight!” says the cashier at the grocery store.

“They’ll be grown before you know it,” says the lady down the street.

“I remember when my kids were that small,” says the grey-haired man in line behind us.

Their eyes glistening, I immediately know one of two things. Either a.) their own children are grown and have moved away or b.) their own children are teenagers, have not moved away and are driving them completely bananas. Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about how I would capture my five year old and two year old in words right now. Here are some memories that I’d like to bottle up and save for later, if I could.

Noah is starting kindergarten in just a few days. Even though I’m secretly freaking out, he seems to be taking it all in stride. He’s eager to meet new friends, take the bus, and learn French at his new immersion school. He tries so hard to be a good son and big brother, wanting to please his parents and do the “right thing.” But I know it’s sometimes a struggle for him to be a big, brave boy. At times, he longs to be the baby.

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He has two loose teeth and nothing could be more thrilling or terrifying for him. He wonders, when will they fall out? What will the Tooth Fairy do with them? And what would happen if he keeps them instead of handing them over? Perched on the footstool and stretching his neck just so, he can finally see his face in the bathroom mirror as he wiggles those teeth.

He gets frustrated trying to tie his own shoes, unable to solve the riddle of twisting “bunny ears” into knots. Yet, he’s a whiz at legos — concentrating for hours while building a new plane, car or robot. He loves cooking and has a surprising passion for the Food Network series, “Chopped.” When he talks about growing up, he imagines multiple simultaneous career paths. He’ll be a race car driver, a lego engineer, a chef in his own restaurant and a soccer player for the U.S. national team.

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Most nights, he carefully pastes stickers into his World Cup Panini soccer book alongside his dad and little brother, even though the matches are long over now. He can identify every player’s country of origin, with a simple glance at the flag that decorates each Panini card. Beyond soccer, his world is all about superheros, water balloons and icees. At night, he dozes off while listening to the “Curious George, the movie” soundtrack. He has a blessed obliviousness to the greater problems of the world which I hope will last for some time still.

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His little brother has just turned two. What a beautiful age. It’s all about unbridled enthusiasm for EVERYTHING. It’s pizza night and Mateo run-skips through the house shouting “PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! YAAAY!” He bobbles, not quite able to balance his oversized head on his pint-sized body. He surprises us all the time with new words and phrases.

He’s a little ray of sunshine who thinks his big brother is THE greatest person in the entire world. He wants to be just like him and imitates almost everything he sees him do. (As if to punctuate this thought, he starts singing “Let it go!” at full voice, for no other reason than he’s heard his brother do it too.) Eager to nap on most days, he waves and says “night night” to anyone nearby. Like his older brother, Mateo’s a polite little guy — often uttering a “please” or “thank you, Mama” without any prodding.

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He’s picked up the delicious habit of sprinkling French words in his spirited chatter: “non, merci;” “Time for dodo;”  “Bisous, Mama!” He thinks the best joke in the world is adding the word “heiny” after any name. It’s sure to be a hit with his new preschool friends, whom he’s just days away from meeting.

At night, he sucks his thumb and cries for a “tag.” Unlike other kids who nestle with a stuffed animal or blanket, he has a mania for the labels on t-shirts and other articles of clothing. Snug in his PJs, he loves starting books together and then declaring we’re “all done” a few pages in. He grabs another book and insists “not yet!” when we tell him it’s time for bed. He finally lies down, thumb in mouth, rubbing the tag between his fingers, when I sing a lullaby.

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Most of all, both boys crave attention, recognition, stability and warm hugs. “Mama, Look!” they shout, as they do their own version of breakdancing in the living room or in the cereal aisle. Life is still simple and I cherish it. They are happy, healthy and we don’t embarass them… yet.

* Less than 24 hours after writing this, Noah lost his first tooth. Seems I just can’t seal that bottle tight enough, no matter how I try.