Tales of the Tooth Fairy

tooth-fairyIf you want to maintain your child’s innocence, don’t buy him a loft bed. Because at a certain point, your child will start to question the actuality of certain folkloric characters, such as the tooth fairy, and you will be hard pressed to convince him that she does in fact exist.

In my case, my almost 10 year old son, Eli, revealed to me tonight with a sense of great disappointment that he no longer believed in the tooth fairy. “Why would you say that?” I asked, unsure of whether he was sincerely distressed or merely playing with me. “Because I’ve had my tooth waiting for her for two days and she hasn’t come to take it or leave me any money.”

“Well,” I answered without missing a beat, “You didn’t tell daddy or me that you lost a tooth. Parents have to call the tooth fairy and let her know that they need her to come. She’s not psychic. She just flies around and sprinkles fairy dust and turns kid’s teeth into dollar bills. Every super hero has her limitations.”

I’m fairly certain he’s known for years that the tooth fairy is fictitious. But I insist on perpetuating the myth just in the off chance that he might actually want to still believe in something magical and mystical and innocent.

“Besides,” I added, “She’s been extremely busy these days. She may just be running behind schedule.” He agreed to leave his incisor on his shelf inside the goofy little plastic tooth fairy tooth we’ve had since his older brother was three for one more night. “But if she doesn’t come tonight, I’ll know for sure that she’s a phony.” Then he smiled with just enough mischief to make me unsure of how much he knows and how much he doesn’t want to know.

When I climbed the ladder to his loft bed that night to tuck him in I looked around and couldn’t see the tooth holder anywhere? “Eli,” I asked, “Where’s your tooth?” “Oh the tooth fairy will have to find it,” he insisted, “That is if she’s real.” This is actually a test, I determined. He wants me to make this happen. “But the tooth fairy doesn’t have x-ray vision you know. Maybe she’s been coming and leaving because she doesn’t see your tooth anywhere.”

He then slid a few books over and pulled out the plastic container from beneath his Nook. I encouraged him to leave it in plain site, reminding him again that even his favorite comic book idols have weaknesses. “You can’t expect everyone in your life to have unlimited super-natural powers, Eli,” I told him, “Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for grave disappointment.” Then we said his prayers, I kissed him on the forehead and gingerly climbed down the loft ladder.

I walked around for the next hour and a half with two dollar bills in my hand so I wouldn’t forget to carry out my tooth fairy responsibilities. Finally, once I felt he had fallen into a deep enough sleep, I quietly snuck into his room and began my ascent up the rickety steps to his bed. I was sure that he’d awake with every squeak and creak I made. When I finally got to the top I had to reach over him carefully and try to grasp the plastic tooth that, although it was now visible, was still tucked deeply into a crevice that remained just out of my reach. I put one knee on his bed and leaned over precariously. He turned over. I held my breath and prayed, “Don’t wake up. Please don’t wake up right now.” He rolled over and stayed asleep as I lurched forward, grabbed the holder, and pulled myself back to the ladder. I opened the box silently and removed my son’s still tiny ivory tooth and inserted the two dollar bills I’d been gripping for hours. Then I repeated the ridiculous lurch and grab dance to replace the plastic tooth for morning discovery.

“That bed is a pain in the ass,” I told my husband later that night. “Why didn’t we think of this when we agreed to it?” “Because we figured he’d outgrow the tooth fairy by now,” he said, “and making parenting decisions based on fictitious characters hasn’t really been our M.O. in the past.”

I couldn’t really argue with that. I carefully put the tooth with all of his others in a small envelope I keep in a drawer. I have absolutely no idea what I will do with my children’s teeth nor any thoughts to justify why I am saving them. My 13 year old son, Levi, once found my envelope and was horrified. “Mom,” he gasped, “That’s just…creepy.” And I have to agree. It kind of is. But it feels so important to hold onto them. Like they’re the only proof I have of my kids youthful spirit and innocent hearts. One day I may need those teeth to remind me who my children really are. Maybe only mothers can understand that. Or maybe I’m as crazy as a loon and would benefit from attending a “Hoarders Anonymous” meeting.

Either way, I’m holding onto the teeth like I’m holding onto the idea that Eli wants to continue to believe in fairytales. And why shouldn’t he? Life is what you believe it to be. Holding fast to the notion that magic still happens is a lesson I hope my kids will carry with them forever. So I’ll keep climbing ladders, sprinkling fairy dust and leaving a few dollars on their shelves, at least for as long as they’ll let me.

Exact change

UnknownI hate to sound like an old crotchety woman but WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY??? Let me start by saying that back in the day, I could ring a pretty efficient register. I could key in items, add tax, note which items were tax free, and here’s the best part; I could figure out how much change the customer was due and count it back to them properly and politely. There were no computerized cash registers to tell us ringers how much money to return and because of that, we could actually figure it out in our heads, make sense of it and count it back to the paying party.

Let’s contrast this with today. Last week I was at a certain Christian hobby store and my bill came to $21.52. I was holding a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill. I hadn’t yet handed them to the cashier. She, however, took it upon herself to ring in $25.00. But as I continued to dig around in my wallet, I found a single and .52 cents. I said, “Here you go,” and handed the young lady $26.52. The look on her face was sheer panic. She began to stutter and I feared she might shortly hyper-ventilate.

“Are you okay?” I inquired with serious concern. “I…I… I…already rang it in,” she said.
“Well, that’s okay,” I spoke as if I were coaxing a would-be jumper from a very high ledge. “You just need to give me a five dollar bill and we’re good to go.” Unfortunately, this continued to baffle my young friend. All color had drained from her countenance. “I…can’t do that,” she stammered. “I need to give you the change from the $25 I rang in.”

I thought about explaining that I didn’t really want four dollars and .48 cents shuffling about in my wallet, and that I had actually simplified the equation by supplying her with the extra $1.52. But since there was a long line of religious crafters behind me, I chose to simply give her the $25 dollars and move on with my life. After all, WWJD?

But this kind of event is occurring more and more frequently. Yesterday I stopped in one of my favorite bath stores. I ended up spending $32.25. I happen to have been carrying a $100 bill that I wanted to change into something smaller, so I paid with the bill and a shiny new quarter. Once again, panic ensued. The young gal behind the counter stood there stunned, looking at me as if I had handed her Rubles or Euros or Yen. After what felt like an inordinate amount of time she called for a manager to check the validity of my hundred and asked what she should do with the extra quarter I’d supplied. Luckily the manager, a ripe 30 something, keyed in the precise amount and the register responded that the customer was due the exact sum of $68. The sales girl then grabbed some cash from the drawer in a haphazard manner and dumped a wad of cash into my palm.

Gone are the days of counting back change to a customer so that she knows she is, in fact, receiving the correct amount of cash return. But seriously, how do you know you are getting the appropriate amount of change? I mean, computers do make errors, as do impulsive youth. I carefully counted back my change in front of the young woman, hoping that perhaps I could teach her by example a more appropriate way of delivering change to a paying consumer. She merely looked at me with annoyance for delaying the other customers behind me in line.

Look, I have no problem with the fact that all salespeople appear to be under the age of 15. Likewise, I’m not one of those people who walks down a hospital corridor wondering why all the doctors barely look old enough to drive. I appreciate that we are a young, vital society and that the youth are the future of our great nation. But there really is a need for young people to be able to do basic arithmetic in their heads and if we are to be a capitalist society, people need to understand how to count money, make change and respect the purchasing process.

There, I’ve said it. Now I’m going to sit in my rocker, crank up the phonograph and enjoy turning on and off the lights with my Clapper.

Letting go

imagesI think I have completely lost it. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in exactly one week and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of Summer Winds plant nursery while trying to select a few trees to beautify the front entry of our home. My husband, a bit taken aback by my sudden onset hysteria, asked me what seemed to be so upsetting about two Red leaf banana trees and a flat of succulents. To which my only reply was, “They’re going to die. They’re all going to die.”

You see while many may miss the logic of my distress, it is more than obvious to me what is transpiring inside my twisted psyche. My baby boy is becoming an adult, at least in Jewish terms. What does that mean? It means in 5 years he’s off to college, then grad school maybe, a job, a marriage, his own family. The cycle continues. The same will happen with my youngest, at least that’s what I hope and wish for. But it also means that my reasons for existing are only temporary and will go off to live their own miraculous lives and leave me as a distant (and likely annoying) memory. This feels unbearable to me.

I complain bitterly about never having enough time to do the things I want to do, to read the books I want to read and write the stories I want to write. The pressures to work and mother and create meaningful art overwhelm me most of the time. But the reality that in the not-too-distant future I’ll have nothing but time is the most painful acknowledgement of life’s tragic progression that I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully aware that I was somebody else once; before I was a mother. I was somebody who lived alone and went out with friends, who always cleaned up her dishes after she ate, who worked 80 hours a week and went to the gym whenever she felt like it and sometimes just laid around the house watching reruns of “Dick Van Dyke” and “I Love Lucy.” But I don’t do those things anymore, mostly because I’m too busy running errands, supervising homework detail, carpooling or doing perpetual loads of laundry. Yet suddenly it seems impossible to imagine meaning in any life that doesn’t include my eternal sorrow over dirty socks on the floor, unpicked up dog poop in the yard, or two day old breakfast dishes still sitting at the table wistfully hoping that some thoughtful child will place them neatly in the dishwasher.

I don’t enjoy every moment I have with my boys. For that I am grief-stricken. I waste the precious time we have being angry about stupid things and longing for time to be alone, with my own thoughts, my own agenda. Can it be different? Can anyone keep her eye on the essential reality that everything is fleeting, that each moment brings us closer to loss, emptiness and solitude? How can anyone live life with that kind of uber-awareness? Ernest Becker explains in The Denial of Death,“To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Getting caught up in the minutia is our only escape from the devastating reality before us.

I long to appreciate the fleeting moments I still have with my children. I promise to try to relish every second in this tumultuous week of family drama, party plans and Bar Mitzvah preparation. My goal is to celebrate the amazing young man my son is becoming, to love him with every ounce of my being, and to joyfully release him to become his own man and forge his own path through life.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Sniff sniff. It’s not likely to be an easy week.

Why did the boys cross the road?

article-1078131-022357BF000005DC-887_468x286

Why did the boys cross the road?

Long pause filled with uncertainty.

To get smoothies from A.J.s and scare the bejeezus out of their mother.

It may not be the funniest joke ever, but my two tiny, helpless, toddlers… okay, they’re not really tiny anymore, and technically they’re not helpless. I guess you could also argue that nearly 13 and 9 no longer designates them as toddlers. But they’re crossing a busy street and I’m not with them and this is freaking me out!

It’s summer vacation, camp is over, I have no help and I’m feeling like a dried up piece of sand paper. So I made an appointment for a manicure and pedicure. I thought my husband would be off work this morning when I originally made the appointment. But he had to work at the last minute. I didn’t want to cancel. Does that make me a monster? My heels are coarse and leathery, and my feet look like they’ve been through a Crayola blizzard with so many splotches of colors on my toenails because I’ve been layering over my last pedicure for a month. The salon I go to is across the street from AJs. So the boys convinced me that they could come along with me and venture off alone to get smoothies while I soaked peacefully in the pedicure tub. I gave them money and instructions, several times. “Be careful crossing the street!” I said. “It’s a busy street. And call me if you need me. Maybe text me once you get there. No, that’s silly. You don’t have to text me. Yes, text me.” Okay, seriously, they’re only going across the street. Motorists are cautious around here. I mean it’s a residential neighborhood. But there are a lot of elderly folks in this area. Maybe they wont notice two innocent little tykes, one toting a beloved stuffed polar bear, darting across a four lane freeway. Okay okay, it’s not exactly a freeway. But it gets really busy sometimes and it can be as treacherous as the 51 on a Friday afternoon.

Why is it so hard to let kids grow up? I know this is good for them. It teaches them responsibility. It allows them to learn independence. When I was 12, I used to peddle my bicycle 10 miles across town to the local Bunny Hutch to meet friends and enjoy the best french fries in town. What were my parents thinking? Did it scare my mom that I rode in the street? Did she just not think about it? Why does it freak me out so much?

Levi, my nearly 13 year old, went away to sleep-away camp for a full month this summer. He managed to brush his teeth without my constant reminders. He got dressed by himself and handled a litany of daily responsibilities without a single word from me or his dad. (Although I do confess to putting a few brief instructions into the loving letters I wrote on a daily basis.) But he probably ignored those.

I really don’t remember my parents being this over-protective. I don’t think it was that much of a safer world back then. I’ve even read numerous books and articles that insist there are not more child abductions or mass killings today than there were back in the day. It’s just the way the media covers them that makes them all seem so looming and prevalent. But parents’ levels of angst have sky-rocketed since the time of my childhood. It’s like we’re so scared of something happening that we don’t want to ever let our kids out of our sight.

I think it ultimately cripples both them and us. It keeps kids in a perpetual state of childishness. We protect them from anything that even hints at grown-up responsibility which keeps them completely void of the experiences they need to grow up and become responsible adults. In turn, their neediness and inexperience prevents us from letting go and keeps us stuck in perpetual parenting mode without any hope of escape or eventual freedom.

The funniest part of all this is that we’re only doing it because we love them so much. We just don’t want to see them hurt or watch them struggle or worse, possibly fail. But that’s really the only way to learn anything, isn’t it? To fall down. To make a mistake. To err. Without error, life poses no challenges, no opportunities for growth.

So take a deep breath. Love your kids. But let them cross the street by themselves once in a while. It’s really the only way to get from here to there anyway.

Bingo dammit!

imgres“B-37,” one of the moms in my son Eli’s third grade class called out.

“Bingo!” Yelled Samantha. I enjoyed watching the victorious young lady’s glee as she celebrated her triumph.

“N-11,” the mom loudly announced over the myriad pronouncements of joy and despair by the remaining players.

“Perhaps she doesn’t know how to play this game,” I thought to myself.

“G-7,” she continued calling.

“Bingo!” Yelled Taylor. There were more “ahs” and “darns” from the ensemble.

“O-63,” she went on.

She must be on auto-pilot, I worried. Maybe being the Valentine Bingo caller was too taxing an enterprise for her. I decided to leave my post at the bagel and cream cheese station to see if I might be of assistance to her.

Quietly I whispered, “Someone’s already won.”

“N-11,” she proclaimed as if she hadn’t even heard me.

“There’s already a winner,” I spoke out with conviction.

She looked at me askance. “Everyone has to win,” she stated matter-of-factly. “We can’t stop until every child gets Bingo and wins a prize.”

At first, I thought she was joking. I mean I’m well aware of eternal T-Ball ties and even-Steven itty-bitty basketball games. But even in 3rd grade Bingo we aren’t allowed to have winners and losers?

I returned to my bagel station dejected and disillusioned. This is what’s wrong with the world today. We insist on perpetuating a ridiculous myth of equality when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Bingo, someone wins. This also implies the converse. Someone, (usually several someones), lose. It’s a game! That’s the whole point. One person gets the lucky numbers first. That’s why it’s fun. It’s not skill. It’s not personal will or sheer determination that dictate the outcome here. It’s a silly game of luck. Why are we shielding our youth from this reality?

No Junior, you will not always win. Life is about losing some times. It’s about learning resiliency, bouncing back, accepting defeat and fighting to win the next time around.

Instead we are raising lazy, pathetic people who expect prizes for failure and unlimited chances to win. That’s not how life works. Why are we doing this?

Later that night when we were sitting around the table I asked Eli, a fiercely competitive child, if he noticed anything unusual about Bingo. “It was really fun,” he concluded. “But what do you mean by unusual?”

“Well, who won?” I inquired.

“Nobody,” he answered plainly.

“But I kept hearing kids yell ‘Bingo’,” I asserted. amazed that he had missed something so obvious.

“But we were playing ‘Black-Out’ Bingo, mom” he clarified, “You know, where you have to fill in the whole card before you win?”

“Ah ha,” I smiled. “So nobody really won? That’s interesting.”

“Why mom?” he questioned, “Tell me why you’re asking.”

“Just curious,” I replied, unsure if I should reveal the truth or not. Maybe it’s better this way, with him believing in the illusive golden ring that remains always a bit out of reach.
“But everyone got a prize,” I just couldn’t leave it alone.

“Yeah mom,” he laughed to himself, “Everyone always gets a prize. That’s just how they do it these days. But don’t worry, I know that nobody really won. They just don’t want to hurt the kids’ feelings. I think it may have to do with law suits or something.”

I shook my head and giggled. “Yeah,” I said, “You’re probably right.”

So while most kids walked away feeling like winners, my competitive junkie filled in the blanks a little differently. I guess competition really is in the eye of the beholder.

Be here NOW!!!

jennifer_aniston_hair_the_17kr07q-17kr07tThink about something you feel passionately about today. Now envision yourself 10 years from now. Do you feel the same way? Slightly different? Radically changed? A new study published in the January 4th journal, Science, asserts that most adults change significantly over a decade but when asked to predict their future selves, fail to recognize just how much change they will actually see. Huh?

According to an interview with Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, in Health Day magazine, “People dramatically underestimate how different their future selves will be.” That got me thinking about my own life and how much I’ve changed over the last decade.

Ten years ago my political beliefs were strikingly…how to put this…different. But I think that has more to do with having and raising two children. Suddenly the whole “do what you feel” and “follow your bliss” approach to life seems to wither as you raise kids. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Or is it?

Teaching kids about right and wrong seems to make parents concretize their own belief systems in a way that’s hard to predict. The practicality of life, the ups and downs, the immense challenges that pop up unexpectedly, all of these change us, make us harder, less willing to trust the whimsical mysteries of nature. Well, not for everyone. But it’s worked that way for me.

I miss my more childlike view of the world. It was a view that allowed me to trust in the goodness of people, to always follow my heart, to imagine that a spiritual force greater than myself was guiding my every step. Nowadays I feel consumed by the violence in our streets, the senseless genocide occurring around the globe, the carelessness people exhibit towards their neighbors and family. But I sure didn’t see this coming. I thought I’d always be wide-eyed and open to the possibilities of life.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a fairly positive gal. I still find ways to express my creative spirit each and every day. I try really hard to believe that life has a purpose and that somehow I’m on a path, albeit circuitous, towards discovering that purpose. But I feel a constant weight, a heaviness, that rests on my shoulders as I meander through life these days that wasn’t there a decade earlier. That makes me wonder about where I’m heading and what life will look like in the next ten years. Maybe I’ll make a total 180 degree personality swerve and end up more like the bohemian, free-spirited person I used to be. Or maybe I’ll do a full 360, grow a goatee and pursue my dormant dream of becoming a Krill fisherwoman in Antarctica.

Daniel Gilbert explains that people are just not very good at predicting who they’ll be in the future. He tells the New York Times, “Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong.”

Kind of depressing, no? I mean I hate to think that in ten years I’ll look back with embarrassment over my funky fashion foibles or trendy hair coif. Because looking back now, I can see that the whole Jennifer Aniston Friends “do” wasn’t my best look. But at the time, I thought I was red-carpet ready.

So we can’t accurately project ourselves into the future and we’re pretty much assured to be horrified by who we were in the past. Sounds like a lose-lose for all of us. Guess that’s as good a reason as any to live in the present.

His first dance

nina-leen-young-boy-and-girl-taking-dancing-lessons

“Whose problem is it?” My husband, the pediatrician, patronizingly posits.

“Look, I know it’s his problem,” I say, already on edge from his tone of voice, “I read all the ‘Love and Logic’ books too. But sometimes a parent needs to step in and avert an impending disaster.”

“You need to let him fail, Debra,” He councils.

“But this is such a bad idea!” I assert. “He’ll be totally humiliated and then…well, he’ll be scarred for like ever!”

“If you take this on as your issue,” he warns, “You are robbing him of an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

At that point I wanted to slug him. Instead I furiously stormed out of the kitchen and rushed into his office where I began to systematically rip the pages out of each and every “Love and Logic” book I could find. All the while yelling at him, “I hate this ‘Love and Logic’ crap! This whole notion of natural consequences sucks. If it’s all about letting your kids fail, then what do they need parents for in the first place? Let’s just step back a bit further and really let him make his own choices…”

After I vented, I took a deep breath and looked seriously at my spouse. “How can you set our son up for this kind of devastation? Don’t you care about his feelings at all?”

“Debra,” he voiced in a genuinely warm tone, “I don’t want him to suffer any more than you do. But you told him it might be better to ask the girl to the dance in private instead of doing it in front of the entire sixth grade class. Didn’t you?”

I nodded sheepishly.

He continued, “And he decided he wanted it to be big and bold and dramatic. We have to let him do it his way.”

That’s when I realized I hate being a parent. I never should’ve gone down this path. It’s painful and frustrating and there’s virtually no positive reinforcement. My kind, sensitive, thoughtful 12-year-old boy is about to ask a girl to his first dance ever in front of his entire class and I can’t convince him to change course. And spousal support? Ha! My husband behaves as if he’s Switzerland during World War II.

The following day was grueling. I didn’t mention the dance invitation that morning en route to school. It was none of my business. Not my problem. If my adoring little boy got his heart stomped on by some brazen hussy, it was simply going to be a natural consequence that would teach him to be more cautious in exposing his sentiments in the future. Surely that lesson will serve him well in the long run.

I picked him up promptly at 3:15. “How was school?” I nonchalantly queried.
“Oh, it was okay,” he contended with the neutrality of a poker professional, cards close to his vest.

“Anything out of the ordinary occur?” I tried not to sound as pathetically desperate to know the story as I obviously was.

“No. Not really,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Just your average day.”

I bit my tongue, literally, to keep myself from uttering another word. Suddenly he chirped with excitement, “Oh, mom, I almost forgot. I asked Jessica (not her real name) to the dance this afternoon.”

“Oh you did?” I casually inquired. “So…how’d it go?”

“It was amazing! I played this One Direction song at the end of Spanish called ‘That’s what makes you beautiful,’ and I told her I wasn’t Nile, but I’d still like to take her to the dance if she’d go with me. The whole class was cheering and saying, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ It was such a cool feeling to have everyone wanting me to succeed. And she did say yes, which made it even more cool.”

OK, I did not see that coming. My whole body heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Thank heavens that catastrophe was averted. We pulled into the driveway and I saw a series of texts had come in from my husband. “So?” “What happened?” “Did she say yes?” “Is he okay?” Well, how do you like that? Mr. “I’m so uninvolved emotionally and capable of keeping my feelings out of the situation” is actually waiting on pins and needles to know the results from today’s event.

I started to text back the good news when it struck me that it wouldn’t kill my husband to wait a few more hours to learn the verdict from today’s challenge. After all, I wouldn’t want him to take things on too personally and rob my son of his learning experience.
I texted back, “He prefers to talk with you in person.”

Yes, I know it was a bit childish. O.K., maybe even passive aggressive to purposely lead my husband astray like that. But it wasn’t a lie. Not really. Just a…a…an extension of the truth. And one that cheered me immensely over the course of the afternoon. Honestly, can you blame me? It’s not easy being married to a professional parent who always seems to have all the right answers.

In search of a plot

“I need a plot! What if I die?” this is the text I received Thanksgiving night from my 12 year old son, Levi. He’d finally left the table and was worriedly texting me from the next room.

It all happened because we were enjoying some post repast conversation at my mom’s house. One of the guests, a long time family friend, works at the Jewish cemetery in town. The discourse had shifted to her work and she was astounding us with stories about elderly people who simply refused to contemplate death, funerals and anything associated with burials. My brother-in-law, an uber-responsible physician, chimed in, “It’s just idiotic not to take care of these things ahead of time. Idiotic and irresponsible.”

Suddenly I look across the table and I see Levi, his head in his hands, prone for an anxiety attack. “Why don’t you go play with your cousins,” I suggest.

“No, mom. I want to stay with the adults,” he insists.

“Well, are you sure you can handle this conversation?” I ask gently.

“Yes,” he replies, “I’m sure. But mom, how much is a plot? Because I need to save up and get one.”

Conversation halted and everyone looked at Levi. Several of the adults started to roar with laughter.

“Levi,” I tried to explain, “You really don’t need to worry about that right now.”

“But I’m going to die,” he matter-of-factly refuted, “I don’t want to be stupid, or irresponsible.”

Suddenly I was transported into the celluloid world of my all time favorite Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall.” I morphed into Alivie Singer’s kvetching Jewish mother and insisted my 9 year old son, Alivie, tell the psychiatrist why he was so depressed.”

Alvie’s mother:
Tell the Doctor why you’re depressed, Alvie. It’s something that he read.

Alvie:
The Universe is expanding.

Doctor:
The Universe is expanding?

Alvie:
Well, the Universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.

Alvie’s mother:
He stopped doing his homework.

Alvie:
What’s the point?

Alvie’s mother:
What has the Universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding!”

Doctor:
It wont be expanding for billions of years, Alvie. And we’ve gotta try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here.

Why is it that some kids burden themselves with thoughts like these while others are content to stuff themselves silly with turkey, corn and mashed potatoes? I so want to be one of those care-free people who raises easy, playful youngsters who throw spitballs into the unsuspecting heads of classmates and giggle gleefully when the teacher accidentally strings together words like “under” and “where.” But alas, that’s just not who we are.

I actually remember my first 100% sleepless night. I was about my son’s age and was convinced that the angel of death was coming that very night to take me away. My poor father tried everything to get me to go to sleep. Finally, with a tear in his eye, he implored, “Please, Debbie, just close your eyes. I’ll stand guard all night and I promise not to open the door if he comes. Just go to sleep!”

I guess the sad thing here is that this whole experience just confirms what I’ve known all along; that children really are just mirrors that showcase every flaw, fault and foible of our own misguided psyches. Genetics, my friends, are inescapable.

It’s all kind of depressing. In fact, sometimes I find it so disheartening that I relate completely to Annie Hall’s brother, Duane, (played eerily by a young Christopher Walken), who behind the wheel of his automobile,
confesses to Alvie while speeding down a darkened freeway, “Sometimes I have a sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into an oncoming car. I anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the…flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”

Alvie is stumped for a reply but spits out, “Right,” just as they pull to a stop, “Well, I have to — I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet earth.”

Sometimes it sucks to be me. I desperately want to see myself as Audrie Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” or Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa.” But no matter how hard I try, my true alter ego wont let me forget that I’m really just a female version of a Jewish, neurotic, anxiety-ridden Alvie Singer.

Celebrate the smothering!

Have you ever had one of those stunning moments of recognition that leaves you both horrified and utterly delighted simultaneously? Well, here’s one for the record books:

I’m snuggled up on the couch with both boys watching our new favorite show “Shark Tank.” My oldest has his head on my shoulder and my youngest is curled deliciously into my side. And it suddenly hits me; no one will ever love me as much as I am being loved in this current moment.

What a stark realization. I mean, I see it every day. The separation that has to happen with boys and their mother. They need to individuate. That’s critical for their own development and growth. They need to find girls and then women who appeal to them for romantic relationships. I know all of this. But I’m not sure we ever stop to really appreciate the few years we have where we are the all powerful love force in our kids’ lives. Cause I can see the edge of the horizon, and it’s approaching way too rapidly.

While our kids are and will always be the individuals we moms love more than anyone in the world, the reciprocal is simply not the case. We may be the central love interest for a lot of years. But ultimately, if we want our kids to be happy and healthy people, we want to see them paired off with someone of their own age to build a life and develop a future. That means we need to fade into oblivion in a sense. Ouch.

So once again I need to slow down, take a deep breath and stop getting irritated every time my boys fight like Ali and Frazier over who gets to sit next to me at a restaurant. I have to appreciate the smothering attention that often accompanies our late afternoon dips in the pool when all I really want to do is swim laps by myself. I must promise to put on a smile when one of them demands a band-aid and kiss after a mere flesh wound that interrupts my dinner prep schedule.

Why is it so hard to appreciate the precious few moments of joy and adoration we’re afforded as parents? We’re all so damn busy making sure they grow up to be good, kind people, that we manage to miss the parts of the job that might actually feed us and give us the energy we need for endless more loads of laundry and eternal dishwasher emptying. Well, I for one am vowing to pay attention to the good moments, to accept the love my kids are offering so freely right now, to embrace their neediness, whining and overwhelming demands. Because one of these days, I’ll have a lot less dishes to empty and a lot less laundry to complain about.

Happiness is…

Happiness is…a warm puppy…or whatever you make it!

I heard something interesting on the radio the other day about happiness. Happiness, the philosophical talk show host explained, was different depending on your stage of life. He went on to say that when you are young, happiness comes mostly from thinking about your future. Then, in middle age, it comes largely from being in the moment and living life, often quite hectically, in the present. Old age finally, finds happiness predominately from memories of the past.

I haven’t been able to shake this concept. I find it sad and disturbing. Mostly because I think it’s true. I don’t want this part of my life, where I’m caught busily racing from present moment to present moment, to ever end. I am happy where I am. Yes, I’m stressed out, overwhelmed and run ragged 98% of the time. But I love my kids, my family, my husband, my work, my creative time. I’d like life to go on like this indefinitely. The thing is, I know it wont. I feel the present slipping away from me with each tick of the clock. Honestly, it’s a curse to be so hyper aware of time’s passage. My ardent attempts to suck every bit of marrow out of each passing moment often feels more like a futile attempt to build a lasting sand castle right in the middle of high tide. Try as I may, failure is inevitable.

I remember at the very end of my paternal grandfather’s life, we were all sitting around his bedside celebrating his birthday. He was very old and frail by then, a mere shell of his former self. As the cake emerged with a scattering of representative candles, my maternal grandmother, the only other elder remaining in our clan, posed this question defeatedly to my grandpa. “Oh, Irwin,” she sighed, “Where have all the good years gone?” He smiled weakly, looked around at his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. and with the same sparkle we’d seen in his younger eyes said, “They’ve been replaced by better ones.”

I will never forget that moment. Somehow, my grandfather had managed to keep his consciousness focused on the beauty of what was right in front of him. He had escaped the trap of only living in the glory of the past. As we age, we can lose sight of the good that stands before us and idealize earlier times when we’d been untouched by loss, pain and trauma.

The truth is, there will always be moments of joy, beauty and wonder, no matter what our age. We just can’t ever stop looking for them.