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.

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.

Brace yourself!


wired for service

Life moves quickly. I woke up the other day to the stark realization that my baby had turned 8 years old. I’m not complaining, mind you. I appreciate my kids more and more with each passing day. I wasn’t big into the baby and toddler thing. I know that’s not something you’re supposed to say. But I like being able to talk to my kids, to hear how they feel, to watch their logic develop and unfold. It’s way more fun to play Backgammon with Eli, who at 8 is already a formidable opponent, than to mull away endless hours watching him screech wildly in a bouncy seat while systematically hurling teething toys across the room.

Babies are cute, especially other people’s. They’re nice to snuggle with too, every once in a while. But I prefer more verbal clarity in my communication, and with boys who are 8 and 11, that’s exactly what I get. Of course I’m well aware that all that might change once puberty hits. But right now that still feels like a lifetime away, kind of like braces did until yesterday.

I didn’t prepare Eli very well for the orthodontic surprise 8th birthday present he received this week. I’m not entirely sure why I so acutely ignored my maternal responsibility to prompt and prepare my child for this pending traumatic milestone. I may actually have been in a slight state of denial. “Am I getting braces today?” Eli asked point blank while he shoveled in a handful of French fries at lunch. “No honey,” I calmly replied. “I think the doctor just wants to check the expander progress and schedule the braces for a few months from now.” I wasn’t lying. That’s honestly what I thought.

I was every bit as shocked when our warm and welcoming orthodontist pulled out the shiny silver metal tool kit and began attaching the metal brackets to Eli’s front four teeth. OMG, I thought. He’s getting braces TODAY! I tried to act calm. Eli seemed to be rolling unflappably with the unexpected event. Meanwhile I started texting everyone I knew with my pithy, yet painful observations about time’s fleeting passage. It’s not that I didn’t know this was coming down the pipeline, I just wasn’t expecting it today. And consequently, I had done a really lousy job preparing myself and my little guy for it.

I would never have made this error with Levi, his older brother. For Levi, everything had to be spelled out, thoroughly explained, even rehearsed, sometimes for weeks prior to a new event. I remember preparing levi for school with pre-classroom tours, early meetings with teachers and hours of re-reading “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.” With Eli, I woke him up one day and happily chirped that today was his first day of kindergarten, and off we went.

I can’t pinpoint how or when I knew that Eli would have an easier time adapting to new situations than his older brother. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt, maybe my maternal intuition led me to trust that Eli could better manage these kinds of surprises to his psyche. Or, perhaps I was just more preoccupied and less attentive to the daily details of life once he came along and I found myself inundated with two kids, a busy work schedule, and a bustling household to manage.

The ironic thing here is that while I’m usually fairly laid back when it comes to major lifestyle shifts, I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the monumental realization that my youngest is growing up — fast. The braces just kind of pushed me over the edge.

But what can you do? Life marches on, whether you’re ready for it or not. So happy birthday, my dear and lovable little man. Thank you for your adaptability in the face of chaos, your humor amidst our daily disasters, and your heart-melting smile, that with or without metallic appliances, warms my soul and soothes my spirit.

Classroom reflections

“Your child is a genius,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s so smart and funny and creative and sensitive. He’s as kind as the day is long. What a gift! Well, you know what they say; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

I blush humbly and murmur a gratious “thank you.” “He is a special kid,” I say with a sense of total fulfillment, knowing that my child is accepted, admired and adored for whom he is.


Why is it that each and every one of us expects our parent/teacher conferences to go according to the above script? And they never do. Yet somehow this dichotomy between what we want to happen and the reality of the situation still manages to depress, demoralize and dishearten us to a point of abject despair. I’ve spoken to so many parents this week about post parent/teacher conference despondency that I’m petitioning the American Psychiatric Association to add it to the DSM-5 which is due out in May of 2013.

As an actor, I liken parent/teacher conferences to those much anticipated, highly regarded theatre reviews we all dread and crave simultaneously. Most actors I know refuse to read them at all. Reason being, (and I am borrowing a line from the very obscure rockers, The Bacon Brothers), “When they’re bad, they’re really bad. And when they’re good, they’re not good enough.” You walk into those conferences expecting a rave, only to be panned and find out you’re shutting down the show well before your scheduled closing date.

I have to confess that this year’s conferences were the best ever for me. But I think that has to do with managing expectations more than anything else. These types of conferences are a way for astute, observant teachers to give parents feedback about their child’s study skills, classroom habits, and behavior. As parents, we can learn a lot from them. But rule number one is to remember that they are always going to offer suggestions for improvement. After all, nobody’s perfect, not even your child. While we parents may understand this intellectually, it stills feels icky to have someone outside the clan verbalize the myriad of faults exhibited by our little snuggle bunnies. (Kind of like how it’s okay for me to make fun of my family of origin, but you’d better seek protection if you’re planning on making them the butt of your own humor.)

Parents need to remember that it’s a teacher’s job to make our kids better, smarter, more functional people. This does not happen by positive feedback alone. Simple comments like, “Your child doesn’t do his best work,” or “Your daughter talks too much in class,” or “Your son blurts out the answers and inhibits the other children,” are all jam-packed with learning potential if we allow them to be. Even the dreaded, “Your child needs an assessment,” remark that sends even the most even-keeled parents into a frenzy, can be a call to action that generates tremendous positive results.

The truth is, we want our kids to be perfect. So when well meaning teachers use brutal honesty to tell us about our kids, it’s like holding up a mirror that highlights our own tragically flawed reflections. We get angry, oversensitive and defensive.

So here’s my suggestion du jour when you’re facing your next parent/teacher conference: take a breath, really listen, and then put on your big girl panties and try to see how you might help your child learn whatever lesson’s being presented. After all, it wont be the first time your child is faced with a critical assessment of his or her skills and capabilities. And I guarantee, it wont be the last.

I met the devil and she drinks Absolut Cosmopolitans

I had this plaque in my room when I was growing up. My parents must’ve given it to me. I recently gifted it to my older son who thought it was just…weird. It had a Tennyson quote on it that read, “Once in a golden hour, I cast to earth a seed. Up there came a flower, the people said a weed.” I told my friend about it today, lamenting yet another rejection notice I’d received. She was stunned. Not that I’d gotten the rejection. I mean, she likes my writing and all, but rejection is a part of the biz. No, she was visibly dismayed by the plaque. “Why would anyone give a child something so…negative?” She asked.

“I never thought of it as negative,” I defended. “Just an accurate state of the world. I knew from a very young age that life would be full of naysayers who wouldn’t necessarily appreciate my artistic vision. As an artist, that kind of personal and societal awareness has served me well.”

“Really?” She inquired. “Perhaps it was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I mean given all the motivational quotes in the world, why didn’t they put up a photo of Henry Ford that said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Kids are very impressionable, you know.”

She then admitted that her folks had hung a large picture of a can-can dancer in her childhood bedroom, complete with pouffy red crinoline, black bustier and fish net stockings. “And what did I do?” she challenged, “I became a Rockette.” It’s true. She really did become a Rockette. I had to concede. It seemed like more than mere happenstance.

I heard this author on NPR the other day say that boys named Dennis have a significantly higher likelihood of becoming dentists. Really? I mean the words do in fact sound alike. Could that really be a way of subconsciously directing an offspring’s career path? The author also said that Larrys were more apt to be lawyers. My friend, Barry, is a lawyer. Barry…Barrister. Hmmm??? I wonder if you named your kid “Imogene” if they’d be destined towards Radiology. I once knew this old lady named “Honey.” She was definitely overweight. Are most “Rosenblums” florists? What about “Dicks” are they disproportionally flocking to the field of Urology or private investigating? This opens a whole new world of possibilities for our children.

I did notice (only recently) that the letters in my son Levi’s name can be rearranged to make the word “L I V E.” That was pretty cool until a pal pointed out that with yet another letter shift you got the word “E V I L.” Damn. I even screw up subconsciously.

The point is that everything we do, say, or hang in our kids’ rooms really does matter. That’s like my worst nightmare. Translated, it means I really do have to obsess over each and every not so great parenting moment. Argh! How can a person live knowing this?

I once met this woman at a party. My kids were tiny. Hers were grown. I was in some state of distress over where to send them for preschool or something. She put her arm around me and took me aside. Then with the calmest, most assured voice I’d ever heard she said, “Debra, all of these little decisions you’ll be faced with over the years, the minuscule choices you’ll have to make, Just remember, every single one of them…matters more than you can ever know.” She then smiled and wandered back to the bar to refill her Cosmopolitan.

I sat there dumbfounded for a moment. Did she really just say that? Was she trying to curse me? I think I left the party shortly thereafter, no longer in a particularly festive mood, now that I was shouldered with the weight of the world. But just as I got into my car to set out for home, I remembered that this prophetic woman’s name might hold the key to her enigmatic comments. Her name you see was Lucy. Hmmm…sounds a lot like Lucifer, don’t ya think?

Show a little damn gratitude, will ya?

Apparently beggars CAN be choosers!

Holiday cheer? A time to give? What’s up with charities this year? Has anyone noticed that everyone who’s asking for handouts this yuletide season has conditions? “Please drop off any unwrapped, newly purchased, non-age specific, genderless toys by December 15th.” Ok, seriously? This is getting ridiculous. I mean every year we try to go through the boys’ toy closets and make piles of good stuff that they’ve outgrown or no longer want to play with. We talk about how important it is to give things away and the boys have to struggle sometimes with wanting to keep stuff that they need to let go of. But they are learning valuable lessons about sharing, giving and helping those less fortunate.

Well, apparently no one wants anything even “gently” used this holiday season. I find that incredibly offensive. It’s not that I’m not willing to buy new gifts for those in need. It’s just that I think they should be grateful for used items as well. Has everyone lost their minds? I mean, the poor and downtrodden only want new items? What’s that about?

I mean, we’re hurting this year, like everyone around us. I’m shopping at resale stores and garage sales. My kids had a much scaled down version of Chanukah this year. But while it’s okay for me to scrounge and save, I should go to Target and shell out full retail for a brand new Barney-mobile for some nameless kid who only wants new toys this year? That’s more than absurd. It makes me just say, “Oh well, guess I just wont give anything.”

That cannot be the message charities are hoping to convey. But why then all the hubbub about “new” or “unopened” toys? My kids have a plethora of rummaged board games, some of which show serious signs of age. But we have just as much fun playing Monopoly with the hand-drawn “Park Place” card we scribbled in yellow marker over a random two of clubs, than anyone playing with the authentic printed version. Come on!

It reminds me of all the times I’ve attempted to remedy the hunger situation when I encounter it in my path. I’ve offered leftovers to people begging on the street. I’ve purchased a dozen bagels or donuts for some sign-carrying veteran asking for food. I’ve even handed over half a bag of groceries upon passing someone desperate off the freeway ramp in L.A. once. And do you know what each of those people did with my food? They threw it out. Because they didn’t want food. They wanted money, for booze or drugs or cigarettes or whatever. And yes, that soured me a bit on trying to help out. So now, I give to reputable organizations. I make tax-deductible contributions whenever I can and I try my best to ignore the sad souls who approach me and ask for aid. I’m sure it looks heartless and callous to my kids. But thrice burned…

It’s the same damn thing. People need to be encouraged to give. But to give what they can, which may not necessarily be ideal or perfect for the person they’re trying to help. People need to appreciate whatever they get. Am I the only one whose ever heard of the proverbial beggar who couldn’t be a chooser? Maybe it does make a better Christmas for a kid to get a brand new Star Wars Lego set. But when people are struggling to do that for their own kids, they’re not likely to do it for a stranger’s.

I’ve taught my children to be gracious and appreciative whenever anyone gives them anything. If they don’t like it, if they already have one, if it comes broken in two, they just smile, say thank you and offer a warm, grateful hug. Maybe we ought to consider teaching that to the myriad of non-profits out there who are only looking for perfectly packaged, officially licensed, unused goodies this Christmas.

A symmetry boggles over a snag.

I’m getting a puppy because…

I’m getting a puppy because… I’ve lost my mind.

I’m getting a puppy because…i think it’s the right thing to do.

I’m getting a puppy because…My mother never let me have one.

I’m getting a puppy because… I want my boys to learn how to take care of something.

I’m getting a puppy because… My dad would be proud.

I’m getting a puppy because… It’s breaking my 9 year old son’s heart that he doesn’t have a pet.

I’m getting a puppy because…I miss potty training.

I’m getting a puppy because… My husband really wants one.

I’m getting a puppy because… My son wants to teach somebody circus tricks and I’m too old to learn them.

I’m getting a puppy because… It completes my family.

I’m getting a puppy because… I need to pack more into my already bursting at the seams days.

I’m getting a puppy because… I’ve always wondered what if feels like to be unconditionally loved.

I’m getting a puppy because… I like to cuddle.

I’m getting a puppy because… None of my friends think I can handle it.

I’m getting a puppy because… I don’t have anyone else’s hair to brush.

I’m getting a puppy because… After two kids and a husband, I think I might finally be ready to nurture without any expectation.