I can see clearly now…

Levi sans specs

Levi sans specs

The milestones are flying by me so fast I don’t know where to look first. Bar Mitzvah, overnight camp, his own set of house keys, laptop, cell phone, the list goes on seemingly endlessly. He was a toddler like two days ago. Really. But the most recent milestone affected me more than I’d anticipated. My thirteen year old son, Levi, just got his first set of contact lenses. Now Levi’s been wearing glasses for as long as I can remember. They were unobtrusive at first. But as time went on and his quirky style began to emerge, we were able to find specs that matched his personality and charm. In fact, one of my proudest mom moments was when I bought him a pair of non-returnable, retro, tortoise-shell frames without him even being in the room. They fit him perfectly in every way. “That’s how well I know my kid,” I boasted to anyone within ear shot.

But this contact lens thing has me shaken. He looks so grown up, and so…handsome suddenly. His bright, happy face is now unobscured by frames. He’s more open, more vulnerable, more himself. Can a pair of contact lenses make someone more of themselves? Not sure. I suddenly feel the pain of losing him. I’m scared that he’s growing up too fast. He talks about driving all the time. How am I ever gonna cope with that?

I’ve always insisted that I was the type of parent who welcomed each stage of development. Not one to linger in the past or lament the “good old days,” But what happens when they do grow up? When they go away? When your life isn’t about them anymore? Then who are you? Who do you become? How do you still matter?

It’s really unfair that you go through these huge identity crisis when you’re young. You struggle to figure out who you are and how you fit into the Universe. By your mid 20s you think you’ve got it nailed down. Then by 35 you realize you weren’t even close. You settle into a comfortable routine in your 40s, meaningful work or building your family and fortune. Then suddenly your kids grow up and you have to start the whole darn process all over again. It’s daunting to say the least.

My youngest son, Eli, is in 4th grade. He’s still somewhat dependent. But his stubborn individuality reminds me daily that he too will be flying the proverbial coop just as soon as his minor status terminates. He’s in the stage where everything I do embarrasses him. I remember that stage with my parents all too well. My father used to insist on holding my hand as we crossed busy streets and my heart would crumble with shame if anyone saw us. Sure wish I could hold his hand one last time today.

I think about my father a lot, about how much he taught me and how much I miss him. In my son, Eli’s, fleeting serious moments, he begs me not to die and leave him, ever. Not sure it’s right to promise him what I surely cannot deliver. But I do so anyway. Just like my dad promised me. Life is about broken promises.

In the meantime, I find myself often tearful, lost and afraid of what the future holds. I want to protect my boys from everything and everyone. I want to be able to shield their eyes from pain and stand between them and any potential heartache. The realization that I can’t do that is what’s breaking my heart. For their lives to work, they will have to see beyond my horizon, to see for themselves. I guess the whole contact lens thing signifies something a whole lot deeper than I first imagined.

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.

Window of opportunity

Don't let the window of opportunity close!

My window of opportunity is shrinking. I can actually see the pane of glass quietly closing as I struggle to manage work, home and kid responsibilities. You see, I never actually thought this would happen; that my kids would one day become self-sufficient. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’re needing me less and less. And honestly, I’ve been dreaming of this very scenario for over a decade. But, much like the Chanukah let down of being gifted with a Dyson vacuum cleaner a few years back, this feels shockingly depressing.

Because along with not needing me as much, comes the accompanying reality that they also don’t want me that much anymore. That’s what hurts. Sure, I’m still they’re ticket to play dates, after school activities and the mall. But they can do almost everything else by themselves. Suddenly the threat of obsoleteness is overwhelming.

I do understand that this is a necessary part of growing up. My boys are separating from me. The ironic thing is that I loathed a lot of the clingy neediness that colored their early years. I felt guilty and trapped and could never seem to do or be enough for them. It was frustrating. But I guess there comes a time when we moms have to realize that individuation really will happen and it’s up to us to find new ways to interact and relate if we want to keep the connections with our kids strong and viable.

It’s not an easy adjustment. You need to be there for them emotionally, just as they’re needing you less and less for the routine, day-to-day physical tasks. That means finding new ways to have fun with them, and different techniques for connection. It also means taking what you can get whenever it’s offered.

The other day I was driving to rehearsal around 6pm. It had been a long day and I was already running behind as I endured my trek out to the Theatre in Peoria. My phone rang, and I saw that it was Levi, my 11 year old son. I flashed back to the way my dad used to answer the phone whenever I called him during the last few years of his life. No matter what pain he was battling, he always picked up the receiver with an exuberant tone and a lilt that made me feel like I’d just made his day by simply dialing his phone number.

“Hi Sweetie,” I chirped. “What’s going on?”

“I just called to talk…I was missing you,” he added.

The words felt like honey dripping into my soul. I knew the truth. That his “missing me” was more a function of the fact that our nanny had taken my younger son, Eli, to karate and Levi was likely a bit anxious about being home alone. But that didn’t matter to me at all. This was my moment of connection and I wasn’t gonna blow it. I pulled into my parking spot and noted that I could be right on time if I hurried up the steps and into the theatre immediately.

“Wanna talk?” he asked invitingly, “Or are you in the middle of something?”

“No, sweetie,” I answered. “I’ve got all the time in the world. Tell me about your day.”

We talked for 5 or 10 minutes and hung up when he felt secure enough to get back to his homework. Then I gathered my stuff and ran into the rehearsal hall.

No one even noticed my tardiness and I was thankful that I’d accepted my son’s invitation to chat instead of neurotically focusing on being a few minutes late. Because when it all comes down to it, it’s not about being on time. It’s about being where you are, when you are, with whom you are.

Wanna snuggle?


Cut it out, mom. You're embarrassing me...AGAIN!

It was shaping up to be another late night. Already 7:30 and we were barely through the first half of my nephew’s high school band concert. My youngest, Eli, was fading fast. After a full day of 2nd grade, karate, and a quick dinner on the run, it was looking like a meltdown was imminent.

“I’m bored,” he whined for the umpteenth time. The music was loud and I’d run out of ideas to keep him occupied. Of course this was the week he’d lost all electronic privileges or my iphone would’ve been the perfect distraction.

“Im bored,” he whimpered again. And then it happened. I don’t know what came over me. But I looked into his deep blue eyes and before I could muzzle the urge to speak, I heard myself say, “Wanna come sit on my lap and snuggle?”

At first he just stared at me as if I had several rotating heads, each with disco ball strobing effects. Clearly I had lost my mind. After all, he was almost 8 years old! That’s only 22 years away from 30. Snuggle? On my lap? How horrifying. I mean, what if someone saw us?

Just as I was about to save face with a broad laugh, elbow to the ribs, and an “Ah…I’m joking,” I noticed him begin to wiggle out of his seat and climb carefully into mine. OMG, it was actually happening. My big, grown-up, little man was nestling into my lap and laying his sleepy head on my chest. It was heavenly.

I tried not to move a muscle. I guess I was afraid that even the slightest shift might jar him into a reality that reminded him how utterly uncool moms were these days. But after a while, I cautiously began to stroke his hair. I even boldly pushed the envelope by gently kissing the top of his head. He didn’t run screaming out of the auditorium or even push my hand away in exasperation. In fact, I think he kind of enjoyed my soothing touch.

Now if I was the kind of person who could simply enjoy a moment like this, life would be a lot less tormented and angst-ridden. But, alas, I am cursed with the neurotic need to analyze, assess, and appraise each and every moment of my life with pain-staking scrutiny. So, as I sat there quietly, my boy near sleep in my lap, I was overcome with emotion. I tried ever so valiantly to be “in the moment,” to enjoy the experience simply for what it was. But I was all too painfully aware of how fleeting these kinds of moments were becoming, which made me try even harder to sear this loving maternal image into my memory banks.

It’s funny how we find ourselves wanting them to grow up in so many ways. We push them. We get mad at them. We want them to do for themselves. But it’s incredibly painful when we realize that that’s exactly what they’ll do — in all too short a time.

Parents of the world, unite!

I'm the one calling the shots and if you don't like it, TOUGH!

I realized something totally unfair today. When I was growing up, children were supposed to be “seen and not heard.” We did what we were told. We went where our parents decided to go. We ate whatever our mom’s made for dinner. And if we didn’t like it, we were “given something to really cry about.”

Now I’m not complaining about the past. That’s about as effective as asking the government to make slavery reparations 150 years after the fact. It’s not necessarily undeserved, but really, what’s the point?

We are on vacation in beautiful Laguna Beach, CA. My seven year-old son, Eli, around whose moods our family seems to constantly revolve, was holding us hostage and I figured out why I am so quick to explode over his maniacal tantrums and so easily irked by his capricious behavior. Because it’s not fair.

You see, I never enjoyed the position of center of the universe with my family of origin. I was a “good” girl who sat and colored when I had to go to appointments with my mother. I cleaned the shelves at my dad’s pharmacy on Saturdays when he was saddled with taking me to work with him because finding a sitter for the whole day would’ve been an outrageous expense. I fit into my parents’ lives like kids were supposed to do.

Cut to: a generation later and the whole model has been turned upside down. Nowadays it’s the parents who give up their lives for their children. The idea of a vacation that isn’t entirely kid-centered is tantamount to child abuse in most of the parent circles I inhabit.

When we were on vacation as kids, if my mom wanted to shop or spa or get her hair done, that’s what we did and we found ways to make that fun. If I even poke my head into a boutique or art gallery these days, my kids go into hissy-fit mode and start whining obnoxiously and carelessly flinging themselves around the store. It’s really not right.

Everyone deserves to be the center of the universe at some point in her life. But it’s like a genetic trait that gets passed on by skipping a generation. Our entire generation of parents got gipped on this one. Back in the day, parents ran the show. But the minute I step into the role of maternal monarch, the rug gets pulled out from under me and instead of reigning gleefully, I’m suddenly the supplicant of a couple of erratic juvenile dictators.

Where did we go wrong? And why isn’t everyone else griping about this injustice? We were slighted out of the attention we deserve and I’m not taking it lightly! No!

I want to matter!
I don’t want everything I do (or don’t do) to be centered around my children!
I want to stop pretending that I don’t have adult needs and that I wouldn’t be happier going out to dinner with my husband alone than playing one more game of “Apples to Apples” with the kids.

Come on. Parents of the world, unite! Stop cow-towing to anyone who measures 4 feet 5 and below.(and Levi, you may be taller than that, but you still count as a “kidtater.”) It’s about us from now on. Because, trust me on this one, if we don’t put some focus back on ourselves, we’re gonna end up with a bunch of self-absorbed narcissists who aren’t gonna be able to take care of themselves, the country, or the planet. And that would suck.