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Getting Out Alive

brooklyn bridge
Photo by Arthur Brognoli on Pexels.com

On September 11th 2001, I lived across the street from the World Trade Center. Right next door to the World Financial Center. When the buildings fell, they fell on my home. For many, the impact was one really awful day. For our family, it was life-altering.

We were fortunate to get out alive. My husband was buying a book in the Trade Center, and I was strolling my two babies over there when the first plane hit. We could not go home. Ever again.

We were fortunate to get out alive. We hopped on the first train up to my parents’ home in Westchester County. We were fortunate as we had someplace to go, someplace we were welcomed, and someplace that we could hopefully keep our family safe. At the time, we did not know what to expect next.

We were fortunate to get out alive. But for us, it was not business as usual. Our lives were upended. We left with the clothes on our back, two extra diapers, one sippy cup, and three bottles filled with baby formula for our six-month-old. We ran to the Gap and ShopRite to get essentials like underwear, diapers, and formula as soon as we arrived in Westchester. Our car and belongings were trapped in our Battery Park City apartment complex, in an area taken over by the National Guard as they tried to mitigate an impossible, open-ended situation.

We were fortunate to get out alive. But the only thing on television, in those ancient days before Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV, was news. The news was on 24/7. As I desperately needed the season premiere of Friends to distract me from the reality of fires, falling buildings, and hijackings, I could only watch the news.

So many things were challenging, far from easy, and not comfortable. Not to mention the added emotional stress of watching an airplane ram through a building and bodies fall out of windows to their death. But we were fortunate. And despite the permanent changes in our lives, we moved on.

Now, with a new national, global, crisis, we are once again challenged, inconvenienced, financially impacted, and, most importantly, scared for our lives. But this time, we can make the conscious choice to stop the progress of this global health pandemic. We can learn online, communicate with friends and loved ones online, and stream movies, sitcoms, and tours of museums. We must temporarily give up our events, our parties, our get-togethers, our outings. We can stay self-contained, in the comfort of our own homes, for about a month, for the good of mankind.

After it is all over, after we return to our normal activities, we will hopefully be able to say that we were fortunate to get out alive.

 

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Suburban Social Party Etiquette: The Basics

birthday wallpaper
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

The little girl in my oldest son’s preschool class didn’t want to invite everyone in the class to her birthday party. She only wanted seven of her 12 classmates at her celebration. At least that is what her mother told me when she called to invite my son.

The parents weren’t limiting the number of attendees because they couldn’t afford to have more people at the party. They weren’t throwing a mani/pedi party and limiting the party to all girls, assuming the boys just wouldn’t want to attend.

They were simply giving their four-year-old the right to make decisions. After all, it was her birthday. And that’s the perfect time to teach your child that it is alright to exclude other four-year-olds.

In 1998, the Suburban Social Etiquette Committee (SSEC) established the Suburban Committee on Pre-School Birthday Party Etiquette (SCPBPE). The SCPBPE developed general guidelines for celebrating the youngest set. Birthday parties and celebrations included your whole class (or those of the same gender). You never left one, or even three, children out. Leaving out one three-year-old was justifiably considered cruel. Pretty basic, right?

Most people followed the SCPBPE guidelines throughout early elementary school.

As the kids aged, the SSEC left decisions in the hands of parents. Birthday parties became smaller, larger, more or less diverse. Party etiquette was altered but not abandoned. Don’t leave out one person in a social circle. Don’t exclude one person from a team. Don’t discuss invitations in public.

Some kids (read parents) continued to ignore basic party etiquette. They did what they wanted without concern for anyone else’s feelings. “It’s what my kid wants.” Until it happened to them.

Then came bar mitzvah season. Parties were bigger. You invited “friendlies,” not only friends. The socially aware always reciprocated invitations. And they didn’t exclude only one person from the travel basketball team without being appropriately ostracized.

Yet, drawing the line was complicated. Once again, the SSEC took a stand and established yet another sub-committee, the Suburban Committee on Bar Mitzvah Etiquette (SCBME). Basically, the SCBME considered it acceptable to leave out anyone who was unkind to your child. Or anyone who habitually excluded your child. Or anyone who didn’t invite your child. Or anyone with whom your child had absolutely no relationship.

The guidelines included a special section to warn hosts about the parents who would still question, complain about, and email about your invitation choices….Especially complaints from the parents of the Bar Mitzvah Goy.

The Bar Mitzvah Goy never understood why he or she wasn’t invited to a particular event. He wasn’t throwing a celebration, but he was innately entitled to receive countless invitations. Even if he wasn’t friends with your child. After all, he couldn’t be left out. And when he wasn’t invited, his parents’ countless emails, calls, conversations were filled with fury. “Was Tommy invited? Ryan was left out.” Of course, the parents never mentioned that Ryan excluded the host from his last three paintball parties.

Obviously, one might ask the difference between the little girl who only wanted to invite seven of her classmates and the bar mitzvah boy who didn’t invite every child he passed in the school hallway. Excluding is excluding.

In response to continued strife, the SCBME re-convened to decipher appropriate Bar Mitzvah etiquette in 2015. The SCBME re-confirmed that you were excluding if left out only one person on a sports team or in a choral group. However, if you chose not to invite a child who repeatedly left out your child, or with whom your child had absolutely no relationship, you chose appropriately.

In 2020, the SCBME will publish their party guidelines from pre-k through college and make them available on their website – suburbansocialetiquette.com – as well as on their Facebook page. Copies will be mailed out to pre-school and mitzvah parents throughout the tri-state area.

Throughout the next decade, the SSEC hopes to firmly pin down bridal shower, engagement party, and wedding etiquette. This will hopefully ensure that people don’t think it’s socially acceptable to “forget” to invite your aunt to your fiance’s bridal shower, or to do anything else that is obviously socially egregious.

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Babies – A Short Story Excerpt

“Three boys,” Kayla said. “It’s my mother-in-law’s revenge for ripping her baby boy from her womb.”

The entire room stared down at the floor. They had asked, so Kayla responded. Honestly. Some jaws dropped, genuinely shocked and dismayed.

So many people with so many serious problems these days. Terrorism, tsunamis, the Pope just passed, and that poor bulimac woman with the feeding tube. And she was complaining about the gender of her children. Know your audience, as her mother always warned. Others were laughing to themselves with all too much empathy, feeling the same way about their boys, girls, or pet goldfish.

But Kayla had the routine down pat. It was her daily shtick. Without missing a beat, she tossed her thick, jet- black hair and added her disclaimer. “Not that I’d trade them in for 10 girls, my diamonds. But, come on.” Dreams of Lilly Pulitzer dresses and Alice in Wonderland were always dancing about in her head.

But she thought her desire was more intense. More meaningful. To whom would she leave her grandmother’s estate jewelry? With whom would she spend holidays and special occasions? With whom would she form the unbreakable bond that you can only really have with a good mother, sister, or daughter? On an even more intimate level, who would comb her hair, take her to the bathroom, and pluck her eyebrows for her when she was past the point of independence?

She always felt as if someone was missing in her life. Her stomach would hurt when she saw mothers and daughters walking the streets, arm in arm, hand in hand. Sisters chatting over lunch made her feel empty. She was desperately seeking that bond. But she was not prepared to voice those concerns out loud yet. So she settled for the basic, shallow route. Receiving the obvious response.

“That’s disgusting,” chimed in an obviously older, grey-haired woman, three months pregnant with a female twinset. “Healthy. That’s all that matters.” Kayla shook her head and rolled her eyes. But to that, most of the room chimed in, agreeing.

“Everyone wants what they want,” said a woman pregnant with triplets, gender undisclosed. Causing the older woman to interrupt.

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” she started her diatribe about how obvious it was that Kayla was just myopic and self-absorbed.

“You’re unfit to parent a caterpillar,” she huffed.

The master of ceremonies removed her thick, oversized, faux-Chanel bifocals and waved them in the air, signaling that each member was obligated to express her honest emotions. “It’s a painful, difficult process for most of us. Every couple, every person has her own reasons for starting this process,” the master noted before even introducing herself at their first meeting. “If you criticize, if you interrupt, you destroy the integrity of this support group.” The twelve steps for the fertility challenged.

Each member was assigned a seat and a number. No names during group, to protect privacy. Some faces were shockingly recognizable. The actress from that popular NBC sitcom. You’d think she’d hire a private therapist rather than exposing herself to a group of potential sycophants. Then there was the News One weatherperson. And the infamous advertising uberchick. The thinner than thin one with the really great highlights. She was always seen on Page Six. All convincing themselves that the numbers made them anonymous. All convincing themselves that they were an everywoman with fertility issues.

For 45 minutes they went around the room, taking turns detailing the trials and tribulations of achieving and maintaining a pregnancy. Number eight, the 40 year old woman in her third trimester who was told, after eight miscarriages and six years of failed in-vitro, that she’d never be able to carry a pregnancy. The slightly calmer woman, number 13, who despite gaining 55 pounds before conception from using clomid, pergonal, and finally succumbing to IVF, was past the critical first 12 weeks. Number four who was in the sixth week of her first non-ectopic pregnancy in three years. The women who were so wound up from hormonal treatments, that they would walk into the room crying and out of the room screaming at their husbands, mothers, friends, and subordinates on their cell phones.

About 30 percent of the room was childless. Many more were suffering from secondary infertility. Kayla’s left eye would twitch as she listened, often trying to block out the noise that was the other group members. The voices in her head constantly replaying her own fertility trauma. First, her doctor diagnosing the cause of her infertility. Stress. “Well you’d be stressed too if you spent the past year trying to get pregnant, and you couldn’t even get your period!” she retorted to her first of many ob/gyns. And then another round of bloods, just to make sure. This time under the watchful eye of Dalia’s super-spouse.

Her WASPiest friend Laura, pronounced Laaraa, single and five months pregnant after missing a single birth control pill, shaking her head in utter frustration and disbelief, “All you nice Jewish girls. Wanting your babies, and you can’t get pregnant to save your life.”

And her Jewish conspiracy friends who blamed the mass levels of infertile Jewish girls in their late 20’s and early 30’s on gases and chemicals released into the air throughout the Holocaust. “You know how things skip a generation,” they argued to a baffled crowd.

Kayla closed her eyes and saw herself. Lying in bed. Lying in puddles of bright red blood. Staring at sonogram machines after nine, ten, eleven weeks of pregnancy, looking at hearts that were not beating. Staring at sonogram machines after 17 weeks of pregnancy with the fetus that was not developing properly. Her doctor’s voice echoing in her head, “The fetus is not viable. The fetus will not survive more than one month outside the womb. The heart has not formed properly. There is something wrong with the lungs.” Echoing as these people were telling their own tales of childlessness.

Now it was her turn to speak, to vent to the room. So Kayla stood her ground. She was not there to pacify or protect the delicate sensibilities of infertile women. No one had done that for her the last five times that she attended these sessions. She was there to listen and to express to people who might have gone through similar experiences. Because her closest friends didn’t get it at all. And her husband just wanted her to appreciate what she had. “Whatever is meant to be will be,” he mandated, like the voice of an 80-year-old rabbi.

So here she sat, attempting to justify her desperate yearning for number four. To justify a fourth round of hormones, needles, and outpatient surgical procedures. She knew that she was amongst the lucky ones. If not the luckiest. Three diamonds. In the rough. How could she complain? How could she still shed tears every time Hall and Oates’s “Sara Smile” came on the radio? Or bitterly rue her friends with girls as they complained about the “incessant whining” they endured. And with a full house now, how could she even contemplate the emptiness of her home after three boys escaped to college in 10, 15 years? Yet she came back to the room one more time. Because someone was still missing. “So why on earth are you here?” the master finally asked, with the emphasis on “are.”

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Snow Days and Lessons Learned from Ferris Bueller

At a certain point in your parenting experience, you stop dreading snow days. You no longer have to spend every snow day entertaining your children with sledding, art projects, and your very own circus acts. Instead, you relish in the opportunity to have everyone hang around in their pajamas, eat a leisurely 10am waffle breakfast, play a round or three of checkers, and cuddle on the couch watching a movie.

 

I am finally there. And today was the first snow day of the rest of my life. After being unceremoniously awakened by our superintendent at 5:45am, I went back to sleep with no concern about waking up for the children.  They could entertain themselves for a bit.

 

Until they couldn’t.  So around nine this morning, my two younger children and I cuddled up on the couch to watch some John Hughes. Mind you, there was initially some pushback.  To my new millennium hotshots, anything from the 1980’s should be on Turner Classic Movies. They vetoed the 1983 classic Broderick film Wargames.  Then I was met with a harsh “you’re out of your mind” when I suggested Adventures in Babysitting. I finally convinced them that they could not possibly live without watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

 

With hot chocolate in hand, I pressed play. And my children are now obsessed. In a good way. With the one and only Ferris Bueller. Yes, Ferris is, sometimes inappropriate, fun. And the superficial message is that you can get away with cutting school, stealing cars, impersonating sausage kings….Yet, like so many other things in our lives, Ferris provides multiple teaching moments.

 

My 11-year-old asked if Ferris was particularly intelligent as he was able to outsmart so many clueless adults. Ferris, I explained, is cunning. He achieved his objective by deceiving others, and this is not a positive way to behave. Yet, you do have to credit Ferris for wanting to have a good time, for living in the moment, and for enjoying his life. So my 11-year-old fully understands that I value those things as well.

 

My nine-year-old wanted to understand why Jane was so angry with Ferris, which was particularly interesting since he is always jealous when his brothers get away with anything. He thought she was a total downer and mean to her brother.  But he was happy that in the end, she had her brother’s back and protected him from Mr. Rooney.  Yes, one more opportunity to stress the importance of standing by your brothers.

 

My 11-year-old went deep. He didn’t understand why Cameron is so scared and depressed all the time. Was it because his parents would be angry that he skipped school and stole the fancy car? Or was he scared that he would get hurt or lost? Did Cameron’s parents care about him? I explained that, like him, Cameron liked to follow the rules carefully and was particularly wary of the consequences of breaking rules. Plus, parents and children have different relationships, and sometimes children do not appreciate their parents’ decisions and rules. With Cameron, it was less about love than it was about attention, understanding, and the ability to relate to your teenager.

 

And of course, both of my boys wanted to know whether they could take days off from school without being sick. Hmmm…a tough one, as everyone needs a break now and then. So I explained that sometimes you need a mental health day. And that is what makes the occasional snow day so perfect.

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The Little Label

The first time my sister-in-law met me, she described me as “little.” Given that I am nearly a decade younger than her and about one-third her size, I didn’t think much about her comment at the time.

Now, 20-something years later, I suddenly re-visited that long-forgotten description.

We have endured almost two years of condescending comments from the current President of the United States about “Little Marco,” “Liddle Bob Corker,” and “Little Adam Schiff.” Using the word “little” to describe someone is not a compliment. It demeaning and deliberate, often used to diminish someone’s importance and to place a person in a negative light.

That is certainly what Trump tries to do with this term. He considered Senator Rubio a lightweight and Rep. Schiff a low level government employee. He wants to weaken their importance, simultaneously making himself appear larger than life. The scary thing is that enough people bought into his absurd, blatantly mean characterizations to get him elected to the office of the President of the United States.

Trump is not the only person to use this term in a derogatory manner.

Teenage boys will often refer to their shorter counterparts as “little,” making sure that they put them in their place. It’s a solid method of teenage control. Imagine being the best basketball player, even though you are four inches shorter than everyone else on the court. Imagine your teammates talking about your height incessantly. It’s an easy mind game to make kids feel inferior, and most kids have to be exceptionally tough and confident to overcome this scrutiny.

I’ve seen eighth grade girls look down at fifth grade girls and say, “Aawww, you’re so little!” in a superficially affectionate tone. This is not endearing. Sixth grade girls are not looking to be patronized by older, potentially intimidating girls. Many people remember thinking that they were older or more sophisticated than their age. Calling someone “little” is simply designed to undercut people’s self-esteem.

Maybe part of this is society’s over-sensitivity to everything; political correctness taken to an extreme. Yet, in the current world climate, we are expected to watch our words. To speak more deliberately, carefully, and kindly than ever before. Calling a female “silly” or “crazy,” or referring to anyone as a “snowflake,” is already considered inappropriate. Referring to any person over 18 as “cute” was always condescending. Now “little” can be added to the inappropriate descriptions list. Because using the word “little” to describe another person is clearly meant to weaken them, to diminish their worth. And that is not okay.

In the end, I can easily be the bigger person and say that this description is meaningless. Yet, we all know that words can alter perceptions. So beware of the “little” label.

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In the Blink of an Eye

There are days that I still think that I am 22.  Really.  Maybe it is the delusion of old age.  Maybe it is emotional survival.  Maybe it is that everything after 22 happened in the blink of an eye. And then there is today.

Today, my college roommates messaged me to reminisce about the olden days in our decrepit dorm. We talked about boys who are now men. Inside jokes that still make us chuckle. Familiar places that no longer exist. Parties at which we lingered until dawn. People whom we no longer know, some of whom are no longer with us. At the time, every moment seemed incredibly important, utterly vital to our everyday existence. Yet it was all so incredibly fleeting, and now these moments are simply memories. Mostly fond memories with people who will mostly hold a special place in our hearts.

And then it hit me. My child will be leaving my home in about a year. I will have a child who is around that age. I cannot be that age, because I will have a child who will be leaving our home and starting a new life without me, without his father, without his brothers. A life that will consume him, a life that could take priority over his life in our home.

And then it hit me. My child will move into a dorm room and meet people who will have some sort of, hopefully positive, imprint on his life. A child who will be meeting people with whom he will forever share the bond of college. He will visit new places, make new memories without us, and start his separate life.

And then it hit me. Twenty some odd years from now, he will communicate with his college roommates and reminisce about familiar people, places, and events. He will try and recall names and places.  Events that were too important to miss at the time. He will be my age.  And I am no longer 22.

And then it hit me. Life happened faster than I anticipated. I no longer have four little boys running about my house. My baby, my firstborn, is almost an adult. So everything has a greater sense of urgency for me. As I put off doing anything until tomorrow, tomorrow quickly became a memory. And as much as I enjoy reminiscing about those fun yet fleeting college days, I beg to savor these days. This last year or so as a complete family unit.

Today, I was forced to remember that I am not 22 anymore. Not in a bad way. So many good things happened after 22. So many events that were truly vital to my growth, to my life, to my inherent happiness. Starting with my family and including this child who will be 22 in the blink of an eye.

growing up

FOGO: Fear of Getting Older

My family and friends will be shocked when I tell you that I don’t really enjoy my birthday. I always use the excuse that it is overshadowed by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and National Cheesesteak Day. But the truth is, I just don’t like getting older.

I know, I know. No one likes getting older, and the alternative is even less appealing. Whatever. It’s all a justification. My body aches, I’m not as physically strong as I used to be, and I tire more easily. Getting older stinks. And eventually, I am going to be faced with that less appealing alternative.

For me, this was not a middle aged revelation. This was something about which I thought when I was as young as 16. My mother will tell you that is because I had such a wonderful childhood with the best parents in the world. She is somewhat right. More importantly, that is a line that I now throw at my almost 15-year-old.

In our home, we make birthdays a big deal for the boys. They get more than a day, as they are guaranteed a birthday weekend, and a few of them are known to take advantage of our celebratory nature and stretch birthday celebrations out for an entire week. They get tickets to sporting events, meals in their favorite restaurants, large family gatherings, and parties. Many parties. Yet, like me, my child who is about to turn 15 does not want to get older.

He claims to have a litany of reasons for hating his birthday. Yet ultimately, like me, he does not want to get older. He likes the minimal responsibility and good time that comes with being a child. He does not want his life to rush past him because there is never enough time to enjoy every experience. And he doesn’t want anyone around him to get so old that they are faced with the not at all appealing alternative of death.

Of course, as his parent, I am obligated to make him feel better about growing up. I talk to him about all that he has yet to experience. I tell him that the happiest time in my life is when I had my own babies. I tell him that one of the happiest times in my parents’ lives was when their grandchildren were born. We talk about all that he hopes to accomplish in life.

But he doesn’t buy any of my shtick anymore than I do. He rolls up into a ball, asking me to cuddle him. And I know that I don’t want him, or his brothers, to get any older either. I want to freeze them in these moments. So I am trying to invent a time-freeze machine. That will alleviate all of our anxieties.