Tag Archives: daughter

Change of life part two; one dad’s perspective

N is just about done with her first week in Bilbao, Spain.  I can’t tell exactly how it’s going– but we adults seem to want to categorize things simply and I think it’s complicated.  She’s really sick with either allergies or a sinus infection– I can’t really tell what’s going on exactly, but I can tell she feels kind of lousy but not so lousy that she stops doing all the stuff they are doing each day.  When I see the photos that come through she seems like she is really enjoying herself.  But also on one night mid-week she texted me– very early in the morning in Spain– too early to be awake– and said, “I feel so, so bad, Mama.  Can I come home now?”  So, I think it’s both, a great and awesome trip and a trip that is hard and challenging in different ways.  I get confused, but I am moving toward understanding that it may be hard, but it is not too hard for her to handle.  She doesn’t need someone to rescue her, but it’s good she can show me that it’s very hard some of the time.  

Just two weeks ago, we spent much of the day at the Shabbat service marking the Bat Mitzvah of a friend of my daughter.  Another Jewish girl of color, a girl we knew from the park, from preschool days, and then the two girls were in elementary school together until my daughter’s friend went on, as did a number of N’s friends, to a different middle school.  

I forgot (I really did) as we walked into the synagogue, that my daughter is older now and wouldn’t sit with us, but would join her many friends in the synagogue. So M and I sat together in the service, holding hands some of the time, and M cried openly through a lot of it.  I think she was crying about the passage of time, growing-up daughters and I don’t know exactly what else.  

At the party that night– a nice dinner and a rockin, rockin dance party– we sat with a dad– Jim– whose daughter is still in middle school with mine.  His wife was home with a bad back.  I’ve always been a little intimidated by him.  He is a very progressive US Representative from a small-to-mid-size, very working-class city on the east coast.  He told me that until he was elected he had lived in the same district, same precinct his whole life. He doesn’t come off as a really a big-city, cosmopolitan kind of guy, which I really like about him.  I’ve hardly ever talked with him at all.   He is as unpretentious and good-hearted a person as you could ever hope to sit next to at a dinner party and it was great talking with him.  He’s extremely low-key and most things come out in about the same tone regardless of what he’s saying.  

At some point he told me how lucky he feels that he doesn’t just love his daughter, but he really, really likes her– thinks she’s great and fun to be around and great to play with and talk to.  She struggles with reading and academics in school, I think.  In the 4th grade, she discovered, and we all found out, she is an awesome basketball player. She had a great coach– my partner, M– and she’s all about basketball these days.  

Anyway, at a certain point in the conversation I said– something about the hard time I am having getting my mind around and adjusting to all these changes– to the fact that these girls, recently little girls, seem so grown up now and getting more so week by week.  I didn’t want to be perceived as overly sentimental or as a mother who cannot let go.  So I threw in, “I know kids have been growing up for thousands and thousands of years….” and I was ready to follow it with something– that I now cannot remember.     But Jim interrupted me in the most animated and booming voice and cut me off.  He said, “Yeah, but not our kids, not our kids– our kids have never grown up before“.  Enough said.

Change of life

I don’t mean the euphemism for menopause. But I am very much in the midst of a change of life—actually several changes. I will experiment with trying to write some different posts around this change of life theme in the coming days.

A few teasers are: My daughter (age 12) is, this very morning, in Bilbao, Spain on the second half of an exchange program with her middle school. She chose to take on the project of making such a big trip (and she really did make a big internal decision about this trip that her moms had nothing to do with). Now, for the first time since we brought our baby home, we find ourselves in the house with her away for two weeks. I am thinking about things I wanted her to know about, things I wanted her to know how to do before she went off on her own, and how we found times to talk about those things. All of this, time without her at home, working to get her ready to do something big without us– all a big change of life for me, and for M and me. Last night and today I am taking a deep, internal breath and reflecting on her strengths, her ability to form deep connections with people, her smarts and good common sense, her generosity and clarity about certain things. All this leaves me incredibly proud of her, fairly secure that she will be ok, and ready for her to do this. All that is a big change of life.

This Bilbao adventure has involved three parts that I know of, and there will surely be at least a fourth– the aftermath, but that’s for later. Part One, was my daughter’s decision to go, and all the collective work of the young people, parents, and school administration to plan and fundraise for a big trip that is not managed by an international travel company—it is managed by us parents. Part Two, was our Bilbao “daughter’s” trip here along with the rest of the Bilbao kids and chaperones and our many adventures in large and small groups with them. I loved that part and was more profoundly affected by it than I ever anticipated. So I have meant, for nearly two months, to finish some writing about parts one and two of the Bilbao adventure—the months and weeks leading up to, and the two weeks our Bilbao “daughter” was here all of which were eventful and rich with feeling and insights. But now I will skip to part three–what is happening yesterday and today and tomorrow– my daughter, N, in Bilbao.

Another teaser for another post in the Change of Life series. As you may or may not know or remember, I work for a state-level elected official. I work for a state-level elected official in a jurisdiction that is so Blue that the election is, in most races, over when the outcome of the Democratic primary has been determined. And in April, my boss, after four terms in office, and in a huge surprise upset, lost the Democratic primary. So I will be out of a job come December. Since the election, the fact that this job will end has felt like liberation, a very good thing. As my feelings and struggles about what I want or wanted from my career continue to evolve, I face this change as a definite, immovable next chance to figure out some important things about me, and work, and what I love and value. It is a chance to maybe do something closer to exactly what I want.

That’s the brief update, and those are the teasers. Being the parent of an internationally traveling young person who is still, (happily, for us) extremely connected to her moms, is like this. You help pack her things and take a deep breath and cry sometime—like before or after or at the airport—and give a some big hugs and send your big girl off. Then, in this magical era of texts and phones that take amazing photos and Skype and Facetime, you live like the parent of an infant but with less control. You should sleep and work when you can, because you will not sleep through the night and you will no longer be able to do anything without interruption. We got a Skype call at 1:00 a.m. (EST) when she landed for a layover in Paris and a series of dinging, ringing alerts at about 6:00 a.m. when the first parent learned that they landed safely in Bilbao and we all started writing each other and sharing photos that had been texted to us. And as I drove, late to work at about 9:00 a.m. here, the Skype call I’d been waiting for came in. N– safe and sound in a bedroom far, far away with her Bilbao “sister/ friend”, A. There they both were, together.

One last thought for now. Here’s the start and end point for me about the stunning fact of very tiny babies you once held in your arms, growing up. She is wearing a pink tie dye tee shirt she absconded with from me. A tee shirt I bought at our first trip out of our hotel, in El Paso, Texas, where she was born, to Target, when she was 12 days old and under 7 lbs. It looks awesome on her.

That is my first installment on Change of Life. Photos of travelers below but I loaded them in reverse order– Look first at the Air France desk where we checked in yesterday, next see N. sitting around the airport with her fellow middle-school travelers and parents and teachers milling around photographing the young people. Finally daughter N., and one of her best friends, Y.,– seated together on plane. And the text messaging began.




Brave and braver

Today is nephew, Izzy’s 21st birthday. The boy whose birth I was at who I was with at 24 hours old while a snowstorm blew threw Chicago, outside the hospital room. Not a little boy anymore, he is far away in Israel. Happy Birthday, Izzy.  

My world is a little topsy turvy. My sister is in a city an hour away for a retreat on the subject of white Jews (no we are not all white by a longshot) ending racism. I was supposed to be there with her– but a large last-minute work assignment kept me from going.  I drove for about four hours Friday picked up sister J at the airport in the city an hour north of here, hugged and laughed in the car while we drove to the retreat site, stopped and had dinner with her, then drove the hour and a half home to work on the legislation I’ve been tasked with drafting. I got to be with another of my oldest, closest, most precious Jewish woman friends who stayed here overnight on Thursday, on her way to the same retreat.   So two of my loves are close but just out of reach.

My daughter is going through so many changes– and she also feels close, but at times just out of reach. She and I have been at teenage-daughter/mother-of-teenage-daughter odds– Jewish female style to be sure. Criticize, criticize, criticize. We are both quick to anger these days. I cannot quite get my bearings in this new phase where I am so disappointed in and mad at myself when I am less than generous with her. And I find myself so easily acting angry and upset with her. Saying things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t like either feeling. I miss her snuggling up to me, wanting me by coming close. But this is territory where things get confusing. She wants me by throwing her anger and frustrations and fears at me, full force. Actually she did this all along, as all babies, toddlers, and young ones do, but it gets you so much more confused when they look and sound more like adults. And I slip and take the bait often and throw my own hard feelings right back at her.

What I know is that it’s a cool and beautiful, vibrant and interesting and also sometimes-scary world out there. I know that she is bravely stepping out further than ever before. You have to be brave to be a teenage girl of color. And you have to be brave to be the mom of a teenage girl of color. So here’s to brave and braver which is what we both have to be.

Here are three more videos–right on topic. Two by the singer songwriter-herself– Sarah Bareilles. The first is the funny, produced, quirky music video and the second is the singer, just herself and her piano and a big audience– live and honest.

And the other, my Jewish boys– the Maccabeats. Their version is great and touching and funny. But this time I think the girl/ woman/ singer-songwriter wins. If there ever was a contest to begin with which there really wasn’t.

Sarah Bareilles– live

And the Maccabeats–silly, awesome, Jewish guys who love to sing.

Three. And happy birthday to you, girlfriend.

1. Three years ago today, on the Jewish calendar, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah and read from Chayei Sarah, today’s Torah portion. I was already in my 50’s. Today, three years later, I went with my own daughter to what I am calling our kick-off of her 7th grade religious school class Bar and Bat Mitzvah year. It was our kick-off because the Bat Mitzvah today wasn’t the first of her class, but the first she was invited to and attended– and we will have many others in the coming months. It was especially meaningful because the Bat Mitzvah girl today, who I like so much, read the same Torah portion I did. She a girl with a disability who read Torah and led the service beautifully, whose father cried when he spoke to her from the bima and who spoke very eloquently about the meaning she found in the Torah portion. It is the 3rd anniversary of my own Bat Mitzvah, and one year ahead on the Jewish calendar– will be my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She was reluctant to agree to a Bat Mitzvah, but decided she would do it when we told her she could choose to do the Torah portion I had done, parts of which she can chant already. Three Jewish women, three different Bat Mitzvahs. I cried quite a bit during our young friend’s Bat Mitzvah today and I had the feeling that was just the kick-off on that too– that I will cry more and more as my daughter gets closer and closer to her own Bat Mitzvah day.

2. My mother-in-law is 88 years old. She’ll be 89 next week. She has lost a son (my partner’s very beloved brother) and a husband in the past eight years. She is a devout Catholic and I love her though mostly we haven’t been especially close for the roughly 25 years her daughter has been my partner, my sweetheart. She is an important woman in my life and I admire how she has carried on in the face of such hard losses, particularly the loss of her son. Her understandings of the bigger world and in particular of me, as a Jewish woman, are limited–at least to my way of thinking. But something else I admire about her is the fact that she is a devout Catholic. Her devotion and Catholicism and her grit have carried her through and I admire her steadfastness. On September 2, this year she was living alone in her home, still driving, cooking, seeing friends, calling us on the phone, going to church and watching a lot of football. On September 3, she fell and broke her hip, and things got much more complicated.

My sweetheart, M., is a devoted daughter. When her mother broke her hip we agreed– she shouldn’t wait, she should go, like on the next plane. She has been back to her hometown three times in seven weeks and has seen her mom through partial hip replacement, a slow recuperation that involved a long stretch of struggle to regain her mind after anesthesia, physical therapy that is still ongoing to regain the ability to stand and walk and do things like go to the bathroom and get dressed. She has been in a rehabilitation facilty and then a move, given the crappiness of the options for older people, and her strong desire to stay in her hometown, to a nursing home. So far, she has not gone home since she fell (she was walking back to her house on a fall morning after being across the street with her neighbor) and I don’t know that she will ever go back home. Her fall and what has followed has shaken me up. Thinking about her, about my own mother who will be 82 this weekend, about what those later years will be like for us– for me and for my partner and for my sister and other women I love–it’s, well, unsettling.

It is a shake up that has moved me in a positive direction. I am reminded in a good way that life is not forever and it makes sense to look at the goodness around me every day. I have found a new/ old tenderness for my partner, and certain things that we have fought about over many years have dissolved into non-fighting, something closer, and with more laughter. I feel tenderly toward other people I love, and I have had four exceptionally close and beautiful fall weekends– just me and my daughter– three while my partner was away. Then we had one Girl Scout camping trip in the mountains tossed in there– another gorgeous fall weekend. In the midst of her mother’s struggles, M.got the news of a potentially difficult health matter of her own, but the recent good news on that front is another reason to be grateful and I am. Grateful.

3. I have an old friend. To say “old friend” doesn’t even begin to describe the relationship or the significance of her friendship in my life, but there are no other better, more specific words, really, to describe her, other than an old friend. Today is her birthday. We met a very long time ago (more than 30 years) as very young women in our early 20’s. We met in Israel and her love, her enthusiasm for me, her loyalty and humor and generosity toward me has always meant the world to me. She has loved me so well and so much for all these years, despite the fact that in our 20’s something happened between us that was, on my part, one of my life’s larger breaks with my own integrity. I have apologized over the years but I haven’t completely forgiven myself. It is my good fortune that over time she seems to have forgiven me and has remained one of my deepest friends. We are both lucky Jewish women to have each other’s friendship and sisterhood.

There are great things about being in your 50’s, one of which is that having a friendship of this duration, and having been through a lot together– means this is unmistakably a friendship that will last for as long as we are on the planet. She is a wonderful woman, warm and generous and funny. Our lives in the past 12 years have been further cemented because by some astounding miracle, after we both tried to get pregnant and I didn’t and she did– and then after my partner’s and my lengthy adoption process, we had two beautiful children. She with her partner and me with M. Her son and my daughter were born three weeks and a day apart and the two are now themselves, very close. They call each other cousins.

She has her flaws, and I hope she will see both the truth and the tongue and cheek humor of this but one of those is simply that she doesn’t make enough time to see me, and she is too often in a hurry and we don’t talk– like really talk– enough. (I don’t make enough time to see her either, and I barely have time to talk, really, talk, but somehow, in my mind, that whole thing is her fault– why is that?). In any case, here we are in our 50’s with our 12 year olds, and again I feel grateful, very. Happy, happy, happy birthday, D.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…

I’ve been occupied with trying to address, sometimes elegantly and often less elegantly, several unrelated issues that have cropped up in my daughter’s life at her public school and at religious school. A career of mostly public interest law advocating for people living with HIV, gay men and people living with the effects of poverty, immigrants and people with disabilities– for much of my adult working life has only barely prepared me for the advocacy I’ve needed to pull off as a parent. My parental advocacy has been much harder for me, more fraught and brought only mixed results– because of course the solutions to most of the tough things aren’t really individual solutions– the solutions would require much deeper reorganization of priorities and ways of doing things. But I digress. Things come up that need to be responded to now, or often yesterday– whether I have the time and slack to deal with a particular issue or not. And I get upset—really upset about some things which only makes the job more complicated.

There’s something unfolding at my daughter’s school right now. My close friends (mostly, but not all women, some parents, some not) in whom I confide these things— seem to fall into two camps—some are outraged themselves or laugh hysterically or shout or curse along with me about the stupidities, indignities or mistakes toward our children— the things that get under my skin. Sometimes friends listen and get very quiet in that way that lets you know that they think you are off base but they aren’t going to cross you.

Here’s the issue du jour. If I sound a bit defensive, well, I’ll be honest, I am. I am still not certain that there is any consensus on sexism as a real thing or that there is any agreement that certain “small” things—have a profound effect and matter. I think this issue really is a great big deal and I think internalized sexism has something to do with all the ways I second guess myself.

My daughter played on a girls’ school volleyball team last year and joined the team again this year. It’s a big deal for her to play. She isn’t driven to play sports and her skills are such that she doesn’t get a ton of accolades. I remember when she was a toddler and woke up wanting nothing more than to play actively at our park. Every day. She would wake us and ask to go to the park starting at 6 a.m. and once we got there (at 8:00 if she was lucky, for a toddler this was like a month from when she had started asking) she didn’t want to stop playing. I can’t ever remember a time in those days, when she initiated our leaving and coming home.

When my partner and I both went back to regular jobs our parental limits caused us to offer her the cartoon “Caillou” in the mornings when she was about 2—so we could get ready for work—and therein we, ourselves, offered up an addiction to sitting in front of a television rather than getting outside and running and climbing. Huge mistake. I have cursed myself ever since.

We kept her in a preschool that kept all the young people very active for as long as we could, but then kindergarten and ensuing years of being forced to sit for so damn long took care of the rest. She isn’t as driven to be active and we have had to push her to join a team. There was a two-year basketball career—with her other mom, M, coaching (M still coaches the 4th and 5th grade girls teams) but the male coach of the middle school girls team was harsh in such a way that she lost interest. Then she joined the volleyball team. These are middle school girls. Some/ many have never played volleyball before.

Our school’s teams—basketball, cross-country and others have had a firm and unquestioned policy since the inception of the middle school program—a policy of welcoming every young person who signs up for the team and shows up to practice. There have never been tryouts. They’re all on the team. M has coached basketball teams of 25 with skills ranging from unbelievable to learning to dribble a ball. This year, there’s a new volleyball coach who is perhaps rather old school. I’ve not met her. My daughter started making noises that some girls would get cut from the team a few weeks ago. Then M’s 89 year old mother fell and broke her hip and M left town (twice) and we didn’t investigate. (M’s mother’s health is a major thing happening in our family, which deserves more attention than I offer here.)

Two Friday afternoons ago we parents and the girls themselves got an email saying that the volleyball team is too big. They would be dividing the team of 25 middle school girls into two groups. Fifteen would be designated “Varsity” and 10 would be designated “Junior Varsity”. I was not pleased but ok, whatever. But the email went on. The Junior Varsity team, it said, will only be allowed to participate in one of the three team practices a week and will not be permitted to play at all.

I have absolutely no first-hand experience being on any Varsity or Junior Varsity team ever in my life (and for this reason precisely, I have wanted my daughter to have something better). But I know enough to say– this isn’t the definition of any Junior Varsity team. This is a dishonest name for something else called being removed from the team. For the record, it was unclear to me at that point whether my own daughter would be designated Varsity or Junior Varsity and whether, if designated Junior Varsity, she would care. But I knew this was very wrong, regardless of the outcome for my own daughter.

As a woman in my 50s who didn’t play sports for a number of reasons, and has struggled to stay fit and to stay active, (and I am still fighting but far from winning) I have a certain kind of expertise. Here’s what I know. This is 2013. Title 9 passed a long time ago. Girls and boys should all participate in being active and should be part of sports at their schools and elsewhere. This should happen more and more and more not less and less. Girls, in particular, still need to be part of organized teams and groups to stay active.

In 22 years in my neighborhood with a nice, safe park a block away, I have walked through the park and seen boys and men playing pick-up basketball thousands of times. I have literally never seen a group of girls out playing. Grown women suffer heart disease at very high rates. It’s still tough for us females to stay active and to push our bodies hard. As a young female, especially if you’re not exceptionally talented, it’s easy to give up. Most everything still pulls many of us females, to give up on being active. Exercise, the habit and enjoyment of it matters. Not giving up matters. You know all this.

Being outraged about the composition of a sports team, for those of you who know me well, is perhaps the last thing you’d expect of me—but here I am. The more I reflected on this particular decision, the more, not less, outrageous it seemed. The more I reflect on a lot of things involving my daughter and her friends, the more I realize that it’s the seemingly little things that get you. There are things that to many of us would not be even really recognizable as sexism or racism that become the turning point (for the worse) in the lives of young people. I think these “minor” issues, the ones where we all settle for things being just kind of crummy or sort of unfair are often the places where the trajectory is set.

It’s almost 100% true that when I listen to adult women talk about when they gave up on something important, something that set them in a tough direction for the rest of their lives, it was always a small moment like this. The good coach left and they never played again. They played something for a couple years and then the team got competitive and someone said something crummy and they never played again… you get the picture. Since we don’t live in an open, legal apartheid system, it is almost always, 100% a moment like this when the sexism (or racism or some other ism) takes hold and no one has to oppress you anymore, you just do the dirty work of limiting yourself and your options all on your own.

Anyway, I kicked off a lot of drama-rama in the past few days—with a private email from me to the (generally wonderful and dedicated woman who is the athletic director) and to the school principal. I used dreaded words like—sexism. I also sent the email to three of the other moms who I trust as allies. My daughter learned that she was on the Jr. Varsity team and cried a very little bit. She was so disappointed but also clear-headed. She ranted with a certain deep logic. She said, why would the girls who have the least skills get less practice? We should get to practice four times a week!

There have been other not private emails from three other parents—one of whom has a child who the mother described as having been overweight and bullied for this for much of her school life. The mother says she has been witnessing a miraculous transformation in her daughter’s desire and will to be active and to work hard– after someone (well, ahem, the someone is my own daughter) relentlessly encouraged her to join the volleyball team and encouraged her that it was a fine place to be and to learn—regardless of skill and that other girls would help and support you there. She said she felt fearful that if the message is that trying hard and being willing to work isn’t, indeed, enough– that her daughter would never take a risk to put herself out there to be active, again.

There was a difficult email from a parent whose daughter is a very accomplished athlete —who basically said we should all stop our complaining. And there was the letter of a mom who I’ve always liked a lot and who doesn’t mince words saying, this is a horrible decision and it sends a terrible message. The message is—the most important thing is winning. There have been many conversations, private and public about the wisdom, fairness, dangers or lack thereof, of this decision. A predictable, ok, and semi-crummy compromise has been reached. The athletic director and a father whose daughter is on the varsity team will coach a Friday practice for the jr. varsity once a week and my own dear M (with help from the mom whose daughter took the big risk to play) will coach a Wednesday practice.

And all of this is just the roughest outline of all that has happened and says nothing of the emotional roller coaster I rode for several days. I am learning and re-learning a lot, but there are a few things that I need to hold on to. One is that when 25 girls ages 11-13 want to play together and they say there is only room for 15 of them– sexism is alive and well and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I call on the phrase that I learned a long, long time ago—if you were a feminist of my era. “The personal is political” and what happens to one small girls’ sports team is not trivial because this is real life for those girls.

There’s no place else to go, nothing else but what happens in school and on the playground this year and the next and the next after that. These really are the things that shape their lives and their hopes and their sense of what is possible or impossible. These are also the things that shape their bodies and their health and their heart disease or diabetes or osteoporosis or lack thereof in the years ahead. For me there are many contradictions, one of which is that it is always hard to get myself to the gym and the recent angsting and writing of all these letters and emails was just one more time when I got too busy to go. But now my daughter has a Wednesday and Friday practice again—so maybe I should make a date with myself and go work up a sweat.

My beautiful girl; Last day of summer vacation at our friends’ new farm, first day if 7th grade

I am full/overflowing with emotion as this slower summertime schedule comes to an end and we get ready for the school year. As I write, right now, my daughter makes her way through her first day of school. She has been especially brave this past week and a half. Last year four of her closest girlfriends– friends since before kindergarten– chose to leave for a different middle school. She was sad and upset, but when asked was absolutely clear that she wanted to stay at her school. By the time last summer rolled around she had jumped in and gotten very close– best friends close– to a girl she has known since kindergarten. Then a week ago Saturday after almost two weeks away she called her friend, A, as we were leaving Lassen Volcanic Park, and A told her that she is not returning to their school. At the last minute her mom and she had made the decision for her to go to a different school.

I know N was heartbroken and also felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her– the two girls talked a lot last year about going to the same high school and to college together. But I heard her saying into the phone to her friend– “The main thing is I want you to be happy.” I don’t completely feel that way (not that I don’t want A to be happy, and I’m not mad about it, but I can tell my heart is not as open and generous as my daughter’s is)– and she is way too transparent and not shut down enough to think or say such a thing without really meaning it. I cried a little to myself for her– I was sheltered in the back seat of the car as she sat in the front and had this conversation. But here she is– gorgeous, big, growing up and brave.



Longest. Absence. Yet. and a plan

So with these long gaps, I am pulled, each time to write about not writing. Why I didn’t, what pulled me back, what I wanted to write about but didn’t. I’ll resist (mostly) except to say working in the job I have and the guilt I feel about the parenting time spent unavailable, working, or distracted or exhausted and the reality of the things that are at the top of my list with any free time– have all kicked my butt for some time now. And they’ve kicked it every time I sit down to blog here.

The very good news is that our household feels like it is going through sea changes– all good sea changes, but sea changes. (I’ll be less vague soon, but no one is breaking up, no new child on the horizon, just changes in our thinking and approach to some important things– and one new housemember to be discussed in the next paragraph.) I am developing a picture in my mind of not despair, but of what I really want my working life to look like and how to get there– several different paths. My partner and I are both thinking hard about what we want to be doing with this precious time we have in our lives, with daughter and with each other. My daughter turned 12 and with it is an amazing set of changes. With her growth, among other things, I am a stronger and stronger advocate for her at school and elsewhere too– less reluctant, less urgent, more relaxed and more determined to open my mouth and say it as I see it.

My older nephew has come to live with us for the summer which we all love. For me it is like one kind of dream come true. It’s just what he is doing with his life, but for me– I still remember vividly the night I spent in the hospital with him and his mom (my sister) the night after he was born. His dad had developed a terrible cold and called me to come stay overnight at the hospital. And I remember holding this little newborn boy– the start of a relationship unlike any I had ever had– and loving him and thinking “I am already closer to this boy than I have been to my aunts or uncles in my entire life! I will see to it that it continues this way.” And so to have him with us, besides being lively and interesting and fun– is a reminder that I have the power to set up many things in my life exactly as I always wanted– that the history, the limits of the people who went before me do not always have to define what is possible for me.

On blogging, I will say, I miss writing and love to write– so I have a plan to blog once every week until September and maybe even twice. If you’ve stopped visiting, come back. And cheer me on. Stay tuned.

Almost 12. Already.

at the end of 11 years old.

at the end of 11 years old.

At the end of 11 years old part two.

At the end of 11 years old part two.

Next week, well, to be precise, in just a few days, my daughter turns 12. I am, as I always am around this time of year, a puddle of feelings. Friday is, unbelievably, the 10th anniversary of my father’s death– a loss that seems very long ago and still fresh and not quite believable to me.

Last year, right after my daughter turned 11, I wrote that 11 was going to be a big year. And I was right, it has been a big year in outward ways that signal bigger kinds of changes too. My daughter grew tall and filled out. She is now taller than D, her former babysitter and our close friend. She is tall as or taller than my partner, taller than most other girls in her class. For this particular daughter– as a girl in an urban setting with her own particular interests and strengths and struggles and understandings of the world, 11 has held many milestones besides height. She is different and consequently I have shifted and am still shifting and adjusting my expectations and my understanding of who my daughter is. Not as a person really, but as a person in the developmental scheme of things.

Over this past year she became not only willing but sometimes anxious to run out of the car while I double parked to pick up something from the store, the dry cleaners, carry out food, etc. Last summer she and her friend made lemonade and baked cookies and collected a small TV table and some folding chairs as well as her working toy cash register– and went out on one of the most oppressively hot days of the year and set up a lemonde stand/ mini-bakery. Without my partner or me. She and a particular friend of hers have loved going the two blocks to play, without an adult in tow, at the toddler park that she practically grew up in. We have some rules related to safety and she carries a cell phone, but she plays in that park on her own. That fact represents for me the two threads of where we are right now. Young enough to want to play in that park, old enough to go without me.

This past set of changes are bittersweet and thrilling and unknown. Watching her change before my eyes is touching and deep and then raises all kinds of question marks about my own future and identity. For now, I’m very much a mom, but it is very different from before. I’m a little off balance in a way similar to but so different from the off-balance of having a new baby in the family.

As a mom I think strategically. But it’s no longer about those infancy questions about how I’ll get a shower or feed myself, or the toddler questions about how I will get some time to myself but quite the opposite. I see certain struggles of hers and I figure, I now only have about xx years (still figuring out how many) to really get in there with her and have some influence. But now she and I and she and my partner share jokes, confidences. And now, 12 nipping at our heels.

The other night, she grew sullen and upset about something between us. I had some real attention and I sat her down and said, warmly, openly– tell me, tell me about all the disappointments (in me– and related to what we were talking about)– “I want to hear all of it”, I said. And I meant it. She had a kind of loosely knit set of things, and she talked to me for real and I listened. She has been a child who always wanted me very near, who complained if I wasn’t near enough. But the other night among her complaints she said, “…and I want more priveleges, like going home after school alone…”

She had never walked to or from school without an adult, nor ever wanted to do so– but she suddenly felt constrained and injured by the lack of this. So yesterday she walked home from school with her friends and spent an hour and a half alone with two other 11 year old girls, before the first adult walked through the door. And today she rode a city bus across town with her friend to go to the friend’s house before her mom came home from work. Ready or not she’ll be 12 on Monday. And I cannot imagine, and I can– whatever will come next.

Sisters. part one.

Two sets of sisters.  Me and mine, my daughter and hers.   This post is her (daughter) and hers (her sister).  Another to follow about me and my sister.

We went on a very cold, kind of dreary day, to another city, about an hour away to see my daughter’s sister.  Two weeks ago tomorrow this was.   Sister and her mom (a single mommy) life about three hours away, but the grandmother of my daughter’s sister, a grandmother called by the Yiddish name, like my mother is called– Bubbe lives in the city an hour away and we agreed to meet there.

We were all nervous and filled with different emotions, but at the same time we all– my daughter included, I think– felt a little bit like old hands at this.  We’ve known her brother and his two moms for almost four whole years now.   It’s an interesting set of things you become expert at if you have a family by adoption.  The occasion was no less profound, no less heart-stopping, no less scary or beautiful or amazing by virtue of our experience.  But it wasn’t quite brand-new unknown, mouth-hanging- open, tremblingly new.  It was a familiar kind of heart-stopping if that makes any sense.  On the way in the car, there was some kind of fighting and upset about what time we left, when we should have left, whose fault it was but I cannot remember it now.  Happily it passed.

What have I said, not said?  This sister of hers is a sister.  She is Jewish, like my daughter.  She is Latina, brown skinned, dark eyed and gorgeous– like my daughter.  They look– not exactly alike, but like family, like sisters.  We got a little twisted around heading to the specific meeting place and called the mom several times on the cell phone.  She was warm and reassuring and we relaxed a little bit.  We drove to the supermarket parking lot where we agreed to meet.  When we finally got out of the car and spotted them and began to walk toward them, younger sister was holding her mom’s hand tightly and jumping.  Jumping up and down.  Jumping.  My daughter was suddenly the 11 year old who was thrilled, and touched, but doesn’t jump up and down.  She chuckled.  She laughed (not at, but in pleasure) and gathered her small gifts in hand and sprinted ahead of me.  And they met.

I am not going to tell the whole story of the day, but it was a good day.  A good day.  Not good, like in, “have a good day.”  But good like in the Torah, good like in biblical references.  “And then G-d did such and such.  And it was it was good. ” I loved the mom again, as I had when we met almost exactly two months earlier.  I loved the Bubbe and they both loved my big girl, which is always a big hit with me.  And N. and her little sister, they bonded.  They did things together, they hung out, they talked though I don’t know exactly about what.  There were wonderful things that happened and normal things, like the tuna fish salad and green salad and challah dinner that was delicious and familiar and that we ate at Bubbe’s table all together.

But one of my favorite moments was this.  A moment that made me laugh inside and out because there is something about the spirit, the temperament of these two girls that is so similar– down to the expression of it.

N’s younger sister had just gotten– and the girls decided to watch– her new Curious George DVD.  My daughter who will watch a lot of DVD recordings of tv shows almost anytime she is given the chance, has grown a little old for Curious George.  But sister, at age 8 is not too old for it.  They watched episode after episode after episode.  I worked at the dining room table drafting clues then walked throughout the apartment and building–  to create a scavenger hunt for them, that would take them out into the halls, the elevator, the lobby of the apartment building.  I wanted them away from the tv, in league with one another, whispering, conspiring, laughing, moving around.  My daughter, who can take a lot of tv, was about spent, but patient– wanting to be with her sister.

Finally, at the end of one episode, I intervened.  “How about you both pause it now and do the scavenger hunt?  Then you can watch the rest of the episodes later.”  Without missing a beat sister said brightly, “the pause button is broken, we can’t stop it!”  and that was that– she plopped herself down and my daughter gave me a look like “what’s an older sister to do?” sighed and in her generous, good-natured way, sat down to watch the rest of the Curious George dvd.  Then later, eventually, the scavenger hunt ensued.  They ran around, flushed, laughing, with the modern day twist of hiding but calling on a cell phone, and had a great time.  That was their/ our beginning.  I look forward to more of the spirit, the warmth, the stubborn singleminded- ness and humor of this new girl in our lives and to seeing the two girls and their brother too– grow and play and and scheme and laugh and occasionally cry, together.


It has been an extraordinary few weeks in ways happy, joyful, excruciatingly sad and also mundane.  Two weeks ago yesterday was the sudden and unbelievably speedy death of a long-time acquaintance, a good, good woman who I always liked in a deep way, and who in much more recent years became the partner of a closer friend.  G’s death– rocked my partner’s and my world into stunned heartbreak.  Last week was the second half of a week of Shiva  (the observance of a week-long period of mourning), and saying Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning), for the woman who died and of rolling up our sleeves and doing things that were needed– particularly for L, the surviving partner.  My partner and I were both profoundly saddened and scared by this death– and turned both inward and outward– in our sadness.  We stayed especially close to each other and to others too.

There are many things I am not good at, but one thing I am good at is knowing who is the clearest thinker in a given situation and knowing how to follow the lead of someone who is doing the right thing.  My working class partner is amazing at knowing how to roll up her sleeves and do the work that needs to be done.  She does this often and without fanfare or expectation of thanks (something that she can and often does overdo, to her own detriment) but I always follow her lead when she is doing the hard work and the hard work is the right thing to be doing.  So we sat Shiva and then visited with people and then we did dishes, packed up food, rearranged the refridgerator, the furniture, carried out trash and recycling and went home.  There is nothing quite like doing dishes and cleaning someone else’s kitchen in the face of a death– and I mean this, without the slightest bit of irony.

On the more happy side of the ledger–one night I brought my daughter with me to Shiva.  She was understandably a little afraid to be there with all these grieving adults, but she did something at the Shiva for my friend, the surviving partner of our lost friend– that touched me so deeply and made me smile, I kvelled inside and a little bit outwardly too– my big-hearted, big girl/little girl.

We are also excited and hopeful as we are planning for a visit, coming this weekend– at which my daughter and we will meet, for the first time, her younger sister.  One day last week was her sister’s birthday.  It was bedtime when I told my daughter that it was her sister’s birthday and she disappeared into her room.  After a while she returned– with a pristine stuffed panda, a gorgeous jeweled, sequined little box with a ring in it, and several other objects– and she said, “I need a box.”

So we wrapped them all up and packed them all up and sent them off to her as yet unmet sister.  Sister’s mom called me the other night either in tears or nearly in tears– I could not tell.  She said, “your daughter has a heart of gold.  It was like opening a box full of love.”  What could be more reassuring for a mom (this mom, me), than to hear another woman talk about her daughter that way?  She is right, and nothing, really, nothing could be more reassuring.

And finally, my daughter had an unusually busy weekend with a Friday afternoon middle school dance, a Friday overnight at our synagogue and a day full of activities at the synagogue on Saturday, a sleepover with a friend of hers at our home when she returned Saturday night and then off to Girl Scouts for several hours on Sunday, so I barely saw her.

I miss her when she is gone and I am slowly getting my mind around the idea of returning to doing certain things I love and enjoy that have not so much been part of my child-raising years.  My partner and I both had busy weekends and not mostly together.  But we made it a priority to take a long, late afternoon walk together on the closed-on-weekends road in our wonderful, large city park.  On our walk we came across this, the kind thought, the imagination of some other thoughtful walker, a message to us and all others passing by– which made me so happy– the finder of a lost red fleece glove stopping to send us all this word of reassurance.

Peace sign, red glove on sapling, February 10, 2013

Peace sign, red fleece glove on sapling, February 10, 2013.