Why I snuck out alone to a movie matinee (and why I’ll probably do it again)

mockingjayOn Martin Luther King Day, my office was closed, but I didn’t have the day off.

Nonetheless, after putting in my hours at home, I had a couple of hours to spare before I needed to pick up the girls. (It’s amazing what hacking off two 30 minute commutes from your typical day can do.) I bundled up and walked a few blocks, feeling vaguely giddy and guilty at the same time.

Why? Because I was heading to the second-run theater near our house for a holiday matinee screening of “Mockingjay” – something that Joe would probably be interested in seeing, too. But since the last non-animated movie we’d watched together was “The Hundred Foot Journey,” at the same theater sometime last fall, I knew that the chances of our making it to “Mockingjay” before it left were slim to none.

So I grabbed at my opportunity, glad to have it, yet sad to feel like I was committing some kind of betrayal. Continue reading

Making family life a little bit less of a waste land

We had to work way too hard to give this changing table - still in perfectly good shape - away to someone who could use it.

We had to work WAY too hard to give away this changing table – still in perfectly good shape – to someone who could use it.

While in the midst of another holiday season, the phrase “waste not, want not” has been rolling around my head a lot.

I’m doing pretty well with the second part. Really. Whether it’s a consequence of the perspective that comes with middle age, or with witnessing friends and family members struggle through a recession, or with really taking to heart Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s existential pep talks on the recent “Cosmos” reboot, I’ve now arrived at a place where, when my oldest daughter asks each Christmas, “How come Santa didn’t bring you anything?” I answer, “Well, I’m really, really lucky. I have the things I need, so I told Santa he didn’t need to worry about me.”

And he doesn’t. Joe and I have been fortunate enough to hang on to our jobs through a rough economic time, so we have what we need, and we’re grateful.

But you know what makes the “waste not” thing nearly impossible? Young kids. Continue reading

We’re getting our weekends back!

Lily and Neve, posing with one of their patented weekend projects.

Lily and Neve, posing with one of their patented weekend projects.

Remember those times when you were young and exuberantly in love, and could barely keep from announcing your feelings at the top of your lungs at all times?

I felt that way this past Sunday, when I read nearly all the articles I wanted to in The New York Times, and I had to tamp down the urge to run down our street screaming, “We’re getting our weekends back!”

It’s true. That teeny-tiny, barely visible little light at the end of the parenting tunnel has lately bloomed into a full-blown lamp. Neve’s self-driven potty training has left us diaper-free; the girls’ extracurriculars are scheduled on weekday evenings, leaving our Saturdays and Sundays blissfully open and obligation-free; and, perhaps the biggest difference of all, the girls have, in these past months, reached an age (3 and 6) where they will often happily play with each other – whether it’s in the bath or in the playroom – for significant chunks of time. (This is the paradox the second child: you have to start from scratch again, and give yourself even more tasks and responsibilities to juggle, but as both kids get older, they’re playmates for each other, thus making your job easier.)

Yes, when they’re too quiet for too long, we have to make sure they’re not giving (more) dolls new haircuts, or painting the cat with blue fingernail polish. But more often than not, they’re doing things like building a project from stuff found in the recycling bin, or playing “indoor beach” (a blue blanket is the water, a brown blanket is the sand), or cutting out and coloring Easter eggs.

Meanwhile, Joe and I lounge around in our pajamas until midday, dozing or reading, or doing chores we used to have to do late at night. We make chai tea. We lean against each other on the couch, pointing out the day’s best comics in the paper, or hang out at the kitchen table, chatting.

We’re remembering again, in bursts, what it was like to indulge in small pleasures, and why people so look forward to weekends.

Because to be honest, since becoming a parent 6 years ago, I’d forgotten. Continue reading

A shiksa chews on Shabbat dinner

shabbatblogRecently a friend, who’s doing a video project for grad school, asked me and Joe to film our family lighting the candles and saying the prayers for Shabbat dinner, and also to speak briefly, on film, about what the ritual means to each of us.

I first filmed this short clip of our family performing the rituals out on our back porch, where we like to eat our meals when it’s warm. We’re not formal about our Shabbat dinner, obviously – Joe married a Gentile, for pity’s sake! – but we try to perform the basics every Friday evening nonetheless.

As for contributing my thoughts about what Shabbat dinner meant to me, I initially wondered if I should just put the camera on Joe, let him talk, and call it good.

I mean, after all, I’m an immigrant in the world of Judaism.

Yes, after being married to a Jew for 11 years, I’ve made a comfortable enough home for myself there. I’ve learned to love much of the food (Latkes? Kugel? Please! What’s not to love?), and I’ve picked up bits and pieces of language (Hebrew and Yiddish); but because it’s not part of my own cultural identity – and maybe because, at 5’6”, I tower over the women at most Grekin family gatherings (apparently I’m some sort of goyishe Godzilla) – I can’t escape the sense that, no matter how much I embrace the culture, perform the rituals, or say the prayers, they’re not really mine to claim. Continue reading

Notes from a rough-start vacation

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You know your family had a good vacation when remnants of it stay with your kids long after you’ve come home.

In our case, we were eating dinner on our enclosed back porch the other night when Lily started singing several of the songs she’s learned at U-M’s Camp Michigania, near Petoskey. (The songs almost always begin, “This is a repeat-after-me song!” since the kids are often being marched to various areas of the camp). Neve joined in, singing the every-other-word or so that she remembered, and Joe and I provided back-up.

It was dorky fun, and made us all remember the week that the kids spent playing at the beach, making tie-dye shirts, and getting the occasional boat and horsey ride (plus, in Lily’s case, squeezing some archery and art projects in); Joe and I, meanwhile, spent the week napping, going for runs together, and reading (plus, in my case, attending daily yoga classes, trying archery, attending a late-night astronomy talk, and getting a massage). Ahhhh.

I so, so appreciate these trips to Michigania – we’ve gone annually these last 5 years – because what parents with small kids desperately want, more than anything, is a vacation from parenting.

But that’s like trying to escape yourself by way of travel. Guess what? You can’t ever really do that.

But you CAN hand your kiddos off for a few hours each morning and afternoon for one week while they happily play with other kids and counselors.

And that’s a glorious, glorious thing.

Here are a few notes, good and bad, from this year’s trip. Continue reading

What parents learn from kids’ lessons

photo (1)When your kids are little, it’s so hard to know when to let them make a decision; when to nudge them push through challenges that they’re already resisting – because things are getting hard and they’re scared – and when to let them just walk away.

The conflict arises often when pre-paid extracurricular classes/lessons are involved.

Last fall, we signed Lily up for a gymnastics class – largely because her best friend was in it, and the girls wanted to take the class together.

Lily’s a few months older than her friend, though; so when spring rolled around, the girls’ teacher recommended Lily for the 6-9 year olds’ class, but Lily’s friend would probably not yet be moving forward.

I had a complicated, delicate little dilemma on my hands – which caused me to start questioning our own reasons for repeatedly signing Lily up for these classes. Continue reading

How new underpants, a giant stuffed snake and a Tigers announcer can utterly ruin an evening

underpants

Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.

“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”

Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.

Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)

Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.

Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L. Continue reading