Sunday, March 04, 2007

I tumble, therefore I am

A few weeks ago, I signed my girls up for a gymnastics class.

It's the first organized activity I've created for them - ever. Up until now, I didn't think they had the maturity, or the attention span, to really get something out it.

Interestingly, I'm the only parent of the 9 girls in the class who sticks around to watch them go through their paces. I probably could convince the girls to let me leave for the 90-minute class, but I confess - I enjoy it it too much to want to go away.

They still act a bit goofy and immature (they're the youngest girls in the class), but I also see the concentration on their little faces when they gingerly push beyond their known limits to try a dip on the balance beam, or a new sequence on the trampoline. They're discovering a new and powerful relationship with their body, and it's wonderful to watch.

And it takes me back to my own brief gymnastics career.

My 15 minutes of athletic fame came in sixth grade, when I somehow blossomed into a pretty good gymnast. My piece of equipment was the low parallel bars, although I also loved sailing over the horse and swinging on the unevens. I remember truly enjoying the effort it took to perfect my routines. And how proud I was during an exhibition that my father was able to come see me.

My mother, a working mother, couldn't make it that day. And I do remember feeling angry that she couldn't be there instead of him. But think of it - how wonderful is it that my father, who was self-employed, could take time from his busy day to be there for me?

Gymnastics was a big focus for me that year, and it culminated in one of the biggest surprises of my life.

I was a member of the orchestra and was playing the violin on stage during our sixth grade graduation ceremonies.

As they began awarding the prizes for different academic and athletic achievements, I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if I could win an award, but I didn't think there was anything I truly excelled at that would make me worthy of such an honor.

When they got to the gymnastics award, my gym teacher went to the podium and started talking about a young girl out in the audience who had put her all into excelling that year. Instantly, my heart sank. She couldn't be talking about me, because I was up on the stage.

Nevertheless, a few moments later, she called out my name, and I rose from my chair, put down my violin, and went up to accept the award. She had purposely thrown me off, to make the surprise that I had won all the more thrilling.

That silver statue of a young girl doing a perfect handstand has traveled with me throughout a life where I've accumulated and lost too many material possessions to even count. But I always kept her, a symbol of something for which I've always been unabashedly proud. For a brief, sweet, wonderful moment in time, I was a gymnast.

I have no idea how well my daughters will do in gymnastics, or whether it's something one or the other will want to pursue as they get older.

But it's been eye-opening to me to see them fall, get up, and keep trying. Brushing each failure off with a laugh or a grin, and practicing each move til they get it - well maybe not quite right yet, but pretty darn close.

And I realize that each little victory they make in forming a letter correctly, understanding a math pattern, or perfecting a forward roll brings them one step closer to the self-assured adults I hope they'll one day become.

And if one or both of them happen to fall in love with the sport, you can be sure that either my husband or I will be there when they get their chance to shine. And I might just bring my father along, too. Just for the history.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

About hair

When I was a little girl, I never cared for stuffed animals, and was bored by Barbie doll wardrobes. But I did somehow develop a passionate, all consuming obsession with hair.

My obsession can probably be traced to one of my older sisters, who developed a bizarre and fascinating process to straighten her kinky Jewish hair. The ritual alone enthralled me. She started by brushing her long head of freshly shampooed hair and squeezing it into a large ponytail on the top of her head. Then she carefully divided the ponytail into two large wedges and wrapped the hair around frozen orange juice containers used as large curlers. Then (this was in the days before blow-dryers), she would lay under a hair dryer for four hours until it dried.

When she took the ponytail out, the top of her scalp was always a bit bumpy, but oh - how the rest of her beautiful chestnut hair gleamed! It was a stunning transformation and a ritual that I later copied step by step.

So it's no surprise that before I could play with my own, I reached for the most reasonable substitute for my hair-dressing fantasies, dolls. Preferably ones with large heads of hair. When I was 7 and needed to get my tonsils removed, I begged my mother to get me a Chrissy doll, ll whose hair grew when you pushed her belly button, and could then be wound back up by turning a knob on her back.

And then there was the day that my entire family accidentally left me home alone, unaware that I was upstairs - dutifully washing my doll's hair in the sink.

As an adult, I went through stages (like my hippy days in college) where I left my thick hair curly, and enjoyed the freedom of going au naturel. But, for better or for worse - those early straight hair experiences marked me for life.

Although the invention of the blow dryer turned me on to a less cumbersome way to tame my curls, it was a perilous Cinderella lifestyle. I remember going to my high school prom with perfect Farrah Fawcett waves, but after a night of dancing and a trip to the beach, I returned home with my hair more suited for the role of wicked stepsister.

Still I resisted chemically straightening my hair abecause I remembered how awful that dry, ironed look came across on the girls in high school who had the misfortune of being born with nothing-you-can-do-about-it kinky afros, but desperately wanted straight hair.

But just before my wedding 10 years ago, a friend turned me on toa new breed of professional relaxers, and there I was, a blushing June bride on a humid day at my outdoor wedding, with gloriously straight, gleaming hair. I was hooked for life.

Which brings me to my two beautiful daughters, who were blessed with wavy, shiny, beautiful hair - one dark brown like mine, the other a golden chestnut brown. Their shiny tresses may turn into kinky messes when they hit puberty, but at least for now, they have the kind of soft, pliable hair I yearned for in childhood and loved to caress and play with as a child.

You know where this is leading. That's right - in his infinite wisdom, God gave me daughters who hate, and often outright refuse, to let me do anything with their hair.

Jessica will barely let me put a brush through it, and hasn't allowed a barrette or other hair ornament to stay on her scalp since she was about 3. Even then, she was never the type to keep any hair clips in for more than 5 minutes, while I scrambled for a camera to capture the fleeting moment.

Lily's a little more open to hair adornments, but it has to be on her terms. One ponytail, exactly equidistant from the top of her scalp to the nape of her neck, and tight enough to give her an early face lift. Occasionally she'll let me put in tiny braids in the front (and oh, how I thrill at this simple pleasure), but she will never sit lazily in my lap while I try this hairdo or that, experiment with different short, neither of my girls will let me PLAY with her hair!!!

I keep hoping that maybe next year it will be different, and that one day they'll turn into those child models with ribbons woven through their hair, or exquisitely adorable barrettes holding stray hairs in place while their perfect banana curls swing in the breeze.

Alas, my fantasy may never be realized, but at least I do have one or two photos - the one above is a special favorite - that show I tried to live the dream.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Losing $532,000 and giving thanks

I was in Las Vegas recently for a work-related convention, and got stuck at the airport for three hours because a sick passenger heading from NY to Vegas had to get off the plane in Texas. Why the flight detoured to Texas remains a mystery, but the delay gave me some time to get needed work done and also produced a $12 voucher for dinner, so I wasn't too upset.

After finishing my dinner and my work, I was tempted, once again, to sit down at the progressive slots. I am a confirmed Wheel-of-Fortune-aholic, and for the first time during my trip, I was actually being allowed to sit and play for a while, which felt good for a change.

Then, about 10 minutes after I sat down, a young guy sat down four seats away from me. Within 5 minutes, I hear someone shouting, "Congratulations - you won the jackpot!" That's right - he won the jackpot - $532,000.

I always expected to hear a deafening cacophony of ringing buzzers and bells if someone wins a slot jackpot, but it was eerily quiet and the poor guy didn't even realize he had won. He just thought he got to spin the wheel. Definitely a Wheel-of-Fortune neophyte.

I'll be honest - I felt robbed. That was my jackpot he won. Why this guy was only 28 years old - he couldn't possibly be mature enough to invest and spend that money wisely. He'd probably end up buying a million-dollar home he couldn't afford.

It definitely clouded my mood on the flight home and I've related the story to just about everyone I know (and they all incidentally agree that he won my jackpot).

But in reality, I'm not sure how level-headed I'd be if I won that kind of money in one fell swoop. You read all these stories about people who win the lottery and then end up broke or lose their families or worse. Easy money can be dangerous.

Still, I find it hard to shake the notion that if only I had $20,000 or $500,000 or a million dollars, my life would be perfect. It's foolish, I know, and the trick in life is wanting what you already have - but the lure of easy riches still beckons.

I won a pair of steak knives at a temple bazaar when I was about 10, and felt as if I'd won a trip around the world. I proudly presented them to my parents, and ever since then, I just can't shake that thrillof winning.

So on the rare trips I make to Vegas, I have a feeling that those slots will continue to beckon.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Thrills help us reverberate with life with every fiber of our being. I may never win a Vegas jackpot, but then again, I might.

As long as I keep in mind that my family and my health are greater riches than the numbe r of digits in my bank account, I think I'll be OK.

So keep those Wheel-of-Fortune machines humming - one day, one day, they could be humming fjust for me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Brimming and whirring

Ever since my twins were born in 2000, there have been agonizing moments when I wondered if being a working mother was the right path for me to take.

Nevermind the fact that I really couldn't afford not to work.

When they clung to my legs at daycare and begged me not to leave, day after day - for months. When I guardedly, optimistically sent them to school with the sniffles, only to be called as soon as I got to work to take them home. When someone other than me saw them crawl for the first time, when I forgot to pack their snack, or their library book, when my boss told me that I'd missed so much work to care for sick children that he didn't feel he could count on me anymore.

On bad days, it seemed like I'd made a huge, insurmountable mistake.

But ever since I was a little girl, I had two notions in my head. That I was going to be a great mother one day, and that somehow, I was going to do something big with my life. Something important. Something beyond my immediate family that would make an impact on my life and the lives of others.

And the funny thing was that as a child of the 70s, and myself the fourth child of a working mother, I never thought that these twin dreams would ever, should ever, come into conflict.

So when they did, I did what any ambitious human - man or woman - would do. I I made a conscious, doggedly determined effort to change my work situation to fit my life. My mantra - If I was going to be away from my daughters for 11 hours each day, then I damn well was going to do something during that time that enriched my life.

And so I pulled myself out of my dead-end job and in two years had launched myself into a new career.

Which leads me to today.

I attended my first Executive Moms luncheon, and found myself in a kind of working mother wonderland - smack dab in the middle of hundreds of women who , or the most part, are a lot like me.

Not that we were a homogenous group. The panel discussion, led by Deborah Roberts of 20/20, revealed that even very successful women are still facing hostility in the workplace when they try to balance their work/family life. One top executive at a Fortune 500 company was clearly not benefitting from a work/life balance, and noted that her boss frankly admitted to her (a mother of three little tykes) that he didn't like children.

While one panelist wryly pointed out that if instead he had isaid that he didn't like women, the board of directors would have booted him immediately, - another questioned why the woman stayed in such a hostile evironment when she clearly had the skills to go somewhere else.

Roberts even admitted that it was 5 years before she felt she had "proved herself" enough at ABC to warrant bringing her children to work.

All the women I met today were at different stages in their emotional life as a working mother. But I think the one truth we all shared was that when God was handing out DNA, our particular strands were genetically programmed to make us procreate and have careers.

Forget for a moment the obstacles that crop up again and again. The glass ceiling, the fear of being "mommy tracked," the recalcitrant boss. As one panelist pointed out, women make up 51 percent of the world and by and large, we're the ones holding ourselves back.

"When will we be ready for a woman president?" she asked rhetorically. "When the women of this country are ready for one." And not a second before.

I'm too young to have participated in any bra-burnings, or to have ever had much interest in Ms. Magazine or Betty Friedan (although I did thoroughly enjoy "Our Bodies, Ourselves).

But I'm old enough to realize that my future as a woman, as a participant in this world, and as a mother, is in my own capable hands.

And just as a new mother I feared that I would fail my child, but instead rose to the occasion, so I put my faith in myself in every new challenge others hand me, or I choose for myself. ra

I haven't yet made that mark I'm planning to leave on this earth. But I'm only 44, and my life still brims and whirs with possibilities.. And it's nice to know that there are scores of other women out there brimming and whirring right along with me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The teacher's note

Is there anything that can shake a mother’s confidence in her ability to mother more seismically than a teacher’s note neatly tucked into her child’s homework folder?

In flawless handwriting (I’m convinced that most teachers were sit-upright-in-their-chairs, A+ in penmanship goody-goodies), the notes first convey what a joy it is to get to know my child, and then let the guillotine fall.

Lily is daydreaming half the day away and misses instruction. Jessica is turned around in her seat while the teacher is trying to teach, her penmanship is careless and sloppy and she can’t seem to remember where to put her homework each day.

Each time I get one of these notes, a cold, clammy fear takes hold of my body and I jump to the most negative conclusions possible. Lily has been having silent seizures for two years because we (I) never got her the sleep-deprived EEG the specialist gave us a prescription for (but said probably wasn’t necessary). Jessica is going to grow up to be an out-of-control, non-vegetable eating horrid pre-teen by the time she turns 7 because I’ve been too permissive and encouraged her budding gift for sarcasm, because it seemed so cute coming from a 5-year-old.

Then comes the adrenaline rush of anger and indignation against these all-knowing adults who dare to pass judgment of any kind on my children. Why, they are just free, imaginative spirits who cannot – and should not – fit into the conventional mold that public schools so desperately try to force them into.

After that – the twinge of working mother guilt rises to the surface. If only I worked closer to home, or worked 3 days per week, I could spend more time helping them navigate the public school system that, like it or not, they’re going to have to live with for the next decade. And I could be one of those perfectly organized, perky class parents, closely attuned to the teacher and the politics of the school and classroom.

In the end, I do what I do best. I call them to discuss the issues, or write them long, thoughtful notes back, trying to give them a better insight into what goes on in my little girls’ hearts and minds, and offer suggestions for how we can work together to make sure they develop a deep love for learning and school.

And I scheduled that EEG for Lily, and clued Jessica in to the fact that sarcasm and hastily scrawled ABCs are not the best way to win friends and influence people.

These notes may temporarily throw me off balance, but I’ve realized that what it comes down to is this:

My daughters are the most interesting creatures in the world to me. As a result, I listen, truly listen to them. And with a scientist’s trained eye, I watch them interact with each other and with the world.

So I can safely say that nobody knows them better than I do, and nobody can advocate for them as effectively as I can.

I’m sure I haven’t gotten my last note home from a teacher. But next time, I’ll know to take it for what it’s worth – one person’s observations about a child they don’t know very well.

And remember that when it comes to these two exasperating, imaginative, devilish, wonderful little 6-year-old girls, I am the resident expert.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Reflections of me

The girls are in that limbo week of after-camp, before school starts, so since we're staying in the city with my Mom, I had the bright idea that she bring them to my office in the afternoon for an hour.

Another woman at work had her 6-year-old daughter there with her all day, and I thought it would be nice for them to meet and play together.

What was I thinking?

While the other child played nicely and quietly during her two full, 8-hour days there, my tornados both acted as if they had no other aim for that one hour than to

a. laugh as loudly as possible
b. run, while talking/shouting down the corridors
c. be rude to every adult who tried to engage them in conversation
d. ignore every plea, threat, or demand from me - their presumed parental figure, to behave

I admit it - I felt whipped, embarrassed, and utterly unable to control my children.

And I felt like everyone there missed the opportunity to see the best sides of my children. I didn't even attempt to introduce them to anyone after their mania became evident, and spent most of the hour trying to herd them into a conference room, or lock them in my office.

Now I understand why my mother made me write thank-you notes, and refused to let me go to the theater in ripped jeans.

I am a reflection of her parenting, and my children are now a reflection of me.

I know my girls can be angels, but they were in complete disguise today, and will not be coming to visit again anytime soon.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reflections on a lost dream

We were so excited that morning. After a miscarriage at 7 weeks, we were quickly pregnant again, and the first two sonograms confirmed a steady heartbeat.

I was starting to tentatively wear maternity clothes, mostly because I just wanted to, to prove to myself that I was really pregnant.

It was the 14 week mark, and we were going to get the amnio. My mother came along, too, just so she could see a sonogram for the first time. When my older sister had her two children in the 1980s, sonograms didn't exist.

The medical building iwas all shiny blue glass, and reflectieed off a a clear, blue sky, on a cold winter day. I was filled with hope and excitement and so many dreams for my first baby.

When the technician looked at the baby on the sonogram, I should have known something was wrong, but I was too caught up in my happiness to recognize the signs. She didn't point out the body parts to me, or tell me whether it was a girl or boy (I was dying to know). She just abruptly left the room and said the doctor would come in shortly.

A doctor who I had never met before walked into the room, took a look at the sono, and then broke the news.

"Your baby has very serious defects and cannot possibly survive. It will probably die within a few days. I'm so sorry."

I screamed. I'm not sure exactly what I did next, but I remember screaming, and the doctor, my mother and Fred ushering me into a small office and shutting the door. For my privacy, and probably to protect other pregnant women there from me, the embodiment of their deepest fears.

I remember feeling embarrassed that my mother was there. I wanted to show her my triumphant pregnancy, and instead I had to endure her efforts to comfort me, when I wanted no comfort.

At my obstetrician's office a day later, she told me I was too far along in the pregnancy to have a D&C and that I'd have to go through labor and delivery. In a way, I was glad. If I had to go through labor, that meant this was a real baby, and no one would be able to dismiss or minimize the death of my child.

The morning we went to the hospital, they gave me a valium to calm me before the pitocin to start the labor. It made the entire experience surreal, and I remember laughing and making jokes while Fred and I waited for the pitocin to start working.

Fred, meanwhile, was breaking down. He was suddenly seized by awful pains and spent most of the morning doubled over in agony. I knew it was a reaction to what was happening, but I remember hating him for it, and wishing he would have been able to be strong for me. But he was losing his baby, too, and the sadness had no outlet for him but physical pain.

There was a little crib in the room and Fred promised me that next time, we'd have a healthy baby to stare at in that crib, and pick up and hold through the night when he or she got hungry.

A couple hours later, my water broke and my doctor came in and delivered my baby. I felt a wrenching pain, I pushed and the baby easily slid out. It was over.

I knew from books on loss that it was important that I see the baby, or I would run the risk of forever imagining that she looked like something too scary to see.

Still, the nurse didn't want to show the baby to me, but I insisted. Wrapped in a hospital blanket, she put her in front of me for just a few seconds. I remember looking at her perfect little nose and soft skin. Later I learned she was horribly deformed below the waist, but the hazy picture of her I keep in my head is of a perfect, sweet face.

I should have held her. I wish I would have held her. But they whisked her away so fast and I didn't have the strength or maybe the courage to do it. And I should have had them take a picture of her to keep. They offered to. But something held me back.

I did insist that we have her cremated, and a local Rabbi gave me some readings so that we could have a ceremony to help us grieve.

The cremains came in a small, rectangular white plastic box, marked "Baby S" that Fred still keeps in his dresser drawer. Despite how small she was, there were bits of bone remaining in the ash, and we buried her in the backyard, in the hole we dug for a cherry tree to plant in her memory.

I was numb for a month, and started hating myself, wondering who the Hell did I think I was that I could actually be a mother? I felt like I didn't deserve it. And I hated all the pregnant women I saw or read about. When I held a friend's newborn baby girl, I had the urge to throw her from the window. I couldn't stand the joy she was bringing someone else and it just magnified my misery.

I gave birth to my twin girls about 18 months later, and take a picture of them every year on their birthday in front of that cherry tree. When we bought the tree, the nursery said it would never bear fruit because you needed two trees to pollinate each other.

But each spring, the white flowers come, and then the shiny green fruit, which barely has time to ripen before the birds and squirrels pick the tree clean.

Gone too soon, like the baby I would never hold. But sweet and beautiful and miraculous, like my living children, who dance and sing and fling stuffed animals into its branches , filled with a childish joy which now fills me up and helps me bear the loss of Tessa, my firstborn.
motorola razr v3
motorola razr v3