Ready to Launch


I am in launch mode. My oldest son is applying to college. This transition is not so fraught with anxiety for me – he will have great options and after all, it’s still months away. Rather, my immediate focus lies at the top half of my sandwich – launching my father.

Many people live far from their parents, some happily and some not so happily. I have had the good fortune of living in the same area as my parents for the past 25 years. They helped me with my children – they babysat, drove them around, and provided a lot of love and support. I helped them as my mother became ill and died last year. My parents have had an apartment in Jerusalem for the past 20 years where they went two or three times a year for six weeks at a time. But Maryland was still home base.

My father has decided to make Israel his primary home. I admire his ability to re-engage in life after losing his beloved wife of 54 years. I applaud his continued interest in living and his desire to have a full, meaningful existence. He has been drawn to Israel for as long as I can remember. He likes the people, the history, the religious life, the politics, the culture and the language. He loves living in a vibrant, active city. My mother liked it too, but not enough to livef there full-time. After she died, my father gave himself a year to regroup and form a plan. He seized this opportunity to fulfill his dream to live in Israel full-time. I say good for him. How many 78-year-old men, or women for that matter, can do that? I wrapped my mind around the fact that he was leaving and gave him my blessing. He forwarded his mail to my house, locked up his house and left.

Do I worry more for my father’s safety in Israel than I do in the United States? No. Fortunately I do not have a worrying disposition and he is not worried. I do appreciate the e-mails he sends after any attacks in Jerusalem to tell me he is fine, including the most recent heinous attack in a synagogue.

I don’t feel abandoned by my father. I am secure in our relationship, no matter how his life gets intertwined in new peoples’ lives. I feel my father’s presence and love, no matter where he lives, similar to how I feel about my mother’s spirit. As he always says, the world is much smaller than it used to be with the array of technology at our fingertips. We are never further than an e-mail or text away.

We have spent a lot of time together in the fourteen months since my mother died – it will be nice to have time to miss each other.  We knew each others’ schedules and whereabouts at all times. I’m sure he will appreciate the break from my watchful eyes. My immediate family will miss having him such a part of our daily lives, but as he says, the kids are getting older and going in their own directions. No need for him to sit around here and wait for them to throw a little attention his way. He can e-mail and text them to keep in touch too.

I am grateful that we had each other to lean on during the difficult time after my mother’s death. He’s a wonderful father. But I am thankful that he is healthy and able to pursue his passion.

It’s been two weeks since lift-off…so far, so good.

You Can’t Take it With You


I’ve got too much stuff. The trickle-down effect of my father cleaning out his house is that I am forced to clear out mine. I love getting rid of things almost as much as I like getting new things. My husband thinks I am missing the sentimentality gene, but I disagree. When push comes to shove I am just not that attached to material things.

My father is the anti-pack-rat. Nothing collects dust in his house. If you leave a glass on the counter for more than two minutes it is quickly put into the dishwasher when you’re looking the other way. He is on a mission to rid himself of all things superfluous. I admire this – it’s quite Zen of him. My sister jokes that he will soon just have the clothes on his back and his car key. He makes daily visits to dumpsters and Good Will. I get regular visits when he brings things he thinks might hold sentimental value for me.

He called me to ask about my late mother’s voluminous and meticulous medical files.

“Get rid of them,” I said.

While keeping notes gave my mother a feeling of control over her various ailments, it would just make me sad to look through those piles. Why remember the bad things in detail? I know the basics of her medical history as it might pertain to me or my children. Beyond that, what does it matter?

I keep only scant records of my special needs son’s medical and educational journeys. I don’t want to read back on years of schooling and testing to remind me that his life has been hard. I don’t care to remember the annual school planning meetings, various testing, and assessments. I keep things that make me remember the good times of his life so far, not the mediocre or painful.

We’ve cleaned off the bookshelves – no one wants to read an old book with yellowed pages. We got rid of the crib and the highchair, though my husband objected. Really? Our “baby” is almost eleven. Carpet remnants, old paint, old toys, out of style clothes – gone. Looking through a box of things from my childhood, I found a small bean-bag stuffed animal – a frog – with a missing button eye.

“Do I save something if I have no recollection of why I kept it?” I asked my husband.

“Maybe you can find someone who can help you remember,” he answered, generally erring on the side of caution when it comes to getting rid of things.

I’ll keep it for a little longer in case the memory comes to me or I find someone who can fill in the missing piece, although I’m not sure who that might be. If not, out it goes.

I actually feel lighter when I look around my house after a good purging. I see things that are being used and enhance my life instead of feeling bogged down by remnants of the past.

It’s only stuff. Lighten up.




My sister recently came to visit with her kids. She usually stays at my parents’ house, but since my dad has put it on the market, we decided it was best that they stayed with me. My relationship with my sister is something I treasure. She is my friend, my therapist, my superego. We realize how fortunate we are. Not everyone has a sister, or one they like so much. While we have different personalities, we look and sound very much alike. I’m an extrovert, she’s an introvert. I drink Diet Pepsi, she drinks Diet Coke. My hair is curlier. She’s taller. I’m a party girl, she’s a jock.

It’s an odd phenomenon for people to think we’re twins when we are not. I once asked a stranger outside a movie theater if he could recommend a restaurant in the area. He said, “Is your name Judith?” He had gone to high school with my sister, who is four years younger than me and has lived out of state for many years. It’s a little unsettling to freak someone out by your mere appearance. But it’s also kind of cool – it’s our little party trick.

We have a running dialogue, a stream of consciousness free-association, daily conversations with the threads picked up seamlessly, sometimes in mid-sentence. On the rare occasions when our husbands choose to answer the phone, we are called to the phone merely by the word “Sister.”

Having a sister as your bestie has many benefits. We have the same frame of reference from being raised in the same house by the same people. We know all of each other’s friends, who become our friends too. We are the head of each other’s advisory boards. No subject is too big or too small to be discussed – we cover the gamut – marital squabbles, parenting concerns, the merits of the HPV vaccine, SAT versus ACT and how to make chicken schnitzel.

As the older sister I often tackle issues first. By the time my sister was planning her first bar mitzvah celebration. I had already planned two. Here is a typical exchange:

HER: “Assigned seating or open?”

ME:  “Assigned – people need a home base. Wandering around looking for a seat causes even the coolest people to feel like losers. Do your guests a favor and help them avoid social anxiety.”

HER:  “Place-cards?”

ME: “Not necessary – just slap up a list with table numbers and names.”

HER:  “Hospitality Bags – what goes in them?”

ME:  “2 waters, fruit, savory and sweets.”

HER:  “Didn’t Mom say that a certain percentage of the people who rsvp’d won’t actually show up?”

ME:  “Yes, 20 percent. Stuff happens.”

Fortunately, we have similar parenting styles in that we are basically just winging it day by day. Our approach is that we have no official parenting approach. We learned early on that we resort to using the same expletive when pushed to the limit by our children. We figure we must have gotten it from our mother, although she had no recollection of using un-ladylike language.We try to keep in mind one of our father’s go-to parenting slogans, “Don’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.”

Neither of us is much into fashion but we are our mother’s daughters so we try to put ourselves together. After our mother died three weeks before my nephew’s bar mitzvah last year I had to return a beautiful suit she had bought for the occasion. Our mother was petite and we are not, so neither of us could wear it. We joked that our mother would have looked better than both of us, which she usually did. We didn’t mind. We felt proud to have such a beautiful, stylish mother even if we sometimes felt like her frumpy daughters.

I often went with my mother to her medical appointments. Once, as we waited to be seen by the doctor, we sat across from each other in the exam room.

“I don’t like that jacket,” my mother said.

“Really? I got it at Target. What don’t you like about it?” I asked, somewhat amused.

“I don’t like the color or the fabric,” she casually explained.

I went home and promptly called my sister with this breaking news.

She said, “You’re getting rid of that jacket, right?”

“Absolutely,” I told her.

Mother was generally right about these things.

Like our mother, we are both practical and like our father, we are direct. We’re comfortable with who we are and generally say what’s on our mind. We enjoy being with other people but equally enjoy being by ourselves. We each lived alone when we were single. We loved the solitude, quiet, and autonomy. When I showed my kids where I used to live before I met their dad one of them asked me who I lived with. I told him I lived alone. He thought that was sad. I relayed this story to my sister.

She, as usual, hit the nail on the head when she deadpanned, “If you call the happiest time of my life sad.”

Life has occasionally tossed me lemons, but not in the sister department.



My Mother’s Hands

dr-sears-mother-hands-and-child-handsSitting in synagogue recently for the High Holidays, I thought of my mother, as I often do. This was the first round of High Holidays that I wasn’t reeling with fresh grief. Jewish holiday services are long – often lasting several hours. As my children sat briefly with me, I was reminded of all the times I sat with my own mother when I was young. Like most children, I found the services to be excruciatingly boring, so I passed the time counting the pages until the service was over or the minutes until I could be excused to roam the building with the other children. I also spent a lot of time looking through my mother’s small purse with its sparse contents for synagogue: kleenex, lipstick, a hard candy or two.

This year as I was sitting in the sanctuary, listening to the service, feeling introspective, I was struck by the memory of my mother’s hands, as I looked down at my own. I remember examining her jewelry and playing with her rings, trying them on to see what it felt like to  wear grown-up jewelry. Her hands and fingers were toys to keep me entertained and quiet. I admired her nail polish. I remember the feel of her skin as well as her sidelong glances, smiles, a warm embrace or her fingers entwined with mine.

I watched my mother’s hands change from those of a young woman into those of an older one with age spots and pronounced veins. They remained well-manicured but suffered from the cold and arthritis. As a grown woman, I continued to sit with my mother whenever possible. I still tried on her rings and was the happy recipient of a squeeze of the hand or a pat on the knee. These memories evoke feelings of security and being loved.

My daughter just discovered the game, Cat’s Cradle. She earnestly studied the book to see how to make various patterns and shapes with the colorful band of string and then asked me to play with her. My hands miraculously remembered just what to do. I was astounded by their memory, as was my daughter.

Now I’m the Mom, with middle-age hands. My daughter looks through my purse, plays with my jewelry and pleads to be released from the service. I hold her hand and try to placate her boredom.

I’m paying it forward, with my hands.



My Own American Werewolf


I used to have a darling third child. He was born six weeks premature but quickly exploded into a blonde dumpling – an anomaly in my house of brunettes. He was an adorable child – fun, funny with a delightful disposition. He was a pleaser and very affectionate, so much so that my husband and I nicknamed him “The Drape” because he would hang on us at any opportunity. A touch smothering but basically adorable.

Now he’s thirteen. His mood generally morose, he is most often found with his head attached to headphones and watching television shows on the computer screen. I have to remind him to do the things he’s supposed to do –  homework, shower, eating, etc. In all of our interactions he’s either snippy, spacey, or both.

“Huh?” seems to be his bewildered response to every inquiry.

I know this is the norm for an adolescent. What sets this child apart in our household is the rapid transformation from adored child to exasperating teenager.

It is my experience that when a child irks one parent, the other parent is able to swoop in and valiantly play defense attorney for the young offender – the champion of the poor, misunderstood child. I think that’s part of evolution, so we don’t kill our young.

For me, adolescence can be summed up by the 1980’s movie, An American Werewolf in London, where the main character, an adorably boyish looking twenty-something, periodically morphs into a terrifying werewolf. Our children, once so pure and pristine suddenly begin “the change” into adulthood. Their faces temporarily appear out of proportion, they get acne, their limbs are gangly, their hormones surge, until they become a creature that we hardly recognize. Oh, how I long for my cute little boy.

I am fairly confident that he will come out okay on the other side of adolescence, if I don’t kill him first. I see little glimmers of hope from time to time – watching him laughing with friends or playing charmingly with little kids. Deep down the sweet little boy is still there. Even werewolves must love their mothers, right?

It is clear to me now that my experience of adolescence as a parent to three boys has all been one giant preview to the main event that awaits me in the near future. My daughter turns eleven next month.

Pray for me.

The Secret to a Good Marriage


We have all read the standard advice about how to have a good marriage. Strong communication, scheduling date nights, and not going to bed mad are some of the most frequently cited. I agree that these are excellent ideas. However, I have recently discovered what can be described as the purest display of love and devotion, an act that says, “I really care about you.” This pearl of wisdom, this key to marital harmony – leaving a spare toilet paper roll on the back of the toilet when the current one is perilously low. It’s really that simple.

I don’t know when this paying the roll forward started in my house. We didn’t discuss it. We just quietly started doing it. Nineteen years into our marriage and we’ve figured it out. A small act of kindness goes a long way. We’ve all experienced being stranded without a roll. It’s a horrible feeling of helplessness and extreme vulnerability. That spare roll is saying, hey, I’ve got your back – both literally and figuratively.

I was discussing our acts of bathroom kindness with my sister.

She said, “Yes, that is what that Love Languages theory is all about. You feel loved by acts of kindness. So do I. It must be in the genes.”

Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, came up with this theory. He says each person has a primary love language that we must learn to speak if we want that person to feel loved. They are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. My sister proceeded to tell me that her husband has been doing the dishes lately, a task that she usually took care of. When she asked him why he was so eager to do the dishes, he told her that he knows it makes her happy when he does things around the house without being asked. Flowers and perfume aren’t her thing. Hence, he shows her his love by doing the dishes. What an interesting concept.

So many people routinely test their spouse to see if they remember the right occasions, buy the right gift, say the right things. This is a set-up for failure and disappointment all around. Everyone wants to be a good spouse. Maybe it’s as simple as stating what makes you happy, and meaning it. No hidden agenda or test.

I read an article by Sally Quinn several years ago that stuck with me. She was talking about seating at dinner parties. She suggests that you seat partners apart from each other. It allows each spouse to have a conversation with someone else, to learn something new, which makes for interesting conversation on the ride home. More importantly, it allows you to watch your spouse across a room, engaged in conversation with other people. Perhaps it reminds you why you liked him/her in the first place. We get caught up and focused on the things that irritate us about our spouse. We forget to look at our partner as we first knew them – adorable, witty, funny, personable. Or whatever traits drew you to the person in the first place.

Years of marriage build a bond that can’t always be seen. A look passed between you can speak volumes. You can read each other’s minds.

It’s the small gestures that help build big relationships. One roll at a time.

Goodbye House


My father is selling his house of 37 years.  The house he built with my mother that reflects their vision, design, and love. My mother’s been dead for almost a year. My father followed the advice he gave to others, as an attorney, and did not make any big changes for a year.

Compared to losing a loved one, all other changes seem superfluous. People ask me how I feel about my father selling the family home. I feel oddly detached about it.  Losing my mother was hard. Saying goodbye to a house feels easy by comparison.

It is a beautiful, unique, light-filled contemporary home. My father was always so tickled when people he met mentioned that they’ve been in our house and how nice it was. True confession time, Dad. Whenever you and mom left town and had the poor judgment to leave us home unattended, I had scores of raging parties there as a teenager and young adult. It was all part of the joy of that wonderful house. Ah, good times.

Then I grew up and appreciated the house as a home. I brought my husband to meet my parents there, celebrated many occasions together with my own children and their grandparents, gathered for holidays, and nestled in for quiet times. I went there to tell my parents I had breast cancer. My mother died in that house.

Somehow the house lost its soul when my mother left this earth. My Dad keeps up the house beautifully, but as he says himself – it’s just not the same. The house is no longer the center of the family without my mother there. It’s just a house. I’m grateful that he’s able to get it ready for sale on his own. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, had been thoughtfully distributing her things for years to her children and grandchildren so there is not an overwhelming amount of “stuff” for my father to sift through. In fact, the social worker in me thinks it’s a lovely way for him to do “life review” as he goes through the memorabilia of his 54-year married life with my mother.

It will be strange to visit my father in another home. My sister and her family will have to stay with me when they come to town to visit, which is a bonus for us. It will be very strange for her, I’m certain, to lose her home-base.

So yes, I’m okay with the selling of the house. My grief is settling into a place where I can be less sentimental and more practical. Keeping that house won’t bring my mother back. As long as my father’s ready for the next chapter, I too can move on.

Like the saying goes, home is really in the heart anyway.




The Lost Art of Hospitality


People don’t seem to entertain much in their homes anymore. Maybe it’s their busy lives or a lack of confidence in their cooking abilities, or their self-consciousness about their homes. I like to have people over. Not all the time, of course. I love going out to eat where someone else has planned the menu, shopped for the ingredients, cooked and cleaned up. It’s generally worth every penny.

What makes a meal great for me is the company.

Home hospitality invites people into your private world, if you are so inclined. Some people find it too invasive and stressful.  For me, it is a way to connect with people and share values and customs. My children learn how to be hosts and hostesses.  They have to engage guests in conversation, make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, and help with the dishes. They put their devices down and make eye contact. And they learn to speak with adults who are not their parents, teachers or coaches.

It doesn’t matter if you buy prepared food and serve it on paper plates or cook a feast served on your china and crystal. After all, what’s the use of having all those beautiful things if they are only going to be used as decoration behind glass or stored in a closet? Using them lends beauty and a special aura to a meal. It creates memories for our children, who will in turn be happy to use them when we pass them along the family chain.

My mother was a master of entertaining. She made everyone feel warm and welcomed. She was so skilled at making her table look beautiful and her food delicious while also pleasing to the eye. She prided herself on “assembling” meals, a mixture of store-bought items which she would masterfully spruce up and home-made foods. I can only share this secret now that she is gone. I think she wouldn’t mind. Okay Mom?

The truth is, people are happy to be invited and not have to cook.  Unless you’re a world-class chef or the food is vile, no one will remember what they ate. And no one cares if you spent days slaving in the kitchen or merely a couple of hours. What they will remember is the feeling they had while in your home.



Preschool Cred

shutterstock_203431999Last month I went to pick up my ten-year-old daughter who was swimming with friends at a local pool and came across a preschool “graduation” party.  They looked so little to me – it was hard to believe they would be kindergartners in September.  The teacher recognized my daughter’s friends as former students at her school.  I confirmed that yes, they had gone to that preschool but my daughter had not.

“She did go to preschool though; she is a preschool graduate,” I quickly assured her. The absurdity of my response struck me, as if my daughter’s pedigree was in question.

Now I’m at another transitional education point – my eldest child will apply to college in the fall.  This time there are three adults (I know – it’s generous to call a 17-year-old an adult) involved in this decision, not two. We hope we have instilled in our son the ability to allow his life to unfold organically. I guess we’re about to find out if he will apply similar criteria to the college search that we did for the preschool search:

1) Is it a place where my child will be safe and happy?

2) Will he have a variety of learning opportunities, both academic and social?

Beyond that, I am not sweating the small stuff and fortunately neither is he, at least so far.  I am confident that he will get into one of the 3,500 colleges and universities in this country.  He is a great kid with a “resume” that reflects his interests, capabilities and growth. He has an idea of the kind of place he’d like to attend, and we support him wholeheartedly.

“Remember the crib,” my husband and I remind each other.

When we were shopping for a crib before our first child was born, we looked at many cribs in an enormous baby store until our eyes glazed over.  They were all nice and would all do the job. Do we buy the super expensive most beautiful crib or the functional, practical one?  We settled on the latter.  We realized once we got it home that we didn’t remember what any of those other cribs looked like.  What made our crib adorable was the baby in it.

We apply the crib theory to most decisions in our lives: don’t agonize, go with your gut feeling, and trust your inner voice.  We’ve found you don’t need to treat every decision as if it’s a high-stakes, win-lose situation.  Generally, things turn out the way they are supposed to.

My children are all preschool graduates, from a few different “schools.”  They don’t remember their preschool years, but I do.  As long as they were in a place where they were safe and happy, that was fine with me.  The fanciest, most prestigious, most expensive schools were not the criteria we used to pick preschools.  Location and a good vibe was what we were looking for.

“I thought you sent me to school to learn,” I told my mother when I sent my first child to preschool, “but it’s the best child-care ever!”

It was an epiphany for me. I was not the mother weeping when her two-year-old went off to class for three hours, twice a week. I was the one skipping happily out of the building to savor a few hours of freedom.

College will be a different experience, but maybe not so different.  Yes, he will study and learn. And he will put into practice the lessons he learned in preschool like how to use his words, how to share, and how to keep his hands to himself (hopefully.)  He will start out in a dorm with people looking out for him.  Something tells me I won’t be skipping away when we drop him off.  What a difference a few years makes.

I try to keep it all in perspective – a happy and independent adult is the goal, however he gets there.








The “Joy” of Air Travel


We recently went on a family trip. It’s easier now that our children are older.  All they need is their screens and some sugar and they are good.  We bring our 15-year-old’s wheelchair, that he uses occasionally, to make it easier getting through the airport.  Adding to the stress of travel is the anticipatory stress of going through security because of my son’s feeding-tube supplies and medications.

On the first leg of our trip, I made the security people aware that I had medical liquids in my backpack. They took my son’s wheelchair and simply let the bag go through the machine – it was so easy.  What a relief! I was not so fortunate on my return flight. I was alone with my two eldest sons on the way home.

Again, they took the wheelchair through. But when I told them I had medical liquids, they pulled me aside and looked at the contents: three cans of formula and a small bottle of liquid medication. I was given a choice.  They could open the cans of formula to test them; but then I would not have formula to feed my son. Or they could search through my bags and thoroughly pat me down.  Really? I’m just a middle-aged lady trying to get from Point A to Point B.

I had no choice and felt like a cornered animal. They searched through everything in my backpack and purse. Then I had to submit to the pat-down.  They called a woman TSA officer over to do the honors.  I wanted to cry. I stood there as she explained what she was going to do. She patted down my body and checked the waistline of my pants. Normally one to find the humor in things, I could find nothing funny about this.  I had to take off my shoes again to be checked. I quietly cooperated when what I really wanted to do was scream. Other passengers tried to avert their eyes but gave me pitying looks, glancing between me and my child in the wheelchair.

It was such an indignity and a dehumanizing experience.

“What’s dehumanizing?” my disabled son asked as he listened to me complain to my other son when it was over and we were walking to our gate.

“It’s when someone makes you feel like you are not a human being, but like an animal or an object,” I told him.

I realize we have an enormous country with thousands of airports. And ever since September 11th, authorities have tried to do many things to make air travel safer. Some things simply give us the illusion of safety.  The TSA workers are just doing their job but they do not make me feel any safer.

Some people may say I should just avoid flying.  I tolerate the basic stupidities everyone must go through to get where I want to go.   I leave my liquid deodorant and hair gel in my checked luggage, even though I think it’s pointless.  I can’t do that with my son’s medical supplies. It’s the senselessness of a one-size-fits-all screening process that sends me over the edge. Are the skies really safer with random, inconsistent screening?

There must be a better way.