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.

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.




My Return to Israel


It’s been 17 years since my last trip to Israel when I came with my husband and new baby. My family has a strong connection to Israel, where my parents have owned an apartment in Jerusalem for 20 years. This time I am lucky to be with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. This organization runs trips for women, mostly mothers, to expose them to Judaism and Israel in a deeper, more meaningful way.

I am very excited and happy to be back in Israel. My voice cracked with emotion when I called home to speak with my children to tell them about my trip so far. Where did that come from? I don’t really know, but it must be from the same place within me that was determined to come on this trip when others cancelled.

We feel very welcomed by the Israelis who tell us they are glad that we are here. Our contribution feels minimal but we are glad to shop and spend our money if that is how we can be helpful. Maybe our presence is our present? American friends tell us we are brave, but we don’t feel especially brave as we go about our business with our itinerary as planned. The most courageous thing I did this week was buy a piece of art without consulting with my husband. In my own way, I felt strong and decisive about that piece of art and it’s magical ability to help out the state of Israel.

I loved watching courting religious couples, meeting nervously for the first time in our hotel lobby. It reminds me that life goes on in this country, in spite of the incursion.

We are not oblivious to the situation surrounding us, although we have yet to experience air raid sirens or bomb shelters. We are reminded of the hardship and bravery of the Israeli soldiers when we meet Israeli mothers who ask us to say a prayer for their families. We share their worry and their pride.

I am just an ordinary Jewish woman who came to visit her homeland. It’s good to be home.

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?



In my grief, my mind plays tricks on me. Whenever I’m out walking the dog and I notice a bird resting on a mailbox, I think that it’s looking at me.

“Mom,” I ask?

I like that fleeting moment of thinking my mother is checking on me, before the bird flies off. Do I actually believe that the bird is my mother? Not really. But I do believe her soul is floating out there somewhere, briefly inhabiting things that brought her joy and remind me of her.

Like the flowers I’ve planted outside of my kitchen window.  With a large family, I spend what sometimes feels like an eternity washing dishes in front of that window. Those flowers bring a bright spot to the monotony of the chore.

Recently I was at our neighborhood pool and I thought someone was speaking to me when they said to a person near me, “There’s your mother walking into the parking lot.”

“Really?” I thought.  My head popped up, looking and hoping with all of my heart that I would see my Mom walk into the pool.

Or the time when I had a meeting at my house and was putting out cans of Diet Coke. On the side of one of the cans, it said “MOM.”

Apparently it’s a new promotion of Coke and there were labels on other cans, such as Dad and BFF.  But I first noticed the one that said “Mom.” Could it be a sign? My mother always chided my sister about her Diet Coke consumption – she worried about the chemicals. Since I lived near my mother and therefore did not stay in her home as my sister did when she came to visit from out of town, she was unaware of my Diet Pepsi habit. My sister bore the brunt of that motherly concern. Should I not serve Diet Coke?  In my opinion, it is inferior to Diet Pepsi. Mom, what are you trying to tell me? Crazy, I know, but it made me laugh.

I often think I see her in the grocery store where we both shopped. It’s weird, the times and places that make you long for a person.

My father still lives in the home he and my mother made.  It continues to feel like her house.  Going there makes me feel close to her and very sad at the same time, as if she should be walking in the door any minute.  I think it’s both a source of comfort and sadness for my Dad.  How long will he keep the house?  Time will tell.

So I keep looking for my mother all around me…in the eyes of strangers, the beauty of nature, the hugs of friends and family, and in my children.  Mostly I guess she is within me.

Maybe someday I’ll stop looking so hard.

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.




Am I a Dance Mom?

I think of myself as a generic, run-of-the-mill mom.  Like many parents who benignly neglect their children, my kids spend hours in front of the computer searching God-knows-what.  Apparently my 10-year-old daughter is a fan of the show “Dance Moms.” I have never seen the show.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy watching television.  Binge-watching shows with my husband is a favorite activity.

For some reason, reality shows hold no allure for me.  Judging by the number of them on television, I gather I am in the minority.  My daughter is a big fan of this reality, dance mom show.  I was vaguely aware that it seemed to spark an interest in dance in her as I saw her twirling around the house in my peripheral vision.  She wanted to take a dance class, so I called a local dance studio.  Ignorant of all things dance, I didn’t have the words to make this request so I had to speak in the universal language of television.

“My daughter doesn’t know how to dance, has never taken a dance class, but she’s a big fan of ‘Dance Moms.’ Which class would you recommend for her?” I asked. This clearly was not their first Dance Mom inspired inquiry. The woman on the phone totally got it and pointed my daughter towards Broadway Jazz.  She loves it.

She happily attends her weekly class and always enjoys it.  I thought she looked so cute, picking out appropriate clothes to wear each week, doing her hair up into an intricate bun – sometimes with accessories on it.

Then she casually mentioned that the cast of Dance Moms was coming to town.  She reluctantly asked if maybe she could go – she said they would even be teaching a dance class.  Her reluctance showed that my daughter knows me well.  Surely I wouldn’t agree to waste money and time on something so frivolous, would I?

I mentioned it to my husband, who was on the same page as me.  Still, the 10-year-old gently and systematically kept asking, eventually showing me the website where I could find all of the information.  What to do?

I sought the advice of a friend who is the mom of my daughter’s best friend.  She was enthusiastic and thought her daughter would love it as well.  Really?  She would consider it?  Would I?  Could I?

“You talk about making memories.  This would definitely be an experience your daughter would remember,” she said.

She had me there.

So I surprised my daughter, and myself, by buying tickets and planning to attend this event. It included meeting the girls from the show, having your picture taken with them, and taking a class taught by a teacher from the show.  Four hours of fun.  She was so excited.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I tried to keep the curmudgeon in me in check and mustered up excitement and enthusiasm for my child.  The event was well-organized and not a complete mob scene.  The mother-attendees were a mix of typical suburban moms, like myself, and what appeared to me to be true dance moms.  There were many adorable girls, appropriately dressed, and then there were others who reminded me of Jon Benet Ramsey.

I realized where my daughter got the bun idea from. What I thought was darling and adorable when she created it at home, suddenly looked pedestrian in a sea full of buns.

The dance girls seemed like typical girls, though a little precocious. “Please turn off your flash when you take pictures…it hurts our eyes,” they requested.  They seemed bored with the endless picture-taking.  Who wouldn’t be? I only met one mom from the show – a school principal I’m told. She seemed normal and nice.  The other Dance Moms were busy selling merchandise so I did not interact with them.  My friend and I agreed there would be no merchandise purchases; the memories would have to be made through the experience and pictures of the day.  Our girls were so excited because they ran into some of the girls from the show in the bathroom! Can you imagine? They use the bathroom too!

The dance class was cute.  Our girls were on the younger and less experienced side, so they happily positioned themselves in the back of the room.  They warmed up, learned two dances, and got to dance in front of the people from the show.  At the end, each of the four girls from the show did a dance routine.

On the way home, the girls were chatting about the day.  “Did you see why we were so skeptical about it?” I asked.  My friend shot me a glance to silence me.  I was grateful for the restraint.  No need for grumpy old me to be a buzz-kill.  They experienced the day through the fresh eyes of children, not through my cynical lens.

I am pretty sure my daughter is not going to be a professional dancer and that I am not going to be a dance mom. While I was reluctant to indulge in this activity outside of my comfort zone,  I saw how much fun she had.  Maybe I’m just a mom who was happy to give her child a fun day she will always remember.

That’s what I was going for.





Grief, Continued

So it’s been almost 3 months since my Mom died.  I don’t cry every day anymore.  I do think about her all the time.  And hear her voice when I call my Dad and get their voice mail.

I have several of her winter coats, which I have taken to wearing.  Of course they each have a pair of gloves in them (and of course, Kleenex.)  My husband gives me a knowing glance when he sees a “new” coat.  He knows my Mom is wrapped around me.  While I know my Mom is a part of me, internally, I seem to get comfort from some of her external possessions.  I am carrying her everyday purse – I know she bought it at TJ Maxx, her favorite place to buy purses.  I carry Kleenex, shopping bags, an umbrella – all of the things she kept close at hand, “just in case.”  I stop short at putting a label on all of my possessions in the event they are lost.  While I am my mother’s daughter, I am my own person.  And I will not succumb to all of her idiosyncrasies.

I got through the first Thanksgiving without her.  And while my parents had been going to Indiana to my sister’s the past few years, I still missed calling her to discuss my menu.

“I’m having 20 people; how big of a turkey should I get?”

“Do I need appetizers?”  “What about a salad?”

Trivial things, I know, but all part of the package of having a mom.  Especially a good, extremely competent mom.  I managed without her, answering the questions with what I think she would have said.  I have grown into a very competent 50 year old woman.  I’m a grown up.  Of course I can put on a dinner for 20 without my mother’s input.

It just wasn’t as much fun.  It felt sad.  And lonely.  And I missed her, even if I could briefly pretend she was in Indiana.

My father spent Thanksgiving with my sister, where she took a turn helping him with his grief.  It’s generally one sided; he talks a lot about Mom but can’t listen too much if we do.  It’s okay.  As my sister said, “My grief pours out of me all the time, through my whole body.  I don’t really feel the need for it to come out of my mouth.”

Yet I clearly feel the need to talk about it some.  Or write about it when the mood strikes me.

Next week my sister is coming so we can clean out our mother’s closets together.  Yet another task for the grieving.

God Giveth and God Taketh Away

Let me start by saying that my Dad is a great guy.  He was a loving and devoted husband to my mother for 54  years.  He was a dedicated, caring, and very competent caregiver when she was ill.  And he misses my mother very much.  It’s interesting to me how the loss of a person changes relationships, and how people grieve differently.

In my previous life, I was a social worker who worked in a cancer center.  I understand the grieving process and that grief takes many forms.  My Dad and I have a close, loving relationship.  I am the child who lives closest to my parents, so we are an integral part of each other’s lives.  But mothers and fathers have different roles in their children’s lives.  I said to my Dad, “You’re great Dad, but you’re not Mom.”  “I know,” he replied.  Just like I’m a wonderful daughter, but I’m not his wife.  The nature of our relationship will change, while it continues to shift.  I now will be focused on him, without trying to smother him with my attention.  “I don’t need taking care of,” he told me.  I assured him that I respect his autonomy and independence.  But I still drove by his house recently when I hadn’t spoken with him one day, to make sure the paper had been taken in – he was alive, I surmised.  We will find a balance of communication and space.  As an adult child, I feel more vulnerable to have my Mom gone and feel the need to make sure my Dad stays around for as long as possible.  Otherwise, what is there between me and my mortality?

 My father is on a 2 week trip to Israel, where my parents have a second home.  I spoke with him the other day and got choked up and teary when talking about my Mom.  “We need to keep living,” he told me.  “I know,” I squeaked out (although I wasn’t contemplating NOT living – I was just expressing sadness.)  “God giveth and God taketh away,” he tried next.  Really, Pop?  He clearly could not tolerate my tears and sadness, as he tries not to grieve that way.  He grieves by making lists of things to do, and keeping very busy.  Of course he does – he’s a man and he lives alone.  I am a woman with a bunch of people who share my house and need tending to.  I have built-in distractions.  We quickly ended our conversation as my grief was too much for him.  Fortunately, I have many other people to share my sadness with – I called my sister.

I know my Dad thinks of my Mom every moment of every day and grieves in his own way – which is perfectly fine for him.  And I’m okay with it too.  We’ll help each other the best we can.

 It’s new territory for both of us.