To My Daughter on Her Bat Mitzvah

EllaWindowToday, my oldest child Ella turns 13. Just a few days ago on June 6 she became a bat mitzvah. In the Jewish tradition, this means she is now responsible for her actions, following Jewish law, ethics and values and is able to lead religious services. She is now an adult in the eyes of the community. 

This past year has been one of tremendous growth for her in all the ways. She is becoming her own person and I am incredibly proud of her as she takes on challenges, expands her knowledge, learns from her mistakes, sifts through her emotions and greets the world with tolerance and humor. She is certainly merging into adulthood, but she will always be my little girl. This is the speech I gave in her honor at her bat mitzvah.  Continue reading “To My Daughter on Her Bat Mitzvah”

Compassion is Alive and Well in the 4th Grade

Last month, in honor of the launch of #1000Speak, I posted a special piece about compassion called Teaching Our Girls About Friendship. Writing on a shared theme and posting on the same day as hundreds of other writers worldwide was a mighty, moving event. Reading so many amazing stories and perspectives inspired me, swelled my heart and put a perma-grin on my face for days. The whole experience got me thinking:

If writing and reading about compassion can have this kind of impact on me, an adult, what can it do for our kids? Continue reading “Compassion is Alive and Well in the 4th Grade”

5 Lessons I Learned Staying Home with My Sick Three-Year-Old

IMG_5769 Winter in northern California is hardly challenging. Even during the years we get lots of rain (not this year or last), it’s rarely freezing cold and it certainly doesn’t snow where I am in the Bay Area. Despite the mild weather, we do still get hit with colds and flu though. My youngest ended up getting sick with a cold this weekend and stayed home from school today, which meant I stayed home too. Here’s what I learned during our sick day together. Continue reading “5 Lessons I Learned Staying Home with My Sick Three-Year-Old”

Teaching Our Girls About Friendship

IMG_5409This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion movement, an online campaign happening on February 20, 2015 to flood the blogosphere with kindness, caring, compassion, non-judgement and all around goodness. To read other stories of compassion, check out the hashtag #1000Speak on Facebook and Twitter.

My daughter is in 7th grade in a small private school. She’s known most of the kids in her class since kindergarten and even one or two since preschool. While they’re not all close friends, there isn’t much overt bullying going on. The teasing and undermining is much more subtle than that.  Continue reading “Teaching Our Girls About Friendship”

A Dress Code of Her Own: Teaching Our Girls Body Confidence

The final week of school is about to begin. Which also means the end of the school dress code for the next two-and-a-half months. At least that’s what my 12-year-old daughter is counting on.

When the weather is warm, not a day goes by that she doesn’t bring up the dress code, usually with an eye-roll or an exasperated, “They just don’t make shorts that are mid-thigh!” followed by stomping and tearing through her drawers looking for an acceptable skirt or leggings.

I know a lot of her frustration at this age comes from having to follow the rules, which seem unfair to her. “Why do we have to wear long shorts?” she asks. “It’s so hot so why can’t I wear this tank top?” And I always have the same answer: because it’s a school rule.

This is the easiest response at 7:36 a.m. with three lunches to pack, one toddler to dress, my teeth to brush and 14 minutes until they pile into the car for the ride to school. But it’s not the best response and with summer coming up it simply doesn’t apply.

IMG_0253My daughter can’t wait to wear short cutoffs and skinny-strapped tanks and strapless summer dresses. Me, I can wait forever – or at least until she’s 25. I’ve been thinking about why that is. Am I just old fashioned now that I’m in my 40s? Probably. Am I afraid the way she dresses will lead to unwanted attention that might embarrass her? Yes. But more than that, I’m concerned that at this age, when she’s just beginning to come into herself both physically and emotionally, she doesn’t have a strong enough hold on how she feels about her changing body to display so much of it to the world. I am worried that she is leaving herself open to critique or judgment or appraisal that could rattle her body image forever.

More than telling our girls what is and isn’t appropriate to wear, we need to teach them how to love and respect their bodies and really own them. We need to teach them that what makes their bodies special and powerful is how they treat and think about themselves. Simply giving them a Do Not Wear list that is primarily based on lengths and measurements and degrees of reveal sends the message that parts of their bodies are somehow bad or unwanted. Girls, especially in middle school, are going through rapid body changes. They shouldn’t feel ashamed of their curves or their skin; they shouldn’t worry whether or not their bodies, which are normal, are disturbing or distracting to someone else.

We need to temper the tendency for girls to feel shame or embarrassment with the conversation about what it means to feel comfortable and confident in their bodies. Girls need to have a voice in the discussion around the why behind the what: why is there a dress code? What does it mean to respect my body? We can talk about why there are some environments, like school, where it might feel more empowering to wear a t-shirt instead of a tank top, jeans instead of a peek-a-boo skirt.

Honestly, I’m all for dress codes. I’m just not a fan of enforcing them without including our girls – and boys – in a conversation about why we have them. Saying it’s because girls’ bodies are distracting is not acceptable. Drugs don’t belong in schools; vulgar words don’t belong in school; violence doesn’t belong in school. But girls’ bodies do belong in school, as well as everywhere else.

This summer, as we wade through the pros and cons of short denim shorts in waist-wringing sizes, strapless dresses and cropped tops with dipping necklines, I’m going to have a meaningful, body-image conversation with my daughter. I’m going to challenge her to really think about what it means to respect and love her body, to be amazed by what it looks like, how it’s changing and what it can do. I want her to feel true ownership of that gorgeous vessel and have the confidence to care for it, protect it and share it on her own terms.

By the time September rolls around, maybe the school dress code won’t really matter that much anymore – because she’ll have one of her own.

Lunch With a Friend

The other day, after dragging Lilah around on errands all morning, I decide to take her to lunch. Technically, she’s on a toddler moratorium from eating out at restaurants because it’s too stressful for me. It’s such a nightmare convincing her to stay in her chair and not throw her food on the floor and not to wander over to the next table to ask the unsuspecting diners if she can have a bite of their burger.

But, there I am at 11:37 a.m. with eight minutes to go until her preschool lunchtime, which she enjoys, on schedule, three times a week, and not a crumb of food in my bag. Not even a few stray Goldfish. Not even a half-eaten Z-bar. I’d forgotten one of the Top 10 Commandments of Motherhood: thou shalt not leave the house without snacks. Mayhem and meltdown will surely ensue if I don’t come up with food, pronto. Luckily, there’s a California Pizza Kitchen right there at the mall we’re traipsing around in search of picture frames (don’t ask). Pizza

The restaurant is quite empty, a sea of open tables, but the hostess takes that telltale turn towards the back of the restaurant to the dreaded Kids’ Corner – the area where they stick all the parents with small children as though we’ve got the plague. The only other people there are another mom with her toddler daughter. The girl has broken free of the high chair (I don’t even try that anymore) and is walking along the bank of booth seats where no one else is seated, pizza crust in hand. The mom is diligently eating her salad.

She glances up at us as we sit at the table across from them then calls out to her daughter, “Lucinda, come sit down please.” The tow-headed kid, gives her a quick look, then continues her trek across the seats.

“Sorry,” says the mom, her eyes creased with apology. She has a lovely English accent.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “There’s no way mine is going stay in her seat either.” We look at each other and laugh. And that’s all it takes for the floodgates to open. She has three kids; I have three kids. We both worked once upon a time and now stay at home. We’re both killing time with our toddlers, wondering how we’ll fill the next three hours before the much anticipated bliss of nap time. She tells me about a horrific experience she’s just had flying on Alaska Airlines that almost ended in her being cited for violation of FAA regulations. What are we parents supposed to do? Keep them strapped in the entire plane ride across the country? I totally agree – ridiculous – then tell her about the time I was shopping in Target with my toddler and the baby and the toddler took off, running into a man in the next aisle over who then yelled at me to control my kids. I was so shaken I abandoned my cart, put the girls back in the car and cried into my steering wheel. “Yes! yes!” she says. She’s done that too.

It’s amazing how we moms make these immediate connections over plane rides, meals gone awry and unfriendly encounters with the curmudgeonly. We swap war stories, getting to the heart of the matter within minutes: yes I love my kids but parenting is hard. So much work goes into keeping it altogether. Planning ahead, knowing the limits of each child, being able to abort a necessary outing because of a meltdown or just having to suck up that meltdown because you still have to fetch your 5-year-old from school and you still need milk.

We bond immediately, understanding what it takes just to be there with the little ones: you have to eat, you have to travel, you have to shop and more often than not, you have to do it with your kids in tow. And it’s stressful and mind-numbing and joyous and exhausting and there’s nothing you’d rather do than this mothering gig and then again, you’d give your left arm to be anywhere other than in the middle of an airplane or grocery store or playroom floor with an inconsolable, tantrumming 2-year-old.

We let the girls run around our mostly empty little outpost of CPK, we glance at them and lob warnings over the empty tables, admonishing them as expected, but really, neither of us care that much. They aren’t hurting anyone (yet). They aren’t tripping up any of the wait staff (yet). They aren’t that annoying (yet). And we need a break. We need those moments between us to shore ourselves up, pool our lives together for a few minutes, swim in the shared love and frustration of motherhood and know we are holding life jackets for each other. We lean into the aisle between our two tables, nodding and understanding each other, encouraging and eye rolling.

Ten minutes later, we collect our kids and head for the door, saying how great it was talking with each other, wishing each other a wonderful rest of the day, all the while corralling the girls, steering them towards our exits. As I cross the parking lot to my car, feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I realize I don’t know her name. I feel that dip of disappointment, the pang of a potential friendship lost, but it doesn’t last. Even if we never see each other again, I know she’s out there, doing the best she can everyday, just like me. We’re in it together.

Anytime you want to have lunch in the Kids’ Corner at CPK, I’m there.