What I’ll Miss About This Summer

IMG_7018I often end up conflicted about summer. In June I’m like a wide-eyed toddler about to chomp down on her first lollipop, all excited and can’t wait and finally! By mid-August I’m more like a disgruntled teenager who just wants to be alone.

The first two months of summer brought visits with old friends, a trip to Disneyland with Lilah, time on the East coast at the sea and then the lake and a weekend away for me at a writing retreat with the most marvelous people. Once home, I reluctantly agreed to let Ella and Ruby stay home and do nothing the last two weeks of summer vacation. They bickered and didn’t make their beds and wanted to be carted to this friend’s house and that movie and this mall. Without meaning to, I morphed from The Laid Back Mom Who Digs Summer into The Mom Who Can’t Wait For School To Start Because My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy. Continue reading “What I’ll Miss About This Summer”

What Happened When I Let My Kids Have Unlimited Screen Time

This summer, I basically let my kids have as much screen time as they wanted. The three-year-old watched endless loops of Frozen and dozens upon dozens of episodes of Caillou (why doesn’t he ever grow hair?!). The middle-schooler watched two full seasons of New Girl, Divergent three times and logged a gazillion hours on Minecraft. My nine-year-old watched a lot of Dog With a Blog, which is actually kinda funny, re-watched all the Harry Potter movies and also played a lot of Minecraft.

I wish I could say I fought them tooth and nail whenever they asked for/snuck screen time, but I didn’t. Continue reading “What Happened When I Let My Kids Have Unlimited Screen Time”

Lost and Found Among the Van Goghs

We did not go to Israel. We went to Rome. Instead of playing on the beach in Tel Aviv, we circled the Coliseum, spectators among the ruins. We did not go to Israel. We traveled on to Amsterdam. Instead of resting our heads in reflection against the warm stone at the Kotel in Jerusalem, we toured the canals, took in the windmills.

After making the decision not to go to Israel from Florence as planned, we tried to make the best of our muddled vacation. Like us, at first the kids were sad and confused at this change of plans. The endless gelato in Italy followed by Dutch chocolate and pancakes for dinner seemed a respectable and happy-making substitute for them.

I, on the other, felt as though I were walking around in a fog. Yes, Rome and Amsterdam are wonderful cities, with so much to see, do, eat and drink. None of it filled the hollowness in my heart, that nagging feeling of missing something you’re not sure you can ever replace. I know canceling our trip to Israel during a war was the right decision for our family, but that doesn’t mean it felt good.

IMG_3531We are in the Van Gogh Museum stepping off the elevator into the lobby. I am pushing a cranky three-year-old in her stroller; the big girls straggle behind me as we make our way to the museum shop. A mom and her young daughter are walking and talking just in front of us. That’s when I hear it: Hebrew. At first I think my ears are playing tricks on me because Dutch is guttural, like Hebrew and who would be speaking Hebrew in Holland? Then I realize, no, it really is Hebrew. I can’t help myself:

“Are you Israeil?” I blurt out. The moment I ask, I realize this might be a question that makes them wary: a stranger asking if they’re Israeli? In Europe where anti-semitism is rearing its ugly head once again, who knows what the asker’s intentions might be? But the woman doesn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” she answers, smiling lightly. I feel as though the world has stopped spinning and that if I don’t hold tight to this woman, I might just float away. I put my hand on her arm and start gushing about how we were supposed to be in Israel right now for a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah but we changed our plans because of the rockets coming from Gaza and the ground operation and we’re so sad not to be there, so heartbroken. I can feel the flush in my cheeks as tears well in my eyes. She covers my hand with hers.

“It’s not the time to bring your family,” she says in her accented English. “We are here taking a break from it.” “It” being the stress and trauma of living in a war zone with sirens going off throughout the day and night and rockets arcing overheard and young soldiers putting their lives on the line to ferret out terrorists while the casualties mount.

In her eyes I see pure sympathy and understanding. I feel the tension of the last 10 days melt away and then I feel something amazing: connection. I’d been wandering around Europe feeling isolated, not just from Israel, but from my Jewish self. I shushed the kids whenever they used a Hebrew word or sang a Hebrew song or wondered out loud if a certain food was kosher (no, bacon salami is definitely not kosher). I’d been nervous to visit the Jewish quarter in Rome, not wanting to broadcast that we were Jews, worried we’d end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wondered if there’d be extra security at the Anne Frank House. My fear and anxiety about the world made me feel small and dark, on edge and alone.

Talking to this Israeli mom while my girls shoved each other impatiently and the little one demanded a snack, I felt my heart surge. She was like a lightening rod to home – my Jewish home. I’d been feeling as though I’d somehow forsaken Israel by not going, but there, in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam I knew my love for Israel was more passionate than ever. I knew we would do everything we could to be there soon.

I never could have imagined my summer would turn out the way it did. I didn’t swim at the beach in Tel Aviv or watch my friend’s son become a bar mitzvah at the Kotel. I didn’t shop for dried fruit and spices at Machane Yehuda or hang out with my BFF in Neve Tzedek. I didn’t get to taste the sweet, gooey rugelach at Marzipan or have a drink with my friends at the rooftop bar at the Mamilla hotel in Jerusalem.

No, I didn’t go to Israel this summer, but my connection to the aretz is stronger and fiercer than ever before. No matter where I am in the world.

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.

Life Is a Mystery and You’re Your Own Private Detective

There were a couple weeks earlier in the summer when I didn’t put Ella and Ruby in camp. For some reason I thought this would be good for them. They could relax, hang out with each other and me and Lilah. We could get our nails done. We could go to the city. We could bond.

Instead, they drove each other and me crazy most of the time. They couldn’t agree on any activities to do together, whether it was a game or an outing. All they seemed to be able to do without snarling at each other was sit side-by-side and play on the iPad or iTouch or iPhone, or login to Instagram or Fantage. And let’s face it, that’s not really doing anything together. Some of that is because the age difference between them is becoming more pronounced now that Ella is heading into middle school. I get it, but would it kill them to spend a little quality time together?

I thought the answer to that was a hopeless “yes” until the afternoon I’d finally had it.

“If you’re going to behave like animals then just take it outside!”

And they did. This was the result:

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It’s a Quotes Course. I love that it’s full of delightful little tidbits that seem both urgent and cheesy at the same time. Which one’s your favorite?