Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Of Years Old and New

It's been forever...

Dozens of posts started and abandoned, written in my head, in the shower, never making it to screen or paper...

I can't say "I'm back!" Because I don't know if I'll be able to do this again tomorrow...

But I'm here today.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, indeed.

Telling you that I want to write again, that I need to...

That I feel diminished in the not writing, that I miss my voice, too. (Thank you so much to all who have written words of encouragement whenever I have chanced to scratch out a post, these past desert-dry months.)

This has been a tough year.

In a little over two weeks, it will be exactly one year since I lost my mother. (January 17th, to be precise.)

It feels like both yesterday and forever ago that I held her hand, watched her die, wept my goodbye.

I have been treading lightly on this earth ever since, simultaneously here and not here,  Gratefully bound by love and obligation to those, my family (sons, husband, cat), whose need for my presence keeps me tethered in the now, I am nonetheless also floating in the ether, stretching out my open, empty hand toward my mother who keeps drifting farther beyond, never again to reach back and claim it.

I know I need to return, fully, to my life; that this dual, quantum existence cannot spin on indefinitely. I am a paler reflection of my old, colorful self and my family deserves more. I deserve more.

And yet I also know this mourning is a process that I need to go through to come out the other side. There is no around. No shortcut. No easy out. Only through.

I am hoping the year's anniversary will spiral me upward, into a higher orbit, the next stage of mourning that spins me out toward the future.


Tonight I gave away my mother's beanie babies.  A woman of normally impeccable, modern, sophisticated taste, she nonetheless had a soft spot for stuffed animals in general, and beanie babies in particular. She thought them "cute" and had amassed quite a collection of them before, I believe, my father threatened (idly) to divorce her if she purchased any more.

In the many downsizing moves I had boxed them up, except for a few that followed her into the nursing home - a beanie cat perched here, a flamingo there - on her paltry few furnishings.

I don't really want them (except for her favorite cat and flamingo) and yet could not bear to throw them out, so they became yet another box cluttering up our overstuffed apartment, the belongings of the dead commingled with the living.

And then tonight, New Year's Eve, we had an invitation to a party, for the first time in ages. A simple thing really, just three families, hanging out together, but so right for us. My friend who was hosting has three daughters; the middle one has a shortly upcoming birthday and loves nothing in the world so much as stuffed animals.

And so it came to pass that in addition to the champagne, strawberries and sparkling cider we brought to the party, came an enormous box of beanie babies.  Watching the sheer delight wash over my friend's daughter as she unearthed bear after bird after kangaroo from that box made my heart flutter.

My mother loved children so much (I'm sure it was part of her attraction to the beanie creatures, her real baby having left home so long ago) and I know that nothing would have made her happier than seeing her collection lighting up the world of a little girl.


We raised our glasses of champagne and cider to toast the new year as fireworks began to burst and boom in nearby Central Park.

And so I raise my glass to you, my friends and readers....

To a New Year, sweeter than the bitter one that has just come to its end.

May there be joy for us all. And healing hearts.

And fireworks, brightly hued and full of spangle; shimmering in the darkness, lighting up our midnights.

Friday, November 8, 2013

One toe in

I dare not say "I'm back."

I don't even know where I've been. Writing in my head only again, for months, it's now so full of words I feared the explosion would take out a city block.

I feel fake and false sharing the days' small trials and triumphs, the trivia that pile up to assemble my life right now -- meals and homework and mountains of laundry and paperwork, attending to my children's mental and physical health -- when throughout flows this raging undercurrent of grief, still; ten months in.

Ten months.

More than enough time to gestate. And yet what do I have to show for it? This egg-like orb of nothingness that is the palpable absence of my mother, lodged under my chest; barely dissipated, still.

But I feel I cannot yet either wear my mourning on my writer's sleeve. Even though it suffuses everything subtly, the constant filter on my lens, as a topic it is gray wisps, ghostly vague, deadly dull.

I am well aware that to go on and on about missing my mother now will likely incite impassioned and compassionate admonitions to "look forward" and "move on" which will make me want to shank my well-meaning readers.  Never a good place to be.

And Thanksgiving coming up.

Last year with my mother and uncle. This year without.

I almost can't look at the photos, the longing they engender so great, I fear the molecules of the screens upon which the images burn will burst apart from my desire to hold those people again against my actual body and not just in my metaphoric heart.

Mom and Uncle Walter, Thanksgiving 2012

So here I am.

Once again with all these little stories I want to tell, yet they remain untold.

I know it's okay to smile and laugh in the middle of grief, and I do, every day. I know that my mother, of all people in the world, would want me to enjoy each and every moment with my children with all my soul. And I do. Every day.

I hope the floodgates open soon (yet can make no promises).

Until then, here, now, is my one toe back in the water.

It feels good.

Even if it is just a pool of tears.

Friday, September 20, 2013

And now for something completely different...

I know.

It's been such a long time since I last posted on my blog, something I never thought would come to pass. And yet as the days stretched on it became harder and harder to post. Once again there are a thousand half-written posts in my queue, ten thousand in my head.

But today, finally, I have pushed through the quicksand to bring you....

A recipe.

Wait... What? Have I lost my mind and suddenly turned into another person?


I know you're thinking "What about the end of summer and Ethan's camp and Jacob's camp and the annual family vacation in the Berkshires and my mother's birthday and back-to-school haircuts and back-to-school and the whole middle school transition thing and school bus nightmares and... and... and...?"

Well, yeah. I have all those stories, too. And maybe some of them will get to spill out here. But I can't keep going backwards, I can only slog forwards right now.

And I have to start somewhere, and so that's today...

And so here's my recipe for Banana-Cranberry-Panic Muffins:

Wake up at 5:30 AM

Try to clean up as much of the kitchen as possible, unloading the dishwasher and reloading it, making a neat pile in the sink of everything that doesn't fit in, so that there's room to wash the strawberries and fill the filtered water pitcher.

Wash the strawberries and fill the pitcher.

6:00 AM Wake up your autistic son for school, who is, thank goodness, in a very happy mood this morning, bouncing around and wanting to to talk to you about everything. Wonder if this is because you ran out of one of his medications and so he didn't get it yesterday.

Consider whether there is a viable trade off here -- he is definitely more hyper/bouncy/distractable. Yet also happier and more related, talking and pointing and wanting you involved in everything he is thinking and doing. Great eye contact.

Make note to call psychopharmacologist to discuss. Also his teachers to see if he drives them crazy today or not.

Get your son dressed, fed, packed-up and on the bus.

6:55 AM As you go over the morning schedule for you other son in your mind - early school day, as its the "Back-to-School-Meet-the-Class" breakfast in his homeroom this morning - PANIC as you realize that you are supposed to contribute baked goods to this breakfast and you forgot to buy anything.

Calculate that there is no way you can get to the store and back and still be on time today. Also understand that there is no time to pick stuff up "on the way" and that there is no great bagel & coffee place right around the corner from his new middle school like there was at his old elementary school. Silently curse change again.

Have a brilliant idea: it only takes 10 minutes to whip up muffins and they can bake while you get your son up/make his lunch/get him ready/get husband up/get yourself dressed.  And so maybe you'll be on time and with still-warm home-baked muffins in hand, and so his homeroom teacher will continue to like your son, and you will not fail the Mom-game today.

Remember you have some frozen over-ripe bananas, so banana muffins it is!  When you open up the freezer to get them, a bag of frozen cranberries falls out and misses your foot by and inch. Kismet! Banana-cranberry muffins then.

And begin.
<*> <*> <*>

As is usual with my cooking, I looked up a coupla-three recipes to see what the basic ratios were, what they had in common and any interesting variations, and then I winged it with what I had on hand.

We arrived (nearly) on time. The muffins were a big hit. Ethan said: "Mom the sourness of the cranberries goes great with the sweetness of the muffins!" And he ate two. Win!

And so here, finally, is the actual recipe:

Varda's Banana-Cranberry-Panic Muffins:
(you can skip the panic if you prefer)

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 really ripe bananas, pulverized
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk - Buttermilk would be nice, too. Or almond/soy/rice milk if you want them dairy-free.
1/3 cup liquid shortening - I used coconut oil. You can use melted butter if you like.
1/2 cup sugar - white or brown or combo is fine. I used raw turbinado sugar.
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1 cup cranberries

Mix dry ingredients together & set aside. (Most recipes say "sift" and you can if you want to. Me, I'm too lazy for that and besides, I lost my sifter two moves ago.)
Mix everything else except the cranberries together, well.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until just combined (don't over-mix).
Stir in the cranberries.

Fill lined or greased muffin tins to just under the top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes.
Note: I made full size muffins. You can make minis or a loaf if you want. Bake time for mini-muffins is probably10-15 minutes, for a small loaf I'm guessing 35-40. You'll figure it out.

When my bananas get over-ripe I just pop them in the freezer, skin and all. To use, I microwave for 30 seconds, peel off the skins, remove any yucky bits and then microwave for another minute or so in a bowl until completely thawed.

I used frozen cranberries that were a bit old and wrinkly - to restore them I just filled a bowl with hot water at the start and popped the berries in for the 5 minutes while I mixed the rest of the muffins up. When it was time to add them they were plump and thawed.

<*> <*> <*>

Hey, that was fun! Maybe more recipes with stories to follow... maybe not. No promises, but let's see what the future will hold.

(And its nice to be back.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Three funerals and a wedding

Last night I was at a friend's daughter's wedding, this morning at a friend's father's funeral. Three dear friends of mine lost parents this past week. You hit a certain age, and this is what the landscape starts to look like, the odds tipped towards death. I understand. (But I don't have to like it.)

Everyone who died was quite old, in their eighties and nineties.  They had rich, full lives, a long run, loving children and grandchildren by their side. These things are all good. These deaths are sad, not tragic. I know.

And yet, as a daughter who has lost a mother, I feel it all so keenly, the tears streaming down my cheeks for men and women I barely knew but whose daughters' hearts are currently breaking, as they now face the world motherless or fatherless for the rest of their lives.

Even the wedding was not free of minefields for me. It was a lovely affair, the bride in her 20s, our friends - her parents, so proud and happy. There was food and wine and dancing. After the hora, the DJ hit a nostalgia pocket, and when he dropped the needle on "In the mood" I suddenly fell to pieces, quietly sobbing on Danny's shoulder.

I had suddenly been transported back to my childhood,my mother teaching me to lindy-hop in the kitchen -- table pushed back against the egg-yolk yellow walls, kicking up our heels on the gray linoleum tiles, the cats looking on in bemusement from their warm perch atop the water-heater cabinet.

I loved and missed her so much right then.

It comes in waves like that, unexpected, never unprovoked, sometimes unwelcome, sometimes a gift. They are entwined, like that -- the loving and the missing.

And for now, I'll take it, since its all I've got.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Birthdays come and birthdays go

This morning it was just me and Jacob, his brother away still, at camp; his father off at a comic convention in Chicago.  When he woke up at the ungodly hour of 6:30, I plopped down next him on the sofa. "So is there anything you want to say to me this morning, Jake?" Expecting.... I didn't know what.

"Happy birthday, Mom!" he piped up, the first of many birthday wishes from him today. Most delivered with a big hug and a kiss too.

It was odd not having Ethan around, as well. Though we had celebrated our birthdays last Sunday on camp visiting day -- his a week late, mine a week early -- it was still not quite the same as spending the actual days together.

But the biggest, oddest absence is, of course, my Mother.

This was the first birthday of my life that I didn't see or speak to her, she who has been there since the beginning, she who birthed me. It felt so odd, that sense of "something missing" hanging about me all day. That phantom limb whose faint ghost-pain keeps the bite of absence keen.

"Who else called to wish you Happy Birthday? Dan asked from Chicago when we finally connected to catch up.  "Not my mother" was my immediate reply.  "It just feels so strange to have a birthday without at least a happy birthday call from her."

"Well, it would be stranger if she DID call, wouldn't it?" He shot back, parrying with the gallows humor that those of us with dead parents use to lighten grief's load.

And yes, I laughed. And that was good.

And thus this was neither the best nor worst birthday of my life.  Fun was had. And the melancholy came and went, as it is now wont to do.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law sent a luscious, glorious floral arrangement that took my breath away (and I then spent the day fending off the cat from devouring it).

Friday night I was taken out to dinner by a small bunch of good girlfriends.  We had a completely lovely evening, full of laughter and talk and wine and good middle-eastern food.  Conversations swirling on, we bounced from movies to kids to husbands to jobs and back around again... getting older, middle school transitions, summer reading lists... travels or lack thereof (one of us confessed to sitting on a park bench and crying whilst reading the Facebook status updates of another of us from Paris, and I could so relate).

Presents came: handmade, floral, yummy, bejeweled, and from Paris.  Many many hugs were given and taken;  my heart light as a breeze, the whole walk home.

And no, my parents never called. Not my Uncle Walter, either.

Never again.

And yes I know it's just the price of growing older, of becoming the eldest generation, as countless families before me have so evolved.

I don't like it.  I don't have to like it.

But it surely beats the alternative.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On brevity being the soul of wit, and all that rot.

Flying home from BlogHer13 in Chicago

If you know me, you know I tend to be "long form."

What I usually call a post, most sane bloggers without perfectionism / obsessiveness and time management issues would call three posts.

But it has also been true that the same forces that lead me to such excessive verbosity are, at the moment, shutting me down. I have barely posted in the last six months. And while I am not happy about that, I also know I don't have the wherewithal to devote the same energy to my blog at this moment as I have in the past.

And, truth be told, I'm still struggling with the emotional aftermath of my Mother's death. Ironic that this blog began as my father was dying, of my need to speak from all the jumbled pain therein. That opened the floodgates that fed my writing.

And now the fallout from my mother's death has dammed up my words again. But not completely. A trickle is still flowing through.

So I am considering this: trying to let myself write really short posts for this month.

At our LTYM BlogHer breakfast in Chicago last Sunday, I was sitting across from Lisa Rosenberg (of the blog Smacksy) and when it became clear that another woman at our table didn't know her work, Alexandra and I fell over ourselves gushing about how much we love Lisa's blog -- how adorable her son is, how lovely the writing. Alexandra mentioned how refreshing it was that the posts were so short, just a perfect little slice of life.

And it got the wheels turning... maybe I can do this... write short posts with just one thought, one story, while waiting for the longer ones to come.

I have so, so many bits of writing sitting in my "unpublished" queue that I have been thinking of as "half-written posts." What if I just call them posts (with a little polishing of course) - hit the "publish" button and move on?

Would the world stop spinning on its axis? Unlikely. (But don't blame me if it coincidentally does.)

There is so much that has gone on this spring and summer that I haven't talked about yet here... graduations... rites of passage... summer camp... visiting cousins... Bat Mitzvahs... new babies... Jake's evolving development... even a recipe I wanted to share.

Also there is one very important, very PARTICULAR half-finished post that I have pushed myself to complete, even if it is less complete than I think it should be.  I have actually put it up on my blog just before this post - backdated, of course, to July 29th, the only proper day for my boys 11th birthday post, since it was, of course, their 11th birthday.

So you can read that here: They go to 11!

See, you get two for the price of one today. (A bargain!)

And so now, of course, I have written an un-short post about how I am going to be writing short posts.

(But then again, isn't that so me?)

More to come soon, I (sort of) promise.

Monday, July 29, 2013

They go to 11!

Summer 2013: Ethan, off to camp!
Summer 2013: Jacob, waiting for the school bus!

Today my boys officially become Tweens! (Though, truth be told, Ethan has seemed like one for some time now.)

Eleven years ago today, right now, I was being wheeled out of surgical recovery and into my room, groggy but eager to hold my new sons tight and never let go.

I had fallen in love the minute I'd seen them, floored by the fierceness of the lioness awakened, that feeling that I would fight tooth and nail, would die to protect these tiny beings I had just officially met moments before.

Though of course I knew them already, intimately, for months as they swam inside me, tumbling about, tussling for space, occupying my every waking thought and visiting my dreams.

And now, of course, it's time to start letting go. And it has begun.

Ethan is off at summer camp this year. Two whole months.

The strangeness of mornings and evenings without him still shocks. I miss him sharply, and on this day most keenly.

We have visited once, and will again before he comes whirling home, tanner, taller, grown and matured in ways I cannot yet know.

Jacob is once more at his school's Summer Academy, which, joyfully, they make as much like camp as school. They tackle academics in the morning, and then the afternoons are for fun: swimming, art, cooking, playgrounds, plus a weekly all-day field trip.

Jacob keeps asking where Ethan is, even though he knows. And while he is now getting the lion's share of my attention, he would still rather have his brother along for the ride.

And now, today their birthday, it will feel so odd to celebrate with Jacob alone, Ethan phoning it in, as it were, the call from camp scheduled for 7 pm.

But I suppose it's just a shadow of years to come when Ethan has flown the coop while Jake is still here with us, moving ahead at his own pace, tethered by need as well as love.

On birthdays we look back as well as forward, and the years have just whipped by, haven't they?

I documented this last year, with pictures from every birthday leading up to their tenth, in my post: Counting up to TEN! as well as telling you about their Last Day of Nine.

And two years ago, I shared more details of the day of their birth, here: Nine Years and Counting.

And the year before that, I wrote my boys a love letter on their eighth birthday: A Good Day to be Born

So, Happy Birthday, my beautiful Boys!

It's been a wonderful eleven years with you and I can't wait to see what this next year has waiting for us around the bend!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Telling stories

"Tell me a story about yourself, Mommy, tell me about you, Varda," Jacob asks at dinner the other night.

And although he only listens to the first three words of my answer before he's on to his next question, it's a start.

A big start.

He's been talking a lot about family lately.

"Mom and Dad, you're my family." He says, with an intonation halfway between statement and question.

"Yes we are!" I confirm.

"And Ethan is my brother." He ads.

"That's right, Jakey."

"We're a family!" I reinforce.

"Daddy was a boy? Now he's a man? I will be a man?" (Right on all counts.)

"Daddy and Mommy get married?" (Yes we did.)

"Get married you can kiss the bride?" (smooching sound effect included) (Yes, we did.)

"I will grow up and be a man and get married." (Dear God I hope so)

"Yes, Jakey."

And now, lately: "Mommy I'm going to marry you!"

And while I smile and explain that I'm already married to someone - Daddy - and he will have to find his own special person to marry when he grows up, I'm secretly glad he's said it while we're home. When he makes statements like this when we're out and about, I can see people doing a double take.

Unless Jake's been especially flappy or grimacey, they probably haven't expected him to be anything out of the ordinary, "passing" as it were, until the oddness of our conversation begins to become evident.

Also I'm mentally ticking off that box in my mind on the page of developmental milestones: Oedipal age - check!

In a "typically developing" boy that comes on about age four, and I seem to recall Ethan having similar romantic notions about me 'round about that time. And it also fits with where Jacob is in a lot of other ways, "socially/emotionally," as they say.

I kind of forgot how completely exhausting four year-olds can be...  the thousand questions, the need for constant attention, the wanting to do complicated things themselves, and then the tantrums when it doesn't work out as planned.

That all this four-year-oldness comes wrapped in the body of a 120 pound, 5 foot tall, near eleven year-old makes it all the more unsettling for strangers to witness. Though of course that's just normal for our family, things being other than they would appear to be at quick glance.

"Blue Bear needs his family to go to bed with him!" Jake firmly asserts at bedtime tonight. And so I round up the white, turquoise and sky blue bears that we have long ago designated to be his mother, father and brother (although sometimes it's a sister, depending on Jake's mood), tuck them in beside him, sing them all to sleep.

"Mommy, sleep with me!" says Jake. And though I know I can't stay, that my presence will be too exciting, will keep him awake, I lie beside him for a few minutes as he recounts his day to me, telling the stories as he remembers them:

"Mommy and Jacob went to the movies and saw Turbo. We saw the credits and the music and it was 20th Century Fox."

"And Jake and mommy went to the grocery store and bought three things." (More like 20, but who's counting.)

"And then I laughed too much and said the stupid bad words and Mommy got cross. I caused confusion and delay. Mommy is going to fire me."

"No Jakey sweetie, you needed to calm down because it was bedtime, and I'm not cross, not mad, you are NOT a bad engine, just a bouncy one. And you can't be fired."

I stroke his head, drop another kiss upon it. "And even when I do get mad, Jakey? I never, ever stop loving you, not even for an instant."

"Know this: I will always be your mom, you will always be my son, and I will always love you, forever and ever. Nothing can ever change that."

And we lie quietly for a moment.

One moment's silence.

And then I kiss him again and ease my way out of the room.

"Goodnight, Mother" he lofts at my back as I slip away.

"Goodnight Jake, I'll see you in the morning."

And I will.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Door, Upper West Side

I have a new friend and I'm not telling her name but she is delightful and I am happy. This is a detail from her door. 

<*> <*> <*>

My walk through the city tonight feels like a stroll through a movie set. Here, a cafe where every single person seated at the outdoor tables is wearing a blue shirt, hues ranging from sky to azure to midnight. There, a blonde family of five - impossibly attractive and dressed to the nines for a festive occasion - pose for a photo as a man who can best be described as an African-American Gabby Hayes crosses the frame, fur lumberjack hat squashed down onto his head, pushing his squeaky wheeled shopping cart filled with dingy stuffed animals and dented soda cans.

Yes, this is my city. We all come out of central casting.

<*> <*> <*> 

Sunday, for the first time in ages, I stopped at Zabar's to pick up some lox, and had forgotten the artistry of the slicers there. While the stuff we usually get from our local bagel place is serviceable, this was a revelation: fresh, delicious and so thin you could nearly, as the saying goes, read the newspaper through it.

While I was watching the counter man slice, before I could stop it, the thought popped into my head that I should bring Walter some Zabar's lox next time I go see him, as it always delighted him so when I would arrive bearing real New York City appetizing. And then the sadness rushed in, a now constant tide.

<*> <*> <*>

Jacob has now woken up at 5:30 AM for more than a week.

This usually means that he is about to undergo a big leap in growth and understanding, his brain too excited to slumber past dawn.

It could however, just be an attempt to get uninterrupted screen time on his own terms, no brother to share and negotiate with.

Only time will tell.

<*> <*> <*>

Today I sat in the "big yard" with Ethan after school, eating our ice creams in a shady spot and watching the kids swirl around us, playing their hearts out. We are both still easily tired, the legacy of the stomach bug that swept through our household earlier this week, taking us down like bowling pins, Ethan the first to go on Monday afternoon.

So instead of jumping up to join the fracas, he sits beside me, in the quiet watching, rests his head on my shoulder, waves back at his friend's younger siblings when they spot us and yell hello.

I look at the Kindergarteners among them, and then down at my nearly eleven year-old son, sifting through the years that brought him from that to this. I can't quite believe that he was ever that little. Or that his time here is soon to come to a close.

Six years spent in these red brick walls. Now less than two weeks until goodbye.

Tonight is the 5th grade dance. The girls will dress in taffeta and heels. The boys will need to be persuaded to wash their faces and put on clean t-shirts. They'll arrive in groups, still separate; the boys here, the girls there.

Growing up. But not quite grown. Ethan's heart is mine for yet a little bit longer.

<*> <*> <*> 

I need to change the name of my blog. My sandwich is open faced now. Open to the heavens. 

Although, needless to say, most days I am still quite squashed.

<*> <*> <*>

I thought we were finally done with Thomas forever... until Jake stared obsessing over him again about three months ago.  Only now we have to discuss which season and which episode number and who the narrator is and what year it came out and is it a "classic" episode or a new one and does the narrator talk "Americanish" or "Englanish" and...  (I say bomb Sodor back to the stone ages & be done with it!)

Well, we did get a break from it for a while. Over the years, we have cycled through obsessions with Teletubbies, Batman, Bakugan, Blues Clues, Ben 10, Power Rangers, Sponge Bob, Dragonball Z Kai, Pingu, and - do NOT ask me why - old basketball games/teams. Specifically the 1974 Celtics for some reason - and we're New Yorkers! Some of these were a relief, while others made me long for the fat controller.

<*> <*> <*> 

It has been a month since my last post.

A month.

I never thought I would lose my voice for so long.

But the other losses have been adding up, cumulative, weighing me down. The words swirl in my head, coalesce into nothing more than little jagged fragments. A sentence here, a thought there, an amusing facebook update at most.

I write them down, thinking I will flesh them out into posts soon, but there they remain, dry bones waiting for life.

I am tired of waiting. Of silence.

So I scoop my shards up, spread open my hands just a bit, so that they may waft out between my fingers, sprinkle down onto this page, and leave them there, where they fall, willy-nilly.

Not quite a post, but not quite NOT one, either.

A start.

Clearing my throat.

More to follow.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Listened to a Bunch of Mothers (and some non-mothers and a cool dude) on Mothers Day

So, the second annual NYC Listen to Your Mother Show has come and gone. I would say it completely dominated my life for the past month, but that wouldn't be quite true.  It had a lot of competition from my Uncle's decline and death and Jake's IEP and Ethan's... well, you get the idea.

But it DID dominate the awesome in my life. And having something major and all-consuming to do on the first Mothers Day without my mother was, frankly, a godsend. I know I have just side-stepped the pain, that it will hit at some point, but if I can put it off just a little longer, that's fine with me right now.

(I haven't even finished my "first Mothers Day without my mother" post which is sitting half-written on my computer. Every time I go to it and see the picture of the two of us last year on Mothers Day I just get too sad, and let myself get distracted by Facebook and the Twitterverse.)

The show was... well, it's hard to find words to describe it... wonderful... glorious... moving, inspiring, side-splittingly funny, heart-rending and thought provoking, all in turn and often simultaneously.

And I can say this without seeming conceited because I was just a small cog in the great works of it all. What an awesome talented bunch of folks up there on the stage and behind the scenes. It was an overflowing vat of wonderful, all around.

My co-producer & directors - Holly Rosen Fink, Amy Wilson, and Shari Simpson - were amazing to work with. They all really carried the day when I was less than my 100% capable self, due to my mother's dying in January just as the production was ramping up.

And the cast... well, you're just going to have to watch the videos when they come out on YouTube soon.

The experience on Sunday was lovely for everyone, in the cast and audience alike. And if you weren't able to be there, I hope you can come next year. And if you're not near NYC there's probably a LTYM near you - find it!

And if you're one of my many dear friends who was producing and/or directing one of the 24 LTYMs around the country this year - yay! Can't wait to see YOUR city on video, too!

But until then... here's a taste - what I read (an edited version of this post from last year):


Tonight my son Ethan and I ran a little excursion after dinner. Just the two of us. When we walked out the door it was not quite seven o'clock. These days that means a sky full of light.

Added to the ridiculously unseasonable warmth, us stepping out on a March eve in mere t-shirts, and I was hard pressed to remember it wasn't a languorous summer evening, but yet a school night, and thus we had to execute our errand quickly and hurry home.

Besides, I had promised the upstairs neighbors with whom I had parked Ethan’s twin brother Jacob that we'd be back within the hour, and I sorely did not want to abuse my favor currency with them. Friends who are comfortable taking on Jacob are few and far between, precious as diamonds.

Jake himself was delirious to be upstairs with the neighbors and their white terrier, with whom he is nearly as obsessed as he is with our cat. Jacob calls these animals 'my best friends' which, though it breaks my heart, is true.

Ethan and I were on a mission.

We absolutely HAD to go to the bookstore tonight because he had finished the last book of a particular series in our possession the day before, and thus we were now in the dreaded state of NOTHING TO READ.

Ethan is in high, silly spirits as we walk the busy Broadway blocks to our local Barnes & Noble. He skips and darts around me walking down the street, as much crazed mosquito as boy.

"Look at all the people out in the evening!" Ethan proclaims with wonderment, and I dive again into pointless regret that we are not living anything like the life I had imagined, filled with evening family strolls and nighttime explorations of the city.

Jacob does not like to leave home all that much, and to be out with Jacob and Ethan together is most often a form of torture. I must have some wealth of resilience in my bones, some stored reserve of calm and good mothering at the ready.

There are days when I can and days when I can't and today was decidedly in the impossible column.


Mission accomplished, book in hand, Ethan and I pushed through the store's glass doors into a city become night, the sky's blue glow nearly extinguished, the streets bathed in yellow-orange incandescence.

Turning west to walk the two short blocks to Riverside and home, the brightest of stars appeared in the overhead sky.

Not stars, planets: Venus and Jupiter blazing in the deep cerulean sky that slices between the high-rises, thankfully not obliterated. These two gods are in a much celebrated love fest this month, a rare conjunction.

And yet, while they appear to be quite close, kissing distance tonight, they are in fact not truly crossing at all. It's just an artifact of our perspective, the way they look from here on our own mudball.

They are in fact deeply distant from each other, Venus, sunward, drawing us in toward the heart of our solar system, while Jupiter circles round us from the outside.

I do not like that my children are distant planets, each locked into their own distinct orbits, occasionally approaching but never truly crossing paths, both merely circling 'round me, their sun.

How I wish instead they were more like a double star system, like so many of the other twins we know: circling each other, at times closer, at times more distant but always in orbit, one about the other; connected, entwined, hurtling through space as one.

But I must, as ever, resist the siren pull of the "what ifs," of that dark matter that draws me to its crushing embrace.

I must instead stay here, in the now, in the track of my actual sons.

The one who lives on planet Autism.

And the one who does not.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Goodbye, Uncle Walter

Mom & Uncle Walter, November, 2012

In case you've been wondering where I've been lately....

The day after my mother passed in January, my Uncle Walter got diagnosed with stage four, metastatic lung cancer. He was given a three to six month prognosis.

Less than a week after that I was taking him to oncology appointments, visiting him in his Long Island home, spending time with my cousins - his daughters - as they cycled through town, coming in as often as they could.

In spite of how unfair this all was, in spite of his (growing) pain, in spite of his (very understandable) fear of death, he somehow maintained an upbeat, positive attitude throughout it all. He was magnificent, amazing.

Last Friday, he lost the fight. His daughters were with him for the last day of his life (I had sat vigil, awaiting their arrival).

His funeral was Monday. Family, neighbors, colleagues, friends all gathered. The rabbi delivered a lovely eulogy. Jess spoke for the daughters (Annette was too overcome to go join her at the podium) and said so many beautiful true things about Walter. And I spoke too.

It was a beautiful May day at the cemetery. Afterward we gathered in the backyard he so loved and ate and drank and shared fond memories of Walter. He was much beloved by all who knew him.

In the coming days I will tell more stories from these last three months, but for now I will just share the words I spoke at the funeral, here:

Walter was my uncle. My mother's "little brother" as she was so fond of calling him in recent years - and he was so UN-fond of hearing. Still, he put up with it with a grimacey smile because he loved his sister - his big sister Sylvia - so very much.

We were a close family. Growing up, "the relatives" meant Walter and his family - my Aunt Eva and cousins Jessie and Annette who were truly my best friends. Besides my parents, the Heimers - as we called them - were my very favorite people, the ones I was closest to, knew I would be intimately connected to for the rest of my life.

And we are.

I loved my Uncle Walter and am so grateful to have had the chance to spend so much time with him over the years -- and especially in this last year of his life which my Mother spent in the Nursing Home just 9/10ths of a mile from his house (yes, I clocked it on the odometer).

My mother absolutely loved Walter's frequent visits. Sometimes I would also be there during them, and the three of us would hang out together in the courtyard. Walter always turned the heads of staff and resident alike - he was such a handsome man, such a dapper dresser, in his suit and fedora -and mom was so proud to tell everyone who he was - her baby brother.

Walt visiting Mom at the nursing home

Every time I would come into my mom's room she was always showing me the flowers and chocolates he had brought her on his last visit. "My brother is so good to me" she would tell me, so grateful for his company, so much love twined between them.

And that love has roots that go all the way back. My mother often told me the story of going to see her new - baby - brother who had just been born. At that time they didn't allow children under 16 into hospitals, so my then 5 year-old mother stood outside the building, under Grandma Dunia's hospital room window - and she held Walter up for Mom to see.

Recently, at a family gathering, Jessie went to the basement for a bottle of seltzer and came up with an old journal of Walter's from 1941 when he would have been 14. (You never know what you're going to find in that basement.)

This entry from February says so much: "My older sister is a swell gal. My ideal. I wish she was born a boy then we could have some real fun."

And in spite of her being a girl, they did have fun, throughout their lives together. In jazz clubs in the 1940s, at family holidays - always together, on vacation in Maine, hanging out in the lush backyard of Walt & Eva's Port Washington house..

The other day I was rifling through my old photo box - you know why - and came up with a great shot of Walt & Eva from 1968. I showed it to my husband Danny and he commented: Eva looks great and Walter... looks like movie star! And indeed he did.


Everyone thinks my own son Ethan takes quite a bit after the Heimer clan, looks a lot like Walter. He does. I can only hope he grows up to be a warm, loving mensch like my Uncle Walter. There's a good chance of it - he already has his huge - and not always appropriate - sense of humor.


Goodbye Walter. You were loved. You will be missed. Keep my mom good company, Ok?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Boys Spring Haircuts - 2013 Edition

Before haircuts - obviously

As promised: photographic evidence from the boys spring haircuts a couple of weeks ago, before and after. And then even some fun together afterwards: goofing around on the Riverside Park cannonballs, a thing that never seems to get old, even if Ethan has long outgrown the playground.

First: Shaggy!

During: Ethan in the chair, Jake checking out his new 'do in the mirror.

And after: Shorn!


Happy Spring everyone!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Perspective, again

Photo by Lucky Tran via

I hate this.

My heart is breaking.

For my friends.

For my family.

For perfect strangers.

For my country.

I do not understand people who want to do this.

To inflict harm upon strangers.

To turn a joyful occasion into terror and sorrow.

To kill children.

I know human beings can lose their humanity.

It happens in war.

It happens in homes with the doors closed and everything looking just peachy from the outside.

I understand it with my head.

But not my heart.


~~~ * ~~~

After a long (for me) hiatus, with my head too wrapped up in other things, I was finally ready to post yesterday. About something lovely that happened with Jake the other day. Something small. Sweet and joyful.

And then Boston.

And then I just couldn't.

And I know life goes on.

But still, we must take pause.

I was walking home with Ethan, after school pickup yesterday, when we heard a man yelling; shouting, screaming on Broadway.

Fearful it was another crazed homeless man (one had badly frightened him a few years ago) I looked about and saw just an ordinary young man with a cell phone.

"No, no, no, no, no! What happened?" he said when words returned after the screams of anguish subsided. "Were is Meagan? Is she all right? Is she alright?"

Ethan and I kept walking. He was concerned. I assumed it was a personal matter, a car accident, maybe.

And then we got home, and Danny told me what had happened.

Ethan wanted to know more, and didn't. And I was torn between sheltering him from the horrors of this world and trying to honestly explain the evils in it without unduly frightening him.

I settled for a middle ground.

And he fell asleep last night easier than I did, sitting benumbed on the sofa, parked before a TV showing me over and over again things I did not want to see or hear yet couldn't tear myself away from.

I have dear friends in Boston. Family. All safe. (There but for the grace...)

~~~ * ~~~

In days to come I will tell you of Jake's small triumphs, of Ethan's growing obsession with Magic the Gathering; share photos of the boys' spring haircuts, talk about how wonderful this year's Listen to Your Mother show is going to be and encourage you to buy tickets.

But today, now, I will simply take my pause.

Reflect on how tiny my troubles appear in the light of larger tragedy.

I am getting tired of how often the world gives opportunity for this sort of perspective these days.

Wishing peace for those suffering.

And light and love to enter the hearts and minds of all those who would do such a thing, rendering the unthinkable, unthinkable once more.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Autism awareness... acceptance... celebration... whatever Day

Hi everyone. I should have a wonderful new post for you today about autism and my son Jacob. But I don't. Today is the final day of my sons' week and a half long spring break, and I've been too busy being a mom.

Today I could have ignored my son Jacob and written a post or spent the day tooling around the city with him, running errands and enjoying his company. You know which way I went with that.

So instead, you can read the posts I wrote last year: My 1 in 88 or Still Aware and Still Accepting and the year before: Every day is Autism Awareness Day 'round these parts

You can read some wonderful posts my friends have written this year, such as: I'm Aware. and I Got A Name

You could check out the Autism Shines Facebook page and see the faces of so many beautiful autistic folks.

And if you're one of the strangers Jake walked up to yesterday, flashed his sweet smile at and asked to pant like a dog or meow like a cat (then gave a demonstration)? Maybe you're a bit more aware today anyway. 

If you're one of the strangers who smiled back and obliged him? Definitely accepting. And thank you! 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March '13 Round-Up: What I Loved on OTHER People's Blogs

New York Public Library by Neil Kramer

Welcome to the March edition of my monthly "What I Loved on OTHER People's Blogs" feature. The place where I share what has caught my eye (and brain, and heart) on the internet over the past month.

Also, as usual, I am also featuring many photos from my friend and amazing intstagram photographer Neil Kramer - of the blog Citizen of the Month - who has been in NYC this month and doing some wonderful work.

Please notice a lot more humor this month. (Don't worry, there's still a lot of gut wrenching, lyrical beauty and thoughts on autism, as per usual.) March is such a heavy, heavy month for me, I really needed help to lighten up - so I'm passing that on to you here.

Morning, Queens by Neil Kramer

Let's start with some funny...

A conversation about the cat that has nothing to do with her weight by Alice of Finslippy

And Then The Phone Rang by Nancy of Midlife Mixtape

St. Patrick's Day Parade, NYC by Neil Kramer

Frida & Diego by Deb of Deb on the Rocks

Hop on the Bus, Gus by Anna of An Inch of Gray

Chrysler Building, NYC by Neil Kramer

Was It My Fault by Tracy of Sellabit Mum at Scary Mommy

Our real lives by Mary (the Barnmaven) of Clean Shavings

Reading, Highline, NYC by Neil Kramer

Why it’s okay for parents of autistic children to not be okay… by Lexi of Mostly True Stuff

Dear Relative: What Are You Waiting For? by Leigh of Flappiness Is...  

Elevated #1 train 125th St., NYC by Neil Kramer

Chosen: First Grade Politics by Debby of Everybody's Boy

Our "College" Tour by

Yellow Chair, Highline, NYC by Neil Kramer

For the First Time (Since Ever) He Didn’t Sit Alone by Jo of A Sweet Dose of Truth

six years — or — no. hell, no. hell to the mothereffing no. by Jess of a diary of a mom

Woman 23rd St., NYC by Neil Kramer

And because I promised you funny and after the first two selections we dove back into serious... ending with funny!
The Game of Life by Jillsmo of Yeah. Good Times.

Evasive Maneuvers: A Guide To Parental Escape by Vikki of Up Popped a Fox

And now, a word from Max's sleep-deprived dad AND Special needs mom's head explodes! by Ellen of Love That Max (Who was extra funny this month and I just couldn't choose!)

Clock near Flatiron Building, NYC by Neil Kramer

Finally, a few more photos from Neil, who was on fire this month - really inspired by NYC architecture...

Hotel New Yorker, NYC by Neil Kramer

In Shadows, NYC by Neil Kramer

Madison Avenue, NYC by Neil Kramer

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC by Neil Kramer

Reflection, NYC by Neil Kramer

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A beautiful thing

Jake and his Grandma, September, 2012

My mother's memorial service, held, finally, on Sunday March 3rd was beautiful; just what I needed. Although up until five minutes before it started I was feeling all jangly and out of sorts, grumbley about how it didn't feel right to be doing it at that exact time, a month and a half after she had passed.

I had been up nearly all night finishing and polishing my eulogy, wanting it to be just right, to properly honor the mother I had so loved.

When I stepped up to the podium to begin the service, Ethan was standing right beside me. He had asked to do so, telling me he wanted to support me, to be there for me in case I was overcome with grief. Sometimes I am astounded by his sweetness and depth.

I welcomed the assembled guests, a mix of family and friends, including, thankfully, one set of old, old friends of my parents, nearly the last left standing.

I read my eulogy: Some Heart: Sylvia Steinhardt's Eulogy and then opened up the podium to everyone who wanted to speak, starting with Ethan.

He spoke about where he was when he found out his Grandmother had died and how he felt. It was spontaneous and heartfelt and lovely. Clearly there is yet another storyteller in this family.

Then my brother Bruce spoke, filling in his side of the story of what it was like to suddenly have a step mother as an older teen, and how wonderful Mom had been, in spite of all the challenges. He spoke so lovingly of her, reminded me that I had forgotten "seltzer" in my list of things she loved passionately.

Then my fourteen year old niece Greta (my cousin Annette's eldest daughter) read a poem she had written for my mom. I was awed by its beauty, and am sharing it here:

To Sylvia

My most vivid memories of you
are summertime; flowers
stretching palms for sky,
a green new world
growing into its skin.

I wore golden, dangling earrings
to go see you.
You thought they were beautiful,
and you told me so.
Again. And again.

Your memory was a visitor
that didn’t stay for long,
But you knew who we were.
Your hands were for holding,
your eyes were an embrace.

I like to think
that wherever you are in the universe,
you will continue to find
new stars in the sky.

by Greta Wilensky

(Now you can see why she's been winning poetry slam contests.)

And then Jake, who had been sitting next to me, taking this all in, told me he wanted to speak too, and pointed to the podium... I asked him “Are you sure?” and he said “Yes.” Firmly.

So up we went. I had absolutely no idea how much of what was going on he had comprehended, and what he was going to say. If he had recited a favorite scene from SpongeBob it wouldn't have surprised me.

But no. He stood there silently for a moment, clearly working hard to come up with what he wanted to say.

And it was stunning and beautiful.

“I love my grandma” Jake said.


“I see her in the hospital” (what he often called the nursing home, it being more like one than any other home of hers he had known)

“2012” (which was the last time he saw her)

“Mommy loves Grandma” (very true indeed)

And he was done.

My heart just filled to the brim – that he had understood we were all sharing our experiences with his grandma and he had wanted to participate, to be a part of it, and then that he had found his own words to do so, not a scripted phrase among them.

Well, I was floored, and so proud of my boy.

After that, I honestly cannot tell you in what order people spoke. I remember who spoke, remember their words, their stories, their love.  I deeply appreciated the tremendous amount of humor that everyone brought to their stories of Mom, which was so fitting because she was such a warm, funny, full-of-life person.

My cousins Jess and Annette spoke together, sharing what a warm and loving presence their aunt Sylvia had been in their life.

My niece Rachel, my sister-in-law Bern, Jess's daughter Ilana, my friend Emma, my husband Danny all shared lovely memories of my mom.

And my Uncle Walter? Brought down the house. He loved my mom, his big sister, so very much. Generally an earthy as well as intellectual man with a bawdy sense of humor, he has been ailing lately and may have been somewhat further disinhibited by medication he is taking.

He told more tales of Mom that frequently included phrases like "and then she bedded the boss, and was soon running the joint." But as these were delivered in tone so clearly full of admiration for her, he had tears of laughter streaming down our faces as he filled in many details of her adventurous life, pre-Dad.

When it was over, my friend Julie came up to me and said she absolutely wanted my uncle to deliver her eulogy, when the time comes.

Everyone contributed their stories in what felt much more a celebration of her life than a mourning for her death. And that was exactly right. What she would have wanted.

So many people came up to me during the lox and bagels brunch in the social hall afterwards, telling me they had never been to a memorial service that was so funny, so haimish, so relaxed and enjoyable. Those that hadn't known her well - like some of my recent friends and my husband's family members - told me they felt they really got to know her.

And that was just perfectly who Mom was: funny, warm, informal, wanting to know people and to be known.  I feel we truly honored her that day, sharing her essence as well as her stories.

I now carry this day around with me, along with all the other parts of my mother that live on forever inside me.

My mom is gone, but her love, and the love she continues to spread among those who knew her, lives on. As it should be.

It was a beautiful thing.

Mom & her brother Walter, October 2012