web analytics

I’m not a camper.  Although, for the first thirty years of my life, I was.  I went camping all the time as a kid.  The White Mountains, a few times up in Vermont, and almost every year from the time I was my oldest child’s age, I went to Hermit Island up in Maine.

I don’t like to camp.  (I also hate birds, and my family had parrots and cockatoos for most of my childhood as well – but that’s another post…).  I don’t like the bugs and the dirt, and when you combined the bugs, the dirt, and all the sheer work that goes into camping with a toddler who was incredibly resistant to change – well, it was easier just to skip the annual family trips.

But… time marches on.  I’ve got three kids now, and none of them take naps or wear diapers.   Vacations are expensive, and let’s face it, camping is cheaper than a hotel.   Time outside, canoeing and hiking, exploring new places… there were too many advantages to not go.  Plus my  mother is enormously effective at guilt trips (anyone who thinks that Jewish mothers have a monopoly on this is just wrong – nobody can do guilt like my mom).  The kids would LOVE it, just think about how fun it’ll be for them.

She was right.  As much as I hate to admit it, she was totally right.  My kids (mostly) loved it.  Jessie had a rough patch (more on that later) on Saturday, but she adored going to Plymouth.  She really got into the history, seeing the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock.  In fact, we’ve decided to make this the summer of historical exploration.  We’re planning day trips to  Concord and Lexington, and into Boston.   Sam, in particular, was as happy as I’ve ever seen him.  He was just a happy, content boy.  On his bike 24/7, totally relaxed and loved it.   Julianna thrived on so much one on one time with her grandparents.  It was so sweet, because she started just crawling up on their laps, and going for walks with my stepdad and snuggling with my mom next to the fire.

My Jessie was miserable on Saturday afternoon though.  She’s prone to psychosomatic illnesses and injuries.  Especially if there’s something bothering her, she’ll get sick to her stomach, or her head will start aching.  Or her knee will hurt, or her hip will be sore.  So I assumed it was just that she was a little out of sorts, not that she was actually physically sick.  Even though she crawled into my lap and fell asleep when we were at the playground (which hasn’t happened in about three or four years).  She wasn’t running a fever at all, and when she wasn’t sleeping or complaining, she was happy and bopping around.  She curled up in a chair in front of the fire that night and fell asleep (another rare occurrence).  I still thought she was fine.  Until she woke up vomiting two hours later.

As luck would have it, she timed it perfectly.  In that she got sick on the night that Marc was there.   Marc is my champion puke cleaner-upper.   And true to form, he totally handled the situation (with a little help from my sister, who was wandering around our campsite in the middle of the night  for reasons I still don’t understand), cleaned it up, got the yucky bedding out of the tent, and we just tucked her into bed with me and the little kids.  Marc slept in the car.  Jessie woke up totally fine the next morning, and we were going home that night anyway, so it worked out in the end.

I’m going to camp more this summer.  I think.  I still hate camping.  I still hate the bugs and the dirt, and there’s still a lot more work involved.  But the kids love it, and I still have my mother’s voice in my head.  Reminding me that the kids love it, and she did it for me when we were kids.  I’m going to remember how blissful Sam was, and how much Jessie loved learning about the history.  I’m going to think about Julie taking my stepdad’s hand and walking away from me without a second thought – and I’ll be packing the bags, and buying extra bug stuff.

This is a post from few years ago – May of 2009.  This was a really good weekend, and I added some pictures from that day.

Happy, happy weekend

Well, except for the excruiating sinus infection. But once the drugs kicked in (azithromycinplus sudafed), I was much, much better. Saturday, we had Lilli, Sarah, Glennys, plus my two for the day. Marc took the three older girls to Hebrew School and I kept the other two home here. Then we had all five of them in the afternoon, and it was delightful. We went down the street to Cricket Park (which is really Elm Park Community School, with a big football field outback, lots of asphalt for drawing with chalk and riding bikes) and spent a couple of hours just hanging out. The girls colored this elaborate art museum, with paths thru the pictures that you could walk along and admire their drawings. Marc and Sam made up a new game (there’s nothing better than naming an activity – my kids play Chicken Feet (standing up on Daddy while he’s lying in bed and then tumbling off) and Sudafed (I’m not entirely sure what this is – I think it’s just jumping on Sam’s bed into each other and screaming “SUDAFED” as loud as they can). The new game is called “Super Cool Kick” and basically just involved Sam and Marc running and kicking a soccer ball up and down the field.

Saturday night, I had Marc drop the girls off early at home, and then Annie watched Jess and Sam while we went out to dinner and then we rode the Ferris Wheel at the carnival down at the Greendale Mall. Ferris Wheels terrify me, and I adore them. Since normally when we go to a carnival or amusement park, we’ve got lots of kids with us, I always have to go with cherubs and pretend not to be terrified so they, in turn, don’t panic and try to jump out. With no children there, I was free to be as girly as I wanted to be and cuddled up next to him and hid my face when we got too high. It was perfect.

Today – what did we do??? Oh yeah, big Cohen family party for Marc’s aunt at the Tower Hill Botanical Gardens. It was very nice, although I was chagrined to realize again that I have the most antisocial children in the place. At one point, Sam literally pushed his nose against mine and just held it there to make sure that people would stop trying to make eye contact with him. Jessie made Marc hold her and refused to talk to anyone who spoke to her. After the first hour or so, they loosened up, Jessie got her face painted and Sam started running all over the place. I got some great pictures of all four kids. They normally break up into two groups, and we, of course, named them. Jessie and Lilli have formed Team Pretty Pretty Princesses, and Sam and Sarah are Team Bum Bum. For some reason, Sam’s fascinated with the phrase “bum bum”, don’t know why, but I’ve stopped fighting it.

(all four kids together, really hard to find 0ne where they all are looking at the camera, but this was the closest I could get)

(Team Pretty Pretty Princess)

(And of course, Team Bum Bum)

Then Sarah went home with her mom, and Marc and I took the three other kids down to my mother’s house for the afternoon. The kids played outside all afternoon, my brother came over with his three kids and my sister’s daughter, and it was just a great day. Weather was perfect, Sam napped on the couch and it was just one of those afternoons when it’s perfect to hang out on the porch and talk.

Marc and Sam are in the living room, watching Animal Planet, or something like that. Marc has turned off the light and I’m avoiding going in there, in the hopes that Sam will fall asleep on his lap.

It’s crazy busy around here, with the end of the year festivities all over the place, gorgeous warm weather begging us to be outside, and laundry (always) and dishes (oh, I hate dishes) constantly piled up all over the place.

I’m finding that I’m especially enjoying this season.  Not just spring, but also this period in my life.  Three kids, all getting older and changing so much from who they were.

My kids are all between three and four years apart.  Jessie and Sam are three years and five months apart, and Sam and Julie are three years and nine months apart.  Which means that they’re all, pretty consistently, in completely different stages of life.  For a while there, Jessie and Sam were pretty much in the same place, but they aren’t anymore.  And while Julie was, for a while there, several developmental stages behind her brother, she’s caught up a lot.  Still decidedly younger, but definitely a kid and not a baby anymore.

Jessie is most assuredly a tween.  Eleven is a big year, developmentally, and she’s in the middle of fifteen different crisis’s at any one time.  Or she’s not – she’s decidedly laid back and relaxed, in control of everything and mature and poised and confident.  Or she’s sobbing because she’s FAILED science (turns out she got a C on a paper), and her life is ruined.  She’s funny and smart and sweet and loving, or miserable and mad and ready to kill each one of us.  We’re constantly on a roller coaster these days, and while there are moments of calm and quiet, you always know that terror and exhilaration are waiting just up ahead.

Which is a big contrast to Sam.  Because he’s all calm and peace.  There are minor hiccups, if he gets really overtired or needs some space, but mostly, he’s just chill.  It’s hard sometimes to remember that, when he wants to,  he’s fully capable of throwing the whole family into an uproar, just because it’s so rare now.  He’s just… a happy, relaxed, peaceful sort of kid.  And when I say peaceful, I mean that he doesn’t look for a fight with anyone.  He’s still totally into army guys, sword fighting and ninja battles, but other than that – totally peaceful.  He’s excelling at school, has tons of friends, eats well, sleeps great.  He’s just EASY.  Addicted to the kindle, the Wii and netflix, but also in love with his bike and can ride like the wind.

My Julianna Ruth is four years old.  Which is a hell of a lot older than three.  She’s a different person suddenly, with long gorgeous hair, definitive opinions about everything, and most aggravated when we fail to live up to her expectations.  She’s got high expectations.  She’s graduated to a booster seat, has her own bike that she rides with varying degrees of competency (depending on the day), and an ever growing vocabulary.  She’s not a little kid anymore, not really.  She’s got one more year of preschool and then she’s off to kindergarten.  She’s taken to diligently “doing her homework” every night (when she drapes herself across the couch with a coloring pad and crayons and hollers if we disturb her), and insists on “helping” Marc every night by making the coffee and assisting in taking out his contact lenses.

This is a very different place, in my life, than it was a year ago.  I’m finding that while I still get a little wistful when I see a mom who’s pregnant, or a tiny baby snuggled up in a carrier, I also really love that I don’t have to worry about naptimes, or taking kids to the potty, or lugging a diaper bag.  I don’t have to be as vigilant – Sam goes to parties now and just joins in.  Jessie brings a book and closets herself off somewhere if she needs space, and mixes in with the bunch if she’s in the mood for that.  Julie can carry on a conversation with anyone (and frequently does).  It’s just different.   Things haven’t gotten easier, not entirely, it’s a lot more mental, a lot more time in the car dropping them hither and yon, and there’s still a ton of housework and laundry, but it’s different.  I’m not sure that I like it better than when they were all little and demanding, because I loved that time in my life.  But I love this one as much.

family pic


I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m also not all that fond of Father’s Day, for the record, but that’s another post. Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I wished it was just a regular Sunday. Too much pressure to make day perfect, to have every moment be filled blessings and gratitude and happiness – when the reality is that the day was filled with moments of wonder and joy and contentment, but also filled with impatience and frustration and inadequacy.  The toddler screaming because she didn’t get to stir the coffee, the pre-teen sobbing because netflix wasn’t working, and the Boy vegging out with video games and refusing to move from the front of the television.  Which, when you think about it, is kind of what motherhood is anyway – so maybe I shouldn’t be frustrated that Mother’s Day never quite lives up to my expectations.

But I am thinking about mothers today, as it relates to me, to my kids, to my own mother. I am the oldest child of a single mother, and that relationship will always be one of the most meaningful to me. My mother was the first way I identified myself, and if, as it seems to me sometimes, that my children all started off as a part of me and the rest of the journey is about them becoming who they are, independent of me, if that is true, then I have to acknowledge all of the ways in which I started out as a part of my own mother. Her empathy, her control tendencies, her enthusiasm and her sense of humor are all a part of me. So much of who I am today is because of her. And even in the ways in which we differ, it seems as though sometimes I am exactly opposite in reaction to her.

Which is interesting, for me, when I turn the lens the other way. When I look at Jessica and Sam and Julianna – and I see how they’ve grown and changed. How much of who they are are is because of who I am? And what is it about that relationship, that of mother and child, that continues to still influence my life, and how will it influence theirs? I wonder if it’s true, as my husband is fond of telling me, that it’s so much less about what I say or do, and so much more about their genetic inheritance from us.

I don’t know the answers to any of this, and I don’t know that I ever will. What I do know is that I can’t always draw the line between my mother and myself. And I certainly can’t always do it between my kids and myself. Emotions and problems and happiness and state of mind are so linked, and while that brings all sorts of complications and challenges, it also brings enormous comfort and a sense of belonging and contentment.

I think that’s why Mother’s Day can be so hard sometimes for so many people. Because the relationship between mother and child is so intimate and so fragile. Because it is so fundamental to who we are as people, especially as a woman who tends to define herself in relation to others. Not exclusively, but a big part of my life, before marriage and motherhood, was being my mother’s daughter. And an even bigger part of my life, since having children, is being their mother. I wouldn’t change it, even if I could. Those relationships are vital to who I am.

So in the end, I think Mother’s Day is an important holiday. Because taking some time to think about that, to think about how being a mother to these children, how being a daughter of my mother, has impacted my life, what it means to be in this place, at this time. To be a forty something mom of three, with a mother who’s much more of a friend than a parent at this point, and how to get to that place with my own children. How to survive adolescence and junior high, and the rapidly approaching advent of all three of my kids in full time school with grace and humor and a knowledge that nothing lasts forever. Someday, all of my kids will hopefully pack their kids up on a weekend in May, and spend the day at my house. With bikes and barbeque, bubbles and planting and yelling and chaos.  With any luck, I’ll be able to remember to be grateful for these relationships, and for all the blessings that I have in my life because of them.


This post could also be titled – “How I Learned That Sometimes, It Really Does Take a Village.”

I was scared to send my second child off to school.  I was nervous about sending off my oldest, but it was nervous tinged with excitement.  School was fun, school was where she’d make friends and play games.  Where she’d learn fascinating new things and develop new skills.  School was field trips and lunch boxes and spelling words and running around at recess.   And for her, that’s exactly what school is, and has been from the very beginning.

For my son, my second child, school was terrifying.  He had extreme separation anxiety, and I was absolutely baffled by it.  My older child was a little shy, a little cautious, but it was nothing compared to my son.  He took shy to whole new heights.  When we were at home, or in a familiar place, he played with kids his own age, was happy and relaxed.  But if we’d go to a party, or to a new environment, he would shut down, beg to be taken home or hide his face in my arms.  If we were there long enough, he’d relax and start to have fun.  But sometimes it could take hours for him to feel comfortable enough to smile.

We had tried preschool, and it was awful.  He cried all the time, more at drop off, all the way thru the day, and was miserable at home.  He started pretending to be sick, every day, to get out of going.  I talked to the pediatrician, and decided to pull him out.  His baby sister had been born earlier that year, and my husband had just gotten laid off.  I rationalized that the time at home, with his new sister and his dad, would be better for him.  He’d have a chance to grow up a little, it would make kindergarten easier because he’d be older, better prepared.  I was hoping that the old attachment parenting adage would work – meet the need and then the child would outgrow it naturally.

I was wrong.

Mrs. Gravel, at Flagg Street School, was my hero.  She took my little boy, and made school okay for him.  She called me in the middle of the day sometimes when he’d had a rough morning, to assure me that he was doing great.  She made her classroom a place of security, and taught him that the world was safe.  I couldn’t teach him that he’d be okay without me – I needed a teacher for that.  I needed a teacher to show him that he was safe, and that he was valued and loved, and that he’d be okay. Because of her, Sam excels in school today.  Because of her, he’s tearing around the first grade playground, completely confident and secure.  Because of her – Sam is who he is today.

It’s not enough to say that she went far above and beyond the call of duty with my son.  It’s not enough to say that she put up with screaming temper tantrums, and on more than one occasion, had to chase him down when he’d escape out the back door and try to run home.  She did all of those things, but more than that, she made me feel like I could trust her to take care of my son, to teach him not about how to read or how to add and subtract (although she did those things as well), but she saw that what he needed was not just academic instruction, but also support to get to the point where he could learn.

The decision to hold him back in kindergarten was incredibly hard for me.  I’m a writer, a reader, I like and value academics and intellectual pursuits.  It never occurred to me that my child might not be ready to move to the next grade.  When we had that conversation, the first time and every time after that, Mrs. Gravel somehow managed to allay all of my fears.  She pointed out that an extra year, in her classroom, would give him the tools he’d need going forward.  It would change him from being the youngest little boy to the one of the older kids, and give him the opportunity to be a leader in the classroom.  She made me realize that it wasn’t about not being academically ready, it was more about recognizing that different kids had different needs.  It wasn’t a sign that he couldn’t do the work, it was a sign that he had spent the first six months of kindergarten struggling with overwhelming anxiety and not learning.  And she was right.

Because of that decision, because of the two years that my son had in her classroom, he happily bounces out the door for school every morning.  Because of her, he’s above grade level in math, and exactly where he should be in reading.  Because of her hard work and dedication, the only problem  he’s had in first grade was a tendency to get too rambunctious at recess and to get too silly during classroom discussions.  He’s a happy, content, and secure first grader, looking forward to second grade and excited about a new classroom.  His transition to first grade was seamless, because Mrs. Gravel designed a program to introduce him to a new classroom, and to establish a relationship with his new teacher well in advance of the first day.   The only tears on that day were mine, in the car, on the way home after drop off.  Because he had come so very far, from that little boy who screamed and cried on the first day of kindergarten.  Because he had grown so much, and was so much happier and secure and confident.

Susan Gravel did that for him.   She showed my little boy that the world is a safe place, that there are people who aren’t related to you who will route for you, support you, teach you and help you to be best person you can.  She taught me that even the best parent will need help, that sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is to let someone else be the one to hold him, to let him go.

I’m very fortunate that my children have all had exceptional teachers, who take the time to get to know them, to get to know us as a family and who teach them so much more than how to add and subtract.  And while all of the teachers that all of my kids have had thus far have been wonderful, Susan Gravel will always be my favorite.

Weekends are kind of hectic around here.  Although now that I write that, I’m recognizing that LIFE is kind of hectic.  But this weekend was particularly so, compounded by the fact that my poor Jessie Bug Noodle was desperately sick on Saturday.

Friday night wasn’t too crazy.  I had four kids, my three plus Jordyn, and we went out for frozen yogurt to celebrate Jessie getting at A+ on an essay she’d written.  Then we went to the synagogue, got there too early and played on the playground for a while.  We went into the family service, and it was mostly really good.  Sam’s not great at services in general, and he was really well behaved.  Jessie’s class was leading part of the service, and she was the only kid not singled out for a reading.  I asked her why and she explained that she had asked to only participate in group prayers, because she doesn’ t like public speaking.  This doesn’t bode well for her bat mitzvah coming up in March, but that’s  a worry for another day… We scooted out pretty fast afterwards to go pick my aunt Aimee up at the bus station.  We got home, and made something for dinner.  I can’t remember what, but I do know that I fed them.

Saturday morning started at around four o’clock with a sick, puking Jessie.  Jessie hasn’t thrown up in a long time, and apparently was totally shocked by the whole thing.  She didn’t make it to the bathroom the first two times, and the third time, she got to the bathroom, but still managed to puke all over the floor.  She was really, really sick.  All day long, she laid in bed.  She threw up pretty much all morning long, and was able to hold down a little ginger ale by the end of the day.

It was also Julianna’s birthday weekend, with parties planned for both days.  The party on Saturday was just friends, Joy and Skip, Harrison and Julie, Sara, Arlen and Jordyn, Mike and Stephanie and David, Aviva, Abi, Tali and Zoe.  I warned everyone about the puking girl, but everyone came anyway.  Marc made all sorts of vegan, dairy-free, egg free stuff, and we had turkey burgers for the carnivores among us.  The kids played outside, yelling and screaming and hurling themselves down the hill on tricycles and bikes, sidewalk chalk was used, and the night, in general, was really, really good.  Less so for poor sick Jessie – who was stuck lying in my bed, trying to hold down a popsicle and feeling wretched.

Yesterday was Day 2 – and it was probably a mistake to plan back to back parties.  Too much to do, not enough time to clean up after the first one, and we were all a little sleep deprived.  Jessie was definitely better, she hadn’t thrown up in over 24 hours, and was up and moving around.  I had a killer migraine – I get them whenever I don’t eat or sleep.  But in the end, the party was lovely.  Not super crowded, my mom came, with my niece Amber, Becky came down with Abby-with-a-bow, and father in law.  Towards the end, Marc’s cousin came with his two kids as well.

By last night, we were all kind of strung out and tired.  I forced everyone to sleep early (over strenuous objections on the part of my newly healthy eleven year old), took two benedryl and woke up this morning headache free.  Everyone was… pleasant this morning.   Which is rare, especially for a Monday.  The sun was shining, and I was up bright and early.  So was Sam, because he yelled out “No Pikachu!” at five thirty, because apparently he woke and put on netflix before anyone else was up.  Even Jessie woke up content and ready to face the day (which is a rarity for my night-owl).  Marc drove the kids to school and everyone smiled and kissed me before they left.

(actually a pic from last year’s birthday party, but I haven’t downloaded the camera yet)

I know it sounds stupid.  But there’s nothing like a night with a puking kid to make Marc and I feel closer to each other.

Jessie was a frequent night puker.  She’s got bad allergies.  Between the dust mites and the pollen, she spends most of the year at least a little bit congested.   When she was a toddler, especially, this would translate to nighttime puking.  She’d be fine all day, and at night she’d cough and cough and then eventually vomit, and then be all better for a while.

Sam is a puker by nature.  He just vomits more than the rest of the kids, for whatever reason.  Allergies certainly play a role, but I also think there’s some sort of connection between colic, reflux and general stomach issues.  Nothing serious or really even all that bothersome, but several times a year, he’ll vomit for a few hours, with no other symptoms and then be perfectly fine.

Julie gets car sick.

When the kids were little (sob, because it just occurred to me that NONE of them are little any more), we got the system down.  I don’t ever remember sitting down and discussing it, but we fell naturally into a pattern that has worked seamlessly for over a decade.  When the child (whichever child it happened to be) would puke (which was mostly at night), I’d sort of aim the kid at me.  Because it’s easier to change my pjs then it is to change the entire bed.  It didn’t always work, but more often than not, it did.  After the kid was done, I’d launch into child soothing, and Marc would take over clean up.

It was (and is) a completely gross job, and one that I’m forever grateful I don’t have to do.  But it seemed like an even distribution of work, at least in the beginning.  I was a nursing mom too – so for a while there, I was the one who had the perfect solution to an inconsolable child who couldn’t hold anything down (because they can almost always hold down breastmilk).

But that was a while ago – and my kids are growing up faster and faster.  Last night, poor Jessica got super sick (she’s still sick as a dog) and threw up more times than I can count.  And my job… was pretty freaking easy.  I got her clean jammies, and a pony for her hair.  I tucked her in on the couch and brought her a bucket for easier puking.  Marc had the yucky job, and it doesn’t get any easier as the kids get older.

But the thing is – it works for us.  We work together so easily (even though my workload has diminished as time goes by), and don’t even have to discuss who’s going to do what.   He handles clean up, I handle comfort.  We’re a team, and it’s never more evident than when it’s the middle of the night, and we’re both bleary eyed and concerned about our sick kid.

(one of my favorite pics of Jessica – on a much healthier day)

First, I’d like to be clear.  I’m far from unintelligent.   I’m totally capable of figuring out what to tip in a restaurant, for example.  It’s merely that I chose to specialize about thirty years ago on reading and writing, and the math… not so much.  I was a good student, honors classes, AP classes (or class, really, it was a small high school and only one was offered).  Accepted to a good college.  Not stupid – that’s me.

But I was politely requested, okay, begged, really to not assist with math homework anymore.  At least with Jessie.

(Jessie – back when I could still solve all her equations)

I still totally rock first grade math.  I’m good until late April in fifth grade, apparently.  I was  brilliant at multiplication and division, and it has to be stated, I’m one hell of an adder/subtractor.   Fractions?  I’m kind of awesome at reducing fractions.  And with the help of my friends at mathisfun.com – I was even competent at multiplying fractions.  But percentages and decimals and fractions – oh my.  It was a disaster.

Jessie is a smart girl.  She just is.  She’s intellectually curious, creative and enjoys learning.  Thus far, I think she’s managed to channel Marc when it comes to math and science – it comes relatively easily to her.  She occasionally asks for help, especially because she’s not so great at the whole speaking up when she doesn’t understand it and then needs additional support at home to explain a concept or two.

And that’s where it falls apart for me.  Because I don’t get the math concepts so much.  Basic arithmetic, I can do that.   I’m good at that.  And that translates well to math homework right up until… April of fifth grade, apparently.

She had this impossible worksheet the other day, double sided.  I struggled thru the first page, explaining how to do it, and helping her out.  Marc wasn’t home – and more and more, he’s been her math buddy.  When she needs a math buddy, that is.  But he was working, and it was due the next day – so I stepped up.  The flip side of the page, though, I couldn’t, for the life of me figure it out.  It was converting fractions and decimals and percents back and forth and sideways… made no sense to me at all.  I know that Marc knows this stuff like the back of his hand, so I had her put it aside, and he showed her how to do it the next day.

She went into school, completely confident and knowing how to do it.  Because Marc is, after all, awesome at math and once she figured out how to do it, she was great and finished the rest of the sheet herself.

But sadly, was sent home with an extra worksheet to practice the concepts, because every single problem that I had “helped” her with was wrong.

Last night, I sat next to Sam and kept him company while he did his first grade math homework.  And was VERY helpful when he asked what 9+7 was, or what 18-6 was – because dammit, I know that there’s apparently a small window where I can actually answer those homework questions before they surpass me.