Sunday, February 18, 2018

A eulogy for my sister-in-law, my favorite Nudge

Jodie was my sister-in-law and we were polar opposites.  She was always well put together, and I am a “ponytail and go” kind of person.  Jodie was a staunch republican, and I am a diehard liberal.  I generally choose my words carefully, and Jodie was very blunt and off the cuff. 
            Jodie was extremely successful in her career.  Maybe it’s because of her strong personality.  She could negotiate a severance package like it’s nobody’s business.  She could get out of a speeding ticket after flashing her brights at a cop.  Seriously…   He pulled her over and asked what her deal was and her response?  “You were going too slow!” 
She was a real firecracker, assertive, persistent, strong-willed, a nudge.  She’d say things to get a rise out of people, like at Thanksgiving, in a room full of democrats, she raised her wine glass and proposed a toast to Donald Trump.  It seemed as though at every Passover seder, or over latkes at Chanukah, we’d get into a big political debate, and Jodie would never back down, and we’d never see eye-to-eye, but at the end of the night, we’d still hug good-bye, and look forward to the next debate, where we’d try to present our defense of Barack Obama, and she would just tear us all down. 
Jodie and I were pregnant at the same time, and I remember sitting around the table eating dinner, talking about how in the coming months, there would be three more boys eating with us.  And Jodie, being Jodie, turns to Caleb and says, “You know, Caleb, I’m having 2 babies.  I don’t need you to buy me a push present.  You should buy me TWO push presents.”  Caleb’s response?  “You think you have to suffer?  I have to watch TWO boys have a bris!  You should be buying ME a bris gift!”  Now to make this story even more hysterical, we all misheard Caleb, and instead of saying “bris gift” we all thought he said, “brisket.”  I’ll never forget sitting around the table laughing at that.  Even better, Jodie’s parents, my in-laws, gave Jodie and Caleb two briskets when the twins were born.  We got one for our son and then 4 years later, were blessed with another brisket.  And now, every time I eat brisket, I think of that hilarious encounter.
Now I told you that Jodie was a nudge, but here’s something you might not know about Jodie.  She was truly, the most generous nudge I ever met.  As a wedding gift, Jodie paid for our honeymoon, and she didn’t skimp on anything.  She put us up in the finest hotel, we ate the finest meals, and if it weren’t for her, we would not have gone on a honeymoon.  Then there were little things, liken when we sat down to dinner at her house and there were little personalized plates that she ordered for each of the kids.  Or she would hand me a hair straightener or a container of lotion that she ordered and didn’t care for.  I’d go home and look at it online to see that her bottle of lotion cost the same as my monthly phone bill.  Or she’d order matching shirts for the kids so we could surprise Toni with a photo shoot.  Before Jodie, I didn’t even know that Ralph Lauren made infant clothing.  When my little one was in the NICU, she gave me all of her books on dealing with preemies.  When he was diagnosed with autism, she held my hands, answered my questions, and showed nothing but support.  And another thing about Jodie – she was truly the most loving mother I have ever met.  In almost ten years, I never saw her once lose her cool around those boys. 

Here’s something else you might not know about Jodie:  After 9-11, Jodie volunteered on the bucket brigade in downtown Manhattan.  I can just picture her – the only one there in a hard hat and a pair of Manolo Bhahniks.    
Now I have been married into the family for almost 14 years, and in that time, Jodie didn’t always bring out the best in me, and I know I didn’t always bring out the best in her.  But I am at peace with the way we left things.  I already told you about our fierce political debates at every holiday – well this year at Thanksgiving, as we sat around the table debating, something truly weird and magical happened – we actually found common ground.  It was on the debate about gun control.  In fact, I asked her to repeat her position several times because I couldn’t believe that we actually agreed on anything political.  Maybe we had more in common than I realized.
I saw Jodie 3 weeks before she died.  She was at our house for my 6 year old’s birthday.  My older son pulled out his new chess set that she bought him for Chanukah and said, “Look Aunt Jodie – I’ve been learning chess on the set that you bought me!”  They sat down and instead of playing with him, she started playing with her dad.  I walked by and snapped a picture, because again, I saw it as a magical kind of moment – dad and daughter playing chess together – a close moment that I don’t remember the two of them sharing often.  That night, after the cake had been put away and the presents were opened, I went through my camera roll and started looking back at the photos.  I came across the picture of the chess game.  No one was looking at the camera, so I deleted it.  I didn’t know that would be the last picture I would ever take of her.
At my wedding, Jodie gave us a speech in her rendition of “All I need to know I learned in kindergarten” but changed it to “All I really need to know about love, I learned from you two.”  Here are three pieces of advice that Jodie gave us, that we could all benefit from:
1. Let the little things go.
2. Always make time for good friends, family, each other and yourselves.
3. Take time to look at the stars above.
I’m going to add one:
            4. Take pictures.  Take every picture like it’s the last picture you will take of that person. 
            Boys – You two were the smallest babies I have ever met.  You had a rocky start in life, but you are both feisty fighters, just like your mom.  When you were newborns in the hospital, I marveled at how strong your mom was.  We will always be here to help you on your journey through life.
            Caleb – When you and Jodie started dating, I didn’t think you were her type.  But clearly I was wrong because I never saw her happier than when she was with you.  You truly got her.  Please know that we love you and we will be there for you.  You are our brother.
            Jodie – You are the sister I always wanted.  Like sisters, we argued over silly things, but we still loved each other.  Your lack of presence will definitely be noticed, and the dinner table is going to be much quieter without you.  I’ll miss you.  You were my favorite nudge.  

Friday, January 22, 2016


Some funny gems from this funny kid:

Age 2:

Mommy:  "I..... love..... you!"
Mush: "A...... wub.....Daddy!"

Age 3:

"Ice cream is my favorite vegetable!"

Upon seeing the garbage man: "He's coming to take my stinky diapers away!"

Upon seeing me clean the toilet:  "Mommy is cleaning the tushie water."

"This feels me all better."

Upon seeing a picture of himself, "That's my friend, Me!"

"Mommy - what you eating?"
"A breakfast bar.  I didn't eat breakfast."
"Can I share it?"
"Just a small piece.  Mommy didn't eat breakfast.  You did."
"Can I pretend I didn't eat breakfast?"

"Mommy - You locked the bathroom door!  That's okay - I'll break it!"

"Mush - Do you have a poop in your diaper?"
"Are you telling the truth or are you tricking me?"
"I am telling a lie."

Upon farting:
My tushie sings "la la la."

Age 4:
"I want a heart lollipop."
"I'm sorry honey.  We don't eat lollipops for breakfast."
"I want a pretent-a-lollipop."
"What is a pretend-a-lollipop?"
"I want to pretend a lollipop is for breakfast."
"We could eat a lollipop after lunch."
"Okay let's have lunch."

Upon dropping big brother off at school, Mush says, "I'm going to go to this school when I am a big boy and I have a big penis!"

"Let's put on underwear."
"No, a diaper."
"Everyone wears underwear!  Does Daddy wear underwear?"
"Does brother wear underwear?"
"Does Mommy wear underwear?
"No, Mommy wears a magina."

Big brother was quizzing him on fire safety.
"What do you do if your pants are on fire?"
"You take your pants off and put on new ones!"

"I have a bless you nose."

Age 5:
Mush: "I love you."
Mom: "I love you too, buddy."
Mush: "Mommy I was talking to my seashell.

Upon descending during his first airplane trip, Mush turned to big brother and loudly proclaimed, "You're right!  The plane didn't crash!"

During Easter, we were visiting friends.  When Mush woke up on Easter morning to find an Easter basket for him, he said, "The Easter Bunny doesn't realize we're Jewish!"

Mush was passing gas shortly after using the bathroom.
Mom: "Do you need to use the bathroom some more?"
Mush: "No, my tushie was just saying thank you for making the poo poos."

"Mommy, my heart beeps for you because I love you so much!"

"Mommy, what does that sign say?"
"It says, 'no smoking on the playground.'"
Mush walks out of the playground gate.
"Can I smoke out here?"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Third time's a charm - Avon Walk 2015

It’s been about 24 hours since I crossed the finish line.  After a hot shower and a good night’s sleep, I still haven’t shaken the chill from my bones, nor have I come down from my natural high.  This past weekend has been the most physically challenging, and one of the most rewarding and emotional weekends of my life.

It started early on Saturday morning.  We set our alarms for 4:30 AM and made our way to Pier 84.  The sun had not yet risen, the temperature was brisk, but the energy was high.  We dropped off our gear, filled our water bottles, grabbed some food and waited for opening ceremonies to start. 

We had the option of walking either 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles on day 1, and of course you can walk any amount – it’s not about the miles but about the dedication.  I told the girls that my plan was to walk 13.1.  That’s what I trained for, although I secretly thought that it would be pretty amazing to walk 26.2 miles all in the first day.  I know that Sabrina was determined to walk the entire day, and Iris was pretty hyped up for it too.  I told them that I will see how it goes. 

The first ten miles were a piece of cake.  I had been training for seven months and the most I had walked in training was 11 miles in one day.  At 13.1 miles we stopped for lunch and I had to make the decision – will this be my finish line for the day or should I go on?  I told Iris that I would walk to the next rest stop, which was about 2 miles away and decide from there.  As we started back, I started to get chills, but I pushed through.  I was starting to mentally waver but I kept going.  We passed mile marker 14, 15, 16 and so on, and we walked.  We were going to do it.  I wasn’t going to stop.

Somewhere around mile 24 I started feeling a little nauseous, but kept it to myself.  We were so close.  I worried that I was getting dehydrated, but I couldn’t fathom the idea because I was diligent about filling up my water bottle at every single stop and making sure it was empty before the next one. 

Finally at mile 25 we were able to see the walking bridge that would lead us to Randalls Island, and we got a sudden burst of energy and hope.  We crossed the bridge and made it to our first finish line at 26.2 miles just as the sun was setting.  We had accomplished our first goal, and we had literally walked from sun up to sun down.

All I wanted to do was get our tent set up and sit down and stretch my legs.  Right before it was fully dark, we got the tent up with the help of a volunteer.  Although I wasn’t really hungry, we made our way to the food tent.  We had to stand around for a few minutes to wait for another food delivery and all of a sudden I felt as though the walls were closing in on me.  I told Sabrina that I needed to sit down or I was going to faint.  She walked me to a table and got me some food.  I didn’t feel like eating, but I did.  I was scared to stand up to even walk to the medical tent for fear of fainting, and my body was literally shaking from the chills.  I really just wanted to go back to my tent but the girls were worried about me, so off to triage we went, with each of them holding me up in case I got dizzy.

My blood pressure was okay and my pulse was fine, but my body was clearly in a little bit of shock, maybe from the rapid change of temperature.  They put me in front of a heater and wrapped mylar blankets around me to help retain my body heat and they made me drink.  Finally after about an hour, I headed back to the tent.  I was too afraid to shower, for fear of passing out, so I went to bed as is, a disgusting, stinky wreck.  I put on 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of socks, 3 shirts, 2 sweatshirts, a hat and gloves.  I stuck a disposable heating pad on my chest and I climbed into my sleeping bag.  It was 39 degrees outside.  I thought about the day ahead of us and prayed that I wouldn’t have to tap out.  I had worked too hard and had come too far.  Iris convinced me that the next day would be easier, because we would “only” be walking 13 miles.  We tried to fall asleep, hearing the sounds of the wind, and the song “Rock you like a hurricane” on a loop blasting from the neighboring haunted hayride.

We got up at sunrise after a horrible night of sleep.  My legs were cramped, my mouth was dry and my head was spinning.  Not sure if I was determined or stupid, I decided not to quit.  We got dressed, took down our tent, had some breakfast and started day 2.

Day 2 was very hard.  I was losing momentum and with each mile I was ready to be done.  To pass the time, we chit chatted with other walkers and heard their stories of why they walk.  Many people had their shirts decorated, and I loved their creativity.  One person’s shirt read, “For my daughter, so she can wear pink ribbons in her hair and not on her shirt.”  One young man had a shirt that said, “Ladies – check your breasts or I will do it for you!”  Every time I was ready to quit there were people cheering us on, and I thought of the women going through chemo and radiation, who are drained in every way possible, and so I kept walking. 

This was my third Avon Walk but it was much harder than the other two.  I am 9 years older now, and this time I walked twice as far on day 1 than I had the last time.

Finally we were getting close to the end.  There were no more bridges to cross, no more traffic lights to pass.  We were on our last stretch and we could see the finish line ahead. 

We linked arms and walked together, and I could see my family cheering us on.  With tears streaming down my face, I hugged my mom, an 11 year breast cancer survivor. 

My mom had been diagnosed in 2004, which is what motivated me to participate in the walk back then.  In 2006 she decided to walk with me.  This past weekend, she reflected on the walk, and she commented that “the whole weekend is about walking and crying.”

And she’s right.

We walked and cried for those that lost the battle.

We walked and cried for those who are going through treatment.

We walked and cried for our courageous survivors.

We walked and cried for those who are yet to be diagnosed.

We walked and cried for our daughters, sisters, mothers and friends.

And we walked and cried because maybe, just maybe, one day there will be a time when we won’t have to walk and cry for breast cancer anymore.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Random emotions

I just had a good cry.... all alone.... in a random playground... while out training.  Lucky for me, no one walked by and saw me or I might have been committed.

I've been really extremely emotional this week. 

I am so humbled by how much support people are giving me, with their financial contributions and  with their kind words.

I am anxious about leaving my boys all weekend, although I know that Daddy is more than capable.

I am scared that I won't be able to walk as far as I plan, even though I have been training for seven months.

I am worried about sleeping in a tent in what looks like will be a very cold weekend.

I am mostly nervous about leaving Goofball, who was in hysterics when I broke the news that I am leaving him all weekend.  He knew that "Mommy's big walk" was coming soon, but as the details unfold about packing, train tickets and sleeping bags, it's becoming too real for him that Mommy isn't putting him to bed for 2 nights.

I convinced my husband to bring Goofball to see me cross the finish line.  I want him to know that this is big... really big.  It's more than me.  Right now in his mind, this is about Mommy getting exercise.  And it is, but it's so much more. 

As I put the names of those touched by breast cancer on my shirt, it crosses my mind that this is too many: Four aunts, two cousins, a friend.... My mom.  I remember exactly where I was when I heard my mom say the words, "I have breast cancer."  I fear for my future, and I pray that I never say those words myself.

I try to explain to Goofball that this isn't just about me.  It's about his Grandmas, his aunts, his cousins, his friends... It's about sisterhood, teamwork, following your dreams, cooperation, camaraderie, and coming together for a cause.

I am writing the names on my shirt, and there are too many names.  I write "Penny" but this time I add a halo and wings.  We can't lose one more, and that's why I fight.  Breast cancer may take our breasts, but it won't take our souls.

And so I will think about Goofball and Mush while I walk, and I will smile, because I refuse to accept that I won't get to see diplomas, wedding rings and grandchildren.

And I will think about my future daughters-in-law, and smile, and pray that they never know of breast cancer.

And I will think about my cousins and friends, and I will smile, and pray that they never know of breast cancer.

And I will think about my three nieces, and I will smile, because in their little world of dance lessons, arts and crafts and Minnie Mouse, there is no breast cancer.
To donate:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My mom's new iphone

It's 3AM and I am wide awake.  The 3 year old is laying next to me.  He is burning up.  I have given him some tylenol, a drink of water, and some extra cuddles.  I am wide awake and a million thoughts are going through my head.  It's the life of a mom.

Earlier today I was with my own mom.  She came with pizza, a knitting project and a new iphone.  I joked that hell had frozen over as I took a selfie with her and showed her how to post it to her facebook page, adding a little emoji and tagging me in the photo.  My mom... who is still learning to turn on the VCR now has an iphone.  She has always been about ten years behind the technology.  I remember that my house growing up was the only house that had an 8 track player when every other house had a record player.  We still had a corded phone when everyone else's phone was cordless - talk about trying to have a private conversation when you are stuck to a wall!  I love my mom dearly - God bless her - she is always behind the times... except when it comes to health.

For over 40 years my mom was a registered nurse, taking care of others.  When it came to her own health, she was diligent, which is why her breast cancer was detected so early... because of modern technology like mammograms and sonograms.  Isn't it ironic that the technology that my mother takes so long to embrace is the same technology that has saved her life?  Not all of the other mothers in the world are so lucky.  Not all the daughters in the world are writing about their moms in present tense. 

In honor of my mom, I have made a pledge to walk 2 days, and to raise $1800 for breast cancer research.  I can't do that alone, and I ask you for your support.  All it takes is the click of a button on your iphone. 

To Donate:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy 3rd Birthday Mush: A look back

The crib has been converted to a toddler bed.  The stroller rarely sees its way out of the trunk anymore, and with every box of diapers I purchase, I wonder if it will be the last.

I think back to that hectic morning at 32 weeks and it still seems like a crazy blur.  Rushed into an emergency c-section, the words “VBAC” were replaced with “prepping the O.R.” and “have to get this baby out.”   There’s no talk of contractions.  Instead there’s “platelets dropping,” “liver failing,” “have to knock you out” and “won’t be awake…”

I remember being too drugged to hold him, too tired to open my eyes and look into his.  It wasn’t until the next day that I got to snuggle this fragile, teeny 4 pound 1 ounce nugget, holding him awkwardly so as not to pull out his feeding tube or disrupt the wires that were keeping him monitored.  He was the tiniest baby I ever held, the same size as the baby doll I picked out to give to Goofball when he became a big brother, which was still sitting in my closet waiting to be wrapped.  My eyes were still blurry, not from any drugs but from my body shutting down.

Five days later they send me home and now I am expected to be a mom to two, driving well before I was supposed to or ready to, back and forth to the NICU, preschool, preschool, NICU.  Pumping in between.  CPAP, incubator, bilirubin, jaundice, IV, feeding tube, cc’s, car seat test.

Seventeen long days later we are together.  They told me he is too weak to latch, so my life revolves around lactation consultants, pumping, latching, supplementing with formula, weight checks, weak suck, pumping, not gaining, supplementing with pumped milk, pumping, cleaning pump parts, failure to thrive, pumping, support groups, little tubes taped to my breasts, more lactation consultants, more pumping, reflux, gastroenterologist visits, medications…. Was I even there to watch my preschooler grow?

At 6 months old, he looks like a newborn.  At 9 months old he’s barely rolling over, and at 12 months old he’s hardly sitting up.  And then there’s evaluations, physical therapists, low tone, psychologists, core strengthening, early intervention, special ed teachers, IFSP meetings, coordinators, occupational therapists….

First year of life and we have a random seizure, freak high fevers, infectious disease consults, neurologist visit and an EEG.

This sweet little face certainly makes me work for my Mommy money, and on top of that he never sleeps (at least at night.)

Yet amongst the chaos of that first year, we had first giggles, sucking thumbs, stroller walks, spitting up all over when trying to play “Superbaby,” sticking his tounge out at big brother, baby sign language classes, stinky baby feet, happy squeals, babywearing, infant massage, singing “You are my sunshine” over and over and over, silly photo shoots, clapping hands, Mommy and Me, cake smash, slamming feet on the floor, wondering if his eyes will stay blue, sleeping in the baby swing, kisses, kisses and more kisses.

I just hung up a Happy Birthday banner for my little baby, although he doesn’t resemble much of a baby anymore. 

And instead of celebrating milestones such as finally making his way onto the growth chart, we’re putting on backpacks and heading off to preschool.

And instead of worrying that he’ll never walk, I worry that he’ll run into traffic.

It’s all changing, but it’s all good.  

Happy 3rd birthday, little Mush.  You were worth every gray hair and I love you more than you will ever know.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Letter to Goofball's Kindergarten Teacher


   I think it's very important for people to make it known when they appreciate and adore someone.  Being a teacher myself, I don't think people say it enough.  So far we have been blessed with awesome people in Goofball's life.  This is a letter that I wrote for his kindergarten teacher at the end of the school year.


Dear Mrs. S,

               I sent my baby off to you in September - my baby who is imaginative, compassionate, funny, creative, charming and silly. I realize that he is also whiny, highly emotional and stubborn, but you embraced him, all of him, as that is your job.

               I thought that having taught kindergarten myself, I would have been hard to win over, but you made it easy for my son to fall in love with you, and even easier for me to.  You kept the lines of communication way open, answering calls the same day, and responding to notes that didn't even necessitate a response.  You set the bar high, and now all of his future teachers will be compared to you.

               When my son was having a hard time keeping his emotions in check, you didn't dismiss him as being difficult.  Rather, you set him up to succeed, setting up a program for him, pulling in additional resources and encouraging him along the way.

               I remember once, a few months back, I was hanging around a bounce house with all of the other birthday party parents, and another mother and I were chit-chatting about the one thing we all had in common: our child's kindergarten class.  I commented that even in a very large class, I felt like you really truly knew my child: his strengths, his weaknesses, and you knew exactly what tools he needed to be successful.  She sat across from me, nodding in agreement, commenting, "That is exactly how I feel."  I know that if I felt this way, and she felt this way, that all the other parents must be feeling the same way as well.

               I cannot thank you enough for this amazing gift you have given my son.  I sent you a baby and you gave me a confident and mature little boy.

               I am not good with good-byes, so I will just say this:  I only hope that in three years, as I am sending my little one on the bus for the first time, that when I zip up his Spiderman backpack filled with marble notebooks and glue sticks, I'll be putting on a little nametag with your name on it.

                                                      Love Always,

                                                     Heather (and family)