What’s Worth Fighting For

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I had just returned to work from maternity leave. My baby was six months old, his older brother just over two. I was taking a much-needed break from contentious negotiations to eat with my colleagues-turned-friends in the law firm cafeteria–until a senior partner crashed our lunch. With the manufactured confidence of a corporate lawyer, he spouted misguided theories about childcare and Jewish naming rituals. Over the beloved bi-monthly burrito special, I found myself put on the defensive. Among litigators, even casual conversation can fall prey to courtroom-like conflict. I hadn’t missed this.

Once I had a baby (or a breast pump) waiting for me, I had far less patience for the adversarial nature of my work—for the pissing contests and discovery disputes that wasted our time and our clients’ money. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if we could all just divulge our bottom lines from the start and come to a cordial resolution so we could get home and have dinner with our families?

Truth is, we could all stand to litigate a little less. And love a little more.

Not long ago, an SUV scraped our car’s back bumper on the morning of the Pancreatic Cancer 5K. The area was a zoo. Parking was nowhere to be found. I was squatting a spot in a bus zone with a sleeping baby in the back seat while my husband did the walk.

I hear the crunch.

I exit my car.

I (and she) automatically assume our guarded, litigious personas:

Me: We should exchange information. You scratched my car.

She (defensive, frazzled, exasperated): I’m supposed to be doing this walk and I can’t find parking anywhere and I’m late…The words keep tumbling out, nonsensically.

She dismounts, tries to take pictures of the “damage” with her phone, asks permission to touch my car…I’m nervously calling my husband because despite posturing as a fierce litigator by weekday, I never know what to do when confronted with these situations in my personal life.

And then I saw it. A car seat in the back of her SUV. She’s a mother. A human.

I take a closer look – at the scratch and my attitude – and immediately soften. Sure, some paint came off. But it’s nothing. And even if it’s a little something, it isn’t worth whatever litigiousness is about to follow. It’s superficial damage. And I made the conscious decision that I didn’t want it to extend from the car to my frazzled fellow mom.

Forget about it, I said. From one mom to another, stop frantically trying to fish your insurance information out of your oversized purse. I’m not going to do anything about this. I don’t care enough about my car. It’s not more important than letting you be on your way and just putting all this behind us.

The second I changed my tune, a huge weight was lifted – off both our shoulders. I could stop putting on a front. She let out a marked sigh of relief and shared that she has a three-year-old son at home. They love the Please Touch Museum near the race site. We’re going there later, I offer. We’re both debating the merits of public versus private school for our children. She’s downright lovely. She’s incredibly grateful. I tell her to “pay it forward.” She insists, “believe me, I will.”

Maybe I’ll pay for it later. But I’ll do so gladly to avoid the back-and-forth, the finger-pointing, the suspicious affect, the preservation of “evidence,” the coy demeanor. All that angst and tension. We let it go. And we were both better for it.


I want my sons to grow up to be nice guys. The kind who treat others in a way that would make their mother proud. The other day, while my three-year-old was diligently faux vacuuming the living room, I caught him innocently, but repeatedly, exclaiming, Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! as the vacuum bumped into nearby furniture. He heard it from me. PG expletives often escape my mouth as I angle our massive minivan out of our impossibly small city parking space, sweat and stress mounting.

But these days, I’m trying to bite my tongue. Or at least think before I speak. Not to curse at the cabbie blocking the roadway. Or mutter under my breath when the grocery checkout line creeps along ever so slowly. Not to let daily frustrations or inconsequential inconveniences incite my inner litigator. I’m trying to not focus so much on getting even as just letting go.

I’m trying.

Because my sons are listening. And I’d rather teach them love than justice. That often it’s better to be kind—or at least quiet—than right.

I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my fight; I’ve just found what’s worth fighting for.

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A New Path Is Often Paved with Self-Doubt

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Beginnings are hard.

I took a birth doula training session last week, and at times, I was acutely aware that I don’t quite fit in. I’m a former litigator. I’m feisty. I’m pragmatic. I’m not opposed to modern medicine. I’ve had three C-sections. And I’m at peace with that. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows over here.

I struggle with what I could possibly have to offer; I recognize that familiar self-doubt that greets me at the start of anything—that fuels me to want to work (too?) hard to get to the point where I’m good, not new. I resent that that drive is infiltrating this new path. This is supposed to feel right.

Can I do this?

But then.

Then I read this.

Then I run into a mom during preschool pickup who asks me to write her an e-mail assuring her that she’ll be ok as a mom of two—that things WILL (of course) get easier. She’s three weeks postpartum. She’s picking up her toddler, one of her hands holding his while the other carries that god-awful heavy car seat. In it, her perfect newborn is protected from this “spring” weather we’ve been having.

She’s a rockstar. But somehow it helps her to hear me say that. Nothing means more.

And she’s not just any mom.

She’s The Mom.

The Mom who helped me realize I wanted to do this in the first place.

You know how you have those conversations that unintentionally shape who you are? That leave a profound impact? That just…stick? Usually, you don’t see it coming.

For me, it was in a parking lot. Almost exactly one year ago. At the time, we were relative strangers. I had my four-month-old strapped to me in the Ergo carrier, and I was on my way to a parenting discussion group after dropping off the older boys at school.

She had just lost her second pregnancy at 26 weeks. There we were, crossing paths. Something made us stop and talk. She opened up to me. I don’t know why. Neither did she. But I will be ever grateful. And even though it wasn’t her intention at the time, by telling me her story, she helped me.

She let me be there for her. She let me try to find the right words, and find when there were no words at all.

She let me comfort her. She let me show her she already had the strength she so desperately needed.

Listening to her that morning, I realized that’s what I want to do—listen. Be there. For women who are pregnant, or struggling to get pregnant, or were pregnant but then all of a sudden weren’t anymore. For women as they are becoming mothers, or struggling to figure out how to breastfeed, or how to feel comfortable not breastfeeding, or how to hold and soothe their newborns, how to get them—and themselves—to sleep, how to trust their instincts, how to grow into this new identity…as Mother.

And beyond…how to mother in the context of the rest of their lives, how to juggle a job along with it all, how to negotiate new relationships with partners, with parents, how to embrace the joyful chaos of managing multiple children, and maybe a career, and maybe challenging family dynamics, and maybe…maybe…you just need someone to help. To listen. To hold your baby and give your arms a break. To tell you you’re doing alright. That you’ve got this. To be that objective outsider who knows you’re doing better than you think, that you’re going to be ok, even when it may feel far from it. To be your inner voice when it feels like your insides are turned out. To help you see the magic in all the mystery–to find the beauty in this new path. Even if it’s paved with self-doubt.

We parted that morning, that Mom and I, and I walked quickly on to my parenting discussion group, giddy with purpose.

We need each other. We all need someone. We can’t do this alone.

I want to be that OTHER—another person, another pair of hands, another voice, another reassuring presence. I will be your company. I will be your confidence.

Everyone is a different kind of doula. Everyone is a different kind of mother. And there’s a doula for everyone.

I want to be there when that mother is born. Telling her she’s everything she needs to be, everything her child needs.

Just as she is.

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Stranger Things Have Happened

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As you may have guessed from my latest Scary Mommy post, there is little I love more than the kindness of strangers.

So I’m setting out to create a new category on this blog dedicated to chronicling the random acts of kindness that help you get through the day, make you feel better about humanity, or at least put a smile on your face. Small acts that have a big impact. Ways we’re making the world smaller. Maybe if we document how much of this is going on, we’ll start to notice it more, because we’ll be looking for it. Maybe we’ll even start to do it more, because we’ll be thinking about it.

I find that carting my brood around town often lends itself to opportunities for others to help me navigate through my day. But we ALL have those opportunities–both to give and receive kindness. Expecting nothing in return.

So, dear readers, tell me random acts of kindness that either a stranger or friend did for you—or that you did for someone else. Share your story in the comments section (below) or reach out to me directly via my Contact page (above). Then I will compile & share on the blog (feel free to request anonymity). Tweet about it and use the hashtags #strangerthings or #makingtheworldsmaller. Maybe this’ll take off and become a regular (weekly? monthly?) CKCT series, “Stranger Things,” or maybe it’ll be a big ol’ flop. But, like most everything, it’s worth a try! (And if nothing else, I love a good pun.)

I’ll kick us off:

  • Last week, a man on the street stopped and asked me if I needed help as I unloaded items from my car to be donated to a thrift store.
  • The woman behind me in line offered to let me use her Rite Aid card to get a discount on my Mr. Clean magic eraser sponges.

(See? They can be really small things.)

  • Another mom offered to walk my preschooler from the parking lot in to school so I didn’t have to unbuckle and unload my two little guys, who were headed on to a joint doctor appointment.
  • My neighbors, four days postpartum with their fifth child, offered to store some of our stuff or host some of our kids during house showings. (We didn’t take them up on it!)
  • My incredible handyman paid a special emergency visit at no charge on the frantic morning of our first house showings when, inexplicably, the powder room door got locked from the inside !

So let’s do this. Let’s get out there, see the good, and be good to each other. …And then tell me about it ;)

So Long, iPad! (Sort of.)

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If we’re being honest, my kids get too much screen time.

It started innocently enough. When my oldest was two, we were having a particularly hard time getting him dressed and out the door in the morning. Add to that a newborn and a demanding, full-time job, and I resorted to changing him in front of a short video clip on the iPad–an animated rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider or anything on KidsTV123.

Around that time, a friend of mine found herself in the same predicament and reached out to me for advice. I shared my “secret.”

She was grateful. Actually, her exact response was:  “I could marry you — our household is SO much happier now.  Mornings go so smoothly, and [daughter] is so much happier without feeling like she has to throw tantrums every AM.  Yay!”

But like many things that begin harmlessly, our clever fix eventually led us down that good old slippery slope. And lately, we had slid too far. Somewhere in there we had a third kid, until very recently, I was still working many hours, my husband works many more, and I often found myself muddling through on my own with three little boys–and our friend the iPad, who made more appearances than I care to admit.

What began as a brief daily video vignette turned into longer and longer stretches. Often it would bleed into breakfast. Sometimes it became videos before dinner, or (gasp!) during dinner, or just before bed. It became a crutch. A habit. The quality of the programming steadily deteriorated–along with my standards.

I got lazy, or maybe I was just cutting myself some slack.

Whatever it was, I hated that this was how we started our day. The familiar din of Fireman Sam or Thomas videos started to sound like the hum of my failure as a parent.

Then I read a blog post “blaming” TV for all sorts of things, including negative behaviors in today’s kids. It really resonated with me. I’d noticed my oldest had gotten far more aggressive and impatient in recent weeks and in turn, so had I. Too often, I didn’t recognize the words coming out of my mouth or the tone in which I was speaking them. I was not parenting the way I used or intended to. I wasn’t taking time to acknowledge his feelings, yet stay calm, but firm in enforcing my reasonable demands. It had all gone to shit.

It was time for a change.

This morning would be different.

When my oldest woke up and found me in the kitchen, I was ready. After a quick snuggle, I offered crayons and paper, books, breakfast…no, no, no. He “needed” videos. Things were devolving fast. He was heading to where we keep the iPad, fully defiant.

With my resolve nearly gone, he finally said something reasonable.

Mom, can I just watch *one* video? 

Okay, one video. Like any addict, he needed to ease off, not quit cold turkey. I get it.

Immediately after the video ended, he turned off the iPad with little more than a gentle reminder. He joined me at the breakfast table. Soon after, his younger brothers woke and joined us too. The whole morning was joyful. We laughed more. The older boys resolved their conflicts creatively and on their own. The squeals were happy ones, not resistant whines.

Mid-meal, the older two cooperated to form a “bench” out of three of our kitchen chairs, leaving a spot for me in the middle. After doling out waffles and changing the baby’s diaper, I climbed in between them. As the 3yo rest his head on my shoulder, my oldest told us a story. It was the story of this morning. I smiled and said I thought we were having such a good time because we weren’t watching videos and instead, we were spending time with each other. “We should do this every day!” came my son’s earnest response. We high-fived on it.

Throughout the morning, I was able to think more clearly about how and when to react without the constant buzz of Peppa Pig in the background. Instead of fighting over whose turn it was, my oldest prepared the iPad with my middle’s favorite video as his “one” for the morning. He didn’t protest once when I helped him get dressed, even saying “thank you, Mom” as I pulled the pant leg over his foot !

It’s easy to find excuses, scapegoats for negative behavior–a more aggressive new kid in his class, the fact that we’re moving in a few months and he feels the stress and sadness of that…

But I also had to look within. Face some tough conclusions. Make a change.

We’re not getting rid of the iPad for good. Please, I’m no purist. Nor am I a perfect parent. Nor do I think perfect parenting means no screens. And I recognize the value, in moderation, of some harmless programs, like Daniel Tiger or Sid the Science Kid, or “educational” games like Snail Bob or Build a Train, especially during the times I *really* need that extra pair of hands–even if they do come attached to a silly pig with a delightful British accent.

Then again, it’s only Day 1. Hold me to this, people!!

This Is Community

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I am fortunate to have friends I would do anything for. Anything? Yep. Anything.

So when two of them announced they were having a baby naming for their newborn daughter at 7:45 a.m. on a Monday morning–a morning (much like every other morning) when I have all three kids on my own and at 7:45, I’m usually still pajama-clad, trying to pour myself coffee without missing the cup while simultaneously tossing waffles at my kids and filling their requests for water and just wishing, wishing, wishing I could clone myself…or at least my right arm…

7:45 on a Monday morning? I’ll be there.

The naming was held in a small room at a local city synagogue. I walked in alone. As I entered the doorway, my eyes adjusting to the indoor light, I spotted a friend and plopped down next to her. And then I had a moment to survey the cozy crowd. Dotting the pews were familiar faces of friends I’ve known since I was an awkward bangs, glasses, and braces-clad tween, clueless and curious, a work-in-progress for sure. They loved me then. And I love them for it now.

The friend next to me? Danced at my wedding two weeks before giving birth to her first child. Her husband sitting on her other side? Gave me the confidence to swim across the lake at our overnight camp in the summer of 1992–the prerequisite for participating in the cherished canoe trip. In fact, he (a counselor then) swam it right along with me, encouraging me the entire way. Behind us sits my friend’s older sister with her four beautiful children. Somewhere, I still have a note she wrote me over 20 years ago. Two rows away sit my former bunkmates. We used to dance around singing Come Sail Away at the top of our lungs as we cleaned our cabin after breakfast, and fell asleep listening to Enya every night, after whispering our deepest secrets into the darkness.

Over the years, when life put distance between us, we spent long hours talking on the phone, and then long hours on AOL Instant Messenger, and then wrote each other long e-mails during college. We shared spring breaks and sleeping bags, clothing and confidences, kisses and cries.

We’ve loved and lost and lived together.

One among our group of friends grew up in a modest apartment building in Brooklyn. When I would visit him there during high school, I always thought, this is how I want to raise my kids. In a building where children, food, and friends flow freely among the apartments, where the neighbors all know one another and look after each other’s kids as if they were their own. I wanted to raise my children in a community of loving friends.

This morning, as I held my dear friend’s newborn baby girl, I thought–this is our apartment building. These are our children. We’ve done it. Sure, things may look a little different–we may text each other to make plans to meet at the playground instead of shouting down the hall; we may buy our own butter; we may hire babysitters instead of dropping the kids off at each other’s homes.

But we’re there for each other in the same way. In the way we’ve always been. And in the way I know we always will be.

7:45 on a Monday morning?

Anytime, anywhere?

I’ll be there.

Finding Loveliness in the Endless Snow

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My inclination upon waking up to yet another snowfall yesterday was to shoot off some grouchy tweet about how much it sucks. (I even almost resorted to a snarky pun like “Snow way I’m doing this again.” I’m telling you–I was in a bad place.)

So trust me when I say I’m with you on this whole too-much-winter thing. The gloves, the hats (yeah, neither of those actually happen around here), the jacket-fights, the slippery walk to the snow-covered car…I’m over it. And I could’ve shouted, or at least tweeted, it to the masses.

But I resisted. Instead, I spent the day committed to finding the good in all this.

Like how my next-door neighbor routinely clears my front walk before I can even get to it–because he knows I’m stuck inside with three little ones and can’t fathom how to incorporate shoveling into our morning.

How the snowplow driver making his way down our street stops and dismounts to help me dislodge my minivan from the snow heap on which it’s now perched.

Watching the joy on my boys’ faces as they create “train tracks” in the freshly fallen snow.

How sweet my kids look in their boots.

How my three-year-old loves to hold my hand as we walk, so he doesn’t slip on the ice.

How chitchat with the store clerk over the weather becomes more than just small talk and mimics actual bonding.

How drivers are (often) more likely to wave a waiting pedestrian along, allowing them their (due) right of way.

How glorious our return to the local playgrounds will be! Like a warm reunion with a dear, old friend. I’m grateful my kids are learning, by contrast, to appreciate the beauty of a sun-filled afternoon. In the meantime, they cultivate patience, compromise, and creativity to carry them through these long winter months.

How everything inevitably s-l-o-w-s down–because you’re forced to suspend plans, embrace a snow day, or simply move through your hours more cautiously, more deliberately. The typical Tuesday rush slows to a crawl. We give our kids seconds at breakfast and pour another cup of coffee. We controlling, self-important, overly-busy humans are rendered powerless, submitting to the natural reality of our surroundings.

It’s hard to see the good. Really hard sometimes. But if you let it, cold weather can bring with it the reminder that we’re all in this together.

Perhaps the best part about the snow? It’s melting now.

Stay warm out there…

Valentine’s Day, Reimagined

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I admit it. I’m a Valentine’s Day Scrooge.

I’ve long considered it a manufactured “Hallmark holiday.”

As early as middle school, it was an opportunity to blatantly broadcast your puppy love when you’d open your locker only to find a gaudy trinket or (if you’re lucky) a mix tape replete with Billy Joel and Richard Marx ballads.

Even when I was in a relationship, I found it to be an affront to single people–and a patronizing invasion into how and when we couples chose to express our love.

Now, as with everything post-parent, I see things differently. I see it through the eyes of my sweet children.

And teaching them about love? Now there’s definitely something to that.

We’re not one of those families that says “I love you” at every parting. We probably don’t talk about love much at all—at least not explicitly. So when my preschooler presents me with a V-day card he made in school declaring his love for me, his father, and his brothers, I can’t help but turn to mush.

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When guns and violence somehow seep into even Superbowl commercials, it’s a welcome change to have rom-coms flood the airwaves and hearts grace every storefront.

We need not fixate only on romantic love. This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to focus on mother-love, brother-love, on spreading love of mankind…of our fellow neighbor…of the everyday, common things that bring a smile to our face.

In that spirit, here are just a few of the things I love these days:

  • the way my four-year-old will snuggle with me when he first wakes up in the morning (but only then);
  • when my three-year-old brushes his shaggy hair out of his eyes with his little palm after I pull a shirt down over his head;
  • how my baby boy nestles into the curve of my neck;
  • curling up on a cold night under this one quilt Husband and I bought at a Cracker Barrel years ago on a pre-kid road trip down South;
  • the way Twitter is making the world smaller…one tweet at a time;
  • the song Some Nights by the indie rock band Fun. (Playing it on repeat these days, people. I’m hooked.);
  • my afternoon coffee, perfectly complemented by chocolate chip Dunkers cookies from Trader Joe’s;
  • the incredible community of mother-writers out there I’ve only just begun to appreciate;
  • scarves;
  • my four-year-old’s insightful (yet challenging) questions (like—How does your body grow? or Who was the first person who ever lived on this earth?);
  • “guys”—as in the way my three-year-old says “hey guys” to get our attention;
  • watching The Bachelor (though I’m not much of a JP fan), glass of sweet red wine in hand;
  • hearing my four-year-old confidently assure me that he won’t slip on the everywhere ice—because he’s Superman (and he really believes it);
  • the cozy feeling of being at home, my boys asleep, and the snow falling silently outside.

(I’ll tell you one thing, though—I’m still hating on the burdensome classmate V-day card exchange tradition. We’ve done the creative, hand-written, personalized cards for each student in the past. This year, I just don’t have it in me. And you know what? I don’t want the tens of cards from all my kids’ classmates to come cluttering up my house, either. Especially when I’m trying to purge.)

What are you loving this Valentine’s Day? Whatever it is…I hope you’re out there…spreading the love.

Plane Friends

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I’ve traveled a bit recently. I often make “plane friends” en route. You know—in-flight companions you bare your soul to and then never see again?

But maybe you don’t know. I’ve mentioned this phenomenon to more than a few people lately only to be met with blank stares.

Here’s how it tends to go down.

You settle in next to each other in your assigned seats. Steal a quick glance. Take in what they’re reading. Make a couple snap judgments.

You instinctively want to keep to yourself. Read your book in peace. Not engage. That tends to be our default, after all. How often do we really let people in? Take the time to make anything more than small talk? We’re usually so talked out from the rest of our lives on the ground that we view travel as a brief respite, a way to relax or escape, which usually involves…silence.

So you start off that way. Shortly after takeoff, you nap together. In a state of semi-consciousness, you try not to “head bob” into their personal space.

You come to in time for the complimentary beverage service, when the flight attendant inevitably knocks your knee as she passes. Something about your beverage choice incites a quick exchange with your neighbor. It’s the first time you get a good look at their face. You’re torn between wanting to bury your head back in your book and not seeming impolite.

What’s bringing you to Cincinnati?

You give yourself over to it. Soon you’re deep in conversation about your families, hometowns, professional goals, travel histories. You realize you have more in common than just your destination. Plane friends always do fascinating, glamorous things. Like design movie posters or perform at NBA halftime shows. You feel like you’re in the presence of greatness. It dawns on you that everyone has a story to tell.

You’re sitting much closer to each other than is customary. You’re stuck. But somehow you no longer mind. You share the stale airplane air–and each other’s confidences. Up here, conversation seems safer, freer–as if the rules that typically govern social interaction are suspended when above the clouds.

You touch down. You deplane, walking in tandem. No longer strangers, but not quite friends. You say you hope your paths will cross again sometime. You know they probably won’t.

Have you ever made a plane friend?

God and C-Sections

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“Did my birth experience make me feel closer to God? Maybe not. But I was overjoyed to deliver my son into a world where humans can do this for each other.”

You can read more about how having a C-section gave me faith in man in my latest on Kveller here.

I’d love to hear how childbirth, an encounter with medicine, or any other life event shaped your beliefs, how you feel about God, or your relationship with your fellow man.

Daysaver: Sorel Joan of Arctic boots

It’s 5 degrees outside. I’m walking in to work (my office never closes). I can’t feel my knees. I’ve temporarily lost hearing in my left ear. I’m walking backwards in sync with the guy next to me so our backs are to the wind. We’re making small talk to distract ourselves from the bitter cold whipping at our bodies–and because survival and adventure bring people closer together.

My feet? Warm and dry. These guys were put to the test today. And they passed with flying colors.

Stay safe and warm out there!