The Brody Bunch – PLEASE be my Valentine!

Valentine’s Day Pre-Planning, Cards

I LOVE Valentine’s Day.  Ahead of festivities, annually, I purchase the Christmas clearance red wrapping paper and save it for Valentine’s Day. I am a planner. I give the Brody Bunch presents which are usually little leftover gifts from Chanukah.  

Valentine’s Day, Classroom Cards

When our kids were much younger, I made sure that each of them had a Valentine for EACH kid in their class. With four kids, it was like a Hallmark factory in my dining room. We would buy pretty paper and make cards.  We never had the popular character card kits. I was disappointed when the kids’ teachers instructed the students (and parents) not to personally address the cards, but rather just sign their names and pass out generic cards to classmates.  With Valentine’s Day a cousin to Halloween in terms of candy, we would go out of our way and find little items to tape to the card, a pink pencil, a heart shaped eraser, heart stamps, something to hype up our generic handmade cards. Think Dollar Store finds!  The kids’ classes were large and we had lots of Valentines to generate.  So, I would buy pretty paper, new stickers, and ribbons, and on lazy cold mornings, we would start making Valentines, like a machine.  

Valentine’s Day, Write from the Heart

At a very young age, one Valentine night, our son declared, while being tucked in, that he did not like store bought cards with our signed names. That year, he was sad. Despite his present bag filled with baseball cards and candy, no one made him a special card, and he was sad. I told him to get out of bed. He walked with me to where I kept my art supplies, and I watched his frown become a huge smile as I made him a very special homemade card.  That was one of my best Valentine moments ever. He taught me that a special card is one with a meaningful message not printed in the card, but handwritten, from the heart. Since that night, I never bought another store produced card. 

Valentine’s Day, Now, My Heart Skipped A Beat

Between my own child’s Valentine card standards, the teachers’ Valentine rules, I found my place in the Valentine empire – art supplies!  We have a closet filled with ribbons, paper, heart stickers, markers, buttons and baubles and more. It’s a very chaotic and disorganized space and happiness is produced out of that mess. Recently, I was hopeful to replenish our supplies.  However, my heart skipped a beat when I photographed pretty art supplies and texted my daughter with excitement about our upcoming Valentines, “Do you want to make valentines?” and she answered, “Yes. Don’t buy, I can make cards.”  I was relegated to feeling like Charlie Brown regarding the Little Redhead Girl.  My kids are getting older. They don’t want to make cards in mass production together.  They will probably used lined notebook paper. Perhaps it should have been a clue that if my kid can text that maybe she has outgrown pretty papers and puffy heart stickers.

Valentine’s Day, Need My Expectations in Check

This Valentine’s Day, I am giving each of my kids a red bag filled with something that they don’t need, with a heart shaped box of candy and a handwritten note.  We will take our annual Valentine’s Day photo with their Valentine heart shaped candy boxes. There won’t be any fancy dinner for me with their Dad on Valentine’s Day as we will be carpooling kids from soccer practice, theater class and Hebrew School. As our kids get older, I know to get my expectations in order.  Incredible memories were created while we made Valentines.  Perhaps those Valentines were more for me than they were for the classmates. Most of those cards should have ended up in recycling, but my memories are still with me.

Before this blog published, I shared with my daughter, the texting one, that I wrote a blog inspired by how much I miss making Valentine cards with her. And it’s that time of the year. She responded, “Well, let’s make some Valentines!” Oh my heartstrings are pulled towards happiness. Though intellectually, I am most confused by the Puberty laced Roller Coaster. I just want to make Valentines!

Valentine’s Day – February 15th!

Perhaps a tradition I recall most from my own childhood is celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 15th. Yes, February 15th. As a child, I always thought that Valentine’s Day was on February 15th because all of the candy and cards were half priced and that is when my family celebrated.

Signing off with much love at full price and clearance price. There’s plenty of love to go around.

The Brody Bunch – Tradition, Trees & Happiness

Celebrating Tu B’shevat – A New Year for the Trees

My family celebrates Tu B’shevat, the new year for the trees, the trees’ birthday. This is a Jewish holiday not widely celebrated in America, but it is in Israel. The Brody Bunch has our own family traditions around this festive holiday.  When the kids were in preschool through last year, each received a Graham cracker with green frosting and M&Ms to depict a tree. This dessert tree was introduced to us through a preschool teacher.  We sing “Happy Birthday” in Hebrew and English.  And, we read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Treeand ate a tasty tree. We were happy.

Often we go through the motions as we manage our busy school and work schedules compounded with theater and sports schedules and life.  I thought that our celebration of the trees would be nothing short of checking off another obligation from the calendar. The Brody Bunch has been more than colorful with their 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old selves. Holidays are important in my family, but we often spin out of control on our self created hamster wheel.  Yet, this Tu B’shevat, my family rose to the occasion and made me the happiest mom during our little celebration. 

Tweaking Tradition, A Pinterest “Nailed It”

With healthier eating choices, I did not buy Graham crackers, frosting and M&Ms. It was strongly noted how disappointed people were without their frosting trees because it is our tradition. Instead, I went to a high end grocery store, bought fresh veggies and successfully mimicked a vegetable design in the shape of a tree as seen on Pinterest, really a Christmas tree, and served the vegetable tree with a holiday tray of traditional dry fruits and nuts.  The vegetables, dried fruit and nuts were all eaten as the Brody Bunch reminisced about the days of their frosting trees.

We gleefully sang Happy Birthday in both Hebrew and English. And, our youngest son read to us, The Giving Tree.  Our copy of this book, which was mine and my younger brother’s, from our childhood, has been on my bookshelf for more than 40 years.  The story has had different meanings to me at different stages in my own life.  However, this year’s dramatic reading of The Giving Tree was different with the character voices given to both the Boy and the Tree by our theatrical reader.  And, like the Boy and the Tree, from the book, I was happy.

I went up to bed ahead of everyone else, and I was happy. My head it the pillow and I heard my oldest son declare, “This is the first year that Mom didn’t make us line up on the couch and take a picture.  Probably because she didn’t make us frosting trees.”  I jumped out of bed, grabbed a camera and rallied (bribed) the troops for our annual Tu B’shevat picture.  I was met with resistance.  And like any mom with a low moral compass trying to preserve pictorial tradition, I offered my son a few extra dollars for the weekend if he went along with photo.  I had to shake on it.  Thankfully he negotiated poorly and requested a specific amount of money after the handshake.  

The Photo Shoot is part of our Traditions

We went downstairs, to regroup on the couch for the photo. And, also like tradition, there was arguing during the photo shoot, people sitting too closely, face making, inappropriate fingers in the air. I promised only to use one camera and not a camera and a phone combo.  We captured some sort of photographic memento.  I have heard the kids say that they are so happy that we have pictures from throughout the years, though their gratitude is forgotten when going through the effort.

It Was a Joyous Night and the Frosting Was Missed, But Like the Tree, We Were Happy

Again, I climbed the stairs and put my head back on the pillow.  My husband then inquired, “Did you look online to create that vegetable tray?”  Indeed I did! It was my first Pinterest ‘Nailed It’! My family ‘nailed it’ it, too.  Their participation and appreciation makes the effort worth it.

I fell asleep hearing, “I have known you for a long time and knew that you found that online, it was great, but not really you … I missed the Graham crackers with frosting.” Like the Tree and the Boy, from the book, I was happy. We were all happy. Perhaps part of celebrating holidays is to create traditions that are special to each family.  Kumbaya to celebrating the trees as a tradition.

The Brody Bunch – Public Schools Need Our Support

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Public School Stats and A Mother’s Intuition

I am not the authority on public school education and statistical data, but I am an active mom in a Baltimore City Public school. And, sometimes, a Mom’s intuition and observations deserves a voice at the table along with the statistical data, experts and politicians.

Yesterday, I stood in line with my student vying for a seat through a competitive placement exam in a respected Baltimore City Public High School.  There are more students than available seats for the program. Yet, all students do not have many options for a safe and meaningful public education. The pickings are slim.  Every student and parent in that line only wants the best academic opportunity.  Yet, educators, parents, politicians and students know that the system is broken.

It was inspiring to see many motivated students hoping to earn a seat for their middle school and high school career. It’s also sad that all of the qualified students won’t have the same educational opportunities due to space limitations and funding inequities. Imagine if Trump held the budget hostage for educational funding instead of his Wall.

Joining The Public School Journey & Being Involved Opened My Eyes and My Heart to the Academic Injustices

After making a difficult financial decision to move our four children out of private school, one of which I am still very involved, we have been engaged in the public school classrooms, and on local and state levels with funding issues and policy.  Our children are also engaged with policy issues in their school and within the school system.

In Baltimore City Public Middle schools, students take classes based on “tracks”. The tracks I am most familiar with are: General Education, Advanced Academics, and Ingenuity which favors a heavy math and science curriculum.  

In Baltimore City Public High Schools, due to poorly performing schools, students are ranked and based upon their composite scores, they hope to secure a seat into one of the few and very coveted public high schools.  This process is known as the School Choice program.

One benefit of the School Choice program is that students are able to leave their failing neighborhood schools. Students traveling outside of their neighborhood schools creates opportunities for students and their families to meet people from different social, racial and economic backgrounds. Conversations change when engaging with people from different experiences and perspectives. A downside to School Choice is that children with lower academic success often remain in under-served schools lacking basic resources, reliable technology, and don’t have enough advocates helping them to level the playing field.  School Choice segregates educational opportunities.

When my family unexpectedly began our Public School journey, I noticed that in Middle School, white children were the majority of Advanced Academics and Ingenuity track students. And, black children comprised the majority of the General Education track.  I also noticed that the majority of disciplinary problems appeared in the General Education track, or disproportionately with the black students. These were red flags to me. These inequities pull at my heart strings. The tracks and discipline are now widely discussed, challenged and being reworked.  Change takes time.  We are in a segregated academic environment in an integrated urban community.  In our particular school, we have very talented, caring and devoted teachers and administrators. They go way above and beyond their job descriptions and Union contracts.

My family has also entered the high school choice process. Students in the Advanced Academics program and Ingenuity program have heavier weights in the formula applied to their composite scores which is most helpful to earning and securing a seat in a better high school. And, our students have had opportunities for extra credit along the way “if you donate school supplies, you will get 10% added to a grade” or “yes, you can redo a project” etc.  Along with better grades comes better funding for the individual schools, and better opportunities for specific kids. An academically motivated student with a parent able to kick in more money classroom, both helps an underpaid teacher not take money out of her pocket, and creates unfair advantages to student composite scores.  This is another inequity in public education.  Because the Choice program is so competitive, each additional percentage in the composite score does make a difference.

Supplementing Athletics and Arts, Not All Kids Can Easily Participate

My kids work very hard.  Their academics are a value to them. We are so proud of them. Though because of all of the State mandated testing, students miss essential programming such as meaningful recess or consistent gym and art classes. With overcrowding and scheduling challenges there is never enough time for all students to engage in the arts and gym which has scientifically been proven to support and improve learning skills. Arts and athletics are important to learning. 

My family spends a lot of time and money on extracurricular activities including arts and athletics.  Most families require at least a dual income. With the rise of urban crime, kids don’t go outside and play like we used to.  Everything is an organized paid to play activity, which causes more inequities along the way for those who can pay and those who can’t. I volunteer on a low level to help raise funds to offset baseball fees for families needing financial aid. I can’t imagine a family swinging all of the fees for all essential needs plus supplemental programs and planning ahead for college and retirement in this economy compounded with rising healthcare costs, increasing electricity bills and the the high costs of healthy eating.  We should all to do our part and more.

Families Across The City Hope for a Better Educational Opportunity – And Spaces are Limited, but Desire is Not

Our financial futures begin with an education.  Better educated people have more opportunities.  Yesterday, on a Saturday, my son had a 7:30 AM start time to take a placement test for a public high school accelerated program.  To earn a seat, a student needs high grades and takes a difficult placement test.  Perhaps there are 400 seats for incoming freshmen, City wide.  Maybe there were a thousand or more students from all across our City lining around the school waiting to be processed to take the exam for both middle school and high school accelerated math and science. This exam is for rising 6th graders and rising 9th graders, along with students in higher grades, bored in their academic track, hoping to secure a rare open seat in the program.  

I asked my student if he wanted me to drop him off or come in.  He asked me to come in, I know my blessings.  I enjoyed visiting with other waiting parents I know and chit chatted with everyone around me.  I asked strangers, “what part of the City are you from?”  They named public schools I have never heard of, in neighborhoods that I only know by the landmarks such as “near Johns Hopkins Hospital” or “near Lexington Market”.  I made my life in my neighborhood where my kids go to school, where we live, and where I work, all within 3 miles.  I am civic minded and believe that it is our job to support ALL of our kids in the City, because if they succeed, we ALL succeed.  

And, as I stood in this incredibly long line (think longer than a highly contested election day line), each family only wants the same thing: a safe and meaningful education for their child. All students should be afforded this basic right in any public school.  This should not be a privilege. Though, in our public education system, it is a privilege for a few.

Public School Needs an Overhaul like the Civil Rights Movement, and it All Starts with Us. We need a Revolution.

Competition is great, but not when it comes to a challenging and safe education. It is long overdue to demand an overhaul to the Public School system much like that of the Civil Rights Movement.  

Perhaps many of the school issues stem from issues not yet resolved within the Civil Rights work that we are still fighting for today.  Nonetheless, every student should have the opportunity for a strong, challenging and safe education. Education is the future for ALL of us.

We all need to do our part and a little more. Acknowledge that the schools have become more than a place to read and write – schools are providing basic healthcare, food for the hungry, social services for the homeless, homework help for those needing support, childcare for parents running late from work and more. The schools are so overburdened. Teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. The broken system can be fixed.

Help. Join a committee. Write a legislator. Ask your Principal how you can help.  Volunteer in a school.  Be informed.  Donate your time and talents. Give a little extra to your school.  Demand that your kid knows that school is his or her job. Know your kid’s teachers. Show up to PTA meetings. Email your teachers gratitude. Question authority. Attend school events, meetings and performances. Use your voice.  Ask questions. There are more of us that can do something to help. It all adds up. We all have a horse in this race.  You can start by looking up your local public school, contacting them, and asking what you can do to help. The Brody Bunch supports Public School, we have celebrated more successes than not.  Yet, ALL kids should have equal opportunities within the public school system.

The Brody Bunch – Living in Two Baltimore Cities

Living in Two Baltimores

I have always known that I live in two Baltimore Cities.  Yesterday, I spent the morning surrounded by friends in their warm homes, visiting, talking about social and political issues, sharing laughs and coffee.  In the afternoon while patronizing a closing Target store, in West Baltimore, I had another smack in the face of reality regarding the other Baltimore City, the one that makes national news.  The one where surrounding counties are afraid to let their children visit on school sanctioned field trips. The one where kids are in schools without heat. The one with the high murder rate. I ended my evening at a party with like minded civic friends in a warm home in the comfortable Baltimore City where we talked about our first world problems, our kids, hopes and the reality of the other Baltimore City.

My family and friends live in generally safe Baltimore City neighborhoods and send our children to an outstanding Baltimore City public school. Our school has engaged parents, devoted teachers and an administration supporting the needs of teachers and families. Not too far from our part of the City, we live relatively close to some of Baltimore City’s most dangerous neighborhoods.  We are geographically near where Freddie Gray lived and died. We aren’t far from where a Baltimore City Police officer was murdered and there is still no suspect several weeks later.  These are the two Baltimore Cities that I know.

School District Closed, a Free Day and the Universe

Our entire school district has been home from school because one third of Baltimore City Public schools do not have heat.  My children, in a school with heat, did not have educational instruction on Friday, because the whole system shut down for the third of schools without heat.

The Mayor announced that they were hopeful that all schools would have heat restored over the weekend and hopefully school will open on Monday.  The statement was carefully worded. This is a decades old problem, with the goal of being fixed within 48 hours.  Mind you, this problem hit the fan after it was announced on Twitter that all schools were checked for heat prior to the snow… then came the viral influx of photos showing classroom thermostats at 40 degrees and kids wearing hats and coats inside many Baltimore City Public Schools.  In response to public pressure, schools with and without heat system wide were shut down. And, this also meant that many children receiving free food were without food until emergency plans were executed. There were problems with locations and quality.  Schools are serving the needs beyond academic instruction.

On their day off from school, my children had the luxury of ice skating in the City, going to lunch in the City, and visiting the National Aquarium in the City.  I was at work, in the the City, whereas my employer understands that I am a working mom and my kids need to check in with me from time to time when they are not in school.  

The Universe Corrects Itself

With last minute planning, three of my four kids slept at their friends’ houses after their excursions.  The next morning, I volunteered to pick kids up from various sleepovers and take their friends back home, too. I complained to the other moms via text: “Karma got me, I will bring home 5 kids from sleepovers, that should be a great car ride.”  One mom replied to my snarky mom attitude, “You don’t have our sympathy, we took 3 of your kids last night and ‘the Universe corrects itself.’” Remember, the Universe corrects itself.

Throughout the post sleepover morning pickups, I lingered at each stop and we had meaningful conversations.  We talked about volunteer initiatives for both adults and kids. We talked with older siblings attending Baltimore City Public schools and why they don’t use the City’s unreliable public transportation.  We talked about kid pranks.  We covered a lot. Though at the third house visit, while acknowledging that I was wearing my daughter’s warm fleece pants, it was stated, by my daughter, that the warm fleece pants were actually pajama pants. All of the families we visited were still in their pjs, that’s how you know you have good friends.

Knowing I am Privileged. Toilet Paper is Toilet Paper.

I finished with the sleepover carpools and dropped off my daughter for a free arts program at the inspiring Baltimore School for the Arts, a gem within the Baltimore City Public School system.  Then, I went to a closing Target in West Baltimore at Mondawmin Mall.  This was the site as seen on the national media when Baltimore was looted and rioted in 2015 in response to Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody.  In my small part to show support for this part of the City, I began shopping here.  I felt that if there were more sales, there would be more jobs.  

In this part of town with high crime and without many community resources, I patron the Target and Marshalls stores.  I am often criticized by people I know, outside of the City, for being in this part of Baltimore. They are right, this is a high crime area.  And, I am right, this is an area with kind people needing an influx of support.  I know I am privileged.  I am white.  I have an engaged family. I am a college graduate. My husband and I are employed professionals.  So what if I look different than the majority of the clientele? Toilet paper is toilet paper. The customers are generally pleasant, and the employees are always helpful and I sense that they have a high level of pride in their work. Frankly, this is not the consistent employee vibe that I have felt at other Target locations. Nonetheless, this Target, corporately known as Baltimore West, is closing in a few weeks.  The pharmacy already closed.  

Expired Dairy Representing Other Social Issues

I went to Target, with hopes of a closing sale (there were none) and I needed sour cream. I rarely check expiration dates, but I noticed many expired products on the shelves from December 2017.  Of course there are health concerns, but my outraged feelings weren’t about expired dairy, per se.  The expired yogurts represent a plethora of issues:  this area is under served, a corporation built here under the auspices of tax incentives and they are leaving.  This area has struggling public schools, people need better access to healthcare, there is a trust issue between the police and the citizens, public transportation is unreliable and violent crime is high.  Target responded to my tweet calling them out about their closing and having expired dairy with: blah, blah, blah … “after careful consideration of the long term financial performance ….  is seeing several years of decreasing profitability.” So, I believe that the lesson learned is that Baltimore City needs to have a prenup with corporations receiving tax incentives.  For example, if the corporation stays for x amount of years, they keep x amount of the incentive. However, for any reason that the corporation needs to leave, we get a prorated amount of the incentive back so that we can invest in other corporations or community programming.  

I spoke to a young employee who began removing the expired dairy that I was photographing.  I asked him if Target was helping him to relocate to a different Target for other opportunities.  He shook his head in the negative and said, “I live 2-3 blocks from here, so I’m not sure how I could get to a different Target to work.”  I shared this story on a Facebook thread and many people, suggested that he takes a bus, on the surface, of course that makes sense.  But, the bus may not be affordable and is unreliable to another Target. This young man didn’t suggest that he was finished with working, period.  There are other places in the area where he can try and secure a job. We do not know the realities of this young man. I like working in the community where I live, it’s convenient, I understand that. I wished this employee the best for him and his family, he appeared thankful for our impromptu chat.  And, I walked out the food aisles telling everyone to check the expiration dates that there is a lot of expired food on the shelves.  One customer was helping me photograph the inventory.

Driving Around Inspires Me to be Part of the Solution

After picking up my daughter from her vocal class, we intended to drive two minutes to my favorite Italian market.  This family owned market reminds me of the Sal’s Pizza Shop in Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing.”  This market, owned by an Italian Family has been in business for more than 100 years and is located in an impoverished black community.  The community left this business alone during the recent riots, or the uprising.  I was so distracted by my beautiful morning with friends in my Baltimore versus my errand time in the other Baltimore. But, I got a fire in my belly and I got really lost on the two minute drive.  

With my daughter, we drove through some of the most dangerous areas of West Baltimore filled with boarded up properties and subsidized housing. It was five degrees so many people weren’t out.  I didn’t feel sad for this community, rather I felt empowered.  I felt renewed to be a voice, be part of the action and be part of the solutions.  I know people, we can are the seeds in the community to continue to bridge the Baltimore Cities that I know.

In less than a year, my children have joined me as we marched in Washington, Annapolis and protested at City Hall in Baltimore.  Our voices were heard on federal, state and local issues.  Clearly, we haven’t scratched the surface and have to keep up the good fight.

Good Intentions, Failure to see the Issues

Later in the day, I received an email from a prestigious sports organization even though my son no longer plays for them.  They outreached to their sports community seeking donations of gently worn warm hats and coats for the students of Baltimore City Public Schools.  The message went on to say that “FORTUNATELY a lot of schools are closing but that won’t be the case everyday with cold temps continuing over the next few weeks.”  I hit reply, thanked them for their lovely hat drive and asked them to use their resources to contact our local and state leaders so that my children with heat in their school, along with the children in buildings without heat, can’t get an education if schools close, and thanks for the scarves. There was no follow up and with good intentions, privilege gone awry.

Do Your Part and A Little More

My night ended at a friend’s house party in the City.  This family has a son who was my oldest son’s first friend when my children transferred out of their private school into their current Baltimore City public school.  I was surrounded by my children’s classmates’ parents, now my friends for several years. I told many about my day in two Baltimore Cities.  These are the people attending PTA meetings, Board of Education hearings, candidate forums and Little League games. This part of Baltimore City is very aware that we need to do our part and more.

First You Need A Lemon, Then the Universe Corrects Itself

I read another Facebook exchange between two of my friends.  One suggested that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  I live by that mantra.  Yet, a different friend replied, “first you need a lemon.”  

I am a native of Baltimore.  I love Baltimore City.  I live here, I work here, our kids go to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I continue growing with friends I have met through the Brody Bunch’s village and people we meet along the way trying to make things right for our City. If problems in the City don’t improve, they will sprawl into the counties because that is how crime works.  But out of humanity, pick an issue, help and DEMAND action. I want to find the lemons, share the lemons, and smile when “the universe corrects itself.”

The Brody Bunch – Happy New Year with Love

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Happy New Year from the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore.

Winter Break Through the New Year

Winter break 2017 is about to come to an end. I am pretty ready to resume the Brody Bunch’s hamster wheel of school and extracurricular activities, family pressures, and it all restarts tomorrow. I don’t feel too revived from the break. I live and survive in chaos, and on the first day of the New Year, I have enjoyed being at home in PJs, writing, binge watching bad TV with my daughter, doing a puzzle and not being anywhere, until a New Year’s Day birthday dinner later tonight, before the first day back to school – timing is not our specialty.

Traditions, Disappointments and Surviving on Coffee, Dry Shampoo and Thermal Underwear

Over the holiday season, I navigated our family calendar with traditional things that the Brody Bunch, rather I, like to do over winter break. Our festivities begin the week prior to Thanksgiving with two birthdays and conclude on January 2nd with another birthday. I try to do it all, Monument lighting, parades, a trip to Pittsburgh, 8 crazy nights of Chanukah, Christmas in New York, train gardens, “The Nutcracker,” art museums, high tea, lights at the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore and more. I felt disappointment when the weather didn’t cooperate, it has been so cold. We canceled our day trip to DC. Bagged an NFL game. We saw three movies in the movie theater, which is not my favorite activity, I like being out and about and not sitting still. Surprisingly, all of the movies were great. Our kids felt disappointment when we didn’t host their friends for big dinners. We navigated our kids’ heightened social desires whereas I was a professional chauffeur but without their sports gear.  We didn’t watch my favorite Christmas classic movies. I promised ice skating, but not all of the kids went. I said we would go bowling and we couldn’t get lanes. I said we would go to a jump zone place, and I got my days of the weeks messed up, I never knew what day it was, that is winter break.  I survived on coffee, dry shampoo and thermal underwear as pants.

This winter has been tiring, cold and hard. I struggled with my kids pushing limits and my own desire to keep traditions on the calendar – not all of their plans included me. That was my own growing pain for the winter combined with four kids going through puberty at once.  

Resolutions Turned into Bucket Lists

As the New Year approached, one of my kids scrapped resolutions for bucket list items. WOW, bucket list items, this is brilliant.  My own simple goal is just to put the Chanukah decorations away before going back to work, I still have about 48 hours. Everything from standard to extravagant made their bucket lists: exercise goals to catching a foul ball at Camden Yards. We reflected on being better people.

Ready for the Hamster Wheel in the New Year with Memories, a Bucket List and LOVE

My mommy bucket overflowed last night at 11:49, PM, on December 31, 2017. One of my kids texted a sibling, and I received the notification on my phone, “I love you! Goodnight.” All of my planning is so that the Brody Bunch has good memories.  Their growing up is tough, for me. But, this simple text, highlights that the important things are going well. Tomorrow is the first day back to school and theater practice. I am sure we will be rushed, unorganized and grabbing salad bar for dinner. Fortunately, everyone has clean underwear for the school week, which is a huge accomplishment here.  For me, it’s time to resume wearing a bra and get back on the hamster wheel with overflowing buckets and love.  Happy New Year!

The Brody Bunch – Chanukah, Lights, Memories and the Fire Department

Tis the season for the Festival of Lights, Chanukah, Hanukkah, the Miracle of Lights … 2018/5778 (Jewish Year) is down in the books.  Here are the Brody Bunch Chanukah Chai-Lights in no random order.  For those who celebrated, may the new wax you accumulated from your candles add to the good memories from years past.  For all, may there always be light.

  1. Pulling out Rubbermaid boxes filled with preschool made Chanukah art from when the Brody Bunch was little, signifies that Chanukah is upon us. Seeing their little projects displayed brings much happiness.
  2. Hearing Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” kicks off the festivities for 8 crazy nights.
  3. Four kids x eight nights = 32 gifts.  The Brody Bunch tells me that we don’t have to exchange gifts, just light candles, but they have much gratitude, expect nothing, appreciate everything and indulge me in a nightly sibling photo.  We give them things they need or little things we know they want.  Though, it was an epic fail when I let our 13 year old daughter order a book off Amazon on Black Friday featuring her favorite teeny bopper heartthrob like entertainer to discover that I paid for a book about Jeffrey Dahmer’s youth. Thankful for free return shipping.
  4. For the first time, the Brody Bunch created a candle lighting schedule regarding who strikes the match which lights the Shamash candle (the tallest candle in the menorah, the candle helper) and kept to the schedule allowing each sibling to use matches twice. Four siblings x two nights each =  8 nights.  I didn’t mediate once.  That is considered a miracle, too.
  5. Playing dreidel.  Dreidel is a Hanukkah game using something like a spinning top, is similar to gambling, and we use Poker chips instead of Hanukkah gelt (chocolate candy coins) as money. There were no high stake tournaments, but lingering problems such as if the dreidel falls off the table and lands on a good jackpot side, how is that counted? After all these years, we are still in need of clear rules or players become like the Maccabees (the victorious Jews who won the battle) back in a modern battle.
  6. I had so much fun buying boxes of frozen store made latkes, I ran into old friends and we had a great time. But homemade latkes taste better even though they are a lot of work and stink up the house from the oil.  We were gifted with a family friend frying latkes at our house.  And now will be eating the frozen latkes throughout the winter.
  7. We finally used all of my mother’s circa 1970s Manischewitz brand candles. It was a miracle that the jumbo roll of Chanukah wrap, purchased three years ago, the extra long tube that is really hard to store, finally depleted.  I marked my calendar with a reminder to go to the supermarket and restock clearance candles and Hanukkah wrapping paper for next year. Toilet paper and Chanukah supplies, you never stop using either.
  8. Amazon Prime IS Hanukkah Harry.  I will miss my daily visit with our mailman as the last delivery was today. Our mailman is funny like Newman, the Mailman, from Seinfeld.
  9. We festively go through the motions of the holidays for Tradition and to perpetuate our heritage with our children.  The kids waited each night for their Dad to come home from work, late, before lighting the menorahs.  It was a family ritual each night.
  10. My favorite night was night 6.  With more family, we had good laughs, lit lots of menorahs, ate too many homemade latkes, sang Christmas songs, told jokes, used my parent’s very old China serving platters, and the Brody Bunch was full of personality. My kids keep asking what gift I would like to receive and I tell them “just behave”.  They tell me it’s easier to buy a new purse, but on night 6 everyone behaved, that was my gift. Not all gifts are materialistic. I have a new memory to always treasure.
  11. On the 7th night of Chanukah, my daughter lit her Great Grandmother’s menorah. The menorah has been my daughter’s since she had the fine motor skills to place the candles in the holes.  And, this night was special because it would have been my Grandmother’s 98th birthday.  So, I saw the the passing down of traditions from generation to generation literally unfold both in our dining room and in my heart.
  12. On the 8th night, and final night, of Chanukah, I finally located our large dreidel collection and found all of our Jewish themed paper products, it’s like finding your Christmas decorations on December 26th.
  13. Irony ended with the Baltimore City Fire Department.  While celebrating the miracle of lights our circuit breaker kept tripping off.  The electrician didn’t fix the problem, but instead tripped our smoke detectors and left with the smoke detectors chirping.  So, without my family at home, I celebrated the 8th night of lights early when the Baltimore City Fire Department came over with the big truck and lights blaring to help this damsel in distress. What a way to close out the miracle of lights – with fire truck lights.
  14. This Chanukah, I received great memories and new smoke detectors.  Like the Israeli dreidel symbolizes, “A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE, it was a great miracle that I survived 8 crazy nights.

The Brody Bunch and The Nutcracker

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I Once Threw Shade at The Nutcracker

It’s the holiday season.  With an abundance of traditional and festive options, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular winter seasonal highlights for many.  And, I admit that I was not a fan of the beloved Nutcracker, until now.  My mom and my daughter Blanche have made an annual pilgrimage to see this beloved ballet throughout the years. I am invited each year and decline.

Rising to the Occasion Because Your Kid Asks You To

This year, my mom was unable to take Blanche on their traditional outing.  So, I made arrangements for Blanche to see the show, but Blanche wanted me to come, too.  I had no interest.  I saw it once as a child, and that was enough for me.

Though, when your kid asks you to go to the ballet, and her Grandmother can’t go, you rise to the occasion.  For two hours, I was mesmerized.  I loved everything in this holiday treasure.  We saw a stellar production at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From the costumes and makeup to the dancing and the facial expressions, we were given a beautiful gift for the holidays and beyond.  I tried to understand deeper meanings of The Nutcracker.  But deeper meanings pertaining to the story were unneeded.  The meanings in my own story is what unfolded.  It was beautiful, and draining, and a gift received from self reflection.  It was like believing in the magic of the Clara’s dream and the magic of the holidays.

The Magic of The Nutcracker Gave Me Gifts, Too

For the first time, I was engaged in the actual event.  I usually photograph events so I miss being in the moment as I am “focused” on my job. I never realized this.  But I enjoy it. And, I usually watch the expressions on my kids’ faces when we are sharing an experience, but I am never in the moment of the activity.  My happiness is gained by watching my kids experience the moment.  I don’t remember how I experienced things before they were born, but as they grow older, I am sure that I will need to relearn how to be in the moment for myself.  Perhaps, The Nutcracker gave me a gift, too.

Several days have passed since the ballet.  And, I don’t recall watching my daughter’s expressions during the performance. I was most engaged in the actual performance. She doesn’t understand that my experience differs from her experiences. She doesn’t know that I receive much joy out of watching her and her siblings experience happiness rather than enjoying the actual outing itself.  She feels that we went to the show together and shared that journey, which is also true. For her, it is that simple. The moment I treasure most from this outing is that my daughter so much wanted to be with me, and I experienced actually being in the moment.  We were both happy. We supported the arts. And perhaps the arts supported me in my personal growth.

I Understand the Best of the Holiday Season

I finally found the love that many have experienced through The Nutcracker thanks to my daughter, my mom, and the talented performers.  Perhaps this journey of being in the moment, for myself, and with my family, represents the best of the holiday season.  

The Brody Bunch – Growing, Pride & Crying in Baseball

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To commemorate my special birthday, we bought a fundraising brick for our new Little League field and paraphrased from A League of Their Own while honoring the Brody Bunch.  Though, after a phone call and opportunity for our first born little league player, I plan on crying.

Baseball Attire Leads to an Opportunity

Months ago, I was in a Hebrew school meeting and wearing jeans with a baseball jersey and baseball cap. My younger son was wearing his little league uniform. A guy kept motioning to me to get my attention and asked if my kid plays baseball.  This guy was recruiting boys to tryout for the  Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team. We exchanged information, went to a tryout, my husband was recruited as a volunteer coach, and I sortof forgot about it. Our older son also went to a tryout, and I sortof forgot about that, too.  Coincidentally, I was in another community meeting, and the speaker stopped her presentation and said to me, “Aren’t you the baseball family?” I never really thought of it, but yes!

The Phone Call That Shapes Our Future

Last night, as I was falling asleep, I received an enthusiastic call welcoming our older son, Leo, onto a special baseball team for the experience of a lifetime and are we ready to sign? There are more players than spaces, so we need to commit now.  Wow.  I was unprepared for this call, as I sortof forgot about it.

I hated my circa 1950s housewife response: “I am so thankful, but my husband is not home.”  WTF, Robyn (me)?  I wasn’t sure how we would commit to the large expenses involved. Immediately, I told the Coach how unacceptable my answer was to him. I repeated my gratitude and strongly emphasized that this is my decision, too.

I was distracted by my younger son throwing moldy strawberries from the fridge into the sink.  The entire moment was surreal. I knew that I was proud of my son making the team, I was annoyed with my anti-feminist response, and I was really annoyed with my younger son throwing food across the kitchen.  I was letting negativity override my happiness, and that made me really mad.  That is not me. I sensed that it was more than berry throwing getting to me, my hand was forced to let my older son grow and I see that his time is, NOW.  And my time to grow is also NOW.  We had to accept the literal call and grow, NOW, together.

The Coach asked to speak with Leo. Leo, happily took the call in the bathroom and I was nervously listening through the door. My son is very polite.  But like many teens, he is not the best telephone conversationalist. But, because my family speaks on speakerphone, and Leo thinks this is a common practice, their conversation was audible. I was beaming with pride from his athletic achievement but moreso for his character and demeanor.  I fast forwarded my thoughts by several years, and I imagined that this moment might be similar to receiving the call from a college coach offering my kid a baseball scholarship. But, that is getting ahead of the gift of time.

Dreaming, Realizing, Role Models & Responsibility

Leo has been playing baseball since he was four. His Dad has coached him for years. And, many of his coaches are our friends. Baseball families become extended family. As a term of endearment, most of Leo’s friends parents are called Coach rather than mister so and so.  Once, Leo asked me what one of his coaches did in the professional world.  It seemed to me that Leo recognized that a professional backup plan should be considered in case the major leagues don’t come knocking at his door.  That was a sad moment of reality for me watching my kid realize that a dream may not become real.

There were many times that we had to have the “Sandy Koufax sat out of the World Series” conversation when Leo was disappointed with us that he had to miss practice for Rosh Hashanah or a game for Yom Kippur.  Now, Leo was offered a coveted spot on the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi baseball team representing our hometown.

Once the sibling excitement and the news of the hour settled down, Leo and I snuggled on the couch. It was our first time sitting on the new couch together. And, we had a memorable moment, while still unable to bounce off the walls like I usually do in excitement, I spoke quietly.  I never speak quietly. “Leo, you know I am so proud of you?” Leo’s special smile that comes out at very special times, beamed, “Yes, I do.”  I quietly asked him, “How do you know?”  Leo stated, “Because you are my number one fan.”  I hit a homerun.  I asked Leo, “WHY do you want to do this?” Leo told me, “I think it will be fun and I will have a chance to represent the Jewish people.”  Oh my goodness, I hit a grandslam in terms of our heritage.  The grandparents and the Rabbis should be kvelling.

A Plethora of Firsts are Coming Our Way

With this opportunity, there will be lots of firsts for my firstborn. This adventure is scheduled weeks before the start of his freshman year of high school at a new school.  He will be flying on a plane for the first time.  He will be visiting the West Coast for the first time. He will be traveling without his parents for the first time.  He will be have an experience of a lifetime without me, for the first time.  I won’t be there to see all of his expressions, for the first time.  As Leo seeks independence, I am seeking strength in growing and letting go, as best as I can.

Leo stopped attending Jewish camps around age 7, attends school in an urban community, and while we try to have regular Shabbat dinners, being Jewish doesn’t come as easily to him as it did for me growing up in an insular community. This baseball opportunity gives Leo a chance to connect with people who have similar backgrounds and interests.

All of the Brody Bunch kids play baseball or softball, and I use baseball as metaphors when talking about life lessons.  It’s ironic that a lot of my upcoming personal life lessons will also be centered around baseball.  

In my conversation with the Coach, I pulled the mommy card big time: “How are the host families screened?  As a hobby, I photograph little league, I am happy to help!”  The Coach told me that I could travel with the team! Though, I cannot. The expenses for this journey are too steep, and some of the non monetary expenses include me recognizing that my number one son is growing up whether I am ready or not. I am blessed that he calls me his Number One Fan.  

For Me, there WILL be Crying in Baseball

I tell my kids’ teammates, “there is no crying in baseball” it’s one of my favorite baseball expressions.  I believe that this Number One Fan (me), is exempt from the mantra, as when the journey gets closer, I will be crying tears of pride for my baseball player.

The Brody Bunch – The Sandwich Years

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The Sandwich Years – Caring for the Generation Below Me and Above Me, our Kids and our Parents

It’s not the typical Thanksgiving blog. In fact, it should probably be notes for my future therapist.  On the cusp of Thanksgiving, we have already hosted two family birthday dinners this week as we are in birthday-palooza with Brody Bunch Thing 3 and Thing 4 birthdays just four days apart.  And, my sweet Mom has needed extra support.  All hands are on deck.  My Mom, once two inches taller than me is now four inches shorter than me. Living in Baltimore, I kid her that we may enter her as a jockey in the upcoming Preakness Stakes Horse Race.  I am so fortunate, we have decent insurance policies and my family is on board with all support needs.  

Reflections on Being in My Generation within My Family

Here is what I wish the Brody Bunch knew:

  1. It is important not to buy many things, experiences are better.  Cleaning up is harder when there is so much stuff, it breaks and the landfills are already past capacity.  I am a professional schlepper (mover). I pack things up and take them to donation centers.
  2. Calendaring is an art.  Sports leagues, theater classes, family dinners, meetings, high school open houses, next summer camp opportunities, it is all a fulltime job involving flexibility, calendars, charts, maps and a checkbook.
  3. As adults, having your social security benefits, medicare plan, housing needs, car sales, will and estate planning, retirement, and pre funeral arrangements in place are all big items that are probably better off being methodically planned rather than doing it all in a four week window.  Though these tasks give a recovering helicopter mom, such as myself, a new focus, now that the kids are more independent and a grandparent needs more help.
  4. Taking family photos are important – documenting hard times and celebrations is part of the tapestry and should be remembered.
  5. People are kind.  Hugging and blowing kisses with older people makes them happy.
  6. Humor is the best tool for surviving the roller coaster.

Planning For Death, it is Surreal With Many Expensive Options

Last night, my mother and I shared perhaps one of our most bat shit crazy experiences to date.  In an effort to make things as smooth as possible, it was recommended that we pre plan her funeral. Thankfully this is not an imminent situation, though we were advised to tackle this need now.  The funeral director presented us with many options.  My mother consistently picked the more expensive option and I consistently nodded my head no and supporting the cheaper options.  I tried to beat the financial funeral system hard last night, it can’t possibly cost this much to die.  My mom found comfort in knowing that she could request a playlist of songs for the service.  We laughed so hard with quick self recommendations such as “Only the Good Die Young” and “Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead”.  We had a great time in our funeral meeting.  Did I mention how sweet my Mom is?  We laughed so hard, that the funeral director took notes of our one liners.  She liked the part where we were given a document about “How to Talk To Your Family about Funeral Arrangements” I compared this to “How to Talk To Your Kids about Sex.”

Tradition, Money, and Preserving the Soul

We grappled with tradition. We discussed options that are not in line with how our community defines tradition. Like many, we are faced to make decisions based upon money.  I heard myself say aloud that we want to spend all of the money now to give my mom the best healthcare, living accommodations and life experiences now, and not after.

My mom wanted to know about her soul. All of the decisions we are making are irrelevant to her soul, as she has one of the best souls out there.  And, I would announce that the funeral industry is in bed with the legislature as many expenses are mandated by our state laws.  The rebuke was that it is for the safety of the funeral parlor employees, I didn’t argue with that.

We talked about burial versus cremation.  I heard that cremation would require that I charter a boat should we chose to sprinkle ashes in the Ocean.  My mother belted over, “with your luck, you will be on the boat, and my ashes will blow in your face when you open the box.”  True. So, I am not chartering a boat.

Candy, Singing, Holiday Stress, and Thankful

After our surreal meeting, my mom and I went to a vending machine and cracked open a bag of peanut M&Ms. We sang choruses to the most inappropriate funeral services possible.  But she was very serious about Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”  You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of the girl.

While many are stressed out about cooking the turkey, cleaning the house, potential political dinner conversations, if relatives took enough of their medications, this pre funeral arrangements experience shines a new light on being thankful.  I am about to embark on hopefully just a 7 hour Thanksgiving car ride, in a vehicle that the Brody Bunch has outgrown, and I will be relegated to the second or third row, with bags on our laps, and with the wafting smell of four pounds of corned beef in transit. I look forward to being with family from far away even though I will miss my side of the family with whom we see several times per week.  There is much to be thankful about.

The Brody Bunch – The Day After Halloween

Pre Brody Bunch Halloween

It’s odd that I love Halloween.  I grew up in the cyanide poisoning and razor blade scare era, in a neighborhood without many kids, and with a little brother who seemed to get Croup on many Halloweens.  And, whatever costumes I had, always with a plastic mask, which made seeing and breathing difficult, I had to wear my big winter coat over my costume because it was cold.

Early Brody Bunch, Post Halloween = Clearance Finds!

The day after Halloween was another “holiday” chasing 50-75% off candy and costume clearance sales. I no longer eat candy, and sadly, the older Brody Bunch kids no longer play dress up.  As my friend told me, October is all about kids planning the very perfect Halloween costume and then completely changing the said costume choice on October 30th. True.

Halloween Traditions Didn’t Go According to Plan

This Halloween season, things were pretty hectic. The Brody Bunch missed screening the entire It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  We didn’t honor anyone’s specific costume wishes. Our car broke down outside of the pumpkin patch. We finally purchased pumpkins at the grocery store, five days ago, and these uncarved pumpkins are taking up real estate on my kitchen floor.

Pjs Doubled Up as Costumes, That was my Intended Plan

Smartly, I welcomed each kid to pick out new warm onesie pajamas with the understanding that these pjs would double up as Halloween costumes. Brilliant!  All went well until one daughter requested a $5 racoon mask and wore dark lipstick with the mask and was happy.  Another daughter wore a $400 leather jacket, and decided that with her friends, she would be in a biker gang.  My older son, for the first time, wasn’t a Baltimore Oriole. Instead, he was a rooster, thanks to his pajamas. I love that he had a costume rather than his beloved baseball jersey because the shirt reminded me of what older kids wear in the spirit of still wanting to trick or treat, but not dress up, and I wasn’t ready for that.  My younger son, he didn’t want to be a Minion, but we ran out of time, so he was a Minion. I never dress up, but was sick of being cold, even while wearing my winter coat like I did when I was a child. So, I wore my daughter’s monkey suit onesies and I was warm.  Moving forward, I will now be a monkey on Halloween, or a Minion.

We gave up our cute Halloween totes and resorted using our pillowcases.  Between team jerseys, dark lipstick, and pillowcases, these are Halloween signs that the kids are getting older.

Present Day Brody Bunch Halloween – Our Plan

Fast forward to Halloween with the Brody Bunch.  For several years, we have been meeting at one family’s home, quickly eat pizza, tweak costumes, and split into predetermined groups, do a photoshoot and then leave. The older kids, for the first time, got a ride into a neighboring area.  And, we all agreed upon a time to stop where we were, and walk towards a specific house to end the night together.  The meet up house is very welcoming and hospitable whereas the grill was hot, the chili was simmering, drinks were flowing, and kids traded candy while parents mingled on the front lawn around the bonfire.  We hit perfection.  As crazy as life is, and the world has become, these few hours are perfect.

Reflections While Candy Hoarding, Thanks to the Firemen

As we walked the neighborhood streets with friends, I was sad to recognize, that the Brody Bunch is getting older.  We won’t be trick or treating forever.  So between that and our local fire department, I was quite reflective. The neighborhood fire department, hit with budget cuts, had the trucks out driving around with their lights on. Every few houses, the truck would stop and firefighters handed out candy.  It was the kindest gesture which now motivates me to help “fill the boot” at future firefighter fundraisers. Our firefighters went above and beyond being good neighbors.

Our Kid Found The Perfect Halloween Spot, Because Their Friends’ Families Are So Welcoming

The history of our great Halloween stems from my then 9-year-old daughter hearing of a spot where we should trick-or-treat, just a mile away from our home, and near their school friends.  We were quickly embraced and became part of the Halloween landscape. Pounds of candy for the kids and red Solo cups for the parents to have a cold one or a glass of wine.  Wow, my kid knows how to scope out the good spot!

Most of these friends, we met through Little League baseball.  Many of the dads coach. And, those who don’t play ball, are the neighbors. This is a great pastime in modern history – neighbors visiting, kids having their independence roaming the streets and friends being together. Kids have a night to explore neighborhoods independently. Something kids today really don’t do in this world. Neighbors were outside, people were visiting, eating and drinking. Being free, social, and euphoric seems like a pastime too. Again, it is a perfect few hours.

Candy Sorting and Trading, It’s a Ritual

When we got home, pretty late on a school night, our three younger kids organized their candy and started sorting and trading. They have always done this as a Halloween ritual. Our oldest child left his candy untouched, hopefully brushed his teeth, and went to bed. Without any requests, the kids handed over about 50 pounds of candy for me to donate excluding a mango and Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy coins).

Halloween, It’s a Wrap

I miss the days of matching sibling costumes.  I recognize that our trick or treating days are numbered.  I will always treasure the Halloween candy sorting and trading.  Being with my family and many of our friends at the end of the night, reminds me of the sweetness (pun intended) of being part of a wonderful village.  Candy, independance, family and friends, traditions and the sweetest of old and new memories with the Brody Bunch.