The Brody Bunch – Life is a Highway

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Snapped a pic of Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez while watching Cars 3 on Netflix.

December Errands Turn Into Holiday Memories

December.  While we need toilet paper, dish soap and mustard, store shelves are overflowing with holiday cheer.  My retail experience has been a teary eyed holiday season regarding memories from material gifts from years ago. The retail world is on high octane with sparkly pajama sets, gift boxed Hot Wheels, non scary looking baby dolls, Barbie and her dream world, Lego kits, books and more. I used to buy it all.  Now, I get a lump in my throat when I see the the holiday packaged merchandise as my kids are too old for this, they outgrew the this world, but my heart and memory did not. 

My kids are sweet, they don’t ask for expensive items, but their interests are expensive (sports gear and arts classes).  Toy catalogs and trips to box stores are now non issues in my house regarding the kids. But these are issues for me. The kids don’t long for their childhood toys, but I do. The toys used to shed light into their thoughts and imaginations before screen time. We used to play together.

My biggest holiday gift was always the joy I received in picking out the perfect doll or race car and watching my then little kids open the presents with such happiness and gratitude.  Those days are now just memories.

Lightning McQueen, then and now

My oldest son, 15, invited me to watch a movie with him.  Cars 3.  At age three, the first movie he ever saw was Cars. We watched this movie at least one hundred times. Ka-Chow! [Ka-Chow is Lightning McQueen’s catchphrase in case you missed the Cars experience].  Cars 3 represented a lot to me: present time with my son and a chance to go back in time.  I had a lot going on in my head. I tried to explain this phenomena to him, but his 15 year old self responded. I knew to pipe down and enjoy being in the moment.  I also knew that I would come back here and reflect this with all of you later.

We were watching Cars 3 just like we watched movies when my 15 year old was three, well that was my perspective.  And, when he told me “I love you”  it was the same infection in his voice as it was at age three, but now much lower in pitch at age 15.

At one point during the movie, we switched roles.  When he was little and something sad happened in a movie, I would remind him that it’s a movie, and I think things will work out.  Now, when I gasped at a Car character spinning out of control and hitting a wall (yes this is all animated), I was reminded by my son, “It’s a Disney-Pixar movie, it will be okay.” And, it was followed up with, “I love you.”   This growing up stuff is hard on the heart, but all will be okay.

Merchandising to the Kids, and to THIS parent

Recently, we gave away hundreds of Hot Wheels cars, and I pulled out Lightning McQueen from the giveaway, to keep for myself as a memento from my younger years of parenting.

The next morning after watching the movie, I was in Target. I knew it would be hard, but I went down the toys aisle to find a Lightning McQueen car from Cars 3, as a gag gift/or a pull at your heartstrings gift to my son, but probably more as a souvenir for myself.  I couldn’t find any movie merchandise, which was probably best.  And, I found myself eyeing the Hot Wheels race tracks that we used to set up through the living room. I saw the section of toys that we always ignored, no offense to the action figures and board games. 

I like to talk to strangers in the aisles and there was no one. No one for me to share with the great life messages that we watched in Cars 3.  The movie was filled with themes of friendship, doing the correct thing, knowing that you can always go home and to be yourself.  I left the toys aisle quickly and got our toilet paper, dish soap and mustard.

Life is a Highway

Whenever I hear the song, Life is a Highway the theme song from Cars I think of the journey my family is traveling.  This song is one of my songs with my oldest son, we hear it and we give each other a nod and a smile.  It’s a special song in our family.

Gifts don’t always come with glitter or with a big bow.  My gift came via Netflix and a trip down memory lane.  This holiday season shaped up to be a reminder via sparkles, movies, Barbies, Hot Wheels, glitter lip gloss and fancy plastic high heels that time moves on. 

To borrow from the lyrics Life is a Highway “Life’s like a road that you travel on/When there’s one day here and the next day gone… I love you now like I loved you then, this is the road….”  It’s a blessing to be on this highway, glad I was asked to watch a movie.

Brody Bunch – The Bike, Teen Freedom & Adult Personal Growth

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Reflections, Freedom, Personal Growth Because of a Bike

Labor Day is the universal date marking the end of summer. Our summer included great vacations abroad, the beach, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, California and camps. Our memory buckets are overflowing.  And, I will look back on this particular summer as our oldest son’s “Summer of Freedom” combined with the byproduct of my “Summer of Personal Growth”.  

Our son turned 15 in July.  All he wanted was a bike. For his fifth birthday, I gift wrapped a tricycle for him.  His four-year-old sister saw the wrapped gift and excitedly announced: “You got a bike!” He was disappointed that she “ruined” the surprise. There was no doubt that under the Sesame Street wrapping paper a bike was in there.

Ten years later, he wanted a bike.  After bikes were stolen off our porch and there was a stretch of teens being knocked off their bikes by thieves in our neighborhood, we denied bike requests.  Our son’s friend shared an extra bike and the boys spent hours riding around the neighborhood. Yet, my son wanted his own bike. He offered to pay for it. So, I stood between the bike and my fears.  And, should the pendulum swing towards the bike, there would be a beautiful rite of passage for this teenager: independence and freedom.

A Birthday Wish, Agonized and Granted

A grandmother asked me what birthday wish she could fill.  I told her about the bike and asked if she wanted to contribute to that.  She called me back and offered a wonderful bike. My younger children went to see the bike and confirmed that this bike was the perfect size and he would love it. The siblings never mentioned the bike to their eager brother.  My concerns about past crimes and the issue that we live on the West side of a very busy street that needs to be crossed to get into the neighborhood of friends living East of the main road was well known. Now, I held the permission to the gift of freedom. After restless sleep and with tremendous trepidation, I graciously accepted the bike.

Days later after a family dinner, we stepped onto the patio.  The bike was revealed. Our reserved son beamed with happiness and his recessive dimple popped out. Grandparents, parents and siblings filled the porch to see this surprise. I imagine this moment was like someone receiving their first color television or their first car.  With much gratitude, my son held onto the bike handles and quickly shared the safest routes to bike around busy roads. He had a responsible plan already worked out for this magical moment.

The Gift of Freedom and Independence and Letting Go, Riding off into the World

My son, through the bike, was given the gift of freedom.  Throughout the rest of the summer “the guys” rode their bikes to various friends’ homes, the pool, the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the park, and on trails. I received photos of my happy son on his adventures. With a knot in my stomach, my heart was happy for him.  I recognize that I lived through this agonizing decision.

His friends’ parents maintained stocked fridges, a welcome place to sleep, and space to lock up all of the bikes.  It took an entire Village to lift my son, support his wishes to get a bike, and let him be a kid experiencing adventures and journeys.  Deep in my heart, I know this is about me letting go. The experience of getting a bike at age 15,  is very different than a 10-year-old getting a bike. From his parents’ point of view, the issues surrounding a bike at an older age feels much closer to getting a car – further travels in the City, navigating decisions, personal safety, unsupervised travels, and more. We still worry about him constantly, and I share in his happiness about his outings and experiences.  Now, he has the opportunity to ride off into the world, on his own bike.

The Brody Bunch – Hot Wheels

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Just $1 each. My kids’ little fingers played with each one.  And, it was time to pass them on.

Hot Wheels, Driving Out of My House, But Not My Heart

Five Hot Wheels suitcases filled with 48 – 96 cars each, remained unplayed with for many years and stored in a basement closet. The chore of reclaiming valuable real estate space back in closets is long overdue. I am horrible at this task. With all of the kitchen gadgets, school art projects from long ago, future snow day activities, boxes of stuff family members thought they could store in my house, etc, the Hot Wheels were randomly chosen for the clutter purge.

More than a decade ago, when our son was three or four, I remember asking the pediatrician if our first born child was safely able to play with Hot Wheels.  The wheels are little parts, a toddler issue. Yes, pediatrician signed off on Hot Wheels! This was so exciting! I remember my son standing in the red Target shopping cart and spending a lot of time picking out the most special Hot Wheels from the display racks. He had a meticulous process. We often repeated this outing. The Tooth Fairy brought Hot Wheels. Grandparents bought Hot Wheels. Everyone was into this. Hot Wheels were gifted as first day back to school presents. Packs of Hot Wheels were given as birthday and Hanukkah gifts. We accumulated a large collection.

I remember buying a carpet with road designs at the Home Depot and spending hours playing with my oldest son and his Hot Wheels. My son learned math with Hot Wheels: “If a Hot Wheel cost $1, we need 25 thousand Hot Wheels if we want to buy a real car.” We bought plastic orange race tracks and made courses around the living room. Imagination triumphed and we stayed away from electronics for a very long time. Hot Wheels went with us in the car. Hot Wheels were played with in bed. Hot Wheels were stuck in between the couch pillows. Hot Wheels went with us to restaurants. And, I don’t know when, but the Hot Wheels were relegated to the storage closet.

Recently, I ran into a friend and her two boys, ages 4 and 8, in a retail store.  I whispered to her, “do your boys like Hot Wheels?” Yes, indeed! I found happiness discovering that these boys would give new life to our old treasures. Yet, I hoped that we had a secret stash somewhere in my sons’ room.

Days later, my daughters and I put the Hot Wheels in the car. When we arrived at the Hot Wheels’ new home, I randomly dumped the stuffed suitcases of cars into my trunk. I wanted to see them one more time.  My daughter said, “Oh, you should not have done that! Please don’t cry.”  I had flashbacks of memories from a lifetime ago.

I found a Lightning McQueen car (not Hot Wheels but my son’s first movie) and put that car in my pocket.  I found a silver Mercedes which resembled my Mom’s old silver Mercedes. I put that in my pocket, too. I found two different taxis which reminded me of how much my son loved taxi cabs in New York City.  So, I put two taxi Hot Wheels in my pocket.  My daughter told me that it was time to put the hundreds of cars back in the recyclable bag or else the cars would end up coming back home, and we didn’t want that. She was right. I would have kept the Hot Wheels until my sons were married. They don’t want the cars now, they won’t want the cars later.

So, with dust bunnies and some loose hair strands, I parted with the Hot Wheels. The boys were good with this plan. I am proud of my first son who is starting high school next week and his younger brother who is starting middle school, they simply outgrew the Hot Wheels.  May the boys who received these cars enjoy them at least as half as much as I did. It was the best dollar at a time that I ever spent.

The Brody Bunch – Supporting Arts in Public Schools, Family & Community

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One Day – Two Agendas: Funding the Arts and Supporting the Arts

Support the arts in your local schools. In less than 7 hours, I had the opportunity to both participate in a difficult strategic planning conversation about funding arts in City Public Schools and I attended an elementary school play. Budget cuts impacted arts programming in my City, Baltimore.  I shared in the meeting that now more than ever it is necessary to support arts in the schools and reach as many students as possible. Arts spills into academic subjects. The arts help students become creative learners. Arts help kids process the challenging world around them. The arts in schools need to be valued on the same level as the school guidance counselor. It is unacceptable that the arts are on the front line during budget cuts.  

Hours after the arts meeting about budget cuts and outreach initiatives, I attended closing night of my son’s elementary school play. This is my youngest child, so our last elementary school play.  The after school rehearsals, the hours of teacher and parent volunteering, school matinees, a cast luncheon and two community wide performances were coming to an end.  The beautiful costumes, created by volunteers, would be cleaned and stored for future shows. The hand painted set by teachers and parents would come down. The Middle School Tech Crew raised the lights one last time. The cast took their final bow.  Parents gave the last standing ovation.

Photographing The Play – I Saw Through My Eyes and My HeART

As the volunteer play photographer, I sit in the front row, for each play and capture precious moments of the kids’ proud theater experiences. I share the snapshots with the theater families as mementos from our community experience. Please don’t judge my blog photos, I tried to preserve the students’ privacy.

In this final performance, I saw something beyond my camera lens.  My heart was moved beyond the play itself… I witnessed family love, pride and community. This was a gift from the theater. The play served as a vehicle for me to see my older children and their friends rise to the occasion of celebrating their younger siblings. It’s something that after all of the laundry, lunch packing and stress is a return payout for the parent. Watching the older siblings celebrate the younger siblings was surreal.

Two of my older kids were sitting near me with their friends. Many of the older kids play baseball together, so our families spend a fair amount of time together, we are an extended family.  I was happy for those families, too. I could see the lights bouncing off the older siblings’ faces. The older kids smiled with much pride when their younger siblings entered the stage or had lines. The younger siblings could see us in the audience, and their smiles of comfort, love and gratitude were wide. I could not wait to share this observation with the other parents sitting further back. Also in the audience, were baseball coaches and friends of families, without their own kids in this play, supporting kids they coach, we are a community.

The After Party – Hosted by Parents, Supported by Siblings

The play wrapped up.  Parents put together a great after party. And, one of my daughters, and her friends, 6th graders, DJ’d the post party. The songs were preselected and reviewed for inappropriate language.  Strobe lights and smoke machines filled the dance floor.  It was awesome celebrating as a community supporting the arts. As the night got later and parents went off to other parties not affiliated with the play, we met up at various homes, and celebrated the kids’ successes. The arts bring out the best in people. It was a euphoric night centered around the elementary school play.  And, the night was a great reminder that we need to keep volunteering and fighting to preserve art programs in public schools, for all of the children.

eARTh without ART is just “EH”

Supporting the arts is a value that has been passed on to me by my parents. Arts is a value. My kids attend budget rallies in support of the arts.  In the arts community, you often find people with compassion and passion. These are people to stick with. Attending your local theater is a great way to shape a kid’s world.  Like the expression “eARTh without ART is just EH” kids don’t need EH, they need art.  Less than 48 hours after the elementary school play wrapped, the middle school musical is already in progress. Support the arts in public schools.  You might get extra lucky like me and see your kids do something to melt your heART.

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 – 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 – 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 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.