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

person riding a bicycle during rainy day

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.

Israel – I Went. I was Inspired. I am Empowered.

 

Girls Night Out Becomes A Journey of a Lifetime

I texted three friends from my youth: “We can’t schedule a dinner, so who wants to go to Israel?”  Immediately, we made plans to travel, grow and learn with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). Looking back, we didn’t really understand what we signed up for. Passports were renewed.  Frivolous travel items from Amazon were secured. JWRP seeks to inspire a women whereas the woman inspires her family. And, through families, we inspire a community. Inspired communities can change the world. JWRP’s mantra, #ItAllStartsWithWomen starts with me because of this extraordinary trip to Israel with 600 women nationwide, I found inspiration.

Not My First Visit, And Completely Engaged

Returning to Israel as a tired Mom, a longtime community activist and a concerned Jew, I didn’t realize until I called home that I was fully engaged on this journey. Through JWRP seminars about courage, self-esteem, generosity, peace in the home, trust, unity, human dignity and gratitude, I cried. These presentations were emotionally draining and gave me tools to understand where I am in life and where I am heading. With help from the women sharing the commonality of being Jewish mothers, I embraced this experience with wide eyes and an open heart.  I felt a sisterhood bond and went beyond my comfort zone. My two left feet danced at every Hora including at the welcoming dinner, at the Hebrew Naming celebration for women who did not receive Hebrew names at birth, before Shabbat and at random times. I ate foods beyond my regular diet. I declined cab rides so that I could walk far with my new soul sisters, see art and symbols reminding me of my family, talk to the locals, hear street musicians, see playful children, and watch soldiers engage with Yeshiva students. I wanted to be part of it all. I met local artisans and shopkeepers and introduced them to my travel mates. We did our part to stimulate the Israeli economy.    

Repairing the World & Sisterhood

We participated in a Tikun Olom (repairing the world) project by spending time with girls from an orphanage.  Our language barrier did not matter because the Drumming Circle and Bunny Hop dancing united us. While wearing two inch sandal wedges I climbed Masada and our brilliant tour guides shared knowledge that I may or may not have heard before in Religious School.  Being on top of Masada with the Israeli flag waving in the gentle wind was breathtaking.

Like many, during Shabbat I was rusty reciting prayers, but we confidently sang Hebrew songs in solidarity. These songs we learned decades ago as children in Jewish camps. When hundreds of women sing in Hebrew, there’s a connection. My soul needed to be in Israel for this experience.

Jewish Mothers, the IDF, Camels & The Wall

Our tour bus passengers included Israeli mothers, seeking the experience we sought, and they eagerly shared Israeli life with us. These women served a minimum of 25 years each in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  And now, as mothers, like me, they send their children into the Army whereas I purchased Shabbat candles for my daughter’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah. It’s apples to oranges. I am forever grateful for their sacrifices. Thanks to the IDF, Israel is a democratic society with history, traditions, and is considered a vacation destination despite being surrounded at all borders by people wishing to exile the Jewish people.

Camel riding is not my thing, our angry camel tried biting, but I felt like a kid. Being at The Wall moved me to my core. I can still feel the stone on my hands. Every activity was an opportunity to engage in sisterhood while connecting to Israel.

Support Israel, Be There, Send Your Children

I went to the Promised Land. I laughed, sang, danced, sobbed, ate, spent money, toured, and saw sunrises and sunsets. I asked questions and found answers. I took time to smell flowers and appreciate fig and pomegranate trees. Chaotic markets and street vendors helped me feel connected with Israel. It’s important to visit our roots, learn and remember our history.  Support Israel by being there, send your children.

Finding Purpose.  Being Inspired.

At Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum), I was moved to tears by both the horrors of the Holocaust and by the heroes and survivors from this dark time in history.  Yad Vashem ends with a vision of light. Perhaps the light symbolizes the survivors, future generations, and opportunities for a purpose in the aftermath of this atrocity.  On this tour, I rediscovered my purpose. I am an empowered and inspired mom. I want to inspire my own family regarding our Jewish identity and our values of repairing the world, seeking justice, giving charity and having courage. This spark was ignited with my trip, a mother’s’ mission, to Israel. Now when I light Shabbat candles, the light means more to me. Israel helped me find inspiration for myself, my family, my community and the world.

Brody Bunch – Gift Memories over Materialist Gifts

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Taylor Trensch, star of Dear Evan Hansen signed our Playbills, that is a memory!

Creating Memories Over Acquiring More Stuff

“Experiences over material items” that is the Brody Bunch parenting mantra.  I am sick and tired of putting away things that no one really wants or enjoys.  My generation, Generation X, could die from clearing out the things that our Baby Boomer parents thought we might like one day in addition to all of the things we bought when we had first jobs and the economy was great.  So, to limit the clutter for our kids, we have set out to make memories rather than buying another trinket. We haven’t mastered this, but sometimes we get it right.

An Experience To Celebrate a Bat Mitzvah

In celebration of our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, we gave her the choice of many experiences rather than buying an expensive gift.  She is an aspiring actress and singer. Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen was on the top of her list, it was the only thing on her list. With her Bat Mitzvah 7 months behind us, we finally fulfilled her wish.  Tickets didn’t come easy.  And, we were able to pad the show with additional opportunities for more memories. Maybe I was the one receiving the gift, because, just the two of us went on her getaway and I treasured every moment.  I never knew what time it was. She was the perfect traveling partner. She was flexible when plans changed. She has my stamina. She had gratitude for each offering. She laughed at my jokes.

The Agenda, The Journey, The Magic

We went to New York for two full days.  Our journey included the St. Patrick’s Day parade, long walks in Central Park and the West Village.  We had lobster in the Chelsea Market. We did a photo shoot on the High Line. We sang, shimmied, and twisted at Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway.  We ate dinner in an outside heated bar vestibule. When Siri got us really lost, we drank coffee at a Greek diner. We bought new political buttons to wear on our hats for the upcoming March on Washington to fight gun violence in schools.  Some of these buttons were purchased from the same store where we bought our “Vagina Badge of Honor” patches for last year’s Women’s March.

We shared many laughs, like at the parade, someone’s flag brushed me several times and I pulled on it to tell the flag waver that I couldn’t see.  My daughter gasped and giggled, “Mom, you can’t yank someone’s flag.”  When referencing St. Paddy’s day “pot of gold” I stated that because of the local aroma, that the pot of gold is “just pot”. We segued the joke into meaningful conversations about drugs and alcohol.  No one likes these chats, but we have to have them. For good measure, I threw in questions about sex, too. Thanks Parade revelers!

Instead of dining at our favorite restaurant in Little Italy, we found a wonderful bar. We met the owner [female owned] and spoke with everyone near us. We were in a New York State of Mind. And, when my daughter and I were in the bathroom, she told me that we didn’t have time for me to make anymore best friends because we had to get to the theater.  I like doing things until the last minute, to get in more memories, but I knew that she wanted to get to the show.

My other kids kept texting us, “Aren’t you excited!  Just one hour and 19 minutes before you see Dear Evan Hansen!”  and “I miss you! I hope you are having fun!” The kids not on this trip, were celebrating their sister’s excitement and were so happy for her.  Their sibling love was appreciated by her and another gift to me.  It was all magical.

Saw the show, met the lead actor, it was perfect

The show was finally here. It was beautiful and sad.  She has been singing the hits for more than a year. I had my own moments of reflection sitting next to my daughter during this powerful show. Every parent and kid can learn a lot from this incredible production.  A good hard cry was had by me. After the show, we slipped into Junior’s for cheesecake, and the post theater crowd prevented us from getting a table. We called home and said goodnight.

We could see that people were gathering around the theater.  We went back. Two strangers were smiling and pushed my daughter ahead and said, “Taylor Trensch [Evan Hansen] is signing Playbills!” My daughter got up close, I smiled, congratulated him on his performance, and told him that we were here for her Bat Mitzvah celebration. Taylor/Evan Hansen said, “Oh, happy birthday!  I hope your Torah portion went smoothly.”  Wow, glad we couldn’t get the cheesecake!  This was the icing on the cake!

The Journey Continued

After a hotel snafu whereas our paid room, with our checked in luggage, was given away, near midnight, we were put into a taxi and sent to an alternative hotel.  I was mad. I didn’t want our perfect day to end with being annoyed. I made a choice to check myself and chose to remain happy. I gave our daughter a jewelry box with a surprise charm bracelet from Dear Evan Hansen. Her bright smile rivaled that of Times Square’s lights.

The next day, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel.  I shared with my daughter lessons I learned from the show and how some topics reminded me of myself with my mom.  In the background, I could hear an old Billy Joel song and the lyric “it’s always sadness or euphoria.” That song always reminds me of my mom. More tears streamed down my face. It was like I participated in a therapeutic getaway.  We had more meaningful conversations. We were making lots of memories.  

We walked through Koreatown.  I was in accessory heaven. Just one more store!  These trinkets are “different” from the material items we were trying to avoid by making memories – so we made memories while picking up a few more brooches and bracelets. We walked through the Flatiron District. Spent time at the Strand Bookstore. Ate in a hip coffee shop blasting my favorite songs from the 70’s. We went for a long and cold walk in Central Park.  We saw ducks and signs of Spring. I find peace and happiness in Central Park. We intended to go to another diner where we could warm up, and got lost, again. So we walked for a bit and ended up in Ellen’s Stardust Diner.  We had front and center seats whereas we were part of many of the song and dance routines as innocent bystanders. We strolled back to meet our bus home and took in traditional tourist scenery in Times Square.

14 miles of laughs, lessons and “For Forever” memories

My health tracking device noted that we walked 14 miles over two days.  You can cover lots of laughs, serious conversations and historical discoveries in 14 miles. It is the City that never sleeps.  My soul is beaming with happiness. Like the song from Dear Evan Hansen we made “For Forever” memories.

The Brody Bunch – A New Bus Rider, Finding Freedom and Letting Go

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City Slickers New to Public Transportation

We live in the City.  I constantly drive the Brody Bunch from activity to activity, 7 days per week, times four kids. This is our lifestyle. My Dad always tells me after a crazy carpool route that he would have been happy to help, and he brings the best after school snacks. I hate asking for help.

A typical timing conflict presented its ugly head. My daughter needed to be downtown at the same time that I volunteered to photograph my son’s elementary school play.  I am the master of resolving scheduling conflicts. 

I recalled a friend telling me that her daughter and another girl go downtown at the same time as my daughter, and those girls rely on public transportation. Yes, the bus is another option! But, I am fearful: 1) Riding the bus, without me, is a first time journey. 2) Our public transportation is unreliable. 3) And, my kids are growing up too quickly at lightning speed. Oddly, as a City resident, I have never been on a bus, except when the bus is used as a cooling station during our citywide Arts Festival. That experience probably doesn’t count.

So, I texted my friend, the one with bus riding daughter, and about 8 texting rounds later, I learned: how much money a bus ride costs, what time to be waiting at the stop, where to exit the bus, and arranged for my daughter to walk a few blocks with the other girls to their destination.  At first when I shared the bus idea, my daughter declined as these girls are her brother’s friends. Yet, over texting, with my daughter, the idea was embraced.  I don’t understand the teenager decision process. But, my daughter easily and happily agreed to the plan, and she will get to experience independence.

Carpooling Versus the Bus – I Save Money!

Before considering the bus option, our routine was me driving her downtown. I used the time that she was in class to have a dinner date with her brother at an overpriced marketplace. Predictably, he eats a burger, shake and fries. And, I eat a double portion of Teriyaki salmon over a Korean kale bowl. Carpooling is an expensive and time consuming effort versus the bus option that just costs $1.70, exact change! My daughter and I are each spreading our wings!

Boarding the Bus – It is Symbolically the Vehicle for Independence

It is time to let my daughter live like a City Slicker. I am a little scared with the smallest window of willingness to let her be on the bus, without me. Here we go!  We are both spreading our wings.  She is going to the arts school for her theater class.  I am staying uptown to photograph her younger brother’s school play rehearsal.  However, I know myself.  The bus stop is across the street from the kids’ school, where I am photographing the play. I will have my long camera lens and might, will probably, photograph her boarding the bus. For posterity. 

Often I speak about public transportation in terms of urban advocacy. A local issue is that there are not enough bus routes for employment opportunities beyond the Inner City, the jobs are outside of the City. We need a better public transportation system.  Yet, now, I am nervously excited for my daughter’s new experience. I am open to getting bus passes for the whole Brody Bunch. 

Moving forward, I view public transportation literally as the vehicle for my daughter finding her independence.  And, I am finding my wings. She is excited and I am happily nervous.  I asked my daughter if there is anything she wants to review before her new journey, “Well, I finally get to ride the bus, but you won’t be there to give me a sandwich like you always do.” My daughter traded gourmet sandwiches for her freedom. I gave her a granola bar for the ride.

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 – 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 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 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.