Category Archives: Joys of Parenting

Bar mitzvah #2 in the books!

Hey kids– remember me??

It’s good to be back! I’m finally coming up for air after a few months of nuttiness. I like the full-time job but it’s kicking my ass– lots of hours and intense focus required. I was producing our local “Listen to Your Mother,” show in May, and Aden became a bar mitzvah this past weekend.

Lots of planning, hours on the computer, and stress. I’d like to say I took it well, but I was a frazzled mess for much of the last month. I’d work 10 hours a day and read emails on the train home.

Aden practicing torah reading with our cantor

Aden practicing torah reading with our cantor

After dinner and getting the kids to bed, I’d be up til the wee hours working on the bar mitzvah video invitation, montage, invite list, and general party planning.

The invitation came out great, thanks to Aden’s swagger. You can watch it here.

We’re taking a trip to Israel with two sets of grandparents and my cousin and her boyfriend in August to celebrate Aden’s bar mitzvah. We’re going for 10 days with a guide and chose lots of outdoorsy activities seeing animals and sights, which Aden should love.

Because of the trip, we were trying to keep the local celebration low-key. But all of our family is out-of-town so we knew we’d be hosting meals and events all weekend, and low-key is hard for me when it comes to parties.

I like things to look a certain way. I wanted the celebration to be personal and make Aden feel special, without the dancers and a photo booth.

Bar mitzvah logo on cake

Thanks to the one and only Able Baker for the delicious and beautiful cake!

I think we accomplished all of this, but it required a lot of work and angst to get there. I’m happy with how it all turned out. But let’s just say I needed the help of my dutiful mother,  a lot of friends, and Ambien. Even with the sleeping pill, I didn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours a night for weeks!

Aden was wonderful on the bimah, and our kiddush lunch was intimate and fun. We had some friends and family over for a backyard party Saturday night– which closely resembled a college keg party– and turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend.

At the end of the day, of course it’s really about the people and love in the room and we are so lucky to have amazing friends and family to share in our pride and joy in Aden.

I’ll blog again when I get the official photographer’s pix– my one regret from the weekend is that I did not take one photo. ACK! I was trying to be ‘in the moment’ and too distracted by all the people and planning.

But my mom took a few at the kiddush during the speeches.

Bar mitzvah candle lighting

Bar mitzvah candle lighting

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my speech to Aden… who was poised and charming through it all. Unlike my other two boys, Aden doesn’t like so much attention– which is why we planned the Israel trip– but he rose to the occasion in a big way– rocking a bow tie.

Aden’s independent thinking and self-confidence from a very young age has always left me envious and made my heart swell with love and pride.
He’s a complicated dude.  

He’s quiet and poker faced… extremely sensitive, thoughtful and sweet. He can be icy cold and pissed off one minute, and hugging and kissing you an hour later. He is my most challenging child– often stubborn, sometimes obstinate– and yet I know with unshakable certainty that he’s the one who will take care of me when I’m old.
He’ll play NBA on PS 4 all day, and read poetry in bed at night. Aden can tell you more about the two-toed sloth than you ever needed to know and play you ”Ode to Joy” on his guitar.

He’s a talented athlete, but always takes the field or court on his own terms. He plays hard and as a pitcher and point guard, handles pressure with ease and grace. While he may be hard on himself at times, he always supports his teammates and cheers them on.

He’s our own little Renaissance Man.

Jand E gave a short congrats speech to Aden.

Jand E gave a short congrats speech to Aden.

One of the best parts of throwing a bar mitzvah and going through all the angst and stress is to celebrate your child at an important time in his life. We know who Aden is to us in our family, but now he’s a teenager and has his own place in the world and life outside of home that we sometimes know little about.
The teen years are a challenging time for kids – everyone’s trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  I love the opportunity to take a moment to recognize every part of Aden and celebrate what makes him special to so many people here today.  

Anyone who’s planned one of these events knows how much time and energy it requires, and there may have been moments when I questioned why it’s necessary to have a big party to celebrate this milestone. 
But then I saw Aden on the bimah working with the rabbi and cantor, reading Hebrew– focused, committed and unafraid. I listened to the words of friends and family describing him for the montage: compassionate, smart, funny. I watched him try on a suit, choose a bow tie, lace up man shoes, and nod approvingly in the mirror. 
And I realized what we are celebrating is Aden growing, maturing, and becoming his own person. 

Today– at least in Jewish tradition– he became a man. I can’t wait to see what kind of man he’ll be. I feel so lucky to be a small part of this Renaissance Man’s journey. I hope he carries the sweetness of this day throughout his life….and I hope his confidence and talents help him realize all his dreams.”

Mazel tov kid!

Why is my 12 year old so pissed off?

It starts in the morning. Aden never wants to get out of bed, and pre-teen hormones and angst have not improved the situation.

I quietly pad into his room and gently sit down next to him on his bed, careful not to get too close. (DON’T POKE THE BEAR!!)

I stroke his still soft cheeks and whisper, “It’s time to wake up….” and then cringe inside. He usually pretends he doesn’t hear me the first time and after several soothing prods, I might get a guttural groan that translates to “GO AWAY!”

Always wary with a hint of a smile

Always wary with a hint of a smile

I’m not allowed to turn on the light or open the shades. I can’t say too much, and God forbid I ask what he wants for breakfast or lunch. It’s a delicate dance on eggshells each day.

He takes his sweet time to get ready– like, longer than Sofia Vergara on her wedding day, with the same attention to his hair — and often screams downstairs at me if one of the only two pairs of sweatpants he deems worthy, is dirty.

There are no smiles, just snarls and eye rolls galore as he rushes through his cereal (Life with carefully sliced strawberries,)  grabs his backpack and slams the door behind him.

Despite kind requests, pleading, scolding, and groundings he often doesn’t text me when he gets out of school, lingering in town with friends, and making me worry. When he strolls in and I ask him about homework, he hisses at me “I did it already!” or  “I don’t have any!” If I dare follow up with a question on what he did have, he throws his head back in disgust.


Not totally sure of the subtext. Could be “Leave me the hell alone,” “Why do you care?” or “”It’s none of your damn business lady!”

Hard to know.

What I do know is that every word out of my mouth is the most annoying  ever uttered in the history of parenthood. I am useless, irritating and an obstacle he must remove to get to his room, where he will slam the door (once so hard the knob fell off and remains broken.)

funny teen cartoon

He lies on his bed staring at his phone– participating in a group chat, spying on friends on Instagram or obsessively playing his STOP app.

He’s 12. Middle school. I get it.

But wow is he hard to live with sometimes.

12 seems to be the worst age because they’re certain they know everything, but the one thing they know nothing about is themselves. How they appear and sound to people who aren’t 12 seems  inconsequential. Every thought they have is the most important and must be expressed, no matter how nasty it is.

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Sometimes he likes me

Of course Jacob went through this too. I went back to the blog archives and found this excerpt from when Jacob turned 13…. sounds very familiar…..

Jacob has slipped into the inevitable yet loathsome phase of believing that every member of his family is a dunce. He barely listens to our conversations, unless they’re about him– because we are clearly not worth his time. When he does grab a detail he deems worthy of his attention, if he doesn’t approve, he snarls his lip, squints his eyes, and cocks his head.

He stares incredulously with contempt and I can only think he’s wondering how he could be related to people so moronic. When we tell him to do something– anything, really– from flipping a light switch to completing a term paper– he sighs loudly and shrugs so deeply I’m surprised he hasn’t injured his shoulders. We’re such a burden, I don’t know how he tolerates us.

So yes, it’s a phase they all go through. But Aden has always been more moody and internal so he’s teenish times ten, and his contempt for me (and poor Eli, his other target) seems more visceral and intense.

But what choice does a mother have but to bite her tongue to resist the temptation to put him in his place…. and maybe even laugh at his remarkably consistent overreactions to anything that offends his fragile sensibility.

Some day– sooner than I think or want to admit– I’ll wish I had a 12-year-old home to frustrate me. So I’ll tiptoe into his room again tomorrow, and be happy he’s still waiting for me under the covers.


You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

Last week, our family was invited to spend nine glorious days at our friends’ house on Long Beach Island. LBI is the ultimate Jersey shore experience: beautiful beaches, the old-fashioned Fantasy Island amusement park, plenty of lobster shacks, and enough salt water taffy and fudge to put you into a diabetic stupor.

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The main crew

Our friends, Tony and Carmela*, have three boys, plus our three boys, and half the week we added a friend, to make 7.  That’s SEVEN BOYS, between the ages of 8 and 15.

Throw in two husbands and that’s a lotta testosterone.

When you have that many boys gaggled together, it attracts other boys, like a flashmob. We spent time with a couple of other families whose boys were eager to join our pack, ballooning our numbers up to 9 or 10 boys at a time.

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Not great odds for the ladies to have influence. So what happens when you’re traveling with that many boys? Let’s just say it’s difficult to motivate them to do anything quickly. Getting them up and out for any activity other than Xbox or mini golf is like herding cats, or trying to move sandbags off a couch.

There were too many of them. Their group power and loud voices were often too strong to fight. So Carmela and I did what mothers of boys do: kept them fed and aimed for only one activity per day. We survived, but it was certainly a unique experience as you can see below.

You know you’re on vacation with 7 boys when….

All boys vacation LBI on

….the surface of every bedroom floor is covered in Under Armour and Nike Elite socks.

boys vacation LBI on

… need a group rate at Mr. Tee’s and the only morning they rise before 10am is mini-golf tournament day.

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…..they insist on swimming in the ocean after the lifeguards have blown their last whistle, despite the crazy current and worried look on Carmela’s face.

swimming on LBI on

swimming on LBI on

…..ESPN is on 24/7 and double speak on fantasy football trades is flying.

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……more than half your party leaves a gorgeous beach day to watch the Mets defend a 7-game winning streak.

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… one wants to stop at any of the scores of t-shirt shops and craft stores you pass as you run to the water park for the second time in 5 days.

……the boys drink nearly two cases of Gatorade in a week

… drink 10 bottles of wine, and almost finish bottles of vodka and gin in a week. (Remember: SEVEN BOYS!)

water park boys vacation on LBI on

…… you rent 3 paddle boards for two hours and the boys immediately take off into the bay without life jackets, a map or a plan for return.

boys vacation LBI on

Serious game of beach Boggle

…..the interest in any activity is heightened by competition, be it football, cards, Boggle, or who gets the outdoor shower first.

… one goes to bed before 1130pm, purely out of pride, even if they’re falling asleep in their clothes while thumbing a game controller.

late night snack at Chicken and the Egg LBI on

……one of the highlights of the trip is playing football on the beach at midnight and then ordering more chicken wings than will ever be eaten at Chicken and the Egg diner at 1245am.

boys vacation LBI on

… take about 200 photos and not one has all boys smiling or looking at the camera at the same time.

boys vacation LBI on

Never figured out what this gross spongy thing was….

….they squeal in horror if you dare put red sauce on their pasta or spill ice cream on their favorite shirt…. but they have no problem wiping greasy, sticky hands on their shorts in lieu of a napkin… or carrying some disgusting piece of black, slimy moss crawling with bugs and crabs across a beach.

boys vacation LBI on

……you can be jammed into a narrow house, switch sleeping arrangements every night, and basically spend every minute together for nine days without any hair pulling, crying, or drama.

boys vacation LBI on

Truth is, I’d do it again, quicker than they can deny dripping pee on the toilet seat. I love me some boys.

Special shoutout and thanks to Tony and Carmela for their hospitality. Hope your summer vaca was equally fun!


*names changed in hopes we’ll get invited back!

Top 7 signs I live with a teenager

There are certain known phenomenons in parenting that are unavoidable and  practically cliché. You know when you have an infant, you’ll be exhausted from the pure shock of having another helpless being depend on you, combined with intense lack of sleep. You know when they start walking you have to baby-proof the house and prevent them from swallowing dirt.

Everyone knows when you get to the teen years, your child will go through puberty, pull away, and generally think you’re an idiot. It’s a rite of passage.

But knowing it and living it are two different things.

I recently described my 15-year-old to a friend– with haughtiness, humor, and a twinge of guilt–  as “unbearable.” It’s somewhat true, but more of a plea for sympathy from a parent who has not yet experienced the unbridled joy that comes with raising a teenager.

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Jake is very happy to be taller than grandma (and me) now.

Jacob’s always been precocious and mature, but those traits have only intensified, creating a pompous, condescending pubescent who views me as nothing more than a sub par Uber driver, and our home as a bed and breakfast, with very annoying proprietors and guests.

Here’s how I know he’s hit the teen years with full gusto: 

— In his mind, every word that exits my mouth is the most annoying thought on the face of the planet. In fact, anything anyone in the family says gnaws at him like an itch on a broken arm under a cast. The other day he complained that Aden’s voice was too high. “How can you stand to listen to him!” he hissed at me in the car. It took all my strength and patience to muster up a courteous tone as I reminded him that his own voice had the same tenor just 4 months ago.

— He’s rarely around. He’s like a big star who makes cameo appearances now and then. Oh look, there he is curling his lip at me as he grabs a banana before he leaves for school. There he is again barreling through the back door, heading straight for his room to do homework with the door closed and expletive-laced music blaring. Was that him I saw running in to change clothes between a sleepover and a football game in the park? Can’t be sure, that guy has grown so tall in the last few months!

— He eats like an NFL linebacker. He takes 2 or 3 helpings of dinner, and snacks constantly. I spend hundreds of dollars at the grocery store each week and in 4 days, the cupboard is bare. I fill up literally every inch of the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the clerk often asks me if I’m having a party. (“Nope, just Tuesday!” I say sheepishly)

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He didn’t even want a cake for his birthday this year. Too cool for cake?! I was having none of it.

— All my skin products have been disappearing. He’s always been fixated on his hair but now that puberty has kicked in, he’s focused on zapping pimples as soon as they appear. He’s also brushing his teeth more than ever before. Must be for the ladies, because he’s never shown such an acute interest in personal hygiene.

— He’s sleeping late and occasionally putting himself to bed early. This is one habit I don’t mind. He’s actually more aware of his need for sleep and treasures it.

— He talks only in absolutes. As in: “Everyone has an iPhone and gets to stay out until midnight!” and “No one wears jeans mom!”

— He’s become secretive. He used to tell me friend gossip, girls he liked, and share his favorite music and TV shows, but now he’s a vault. I’m a journalist and naturally curious person… and his mother! It’s killing me.

I know this too shall pass. That’s why every time he does something age-appropriate I try to take a deep breath and smile. It aint easy.

I know someday– sooner than I’d like to admit– he’ll be away at school and I’ll miss being taken for granted. That will truly be unbearable.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

I’m starting a new recurring post called “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” to document the funny, wise, wacky, and– in today’s case– completely misguided and infuriating things that my kids say. They will be quick ones, with the goal of starting a conversation.

This installment is about Eli. Last night after dinner, I promised the boys if they showered quickly we could watch an episode of our favorite comedy, The Goldbergs before bed.

Things kids say on carpoolcandy

Eli– who’s usually in turtle mode when it comes to showering and getting ready for bed– miraculously was TV ready within 12 minutes. I was still cleaning up from dinner and keeping Wilson company while he ate.

With dripping wet hair and mismatched pajamas, Eli began to nag:

Eli: “MOM! You said we could watch after I showered!”

Me (slaving over dirty pots and dishes in the sink):  “You’re right but I never dreamed you would be so fast and I still have to finish cleaning up.”

Eli: “Please mom, c’mon! Let’s GO!!! I wanna waaaaaaatch!”

Me (dripping with unnecessary sarcasm): “It must be nice to have dinner made for you and all you have to do is eat and then relax and do what you want. I have to shop for food, cook dinner and then clean up. I don’t get to relax until I finish.”

Eli: “I know. That’s why I’m so glad I’m not…..”

What do you think he’s going to say next? I thought “an adult” would finish that smug sentence. But it was much worse.

Eli (sincere): “That’s why I’m so glad I’m not…..a girl.”

Oh my. What have I done wrong here?!!

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I was so flabbergasted I started sputtering.

Me: “A GIRL?! A girl?! Have I taught you nothing?? Do you think girls are the only ones who cook and clean while men work and then sit and relax?? I made daddy dinner tonight because I got home first but there are plenty of nights Daddy makes dinner and cleans up!”

Wilson (looking terrified at me, and darting his eyes at Eli while telepathically saying “dude what are you thinking?”): “I clean up lots of nights…. and I do laundry. And I barbecue– that’s cooking!”

Me (still sputtering and in shock): “Yeah! Daddy barbecues!!!”

Eli: Oh. OK.

Me (calmer now but trying to choose words carefully): If I teach you boys one thing it’s that men and women are equal. Girls can do anything boys can do and not all mommies stay home and cook and clean and not all daddies go to work in an office.

Wilson (defending himself on behalf of all men): We share the jobs in this house!

The poor kid just wanted to watch The Goldbergs.  But he got a lesson in the dangers of gender stereotypes…and messing with mom.

What did a kid say to you lately that got you all riled up? Tell me in the comments.




The lovable hater behind ‘People I Want to Punch in the Throat’

I’m gonna be honest here kids. I check my blog stats obsessively and I know when you like a post… and when one’s as popular as a Baby Ruth floating in the pool.

My book review posts are not getting as much love as I’d like.

But stick with me on this one!

I need to draw your attention to a hilarious memoir I reviewed this week called People I Want to Punch in the Throat. It’s written by a fellow blogger who loves to point a figurative finger at overachieving, annoying people– particularly maddeningly doting know-it-all parents– and call them out on their crap.

People I Want to Punch in the Throat cover on

Not only will you LOL, you may stand up and cheer when she eviscerates the mom who tries oh so subtly to completely exclude her from a toddler playgroup…or those who are certain their child is a prodigy and/or headed for the Olympics.

Here’s a taste….

Mann needs only a few sharp details to accurately sum up distinct personalities. There are the judgmental, designer-sunglasses-wearing “Dolce moms,” the self-interested garage-sale-trolling jerks who hope you won’t break a big bill she affectionately calls “$50 people” and the freaky, pill-popping moms known as “Superusers.”

She loves to pick on extreme parents, who spoil and overschedule their kids. Stories about catty, cliquey moms — similar to the evil sisterhoods in movies like “Heathers” and “Mean Girls” — zero in on complicated female relationships.

Mann deftly uses humor to underscore how intense and humbling mothering can be, which will strike a chord with parents who feel less than perfect.

“Now the Mommy Wars are all about who can out-mom their neighbor. The judging is not about who spends the most time with her kid … or who has the most important job; it’s been ratcheted up to who can breast-feed the longest and in the most unusual places,” Mann writes.

You can read the complete review here.

I’ll keep it short and sweet. Read this book. It will take you about 2 days of side-splitting giggles to get through it and I guarantee you’ll thank me.

See… that wasn’t so bad, right?

I’d love to hear what makes you click or not click on a post in the comments.  I’m listening!


You CAN go home again (and I did)

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North Avenue, Chicago lakefront

Last month, I took Aden and Eli on a pilgrimage home to Chicago for a few days. I grew up in an apartment downtown, overlooking Lake Michigan before leaving for New York a few years after college in 1994.

I loved Chi-town but my dream was to be a TV news producer and although I was working as an associate producer at ABC back then, there was little hope for advancement unless I moved to New York. My father had died of cancer the year before, I was hanging out with my tight high school crowd and not meeting any interesting men, so I needed to get outta Dodge for a while.

My plan was to work in New York for a few years and return to Chicago to start a family and send my kids to Parker, the small private school I attended from 7th-12th grade. My friends would do the same and we’d raise our kids together.

My mother sobbed as I got on the plane headed East, telling me she feared I would meet my husband and never come back. “That’s crazy,” I said. I wanted to make a life in Chicago, but I  would just be away for a bit, and get some work experience under my belt.

Of course, my mother was right.

I moved to New York, eventually got a job at ABC and met Wilson within two years. (For more on that romantic tale click here.) And here we are 17 years later, living in the Garden State.

I’ve made a big effort to get back to Chicago at least once a year to preserve my roots, and introduce my kids to my hometown. My immediate family has left, but my aunt and cousins are there and I still have close friends who graciously welcome me into their homes and lives on each journey.

We’ve hit most of the tourist spots over the years but I try to pick a few special outings each visit.

This year, we went to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field…

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We had a great time for two innings until….

Wrigley Field on

…it got very dark and started to pour.

…. and saw the amazing animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago on My mom was in town for my aunt’s birthday so we also walked around Millennium Park and visited the sculptures.

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The bean sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago on

The bean sculpture in Millennium Park

The bean sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago on

Our reflection in the bean

I enjoyed the cultural detour more than the boys, who much preferred to go back to my friend’s house to play Wii.

We ate deep dish pizza and Vienna hot dogs.

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Vienna hotdog at Wrigley in Chicago on

The boys said this Vienna dog was better than New York hotdogs. And they could use ketchup proudly!

They took a dip in Lake Michigan.


Boys and our friend Jack on the lake in Glencoe

I ran on the gorgeous lakefront and couldn’t help but stop when I got to the building where I grew up.

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Towards the left side of the photo, there’s a short, round building. My building is the taller one immediately to the right of that one.

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So odd to be standing there and have no reason to go inside.

I counted up to the 12th floor balcony to our old apartment and was elated to see a barbecue grill and plenty of planted flowers, just like we had when we lived there. My dad would have loved that.

My boys got along well with my friends’ kids, despite differing ages and genders and the fact that they only see each other once a year. It’s like they know we’re family.

Kids on

Our friends Izzy and Liv

We had a pretty tight group at Parker– with only 65 kids per grade in middle school and 90 in our graduating high school class. We developed an intimacy that has endured over the years, despite geographical separation.

I only talk to a few of these girlfriends regularly, but my memories and affection for them are strong, as is our bond. They’re the few people left in my life who knew my father and what he meant to me. Most people I’m close with now– including Wilson– never had the chance to meet him.

I got together with six of these girls for dinner one night and it was one of the highlights of my summer. It took us at least 30 minutes to order because we couldn’t stop talking long enough to decide what to eat.

We’re all in different stages of life–our kids range in age from 3 to 17– and some are dealing with sick parents, career changes, and divorce. Although we’re not in each other’s day-to-day lives, there was an immediate comfort level.  No topic was too personal, no question too nosy, no emotion too deep to express.

We reminisced, reminded each other of our own experiences forgotten or misremembered over so many years, and laughed til our bellies hurt. We lingered at the table after the meal, then walked to get ice cream and sat outside yapping for another hour.

I didn’t want the night to end.

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I’m a much more independent, confident person than I was when I knew these ladies way back when. Yet being with them touched a part of myself I don’t feel very often because I don’t live where I grew up. They know where I came from and they get me.

They are my safe place.

All through the visit,  I tried to point out childhood landmarks to my kids as we drove by (That was my first school! Look at the mall where I shopped! I spent half my teen life in that friend’s basement!) but it mostly fell on deaf ears. Every time I passed these places that were all so familiar to me I was overcome with nostalgia and a yearning for the past.

My boys are too young to appreciate my past. They are creatures of the now.

It was good to see the relics of my childhood through their eyes: as just buildings or parks with no emotional attachments. It helped me to stay in the present, a place I don’t dwell or appreciate enough.

My new dream is that one of my kids will go to college in Chicago. Northwestern would be nice. I’d have a reason to visit regularly, my son would have friends and family nearby, and the city would hold a place in his heart as much as it’s embedded in mine.



No matter how much you do, someone’s always doing more

I recently took a power walk with my friend, Sandy. She’s one of the most amazing people I know: smart, funny, creative, talented, and a standup gal.

Her resume is insane.

A successful actress, writer and producer, she wrote a sketch comedy musical about parenthood called Rated P (for parenthood), which opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway in 2012. I saw it at least three times and adored it.

Rated P for Parenthood poster on

It recently got picked up as a musical series for TV on ABC Family, through Kelly Ripa’s production company. Then, one day she had an idea and sat down and wrote a full length comedic straight play called The Cottage, which ran in Queens for a few weeks last year and has now been picked up in regional theaters in Aspen, Phoenix, and Plymouth, MA this summer.


She has a one-act comedy that won a playwriting competition and is currently in development for TV, and created and stars in a web series on NickMom.

Exhausted just reading about it, right?

What’s most annoying is she’s a wonderful daughter, supportive friend, and attentive, fun mom to two little boys. It would make me feel better to think she’s a crappy wife, but I know her husband and he doesn’t seem like the type to put up with that.

A walk with Sandy is like a hard slap to the ego. No matter how much I’m doing professionally or personally, it never seems enough.

I’m no slacker. I’m busy all the time, like most of you. In addition to playing cook, maid, chauffeur, therapist, and gal Friday, I work in Manhattan two days a week and write freelance pieces for various websites in any “down” time, when the kids are in school.

This summer, the down time has been minimal to nil.

I signed the boys up for various camps but there has yet to be a week when all 3 are out of the house at the same time. I don’t have any childcare on the days I’m not working in the city so I’m on call all day for meals, rides, and questions like “Where’s the remote?”

I’ve really enjoyed the one-on-one time with them. But instead of embracing that time, I always seem to have a nagging feeling I should be getting more work done.

Work Life balance image on carpool

I should be blogging, reading, pitching stories, or trying to get paid for stories I’ve already written. I should be completing the bedroom upgrade I started three months ago, or getting forms ready for the new school year. There are scores of to-do list items swirling around my head at any given time, distracting me from enjoying the present.

I’m lucky I have the option now to be with my kids more than when I was working full-time. I should channel my inner bumper sticker: Carpe diem! Live in the moment! Life is short!

Sometimes I do. But not often enough.

The life of a freelancer and blogger is extra tough on the psyche because you have to constantly hustle and produce content, but the amount of hours doesn’t always translate to dollars.   I love what I do and don’t mind the hustling, but life sometimes gets in the way, and I don’t want to feel badly about that.

But I’m getting older and worry that if I don’t make a big mark in my career soon, it will be too late. The window on work goals is closing slowly and I want to be on the right side when it does.

I’m always in this weird middle place between dreaming big, working hard and making sacrifices….and wanting more flexibility and time with my kids before they grow up and leave. So I haven’t figured out how to feel satisfied about getting a little of both, and enjoying that luxury.

There’s always going to be a Sandy. She never makes me feel like slouch, I do that to myself.  My new goal is to try to feel gratified, whether I’m working hard or hardly working.

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I spent today with Aden, Brady, and some friends hiking in a state park.

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I didn’t get any work done.

But it was a good day.

How my teen son and I found patience in the woods

My 14-year-old son, Jacob, has a pretty sweet deal this summer. He’s at that awkward age where he’s too old for most camps, and too young for a real job so there’s no natural place for him to be on summer days.

His travel baseball schedule demands he be home by 4pm to get ready for games or practices most nights in July. Last summer was the first without the structure of day camp and he and his intrepid friends started a business doing yard work, babysitting, animal care, and other odd jobs during the day.

It kept him busy enough and put more than $300 in his pocket, allowing him to purchase his own iPhone, plus the insurance and part of his monthly bill. What parent could argue with that kind of spunk?

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Jacob’s business flyer. Love how they use “high school freshmen” as a selling point.

The boys of “A Helping Hand” are back at it this month, but when they don’t have a job, there’s too much down time for my comfort. Wilson and I require Jacob to read every day for an hour, work on his blog ( at least twice a week, and do chores around the house so he doesn’t turn into a lazy slug.

So far, so good. There’s certainly been plenty of sleeping late, bike riding around town with the fellas, and eating many, many, many Taylor Ham, egg,and cheese sandwiches at Bagel Chateau. But that’s what summer’s for, no?

Last week I was meeting my friend, Holland, to take our weekly run on a path in the South Mountain Reservation, and decided Jacob needed some exercise. He was not psyched to haul his ass out of bed (he had stayed up too late watching a Criminal Minds marathon on OnDemand) but I gave him no choice.

We did our usual 4-5 mile loop– us chatting away, Jacob tuning us out with his iPhone music)– but when we got to the end of the run we decided to walk another loop. It was hot and humid and Jacob preferred to rest. I was cool with that, gave him some water and left him by the parked car.

As I walked way I tossed him the keys and said casually, “If you get too hot, just turn the car on and run the air for a bit.”

BIG mistake.

When we came back about 35 minutes later, he was sitting in the car with the air blasting. That dope turned the car on and ran the air for the entire time we were gone, draining the battery.

The car wouldn’t start.

Granted, this is a 2002 Suburu Outback on its last legs. (I’d like to trade it in and get a pre-owned car but Wilson is digging his heels in. We will likely drive that dinosaur until it becomes extinct on an open road somewhere. I just pray it’s not me driving when that happens. But I digress.)

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Jacob calling Wilson for advice. (He was useless and told us to call AAA.)

Have I mentioned before that I grew up in the city and didn’t get my license until I was 25? Or that I then never used said license until I moved to NJ when I was 34?

Yeah, I’m not an experienced driver.

I got angry at Jacob for about two minutes. Then I realized that he had no idea how a car works and didn’t know you’re not supposed to run an old, decrepid Suburu without the engine on for 35 minutes straight. He didn’t even know the car had a battery. How could I get pissed when he had no clue?

Holland had jumper cables so after some very girly attempts at opening the hood and gazing into the abyss of a car engine, we found the battery. It was extremely corroded as you can see here.

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We couldn’t find the red and black plugs you need to hook up the cables, and none of the three of us were willing to stick our heads in there to try. I didn’t panic.  I have AAA.

Or so I thought.

When I called, it turned out the credit card on file had expired and our service had run out. One week prior.

Luckily, I was 5 days within the extended renewal period and gave them a credit card over the phone and the driver promised to be there within an hour. Holland offered to drive Jacob home but there was no way I was going to wait in the woods by myself, stewing over his mistake while he ate another Taylor ham bagel and watched Sports Center in my air-conditioned house.

So we sat and flipped through some People magazines and talked. My survival instincts kicked in and I tried not to use my phone or drink too much of my water just in case we were there for more than an hour. (God forbid I couldn’t check Twitter or hydrate on command.)

While he normally would have been furious, brooding, annoyed and spiteful, Jacob felt guilty that he caused the problem so he was actually quite delightful. I decided to take a Zen attitude towards the situation. I pointed out that we were lucky we weren’t freezing cold, on a dangerous highway, or late for work or a concert. We were also fortunate to be able to pay for AAA and whatever repairs we needed.

We were hot, sweaty and stuck. But there are always two ways to see every situation and I figured this was a teaching moment about what to do when your car dies, and how to stay calm and patient when faced with a challenge beyond your control.

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Bobby had no luck getting the car started.

Exactly one hour later,  Bobby the AAA dude, showed up with his giant tow truck. He tried to jump the car and determined it would not start, so he towed us to our repair place in town.

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What are you gonna do? We made the best of an annoying situation.

We had to take everything in the trunk (baseball bag, bag of dirty clothes for cleaners, my heavy purse) and carry it home on our backs. As we trudged up the hill in the heat, Jacob said, “Well at least we got some quality time together, Mom!”

I was thinking the same thing, but wouldn’t have dared to say it out loud to my impatient, perpetually annoyed teenager.  Glad he said it first.

P.S. The battery was dead and we needed some new parts but the AAA tow was free with our plan and the repair bill was only $190. Not too bad.

Some questions for you more experienced drivers. Was there more I could do to test the battery before calling AAA? Did I need to tip Bobby for his help?  Is it worth it to purchase jumper cables to keep in the trunk if I’m too afraid to use them?

I’d love to hear your advice and similar experiences in the comments.

My Listen to Your Mother video is online! (Can you tell I was nervous?)

Remember my post about how sickeningly anxious I was to appear on stage reading a piece I wrote at the Listen to Your Mother show?

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Listen to Your Mother is an annual staged reading event performed before a live audience where people share experiences about motherhood.  It started out in one small town in Wisconsin and has grown to 32 cities across the U.S. I was honored to be chosen to read in the first North Jersey show in May.

But I was as uptight as a grasshopper in a shoebox about getting up in front of 450 people at the South Orange Performing Art Center. Despite the weeks of hand-wringing leading up to the performance, on show day I was excited to be part of such a special evening.

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Courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

The audience went gaga for the show. Friends and strangers who didn’t have to say anything at all, told me in the days afterwards how much they loved hearing the stories. In our cast, we had 13 women and two men. They ranged in age from teenager to grandma and the topics varied, making the evening a roller coaster of emotions.

We laughed, we cried, it was much better than Cats.

This week the national peops at LTYM finally released the reading videos onto their site via YouTube. It would be crass of me to demand you watch mine, but if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably curious.

You can see it here.

But even if you don’t want to watch my bit, do yourself a favor and watch C.J. Prince’s “The Pump.” I had heard it twice before the show and still laughed until tears threatened to trash my mascara. It’s that funny.


courtesy Joy Yagid Photography

There are others I could pick out as favorites but that wouldn’t be fair to my castmates. The truth is, they’re all great and worth your time. You don’t have to watch all at once. Savor them like a box of fancy chocolates with mysterious centers. Open up a couple a night and enjoy the surprise.

Let me know which are your favorites in the comments. Happy watching!