We are not a co-sleeping family. Despite the “back to sleep campaign,” it never occurred to me to have my kids sleep with me since I always slept in my own bed as a kid unless I was sick or there was a terrible thunderstorm.
I hesitated about bringing Ari into our bed when he was up screaming in the wee hours of Monday morning. However, I was tired and wanted to go back to bed (and Ari wanted no part of my husband rocking him back to sleep).
The same thing happened last night around 1:00 a.m. Ari settled down when I was the one rocking him or sitting close by. When Marc tried to take over Ari screamed. Flattered as I am that my son wants me, I’d rather not be this wanted. I value my sleep!
After an hour up with Ari, Marc took over for me so I could go back to sleep. However, I couldn’t take the baby screaming from down the hall so I texted Marc.
Five minutes after Marc thought Ari would lay down, the two of them appeared in our bedroom.
“This is how bad habits start,” I muttered to him. “But I don’t care. We have to get back to sleep.”
And sleep we did.
In fact, I slept until a little before 7 when Marc had to leave for work. But that’s when I encountered a new problem: a big sister who wanted to play with her baby brother. Isabelle tried to stay quiet by laying near him, but eventually the giggles started… and she woke him.
And so another day begins. Thankfully, coffee exists.
I’ve known, since April, that death would be knocking on our family’s door sometime soon. You see, in April, we learned my uncle’s cancer was worse than we thought it was when he was initially diagnosed. We held out hope that he’d be strong enough to undergo more treatments or even surgery. But things spiraled out of control in early August, which signaled that he wasn’t going to see his 75th birthday next year.
My uncle was admitted to hospice last Wednesday evening. From my experience, I know that a trip to Hospice is usually a one-way ticket, so-to-speak. I knew, once my uncle entered hospice, that the end was near.
On Friday, Isabelle asked me, “What are we doing next weekend?” While I had planned for us to go to the pool and to go apple picking with some kids from her school, I knew we’d be busy with family things. So, instead of lying and saying, “I don’t know,” I sat her beside me and explained that Uncle Leonard was really sick and he was dying. I told her we’d probably be at Bubbe and Zayde’s for part of next weekend since we’d be mourning the loss of her great-uncle.
Have you ever explained death to a young child? If you haven’t, then consider yourself lucky. The death conversation is the one talk I’ve dreaded. (That’s right. I feel much more confident with the impending “birds & bees talk” than I felt with talking to my child about what happens when someone dies.) And for good reason. Despite my simple explanation, Isabelle had tons of questions. She wanted to know:
What happens to your body when you die?
Where is Uncle Leonard right now?
Where would Uncle Leonard ‘sleep’ after his heart stopped beating?
How would Uncle Leonard get from Florida to New York?
What happens at a funeral?
Why do adults cry at a funeral?
How does Uncle Leonard get up to heaven? (I explained, which led to the follow-up question of “How does the Kaddish prayer help the soul go higher and higher?”)
How does the body get under the grass?
And more and more and more.
Eventually, I cried in front of Isabelle. The questions were too much for me to bear with a stiff upper lip. (Of course, that led to “Why are you crying if he isn’t dead yet?” And that led to me imploring her to say passed away instead of saying dead.) I’m trying to deal with my own grief of having my uncle pass away since I believe he should’ve had many more years of life. I’m trying to support my dad and cousins. And while I’m doing all of this, I’m attempting to manage the everyday things I need to do as a mom of two, a wife, and in my own personal and work life. It’s a lot.
The questions have continued since my uncle passed away on Saturday morning. And I’m sure they’ll continue all week as we get ready for the funeral (which she will not attend) and the shiva period. While it’ll be nice to have the family gathered together for a few days, the circumstances are not ideal.
Click here if you’d like to read my uncle’s obituary.
Last month, I celebrated a milestone birthday. One of the loveliest gifts I received were blessing bracelets from Lynne. Inside of the jewelry box, there was a tag that said:
This is a Blessing Bravelet. Whenever you wear it acknowledge one blessing in your life for each pearl on the bracelet. Each time you are drawn to the bracelet, silently find four people or things you can be grateful for.
Be grateful for: Your children, a flower, your dog, a perfect cup of coffee, a roof over your head – just find something. The more you wear the bravelet and the more blessings you find, the more you will be blessed.
In one year, if followed, you will be aware of a profound change in your life.
My birthday went off without a hitch. I’ve embraced this new decade of my life with open arms.
However, there have been some stressors that have popped up recently that are making these blessing bracelets more important than ever. (I don’t like to be vague when I write, but I’m choosing not to write about what’s been happening in detail out of respect to those close to me whose challenges are weighing on me — heavily.) I donned both bracelets this morning and touched each pearl, counting my blessings aloud.
Driving a car that works.
Residing in a safe and comfortable home.
My long-time friend, Alexa, who is giving me incredible guidance right now.
It’s important to count your blessings even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. As a result, I will be wearing these bracelets a lot as I navigate the next month of my life. Thank you, Lynne, for this incredible gift. These items are so much more than pieces of jewelry!
I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by Ari’s cries. My husband rocked him back to sleep. At 5:00 a.m., I heard Ari crying again. I trudged down the hall, scooped him up, and rocked him back to sleep. But he woke up as soon as I put him back in his crib so I l fed him. By the time I was finished, it was time for Isabelle to get up for school.
Needless to say, I was exhausted as a result of going to bed late and then being woken up twice last night. Luckily, my parents were in town this week. This afforded me with the chance to snooze until it was time to do Isabelle’s hair for school. And then I did something heavenly… thanks to my parents being here: I went back to sleep.
I got out of bed again at 10:25 a.m.! I can’t remember the last time I saw that time on my night table’s clock! I worked for almost three hours and then left the house for an appointment. While I was out, my parents cared for Ari and Isabelle (once she returned home from school). I returned home to find two kids doing their thing under the watchful eye of my parents. Despite my fatigue, I remembered that I am lucky.
But now, they’re heading home. Unlike many of our neighbors and friends, we don’t have family nearby. I can’t call up my parents on a random afternoon and say, “Can you come over to help me?” Nope. We slog it out on our own (most of the time).
One day, I hope to live closer to my parents. For now, I’m thankful when they come to visit. At least tomorrow is a Saturday so my husband is around!
Recently, Isabelle wanted to know how Marc and I met. He told her, “on the computer.” Since that sounded shady to me, I explained JDate to her. Yesterday morning, Isabelle had more questions while we were getting ready for a marathon coloring session.
“Where was me when you and Daddy met on the computer?”
“We met on JDate, Isabelle. That’s a site on the internet where Jews go to meet other Jews who want to have a Jewish family.”
“Oh. Well, where was me?” she asked.
I looked at her and didn’t answer. She smiled. “I was in your heart?!!?”
“Yes, you were in my heart.”
“Was I in Daddy’s heart?”
“Yes, you were in Daddy’s heart too.”
“Where was my brother?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Was my brother in your heart too?” (Keep in mind, even though her brother is still in my belly, she talks about him as if he’s already here.)
“Yes, of course, he was in my heart,” I replied.
Isabelle got quiet for a minute. I could tell a big idea was brewing.
“We were in your heart together, Mommy. We were playing.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet,” I replied. “I like thinking of the two of you playing together in my heart. That makes me happy.”
“Yeah, but it was dark,” she said. I started to worry where she was going to go with this, but she turned it around. “We couldn’t see each other well, but we were playing in your heart together.”
Our cousin, Hallie, is a freshman at Penn State this year. (Well, she’s really Marc’s cousin, but I adore her so I claim her as my own!) Our fall got away from us so we didn’t make it up to Happy Valley until this weekend to visit. This was fun for us, but HUGE for Isabelle who’s been wondering about college. (READ: She’s had college on her mind ever since I made the mistake of telling her she’d go away for college when she turns 18. I said this six months ago. She was NOT happy about leaving home and brings it up often. About a month ago, Isabelle told me she’d only go on one condition. I had to go with her. Apparently, she thinks I’m going to commute to Penn State’s University Park Campus with her to get my doctorate while she gets her B.A. Somehow I think she’ll change her mind about this arrangement about ten years from now!)
It was fun to look at the college experience through Isabelle’s eyes while we were up at State College. Here are some things I observed by watching her.
1) Basketball places are fun places to dance! Isabelle embodied this quote from William W. Purkey at yesterday’s basketball game.
You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.
This kid LOVED the music from the band way more than she loved the actual game. She jumped around and danced every chance she had. She danced in her seat, in front of her seat, even on the stairway (which freaked me out since I was convinced she was going to fall down the stairs).
2) You can snack any time of day when you live in a dorm. Hallie showed us her dorm room, which she shares with a roommate who happened to be home when we stopped by. Isabelle was a little confused about why they were living together, without their parents. Once she realized they were both away for school and could go home on vacations, she turned her attention to their stash of snacks. She was amazed they kept pretzels, Goldfish, applesauce, chocolate, etc. in their room. Heck, she even managed to con her way into getting some pretzels from Hallie’s roommate. There’s a part of me that wonders — after visiting the dorm — if we’re going to find snacks stashed in her bedroom sometime soon.
3) You can eat ice cream whenever you want when you’re in college. Hallie took us to the infamous Berkey Creamery for a mid-afternoon treat. The Creamery serves gigantic ice cream servings! I have a feeling Isabelle overheard Hallie tell me that the dining halls also serve ice cream because Isabelle later asked Hallie if she eats ice cream every day. Hallie, who gets kids, quickly told Isabelle her teeth would fall out if she ate ice cream daily. Whew!
4) Lecture halls have fun desks. Hallie took us into one of her lecture halls that will accommodate over 400 students. Isabelle was fascinated by all of the desks and tried a few out. I don’t think she realized you have to listen to long, sometimes boring, lectures when you’re a student. Some things are better left unsaid.
5) The Hub is a fun place to meet people! We toured the student union, which is spacious and gorgeous. Isabelle took in the first floor. By the time we arrived on the second floor, she took it upon herself to meet and greet students who were working or chatting with friends. She must’ve walked over to 40 people and said, “Hi.” All of the students — even the ones who looked like they were deep in thought — were kind to her and said hello back. (And, yes, I tried to stop her from bothering people!) Some even asked Isabelle her name and struck up a conversation with her. She left excited about all of the new people she met.
6) Libraries are quiet places. We didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in the library because Isabelle was way too excited to lower her volume. We left within four minutes of arriving.
7) Campus museums are only fun if you get to go inside. There are two lion’s paws outside of the Palmer Museum of Art. Isabelle dutifully posed in front of them, but once she found out there was a museum inside of the building, she raced to the door so she could enter. Unfortunately, we arrived there five minutes before closing so my child was utterly disappointed she missed out on a museum.
8) Sometimes you have to do things other people want you to do when you’re at college. We didn’t make it to The Nittany Lion Shrine with Hallie since we wanted to check into our hotel before we took her out to dinner. We went on Sunday morning since it was located about a minute’s walk from our hotel. Isabelle didn’t want to go since it was cold. Once we got there she wasn’t keen on waiting for the other families who were before us to pose for a photo. Finally, once it was our turn, she put on a happy face for the picture.
9) You eat brunch when you’re in college. We used to be big fans of brunch before we had Isabelle. Nowadays, we eat breakfast before 9 a.m. on weekends since we’re up with Isabelle by 7 a.m. Even though she was up early on Sunday, we didn’t check out of our hotel until 10:30, which meant introduced her to the concept of brunch. Considering her brunch consisted of chocolate, I’d say she was sold on the concept.
10) College towns are fun to walk around. Isabelle loved walking around State College. She especially loved going into the gear stores to shop for something. She walked away with a 50-cent magnet, which was a great deal for us even though she has nowhere to hang it! She wanted to keep shopping because (as she declared), “I like this town!” However, it was time for us to head home.
* * * * *
It’s hard to believe we were in State College for a little over 24 hours. We packed so much into our time there! We got to see our cousin AND Isabelle got her first taste of college life. While I have no idea where she will go to school, she left with a positive impression of Penn State. Perhaps one day she’ll think about going to college by herself without her old mom in town. Until then, I’ll plan on going back for my doctorate about 13 1/2 years from now.
Isabelle noticed an unlit Yahrzeit candle on the island in our kitchen before she went upstairs last night. (My mom is at our house through tomorrow. Today marks the lunar calendar anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. My mom is staying with us through tomorrow so she brought the candle to our house to light it.)
“What’s dat for?” Isabelle asked.
I said something like it’s to help us remember my grandmother who is gone.
“Who’s your grandma?” she asked.
I reached for a photograph of my grandparents that I keep atop my desk. I pointed to my grandmother and said, “That was my Grandma. That’s Bubbe’s mommy. You’re named after her.”
“Who’s dat?” she pointed at the little girl in the center of the photo.
“That was me. I was nine years-old in that photo.”
She was perplexed by the fact that I was ever young. So our conversation turned to how I could have ever been a girl.
This afternoon, my mother pulled me aside once Isabelle returned from school.
“What do you want me to say if she asks about the candle?”
“Has she asked about it yet?”
“Yes, she did this morning when we were eating breakfast.”
“What did you say?”
My mom told me her approximated answer and then followed up with, “What do you want me to say to her?”
I pondered. “A children’s author named Patricia Polacco talks about death as letting go of the grass. You could say Grandma let go of the grass.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” my mom scoffed.
In hindsight, I realize this was ridiculous to say to my mom. I was teaching fifth grade in Manhattan when my grandmother passed away in March 2007. We had done a Patricia Polacco Author Study and my students knew that letting go of the grass equated death. Therefore, we talked about my grandmother’s death as her letting go of the grass after her passing. (My gosh, that was such a great class of kids. We had our own little language.)
“Well, I guess it’d make more sense if you were familiar with Patricia Polacco’s books,” I responded.
“So, what do you want me to tell her?” my mom asked again.
I thought. “You could say something about Grandma being old. Or you could say she was tired and went back to live with her parents in heaven.”
I looked at my mom and she looked back at me. We were both clueless whether heaven was a concept we should be introducing.
“You could tell her heaven us up there,” I said.
“Do you want me to say that?” she asked. “I want to say what you want me to say.”
“I don’t know what the answer is. All I can tell you is that I remember going to Uncle Irving’s funeral when I was four-years-old. And look at me. I’m not permanently damaged as a result of attending the funeral. Whatever you say will be the right thing.”
Fortunately, Isabelle went to sleep tonight without another question about the Yahrzeit candle. It will burn out later and will be thrown away tomorrow. Most likely, she won’t remember it was ever shining.
But I know there will be questions about where my grandmother is again. And I don’t have an answer ready. It is so hard to talk about death without scaring a young child. I want to say the right thing, but I’m not sure there is a right answer.
We talk about my grandmother all of the time in front of Isabelle. Talking about her keeps her memory alive. I’m not planning to stop. But one day, not long from now, I know the question about where she is will surface again. And when that happens, I hope I have some kind of answer ready for Isabelle.
I sat outside on a not-too-muggy Washington morning since I didn’t want my asthma to flare up since the cats were inside of the house. My cousins filtered onto the patio over the course of the morning. At one point I noticed I was the oldest one at the table. Beside me was my cousin, Jared, who got married the previous evening. His platinum wedding band was so shiny I could see my reflection in it. Next to him was his younger sister, Arielle, who was snuggling Isabelle on her lap just like I did with her when she was a little girl. Isabelle has loved her ever since we visited her in San Francisco, where she’s started her post-college life. Beside those two were my cousins William and Jonathan, who are the most polite and caring eighth and fourth graders, respectively, you could ever imagine. Moving around the table was Ike, a talented bass player who is still in college. And on the other side of me is Josh, Arielle’s twin, who is no longer my little cousin seeing as he towers over me now.
“When was the last time we had a family reunion?” William asked.
That was kinda what this was, I thought. My thirteen year-old cousin was thinking exactly like I was.
“I think the last time was at Gabe’s Bar Mitzvah in 2011, but you weren’t there,” I said pointing to Josh and Arielle. They were away at college. “And before that it was at your Bar Mitzvah,” I said pointing to Ike. (Of course, Isabelle wasn’t present for that one.)
“Wasn’t it at someone’s 80’s birthday party?” Ike wondered.
“Whose?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
“Me either,” I replied.
And then the conversation switched back to something else. I looked around at my cousins and my daughter. We span 33 years. We’re from two different generation levels (Ike and Isabelle are on the same generation level. This is due, in part, to the fact that the six first cousins, of which my mom is one of them, were born 30 years apart.) We live over 7,000 miles apart in suburban towns and big cities like Beirut, Rochester, Chicago, and San Francisco. And here we all were… sitting together around the same table enjoying each other’s company. I made a move to go inside to get my camera since I didn’t want to forget that moment. But then Isabelle got up and began running around the table. Jonathan went after her like the dutiful big cousin he is. She ran into the house and Jonathan went after her leaving the group somehow changed. The hope of my digital family snapshot was gone. But it really wasn’t since the power of words allows me to recreate that moment again.
I checked my phone around 5:45 a.m. No missed calls. No iMessages.
That’s not good, I thought.
You see, my sister-in-law went into labor at 3:00 a.m. yesterday morning. By the time I woke up today, it was already 26+ hours of labor. (As someone who labored for 25 hours, I know just how awful that is!)
As soon as I saw my husband I asked, “Did you hear anything yet?”
“I’ll check my phone,” he replied.
He checked. No missed calls. No iMessages.
We went about our morning like we usually do. But something drew me downstairs for a glass of orange juice right before Isabelle woke up. About five minutes before her wake-up, I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law. His wife had the baby at 5:35 a.m. (Just ten minutes before I initially checked my phone this morning!) Attached to the e-mail was the photo of an angelic looking baby girl and a very tired daddy.
And that’s when I realized it. I’m an aunt. An aunt… me! Growing up as an only child, I didn’t know if and when this day would come. I knew it was highly likely once I married my husband, since he has a younger brother, but it’s been a little over six years since our wedding. But today, I am an aunt.
I raced upstairs and told Marc she was born. He checked his phone. No missed calls. No iMessages.
“Your brother sent a picture via e-mail.”
He went into the mail app on his iPhone, clicked on the message, and beamed.
Moments later, I went into Isabelle’s room. I tried to keep our normal morning routine, but I couldn’t resist telling her the good news. (NOTE: I hadn’t told her anything about a new baby cousin. You see, in the past three years we’ve known four couples who’ve lost babies between the fifth – eighth months of pregnancy. It’s completely heartbreaking. G-d forbid something like that happened, I didn’t want to have to explain it to Isabelle. So I kept my mouth shut.) I showed her the picture of my brother-in-law holding his daughter.
“Who is that?” I asked.
She studied the photo closely. He didn’t look like himself since he was wearing blue scrubs. Finally, she said, “Uncle Adam.”
“That’s right! Who is he holding?”
“Yes, that is a baby. That is his new baby. Uncle Adam is now a daddy. That’s his baby.”
Isabelle looked thoroughly confused. It was as if she was wondering, where did this baby come from?
“Aunt Chris and Uncle Adam had a baby. Her name is Casey. Can you say her name?”
“Casey,” Isabelle repeated.
“Wow! That was so clear!”
We chatted for a few more minutes about the baby while she studied the photo. She asked to go to the hospital to meet the baby. (I told her that wasn’t possible since the baby is too little for visitors Isabelle’s age.) She asked to go and see the baby once she’s out of the hospital. (I told her we’d go to New York to see Baby Casey in a few weeks.)
“What will you do when you see Baby Casey?”
“Hug her. Kiss her. Love her.”
OMG! The answers were too cute. With that, I told her we were going to make a video to send to Uncle Adam, Aunt Chris, and Cousin Casey.
And that’s exactly what we did.
While recording the video, Isabelle stated that she wanted to see more photos of Casey. My mother-in-law sent four more. I showed them to Isabelle after lunch. Here’s what she thought:
So Isabelle is a big cousin, my husband is an uncle, and I’m an aunt. How very exciting!