Saturday, February 9, 2019

My Grandpa

My Grandpa passed away last week after living a very long and full life. His body had served him well, helping him to survive inhumane conditions during the German occupation of Poland during World War II, from 1939-1945. His body gave him the power to sing with the most booming, echoing voice from when he was a little boy until a couple of weeks before he died. (See the video below which barely captures it, from Hanukkah 2015). His body allowed him to play tennis until nearly 90 years old and have an active life until a stroke about a year and a half ago. Then, last Wednesday, it simply finished. His insides stopped working as they should. His breaths got farther and farther apart, and his body stopped living. At that moment he was literally surrounded by all 3 of his kids, my mom, me and Denise, his caring aid. He had waited for my Grandma to go and get dinner. She had literally been by his side nearly constantly for 71 years.

His life story is so insane - we should never forget what he and others at the time went through, because they were Jewish. The responsibility to keep his story alive feels very heavy, as there are fewer survivors left, including my Grandma, and their life stories are feeling farther and farther away from our current reality. Will my kids understand what it meant to be a Holocaust Survivor?

My grandparents' histories are a huge part of my identity and its formation. I have always felt the responsibility to LIVE as a Jew, given what happened to the rest of their families, and this has impacted my commitment to Jewish law (stronger at some times than others...), my choice of an observant Jewish summer camp, my major in college of Hebrew and Jewish Cultural studies and also many years of professional work in the Jewish community.

My Grandpa told stories constantly. We would joke about who had the best endurance to sit through hours and hours of stories. I did well in the 80s and 90s, and Matt took over in the '00s. He told us every detail we would listen to. Some of his stories were told through the lens of Coochie Boy, but they were all crazy details about what he had lived through during the Holocaust. Grandma NEVER talked about it. She would walk away when he started telling stories, and it was clear from when I was little, never to bring it up with her or ask her questions.

While studying at Hebrew University my junior year of college, in 1998, I decided to join a group trip on the March of the Living, where you go to Poland and learn about the Holocaust. I told my grandma on the phone that I was doing this, and she said, "Why would you go when it's so cold? Let's go together, in the summer." What? Ok...

(My Grandpa, mom and me by the front door of my Grandpa's apartment building in Czestochowa. My grandma, our guide, my uncle Mark, Mare and Kenny are on the street, on the right)

I did not go on the March of the Living, and two years later my mom had organized a trip to Budapest, Muncach (where my grandma is from), Cracow, Czestochowa (where my grandpa is from) including nearby Auschwitz (where my grandma was sent in 1944), and then Prague. My entire family went, along with my aunt and uncle and grandparents, and we saw the houses the lived in growing up - both of them. We saw my grandma's school and my grandpa's family's store. They told us stories after stories - both of them - and they saw their current life, in retirement in Florida with three successful children, 8 lovely (if I do say so myself) grandchildren - juxtaposed to their childhood homes that they had left with so much pain and suffering. I have thought of that trip so often in the years since, as this was my family's history, yet that life is so far away from what they/we have now. It was also one of our last family trips before my little brother died.

(my Grandpa, my dad and Kenny in Budapest - I believe it's Budapest)

Since I became an adult, we visited Florida nearly every year - even when we lived in Singapore - and saw my grandparents as much as we could. Sometimes we were also able to see them in Florida. Last year, they moved up to Michigan so they could be near their three kids as my grandpa's health had declined with his stroke.

We will miss my Grandpa, my kids' great-grandpa. Life already feels different without him.

Rabbi Joey Krakoff delivered an amazing Eulogy at his funeral last Friday. I have pasted it below, with his permission. What a life story.

I have also pasted below that the short remarks I shared at his funeral.


Hanukkah 2015

Cantor Joseph Birnholtz Eulogy; February 1, 2019
Dorfman Chapel/Clover Hill Park Cemetery
Rabbi Joseph H. Krakoff

Cantor Joe Birnholtz was a self made man who successfully raised himself up from the depths of evil perpetuated against him by the Nazis.  Through unwavering perseverance, a propensity for working hard, an intrinsic talent in music and art and a profound love of his Jewish identity, Joe created a truly beautiful life for himself and his beloved family.

Born in Czesktochowa, Poland- close to the German border- Joe was the devoted son of Bernard (Baruch Pinchas) and Miriam (Mindele) and the dear youngest brother of Chaim, Manya, Yaakov, Dovid, Menachem and his twin Doris- and I note that there was a significant span of twenty-two years between Chaim and Joe.

By his own account, Joe’s earliest childhood years were very happy- his parents were in the clothing business for many, many years and they owned both a department store and an apartment house.  Bernard and Miriam had a lot of people working for them and did quite well for themselves.  The family was very cultured and Joe grew up speaking Polish and Yiddish, taking piano and showing an early interest in the opera.  Joe so enjoyed going to shul with his father every Shabbat and when it was discovered that he had a melodic, strong voice- Joe began studying with the Cantor.  At just five years old, they would literally put Joe up on a chair in the synagogue and watch him sing- and Joe continually recalled how much he loved those days.

Sadly, this joyful, idyllic childhood changed rather suddenly on September 1, 1939- the war broke out, his town was invaded and everyone was forced to live in a ghetto.  Soon after, the Germans gave an order for everyone to take their belongings, weighing no more than fifteen pounds at most, go outside in the streets and line up. 

Joe’s parents gave him a backpack for his clothing and to put jewelry including gold chains, watches and rings to sell for bread when he got hungry.  Joe made it through the segregation line with his parents and sister Doris but then, all of a sudden, a German SS officer pulled Joe away from his parents and demanded he throw is jewelry in a suitcase on the ground or be shot.  Joe’s parents wee sent to Treblinka, two of his brothers were killed and Joe was taken to a Labor Camp in Czesktochowa with his pajamas being Joe’s sole remaining possession. 

From 1940-1945 Joe did all he could to stay alive, but many days he really thought it would be his last one on earth.  In the work camp there were beatings every day.  He had to walk to work during the winter months with snow on the ground, about five miles each way with no socks, wooden shoes and just rags for clothes- no sweater, no coat, no hat- Joe almost froze to death. 

Joe worked at an airport where they had to dig long lines of ditches in the frozen ground about five feet deep and fourteen inches long to install narrow pipes for water drainage.  They also had to run around the entire airport repeatedly in the snow to crush it down so the planes could land.  A usual workday was often 5am to 6pm and the Jews were not allowed to talk to each other while working or they would be instantly beaten or shot dead.

At the HASAG camp, Joe also described the interminable work of building barracks and machine shops, loading cement, work with heavy hammers and air compressors, cleaning empty bullet shelves and shoveling coal from the trains which got in his nose, ears and eyes- and if the train was not fully unloaded by 5pm, they would be shot. 

It was on the night of January 16, 1945 that Joe was liberated by the Russian Army after which he joined a kibbutz in Poland because his brother Chaim wanted him to get a solid education, which included learning math, history and religion and studying opera.  It was during this time that Chaim taught Joe how to walk on the sidewalk because until then- all the Jews were forced to walk in the street like a cow. Chaim also took Joe to a restaurant and showed him how to properly hold a spoon and how to eat with the acceptable table manners. 

On May 12, 1947 Joe arrived in America on a ship called the ‘Marina, Marina’.  As the story goes, Joe’s sister Doris was in line right in front of him at Ellis Island where she single-handedly decided to make herself a year younger by saying she was born in 1926 instead of 1925.  So as a twin, Joe knew he had to follow-suit exactly- and he made his birthday February 23, 1926 - which was fine at the time… although later in life- this split second decision cheated him out of an extra year of social security.

Now here is where the story gets significantly better.  From New York, Joe came to Detroit and began attending evening classes to learn English readying himself to become an American citizen.  And this is where Joe met his beloved Edith, who sat in front of him and Joe loved playing with her hair.

Edith, you recalled how you and Joe were the first ones in school to get engaged and it actually came as a huge surprise- to both of you! 

At a gathering of students during the Thanksgiving holiday, the women came out of the kitchen where the men were standing around asking Joe what he thought of you.  When he said he thought you were nice, without warning, the two of you heard the following words: "Lets everybody get up, drink a ‘l’chaim’ and say 'mazel tov’ to the couple that just got engaged--Edith and Joe."  Neither of you knew what to say but Joe said ok and so did you- deciding to go with it.  And just like that, you were actually engaged.  You were married a few months later on March 6, 1948 at a small shul on 12th Street.  Joe even got one day off for a honeymoon.  Ten months later Sandy was born at the rest is history.
The two of you shared so many special interests throughout the years- going to the theatre, having season tickets to the opera, playing cards and singles tennis until he was 89 years old- even in the midst of the noon heat in Florida- albeit the sign on the court read that singles was not allowed between 10am-4pm.  Perhaps the only thing you did not do together was play pool- a game he took up when he turned 75 and played religiously even after his stroke at age 92.

Edith, an example of your closeness was that you and Joe were actually shared one pair of reading glasses.  And you knew what he liked to eat, so whenever meal time came around, he would invariably say: Edith, what do I want to eat?”  When you would tell him, he would always be so grateful.  You sang in the choir with him and you especially looked forward to the duets you would perform together.   Whatever it was you never said no to him, he always wanted you by his side and even if it was only to watch television- Joe was always the most content when he was holding your hand.

When Joe first came to Detroit, he used his Polish to make connections in Hamtramack.  Among the earliest opportunities that came Joe’s way was to wash windows- but they were up on the 22nd floor- and Joe was clear that he did not come to America to fall to his death- so he understandably turned that job down.  Then, Joe was given the opportunity to paint a sign on a truck.  Joe painted with watercolors only to discover that his beautiful work quickly washed off in the rain.  It was only a minor setback, as Joe utilized his creativity, artistic talent and steady hand to meticulously craft window signs for stores.  Joe was proud of how he once decorated a bar in New Boston for Christmas and one year, he even won a prize for the best Christmas display at Northland- the most perfect recognition for a nice Jewish boy who was also a Cantor.

In the realm of window trimming, Joe dressed mannequins, using his great sense of fashion to decide what clothes to put on them.  And this meant that not only was his basement used for silk screening signs but it also held the random body parts for countless mannequins.

Joe liked to stay busy all the time so while working as an artist, Joe took a job at B’nai Moshe when he was hired by Cantor Katzman to be a soloist.  He sang with several Cantors including Cantor Louis Klein who taught him the ins and outs of being a full-fledged Cantor.  At first, Joe would play the piano, sing in the choir on the holidays and give recitals.  Before long though, he started traveling to other cities each year to conduct Seders and High Holy Day services. 

Joe’s first part-time job as a Cantor was in a rented church in Livonia where he helped cover all of the crosses and lead services in the basement. 

Then, Joe got a steady position for five years at Gemilus Chasadim a German synagogue on Greenfield between Seven and Eight Mile.  Joe also worked at Beth Aaaron with Rabbi Gorrelick after Hazzan David Bagley left. 
It was in 1982 that Cantor Birnholtz relocated with Edith to Louisville after he was hired for the job on the spot- much to the surprise of Mark who came home from college and found out that his parent’s had moved from Michigan.  Joe worked there for thirteen years until he retired for the first time in 1995 and moved to Florida.  But in the realm of shul hopping, Joe and Edith found an upstart Temple in a shopping mall in Boynton Beach.  When the rabbi heard how Joe’s voice was clear and booming, the Rabbi hired Joe right away and he became their inaugural Cantor until 2005.

Throughout the years, Joe wrote and arranged music and trained hundreds and hundreds of Bnai Mitzvah students who loved him and in whom Joe took such great pride in their accomplishments.  For all that Joe achieved in his career, he was aptly honored by the Jewish Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Music degree.

And while that recognition was very special, there was nothing more special than being the dear father and father in law of Sandy (Sue), Marilyn (Michael), Mark (Paula), loving grandfather of Jeremy, Melanie (Matt), Bryan (Mandy), Ashley (Craig), Jordan, Matt and Eric and the late Kenny of blessed memory and adoring great-grandfather of Samara, Elie, Koby, Sydney, Adelyne and Harrison.

As a father, he looked forward to taking you on family vacations and you went to New York once a year.  You loved his playfulness and how he taught you everything from how to drive to the fundamentals of tennis and Ping-Pong including how to perform his famous slice shot. 

Speaking of Ping- Pong, he made you a table out of plywood- but you could never put your hands down on the table because it was anchored on a pair of sawhorses and if you leaned on it, it could definitely flip up and injure you. 

Truth be told, plywood was one of Joe’s favorite materials to use- and out of it he built a giant Hanukkah menorah- that he covered with foil and special Christmas lights.  Whatever you wanted or could think of, your dad would happily create it for you.  He was a devoted father and father in law who always wanted the best for his family.

Joe loved to play chess with his grandchildren and draw with his great grandchildren- Joe would just find a random napkin and start drawing or sketching and his pen drawings of his years in Poland were so powerful and thought provoking.  All of you at one point heard his stories of Coochie boy that were admittedly so scary you couldn’t sleep for hours afterward.  You loved when he made his funny face and looked forward to making funny faces back at him.

When you were babies, he would take off his ring, watch and glasses- put them in his pocket- so as not to scratch you until they fell out of his pocket and well, did scratch you! 
As you got older he would excitedly call you up to the bimah to recite Ashrei- and then parade you around and show you off to congregants and friends.  He treasured all of you and his concern was truly for your safety and your happiness.

Friends, Joe was a survivor who by celebrating his Jewish identity and clinging to the traditions of Jews throughout the generations- built a wonderful new life here in America.  In Joe’s words:  “in the concentration camp many times we would ask: "Where is God?" We used to question.  But I am proud to be Jewish and really believe that God saved me because there were so many times I could have been shot. 
I don't know why God saved me.  My sister told me that my zeyde was a very pious, righteous man but there were a lot of people that were righteous.”

Joe never forgot where he came from- how could he- and all of the unthinkable horrors he experienced firsthand.  And despite it all, he was never bitter but instead- Joe was eternally grateful- able to find great beauty in the world- in people- in loved ones and constantly appreciating everything- even each meal which he regularly said was ‘the best he ever had’.

Even as his body slowing down, Joe really enjoyed going to the Brown Center and he so loved his amazing caregivers- Denise, Ashley, James and Jackie, and the devoted staff at Heart to Heart and Jewish Hospice.  Over the last many months Cantor Gross and I have been visiting Joe and singing with him- from Israeli songs to Jewish liturgy- and our lasting memory will also be how Joe out sung us all- holding on to the last few notes as long as he possibly could- with that booming voice that I know will continue to resonate in our minds as we continue to think of him and celebrate his life.

Having lived a life filled with yiddishkeit and mentschlekeit, surrounded by his loving family, Joe quietly slipped away late Wednesday afternoon, entering the Olam HaEmet, this highest world of truth and tranquility.  And now, as we gather in his memory we pray, may the precious soul of our beloved Cantor Joseph Birnholtz, HaChazan Yosef ben Baruch Pinchas u’Mindele, rest in peace, now and forevermore.  Kein Yehi Ratzon.  So may our prayer be God’s will.  And let us say: Amen.


Words I shared at his funeral:
Grandpa always said he would live forever. He said no one could live through what he lived through and seen what he saw and not.

After his experience losing so much of his family in the holocaust and so so many terrible and scary experiences as a child and teenager, he came to America with very little eduation and absolutely nothing and built a whole new life. We went back to Poland with him and saw a glimpse of what his life was like, and it was quite different than Detroit, and he had to navigate it all while dealing with the trauma.

He met my grandma and then had a partner forever.

He worked hard – doing whatever he could with his artistic skills, in both visual art with his painting and also with his singing – and he and my grandma together completely built a life.

He was so proud of what he accomplished. If you went to his house, it seemed like in every corner or drawer there was an award he had received, or a message about him in a newsletter that he wanted to share with you or an honorary degree to celebrate. He wanted to share it with anyone who would listen (and we did).

He was also so proud of all of us. I remember after Shabbat morning services, at Kiddush in Kentucky, he had to introduce us to everyone. I mean everyone.

And we were proud of him too. I have so many memories of sitting in shul and thinking “that’s my grandpa who leads all of this and has that amazing, booming voice.”

Often, I sit in my privileged life with my privileged struggles and I think about how he and my grandma got to where they got and all that they had to overcome to do it. It inspires me in the way I live my life.

He passes to me a strong identity of the legacy of the holocaust and a responsibility to continue to build this family and carry on the traditions that came with him to America.

So it turns out he will indeed live forever.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Food Therapy

It has been a year and a half since I have posted, and yet again, I want to blog about food. This one is because I think it can actually help other people with the same challenges we have struggled with. My post about my uterus adventures was in a similar light, and I have had many people contact me about Asherman's in Singapore, so I believe it was effective! (Plus a bit cathartic to get it out of my head and out there)

Other than food therapy (see below...) in the last 1.5 years we have survived, but it hasn't been easy! Samara is now 7 and in first grade, Elie is 4 and Koby just turned 3. Matt has been enjoying his work a lot. I started working a lot more - which has been awesome for me. Our parents are generally doing well, we are enjoying our house. I would say life is good. We are finally getting into a groove where we are having fun and it's not all physical labor with these kids!

But the reason for the post...Our family's life has been transformed by food therapy. Not only is Samara eating more variety (more details to come), but the boys are too. Our family meals are generally enjoyable. Eating at friends' houses or at restaurants is not NEARLY as stressful as it used to be. AND, some of Samara's sensory stuff - inflexibility around what clothes feels good on her body, doing things her way, etc - have very much improved. Here's the story...

As I have blogged about before (here and here - and possibly other times), Samara had an extremely limited diet. Since she started eating (doctor suggested at five months), she didn't accept food. She gagged. She puked. It was miserable for her. It was miserable for us. The research I did in Singapore told me to just encourage any positive behavior, but don't focus too much on the bad.  You can't MAKE her eat, right?

Then I found Ellen Satyr's book, Child of Mine (from another mom at our pre school here, probably about 2.5-3 years ago). I really liked the approach called DOR - you tell them what and when, and they decide if and how much. You always serve at least two things that the kid eats - one could be a drink. All is family style. Everyone takes for himself. Nothing gets put on your plate that you don't want. You have control - or you feel like you have control. Meals did get WAY less stressful with this approach. But then we had more kids, and my other kids were normal eaters who weren't eating normally, because they were following Samara's lead. And her diet became even more limited, as I didn't pressure her to eat anything. So she was eating nearly no meal foods. She was refusing foods I put in her lunch. She was basically down to snacks with a complete fit if anything else was suggested. Koby was 2. We were sleeping a bit more. I actually had time and space in my brain and life to figure this out. I started searching the SUPER useful Newton Parents facebook group, and I saw people recommended Children's Speech and Feeding in Needham for food therapy.

I had VERY low expectations, but I figured we had to do SOMETHING. Our meals were non-functional. We couldn't eat out (she was down to nearly no grilled cheeses and only if they had french friends, pizza from only one place - no meat, no pasta, no veggies, no fruit, NOTHING). Eating at friends' houses was so stressful - I didn't enjoy it. Shabbat dinner at shul was a nightmare (she wouldn't even eat a challah she wasn't used to). I definitely needed help. I had tried everything I thought I should do as a loving mom, and it had made things worse.

We went for an evaluation last June. They had a few month waitlist, and our insurance didn't cover it, but it seemed like we should just try it and wait. After making an appointment for August or September, they called with an immediate opening with Arden Hill, the founder of the practice for the next week. We were to bring a food Samara ate happily (cereal), a food she used to eat that we wished she ate (plain yogurt, I think?), and a food we wished she ate that we thought was realistic for her to eat (carrots). At the end of the assessment she was eating TINY bites of carrot - probably 1/32 of a baby carrot stick, or perhaps smaller (I believe I cried when I saw that - I didn't believe it. This kid had eaten one vegetable in her life, and it had been years). Arden diagnosed her with a swallowing disorder - a food sensitivity - (she gags and pukes with things she doesn't expect). She said that some was behavioral (the foods she once ate that she didn't anymore) and that the rest of was sensory (she hadn't even tried nearly everything). And she suggested food therapy for a year. She said they might have space in the fall.

We went in a few times over the summer for individual appointments where she talked to a speech therapist and worked on eating carrots and a few other things. They then got her into a group "Food University" class, once a week for 1.5 hours (5-6:30pm), starting in September.

At Food University, the six(ish) kids (who are all 6-8ish) discuss the week, how they did, then they make a recipe together to "eat" for dinner. While the food is cooking, the kids work on foods their parents send in from home - a protein and a produce item. For new foods, they have a process of:

  • Have the food near you/on your plate
  • Touch it/interact with the food
  • Smell the food
  • Touch it to your lips
  • Kiss it
  • Take a tiny bit and spit it out (into an "all-done bowl")
  • Take a tiny tiny bite, chew it in the front of your mouth, push it to the back of your mouth and swallow it (this one was often accompanied by a gag or puke - but this improved with experience)
  • Tasting bites (starting with a few, then perhaps a few more)
  • Bigger bites
  • "Just-right bites"
They had homework every week, including the two foods we brought in and including the food they made together (which we had to make again at home). Foods they made included: chili, quesadilla, calzones, lasagna, roasted potato with egg, soup...Foods we worked on included: freeze dried apple, carrots, apple, cucumbers, peppers, pasta, boxed mac n cheese, fish sticks (home made and from a box), chicken nuggets (home made and from a box), cheese sandwich, pancakes, french toast, cream cheese sandwich...plus many more. I focused on foods that would make her more flexible (eat out, eat at a friend's house) and variety - not specifically the most healthy ones. Homework would be something like: 1/4 of a chicken nugget two days, 1/10th of a pepper strip cut into tiny pieces twice a week, a half a black bean twice a week, a small strip of lasagna twice a week - it started SUPER small and moved to a little more but still very small portions - and this is what made it do-able for Samara. If I had given her an apple and told her to take a bite and eat it, she literally couldn't. But start with a tiny piece of apple with no peel, do the process above, make the piece bigger, add peel...and give it months, and ultimately I do believe she could do it. But it's a slow slow process.

She started with bite sizes like a salt particle. It was so depressing to think how far we would have to come to be normal. SO MUCH PATIENCE. SO MUCH WORK on her part and on my part. EVERY night (but one per week) she had homework, and EVERY night it was a fight. She had to put things on her plate. She had to do her homework that she had agreed to with the therapists. If she didn't do the homework in a certain amount of time, she lost privileges (TV, story, opportunity to be downstairs and play), and she had to have it for breakfast. This breakfast thing only happened once, and it was AWFUL. I felt like the worst mom, but once I did it once, she knew I was serious (fish sticks for breakfast sucks). Fighting with your daughter about this thing that has been SO STRESSFUL for both of you for the last six YEARS is not easy. It was REALLY REALLY HARD. I felt super alone in the struggle, but ultimately she was making progress.

I kept asking the therapists how this would translate into real/normal eating, as she was eating 1/4 of a carrot stick or a noodle or something like that, but it wasn't enough to sustain her. To be honest, I didn't get a great answer to this, but it felt like this was about as much progress as I could ever expect (it was actually beyond what I thought was possible), so we pushed on and kept going. I believe we missed one session in the 8-9 months that she was in the class - we were so committed. I had a hard time with the homework when we were on vacation, but otherwise I really stuck to it, and she did too. She felt so proud of herself when she did eat new things. There were a few things that she actually liked - a very few - but those were amazing. She got more flexible - she tried pizza from other places (they taught "pizza is pizza is pizza"). Challah from other places. Grilled cheese from other places. She tasted things I had a feeling she would like but she wouldn't try before - chicken nuggets, roasted potatoes, plain pasta, a restaurant bread roll...things that made it so we could EAT OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Now she had to have things on her plate. She had to try new foods - because as it turns out, if I left it up to her, she wouldn't try it. It turns out that I know better than a seven year old, and she cannot be left to make that judgement. Because she had to try things, so did the boys. So everyone tried dinner. We had LOTS of positive reinforcement ("great bite, Samara!" "I love how you tried that new vegetable, Elie!""Look how nicely Koby just picked up that piece of salmon and put it in his mouth - excellent work!"). And lo and behold - THEY ALL EAT!!!

Last night I made a chicken in a crock pot, roasted potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted beets, fresh cut veggies and couscous. Samara ate a reasonable amount of chicken (probably a tablespoon), a bunch of roasted potatoes and a few pepper strips. Elie and Koby ate all of it. None of them would have eaten ANY of that before food therapy. NONE of my kids at vegetables. None. Samara also asked for raisins for a snack yesterday (she hadn't had raisins since she was 2). She recently asked to try dried mango (she liked it), string cheese (she has had it a few times and likes it), fruit leather and a few other things. ON HER OWN. I DIDN'T EVEN MAKE HER TRY. She has confidence, and she wants to! It's amazing.

I make new things - big fish filets or chicken breasts breaded or roasted, pasta with something in it (they can try it or eat around it), veggies of all sorts made in all sorts of ways - and they try it and generally find things they like, or like enough to eat enough of. I literally can't believe it. Their bodies must be so so thankful. I am so so proud. It has taken so much work and so much money, but it has been so so worth it. 

We went to Brooklyn last weekend for a wedding, and Samara could eat rolls, veggies, pasta, french fries, chicken strips, pancakes, bagels, waffles, toast - even if it has seeds in it...all sorts of things, and it was NOT STRESSFUL (90% of the time)!!!

It's not like they eat anything - they're still kids. But they're NORMAL kids!!! It's amazing. THANK YOU, Children's Speech and Feeding in Needham Mass.



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kids CAN Eat!

If you would have told me three years ago that I would have kids who would have eaten (happily) the following things over a 24 hour period, I would NOT have believed you. And, I would have slept many nights that I missed.

Scrambled eggs
Different varieties of cheese
Different varieties of bread - even with SEEDS!
Sushi - with raw tuna, imitation crab and cucumber, separately
Grapes
Sweet potatoes
Tofu
Peppers
Peanut butter and jelly
Blueberries
Strawberries
Pomegranate
Pomello
Apple
Banana
Oatmeal
Squash
Cucumber
Tortilla

Now...to figure out how the challenging one will eat anything other than plain toast, mac and cheese or pizza (only certain pizzas) for dinner.

As confirmed a few other times in the last few years - HER EATING HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME OR WHAT I DID. STOP BLAMING PARENTS FOR KIDS' PICKY EATING. PLEASE.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mourning

When my brother died I was exhausted. I went through motions of life, but I was a zombie. I would forget for a second, or even two minutes, and then I would remember again, and it would be so heavy. I had to sigh. I had to learn it all again. Every morning I woke up I forgot for that first second and then remembered - learning it again and again. And it was so painful.

Today I feel that same heaviness. I keep remembering, and I just can't believe it's true. Did this really happen? It feels so heavy. Is this really my country? Then I sigh. I am mourning what could have been. I'm mourning this country that I thought I knew and understood - and that I felt a part of. I'm mourning what Trump stands for. I'm mourning how he treats people, especially women, minorities...and pretty much anyone other than him. I'm mourning our probable next few years as we can't continue with diplomatic relationships with allies we have had for years. I'm mourning the futures of the people who voted for him and thought he would be able to somehow get them a job, or better health insurance, or whatever they thought he could possibly provide. They will be so disappointed. I'm mourning the expectation that today we would be celebrating the first - and HOLY qualified - woman president - My daughter and I together.

Many of the people who voted for him chose him as a big FUCK YOU to Obama or Clinton, or the establishment (which at this point is crazy because he's black and she's a woman, and that's HUGE). But really it's a big fuck you to themselves and the rest of their country. Not only that, but because of wherever this country could go and it's relationships with other countries and its place in the world, it could in fact push other nations forward in agendas that hurt lives around the world. These relationships with other countries (which I won't claim to know anything about) take many people, lots of discussion, loads of years and energy to build - and it can all unravel quickly, it seems to me. How sad. What a waste.

When Kenny died I didn't know what tomorrow would look like. Or next week. Or next year. I didn't understand a life where he wasn't in it. I didn't know how we just move on and live. But the sun kept rising and setting. Life went on. We figured it out.

I don't know this America, or what it will be like with a President Trump. It makes me cry every time I think about it. It's heavy. It's awful. It is so oppressive to so many people, and it's not the life I want to live - or chose. But we will figure it out. The sun did rise this morning (I wasn't TOTALLY sure it would).

Today I mourn. I don't know how long it will take to feel like I can smile again, or not burst into tears when I look someone in the eye. I feel totally shattered - and I still don't understand how this happened.

But when I'm done, I want to get to know this America I don't have access to. I don't know one person who voted for Trump (at least no one I know of...). I live in a liberal community, talking to my liberal friends and family, listening to my liberal radio and podcasts, reading my liberal papers and magazines. I want to figure out more realistic solutions than an asshole president. It feels extremely overwhelming right now, especially since I can barely get a handle on my life with three young children - but if I want to stay in this country, I have to understand it more so I am never this surprised again. Maybe it has to go this far so that our political system can start working again. Maybe after this people will learn to work together.

And who knows, between the trial for rape, crazy business ventures and other awful things that he has done (or possibly done, I guess), maybe he won't even actually BECOME the president. Or maybe he won't make it for four years.

Whatever it is, it is happening. And now everything feels really different. It's a new normal - just like when Kenny died.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Slowly Re-gaining Life

Last week, with assistance from Matt, both of my in-laws and three babysitters (Elizabeth, Allegra and Martha), I WENT AWAY!!! I worked! I was independent, productive and a person for three and a half days! I slept through three nights! I commuted somewhere! I listened to podcasts on my headphones rather than my bluetooth speaker! I didn't once worry what my kids would eat for dinner. I didn't make any lunches. I wiped no tushies. It was amazing.

I worked until November, 2013 when I left my job in anticipation of moving back to America. I had a job in a bank (not a banker...), and I had great hours for a bank - I was out of the house from 7:30 am until 6:45 pm. My commute was about a half hour. I often signed on at night. I ended up working two days from home for a year or so, and shortly before I went on bed rest when I was pregnant with Elie, I was only working three days a week. I SUPER struggled with being a working mom. I blogged about it here. I asked a lot of questions - how can it all work?

Five years after that blog post, two kids later, and now living in the United States - I have even fewer answers. I REALLY don't get how it can all work. I can barely survive (see my last post)!! Since we moved back to the US and conceived Koby, we decided I would take a few years out of the workforce and focus solely on our kids and our home life. Matt's job is extremely demanding and there isn't much else he can pitch in with. Three kids demand a lot of care. Food prep takes so much of my time. I'm on top of laundry, which means that I am doing it nearly every day (five people produce a LOT of laundry, it turns out!). Plus, I really enjoy engaging with my kids (most of the time), and I try to read with them, play with them, build with them, play a lot outside...and then there's playdates. Not only do the kids need friends, but so do I! We're new here - if I don't invest in relationships a little bit, there's no one to fall back on (other than one friend, Sarah, from Otzma who lives in Somerville). So...I have put just about all of my energy into making our family function.

In July a consulting project dropped in my lap. It was an opportunity to update something I wrote in 2013 - a guide for banks on how to better reach and serve women customers. I have one babysitter who is available during the days who can take care of all three kids, including pick ups and drop offs, naps, meals, laundry plus the house is tidy when I come home. She is amazing. We LOVE Martha. I asked if Martha could spend more time with our family while I worked on this project, and she could. So I could do it. Working 1-2 days per week since July has been pretty life altering. I have left my children and come home to them. I really hadn't previously left them at all. When working (I go to the Newton Free Library), I can pee when I have to pee. I can spend a second to look at books or make a phone call. I got to bike there and back, most days. I have absolutely loved it. And when I come home to my kids, I really enjoy seeing them! In response to that blog post I wrote in 2011, I agree that the answer is work with limited hours AND flexible work arrangements. The organization I'm working with understands that I am the principal caregiver for my family. If the babysitter shows up (Martha does!), I can work. If there is a problem, I cannot. I can put in a few hours whenever I have a few hours. And I don't believe I could do more than 12-15 hours a week.

The organization I have been writing for then invited me to attend their annual Summit last week in DC. I went to the same event in Sydney in 2011 and hadn't been since. I had to organize a lot of help - thank the LORD for in-laws!!!! Matt took a day off work and came home early the other two. Babysitters helped with the busy afternoons. The kids not only survived, but they did great and had a fantastic time. We may have wiped out my in-laws, but they looked strong when I came back. And I really enjoyed being a person. I understand I can't do this all the time, but man does it feel good to use my brain.

I constantly hate answering the question, "so what do you do?" I think on a daily basis, "So glad I have two master's degrees so I can change four poopy diapers by 7:30am." I am in bed before 9 on most nights. I have no energy for other people or other things right now, and it is somewhat depressing when I stop to think about it. Doing something else has completely pumped life into me. I remember that I'm a smart person, and I can do great and meaningful work. Now let's see where I can go with it...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Parenting 3 Little Kids may be Killing me

Everyday I wake up, and I say, "today I will not be exhausted. I will definitely not yell. I will not get frustrated. Today will be a great day!" and I think about all of the fun things we get to do today - play outside, maybe go to the lake, bike ride, do puzzles, read lots of books - there is so much fun in life with three little kids!!!! Everyone says, "the days go so quickly - savor them!"

...right!?!?!

So why am I already so frustrated by 7:30am EVERYDAY?! Within five minutes of waking up, Samara has kicked, pushed or yelled at Elie, frustrating him, and he yells, pushes or kicks back. She wants him to do and say everything she says - exactly as she wants - and he doesn't always want to do that. So they fight. Oh, and he's three. So there's that.

By 8:15 I have asked Samara to go to the bathroom, wash hands and brush teeth five times. She ignored me the first three, not even acknowledging that I spoke, and for the last two, she snottily said, "okaaaaaaay. I ammmmmm." But she didn't. So it's been 15 minutes, and she hasn't yet gone to the bathroom or brushed her teeth. WHY?!

Then Elie finishes his oatmeal, and instead of waiting nicely to be wiped off, he gets up, runs away, with oatmeal dropping all over the house (new house. new carpet). When I nicely ask him to please wait, he runs faster. Chill, mom! Just be calm! But he's getting shit all over my clean house that I spend HOURS each day trying to clean! So I get frustrated.

Five minute warning that we are going to put on shoes and it's time to leave for camp. Ok mom!
Two minute warning. Ok mom!
One minute warning. Ok mom!

Ok - now it's time to get shoes on and get your backpacks - time to leave! They ignore me. No response. Ok, guys, let's go, put your shoes on and get your backpacks. No response. Hello? I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING!!! Luckily I usually start this ten minutes before we actually have to leave (god help me when I have THREE kids' shoes to get on - right now Koby doesn't wear shoes). So I wait. We do finally get out the door, but it's so frustrating.

Then we get in the car. I forgot a soft toy! I'm still hungry!!!! How much do I love my kids? Do I go back, unlock the door and get what they want? Am I spoiling them? Am I just being a nice mom? Matt thinks I'm too soft. Sometimes I feel like I'm SO not soft - like I'm an awful bitch. And other times I do feel like I enable them to be annoying and obnoxious, but who wants to be mean and strict!? It's such a balance, and I fear I'm failing miserably!!

Now that my baby is going to stop being a baby soon I'm getting way nostalgic. (I am also on hormones to try to regulate my body which is at it again - so it could be fake feelings). I often feel like bursting into tears because I soon won't be able to lift up and hug Elie, and he is so fucking cute right now - like hilarious and so so cute (when he's not being so annoying). I don't want him to get older! I feel like crying when I rock Koby before I put him down to go to sleep, because I love holding my baby. There's just nothing like it. Or sometimes when I take off his clothes and see his super cute little body, and I just want to take a bite - because they are growing up, and I get that I will want this back. I genuinely love this - so WHY oh WHY is it so damn frustrating? Why does it bother me so much!?

And then there's the physical exhaustion. I wake up at 5:45 with Matt's alarm (Matt doesn't wake up at 5:45 with Matt's alarm, but that's another story). I try to get downstairs to have my coffee, breakfast and make lunches before they wake up. Otherwise I can barely make a sandwich. Once they're up (usually between 6:30 and 7:15), I do not stop. I get breakfast for 3, feed one, clean up breakfast for 3, get them out the door (see above), drive to Chinese Camp, drop off (that's not a fun drop off), drive to Kat Camp, drop off, come back, put Koby to sleep, clean up more, prepare dinner, do laundry, organize shit, Koby wakes up, play with Koby or walk with him, give Koby lunch, go pick up Elie, put Elie and Koby for a nap, finish making dinner, clean up (how does it keep getting so damn messy and dirty!?), get them up, go get Samara, do something with all 3 in the afternoon (though I have had help nearly every afternoon this summer - THANK THE LORD FOR EVA AND MARTHA!!!), feed them dinner, clean up from dinner, bathe 3 kids, somehow get them to go to bed. Then it's 8, and I am SO EXHAUSTED. I remember when I used to do fun stuff in the evenings. I can barely keep my eyes open, and Koby has mostly been sleeping through the night (or at least until 4 or so)!! My back hurts. My neck is sore. My whole body hurts from everything I do allllll day for these kids. It is literally taking everything I've got to just survive - and then I'm supposed to be thoughtful about all of this!? No way - Not yet. I can read parenting books and figure out how to be a good mom - and not just survive - in a few years. When they're all in school. All day. But by then it will probably be too late.
They're so cute, no!? (Here with Alma and Shalem who visited with Dena from Israel - we had the BEST time with them!!!)

Such sensitive souls...

They even play together on occasion...for about a minute. 

Innocents!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The House

As mentioned a few months ago, we bought a house! The location is amazing - both because it's a five minute walk to Newton Centre, but also because it is literally across the street from a massive field that includes fun things to climb on, hide in, plus six soccer fields, four tennis courts and a playground...You can't go wrong. Not only that, but the backyard is so amazing that we don't even remember to go to the field sometimes! Ok - the house is fine too - but it's really the rest that makes it so amazing.

Here are the photos of "after" - though we have yet to hang our art. The "before" are in my post in May, linked to above.

This is the "before" bathroom photo. See below for the new look.

Living room in progress. Huge mirror above fireplace removed. Deep red walls replaced with beige. Windows replaced (throughout the house), recessed lighting installed.

Major beam that was eaten by termites is removed

Working on the bathroom...installing the shower

Powerwashing the house

Installing insulation on the ceiling of the crawl space, under the addition (kitchen and family room)

Elie helping me clean the day before we moved in

Moving in...clearly these photos are not in order, and I'm way too tired to organize them...

Chimney pointing (who even heard of that!?)

Matt with special purple swim goggles as protection as he tried to find the sidewalk out front of our house

And the blinds we splurged for warped in a week or so. But since we splurged, they're getting replaced for free. It's not all fun and games.

Elie's side of Elie and Sam's room. Thanks to Bubbie and Zaydie for the fun portholes on the wall.

Sam's side of their room. Thanks to Bubbie and Zaydie for the dinosaurs too!

The rest of their amazing room.

Our room

New carpet and stuff in entry

Living room is now the kids' room

Do you also get anxiety looking at this room?

It's a lot of space for toys...

Family room - with a Savta

Other angle, family room looking into toy hell room

One more angle. You get it? The kitchen is to the right.

Ok - ONE MORE ANGLE. 

We even put up three bird houses. I love this back yard. LOVE.

Dining room. We have yet to use it other than the table as staging space.

Pretty nice bathroom, right?

I can't believe how nice it is...

Matt designed all of this!

We JUST BARELY fit around that table.

So much nicer than that kitchen on Miller Rd!!!


We had the door and side of the door painted for Michigan. Because of the glare of the window, you can barely tell that the door is blue, and I think you won't be able to tell it's Michigan until we get our flag up...so it just looks like really obnoxious yellowness around a pretty plain looking colonial.

See what I mean?

There was a ton of work done - painting, floors finished, beams replaced, lots of work in the attic, faucets replaced, caulking, doors fixed...SO MANY THINGS...and it's still going...but it's so great. I love this house, and I feel so lucky every day that we get to live here.