December 31, 2006


Dear YLJF,

I think I need a new swimsuit. Any advice on selecting one?

___________________________________ Mermaid

Dear Mer,

Do you really need a new one? Only if a) the fabric of yours is so thin as to reveal what's underneath, b) there is no elastic in the leg openings anymore or c) the seat is fuzzy enough to give you the appearance of a Playboy Bunny tail.

If your current suit qualifies for replacement, here is a simple formula for choosing a bathing suit: the older you are the more skin you must cover. For example, a 25-year-old can wear a bikini, a 35-year-old a two-piece with a sliver of midriff showing, a 45-year-old requires a one-piece. Once you are a dues-paying member of AARP, keep the oversized t-shirt on when not underwater.


My brother thinks I have finally seen the light: I cannot visit my mother and stay at her house. He is right. I regret that I did not figure this out before voices were raised and unkind words exchanged. My mother is charmingly eccentric, and “frugal“ doesn't even begin to describe her. We love her, but as my brother says, it is unwise and unhealthy to be exposed to her unusual habits for a 24-hour stretch or more.

When we arrived at her house, she had a disposable cup designated for Hart's use during our stay. Strange, but par for the course. There is a logic to this, I suppose, though known only to her. However, the trouble started when we returned from a two-day pilgrimage to LEGOLAND. After three hours in harrowing California traffic, we sat down to dinner.

"Which is your cup?"

"What do you mean "my cup"? I haven't been here for two days."

"Well, which is the cup you used last?"

"I have no idea. Here's a dishwasher full of stuff. Is this clean?"

"Uhm, yes."

"What I mean is, has the dishwasher been run since we left?"

"No, of course not." (Of course not. What was I thinking?)

"I don't remember which cup I used. May I have a clean one from the cupboard?"



"No. There are only three and they are all in the dishwasher."

By now my voice was getting increasingly shrill. "It's your house and your prerogative. But if the household rule is that I am only allowed one cup during my stay here, you must tell me right away. I can't possibly figure out such a bizarre system."

"I don't like your system."

More high-pitched screeching. "My system, my system! The system used by the entire dishwasher-owning world? The system whereby you load dirty dishes into the dishwasher until it is full, run it, then replace the items in the cabinets and drawers for future use. That system?"

I had a sudden flashback to a visit several years ago when we had had a similar discussion. I had asked for a bath towel for the shower and she had given me what in my household is called an oversized handkerchief. I complained that it was too small, to which my mother had exclaimed, "But it's square." There is no argument with logic like that.

Motel 6 with its plethora of sanitized and wrapped glasses looks really appealing. I understand they also have regulation-sized towels there.

December 30, 2006

Julian and Chloe (photos)


Dear YLJF,

I am 5'2" and weigh 105 lbs. Last year my husband received a large windbreaker. He does not like it because it has the name of a local hardware store across the back. May I wear it?

___________________________________ Big Jacket, Little Person

Dear BJLP,

Certainly. How resourceful of you. YLJF generally does not advise adults purchasing items that are several sizes too big, but since it's a freebie, it's fine. You do have to roll up the sleeves so that they don't drag on the sidewalk. Rubber bands are useful for that.

December 23, 2006

Cowboy Jeff (photo)

Arizona, November 2003
Check out the boots!

December 18, 2006

More according to Jeff . . .

L: Do you want to see the fish, while the chef makes the sushi?
J: No, fish make me silly.

He was expecting live clownfish?

December 9, 2006

Yes, Virginia

H: Who is Santa Claus?
L: At Daddy's party? I think it's one of the attorneys wearing a Santa costume.
H: No. . . . there are elves and a sleigh, too.

December 7, 2006


Dear YLJF,

I love the holiday season. I shop and cook and decorate my house. I have ten different Christmas sweaters that I wear daily throughout the month. My granddaughter announced that she hates them! What do you say?

___________________________________ Christmas Spirit

Dear Spirit,

Part of the charm of the season is diverse expression of holiday merriment, which includes the "Christmas Sweater." Also, it takes a bit of "je ne sais quoi" to pull it off, so if you've got it, flaunt it! However, you may not force, coerce or manipulate unwilling co-workers, family members or pets into themed sweaters, Santa hats, reindeer antlers or candy cane-themed jewelry. AND, on December 26, put it all away for another year.

December 2, 2006

Would you like a fossil with that burger?

Jeff is describing an imaginary restaurant/car dealership that he owns.
J: Look out back. Something skeletonish.
L: What is it?
J: A triceratops! And a nest of eggs.

November 29, 2006

Cryptic VIII

H: When is the Taliban coming?
L: Huh? Slower, please.
H: When is the Taliban coming? The Tal-i-ban! The ones you bought for our Bar Mitzvah.

L: Ah. The tallit bag has been ordered and will be mailed to us soon.

November 24, 2006

A Reader's Dilemma

Set of 12 Boy Reading Personalized Heritage Bookplates

When Hart was in first grade, his school psychologist told me that he would never read for pleasure. At the time, I was quite indignant. There are picture books, easy readers, adaptations, comic books, TV tie-ins. Anyone CAN read for fun. Her pronouncement seemed like that of the Bad Fairy at Sleeping Beauty's cradle.

Now years later, her prediction seems quaintly optimistic. It appears that Hart will never learn to read at all. It certainly isn't for lack of trying. There have been efforts with well-known curricula for learning disabled kids; Wilson Reading, Explode the Code, LiPS. Tutoring, reward systems, computer games. Periodically, his team gets together to re-evaluate his program. More phonics, sight words, less phonics, high-frequency word drills, creative writing, reading for comprehension, reading for fluency, high-interest texts, pre-reading texts and on and on.

It is a mystery. Children with much greater intellectual impairment than Hart learn to read. In fact, using all the efforts and strategies that educators have used with Hart, pods of dolphins could have been taught to read by now. What is very clear is this: nothing has been written to the hard drive in Hart's brain. There is faulty wiring somewhere.

Conventional wisdom has it that learning to read English is devilishly hard. But it cannot be that difficult because almost everyone from age seven on, with a bit of phonics training, some exposure to the basic conventions, and enough practice and familiarity with frequently-used words, can do it.

What Hart has learned in the past eight or nine years are cunning strategies. He has perfected the whisper, mumble and inhalation on the first syllable. He can "read" really fast in hopes that the mistakes are less noticeable. Even one of the first preschool strategies, looking at the illustrations, does not help. "Tom flies a kitten!" I recently shrieked. "Is that a kitten up there at the end of the string?" I know that trick--the oldest in the book--looking at the first letter and guessing wildly. That's why in Hartworld, “it,” “is,” “if,” and “in” are interchangeable. So are “and,” “a,” “at,” “as” and “are.” “Three,“ “there,” “tree,” take your pick.

There is also something amiss with his short-term memory.“The star of this story is Lucy. Look at this word for a minute. We are going to read about a girl named Lucy.” It didn’t help. Hart called her Lucky or worse, Louky, whenever he saw the word.

Homework is agonizing. Hart cannot be bothered to read the short paragraph before answering the comprehension questions. He guesses, he complains about how hard the work is, or he tries to discern a pattern in the answers. Having answered the first of three multiple choice questions A, the second is sure to be B, the third C.

I have significantly scaled back my expectations, of course. I would have loved Hart to be an avid reader, as I am. I have introduced him to graphic novels, the kind with no text at all. We have discovered the joys of listening to books on CD. (Jim Dale reads the HARRY POTTER series, Tim Curry narrates A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. Magnificent.) Hart enjoys hearing poetry and I like reading it to him. Still, there is something to be said for the ability to read a menu, a street sign, a headline. That’s why we are still working on it, year after year.

November 22, 2006

According to Jeff . . .

North Carolina's Ocracoke Island was the hideout of Blackboard the pirate.

In addition to piracy, maybe he moon-lighted as a teacher?

November 15, 2006

Hot Rod (art)

Jeff, November 2006


I went to see author Kenneth Oppel who spoke to an auditorium full of 4th and 5th graders today. Those who look at this blog know that Oppel's bat trilogy, SILVERWING, SUNWING and BRIGHTWING are Jeff's favorite books. So even though the boys were in school I dutifully went, introduced myself, told him about the boys and got our books signed and dedicated to Hart and Jeff. (They were thrilled.)

November 14, 2006

Post-Bar Mitzvah

After a Bar Mitzvah come the onerous and inevitable tasks, eating leftovers and writing thank-you notes. In 1971, I did the latter in the traditional way, in my own dear hand, using my best penmanship, without spelling or punctuation errors, and submitted them for parental approval.

Modern times call for modern measures. I have given Hart and Jeff a shortcut. Using their choice of computer-imprintable stationery, they dictate and I type. This way we can promptly thank the gift-givers without tears or bloodshed.

There are a few guidelines. Each gift must be acknowledged with appropriate gratitude and a mention of plans for the gift. Those who came to the event are thanked for their attendance. Those who could not attend are told they were missed. Beyond that, I do not edit or censor.

It may be unorthodox to inquire about the weather or request a play date in a thank-you note, but surely a "friendly letter" is meant to be friendly. I can only hope that Jeff’s great-aunt was tickled to read, "I really like your furry coat, because I love soft things." That's better than a scripted sentiment any day.

November 13, 2006

November 12, 2006

Top Eight

Once every year or two, I come across a remarkable book. Not neccesarily a best seller, not neccesarily a "great book," but a work of fiction so original, so new, so provocative that I savor every word and am disappointed when it ends.

I have read lots and lots of books in my adult life, but only eight titles leapt to mind as notable and memorable enough to make my list. I could be left on a desert island with these titles and still be able to take two Harry Potter books to form my Top Ten list!

RAGTIME, Doctorow. Real historical people interact with Doctorow's characters to create the 'new music' of early 20th century America.

CAT'S CRADLE, Vonnegut. The first of the Vonnegut canon that I loved. As always, Vonnegut is completely original and defies description.

A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN, Owen Butler. A tapestry of Vietnamese refugee life in New Orleans, told as a series of evocative short stories.

THE LIFE OF PI, Martel. Which is more interesting, the truth or a good story?

BEE SEASON, Goldberg. How Ellie won her 4th grade spelling bee, alienated her brother, influenced her father and caused her dysfunctional family to fall completely apart.

OUR HOLOCAUST, Gutfreund. The real members of Gutfreund family survived the Holocaust only in the author's imagination in this amazing and heart-breaking novel.

THE LAST SONG AT DUSK, Shanghvi. THE NAMESAKE, Lahiri, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES, Roy. It's my blog and I'm talking all three of these books by India-born authors, now living in England or the U.S. It's been a good few years for new Asian voices. See next.

LONDONSTANI, Malkani. Imperfect, but an impressive first novel. Bend It like Beckham meets A Clockwork Orange. Really.

November 10, 2006

New Rule

I have been abiding by the "no white socks" rule for some time. Many pairs of blue jeans passed through the closets, brand-new and unworn, until I just gave up buying them. The boys will not wear jeans. Period.

Now Jeff has made his new preference clear: white underwear only. It was only a matter of time, I suppose. I have had my fun. I have purchased underwear in all manner of boy-friendly, clever patterns--cars, trains, dinosaurs, airplanes, soccer balls, baseball caps, basketballs, sneakers, snowmen, snowboards, ski equipment (winter), lobsters, palm trees (summer) and bats, ghosts (Halloween). In recent years (and larger sizes), there have been stripes and manlier solid colors; maroon, gray and navy blue. However, Jeff is a teenager now and, apparently, anything but the traditional "tighty whities" are too childish, so I have no choice but to comply.

Right now I have a three-year-old nephew and he thinks the surf board-patterned big boy underpants are just the thing. Note to self and sister-in-law: this too shall pass.

November 8, 2006

Bar Mitzvah Highlights

The whole weekend went by in a blur. A few highlights:

Best Video Moment: Three-month-old Chloe spitting up on my cousin Sharon at Friday's dinner. Hart announces to the camera, "Chloe puked on THAT girl."

Second Best Video Moment: On Sunday Julian says, "I'm tired. We're all tired."

Skating coach quip: "I am really out of my element here." "Because you are not Jewish?" "No, because this isn't a skating rink."

Awwwwwww: Julian immediately rushes the pulpit after the service, grabs both cousins by the hand, and drags them off to the food.

Most popular guest despite puking: Chloe.

Most panicky moment: Custodian meets me upon my arrival Saturday morning to tell me the caterers cannot find the paper goods I dropped off on Thursday.

Second most panicky moment: Hart, who remains immobile through the whole service.

Words to live by: Cantor's remarks about being surprised by human capabilities, in light of human limitations.

Worst bowling moment: Mom, a former recreational bowler, scores less than 80.

Best bowling party review: Sam B. declares the party to be "AWESSSSSOME!"

Leftovers from Saturday: Noodle kugel, cheese, challah, blintzes, baba ganoush, pastries and lots of cream cheese. Sadly, no lox.

Leftovers from Sunday pizza party: Seven empty cardboard pizza boxes, three brownies, one serving of salad.

November 6, 2006

Ezrah (helping)

It is an honor and privilege to read the haftarah on the occasion of your bar mitzvahs. This was the exact same haftarah portion that I read at my own bar mitzvah 34 years ago. Because our birthdays are so close, we have the same reading. As my parents and my sister will confirm, I did a much better job back then than I did today.

Back then, I had tutors, and teachers and Rabbis to help me get ready and prepare. This time, I tried to do it all by myself. As we know, we always do much better when we have helpers.

Looking out in the sanctuary this morning, I am so glad to see that we have with us so many of your helpers with us today: your social workers, teachers, and many of your babysitters for the past ten years. The babysitters are the ones with the grey hairs, even the teenagers. And to each of them, your mom and I are very grateful for their support.

And, in fact, every one of our guests, every one of you, has, in his or her own unique way, been a source of tremendous support and strength to Lydia, me, Hart and Jeff. As we were putting together our guest list, we basically were creating our list of the 100 people who have most helped us over the years. If Crain's were to publish a top-100 list of helpers to us, you would be that list. Hart and Jeff, and Lydia and I could not made it through the past ten years without you. I hope you know how very much we appreciate you all.

Hart and Jeff, I know that you have learned that when we help others, we ourselves become better people. The importance of helping others is something that both of you already understand. I hope you will always do your best to be good helpers. To try to make the world a better place. I know that you both will always will take care of each other. And that you always will be the very best of friends.
And finally but very importantly, that you will always take care of your most important helper in the world, and that's your mom, who spends every single day taking care of you.

When I was a 13-year-old boy, just like you, wearing my first suit, in a synagogue not too far from here, I could not have imagined, in my very best dreams, that someday I would be reciting the haftarah for two boys who are as wonderful as you are. Your mom and I are very proud of you.

I hope someday each of you will have the same good fortune to recite the Torah blessings on the occasions of your own children's bar and bat mitzvahs.

_______ Hart's and Jeff's father's comments, November 4, 2006

November 2, 2006

Halloween 2006 (photos)

Hart, two grasshoppers
Jeff, The Cat in the Hat

October 31, 2006

Bar Mitzvah Cheer II

For years, I planned parties, art openings and fund raising events professionally, so organizing a modest Bar Mitzvah did not seem daunting. The plans have gone smoothly overall. However, unlike a professional event, where there is another one coming along shortly, this is a one-off deal. Two kids, one Bar Mitzvah celebration. It’s do or die.

I remember my wedding planning days. I worked full-time and had to manage such minutiae as choosing typeface and color for the cocktail napkins. Who cares or remembers the napkins now? Everyone expects a wedding to be fraught with clashing egos, raw nerves and minor catastophes. Part of the fun is the dueling bridesmaids, the drunken guest, the uncooked main course. (A fight broke out in the kitchen during my wedding ceremony. No word if the supervising rabbi [masgiach] was involved.)

By the time one is old enough to have Bar Mitzvah-aged children, that craziness should have been outgrown, too. Still I am having deja vu, being asked to choose the linen colors. Now I worry--what if it is lame, really lame? Of course, the boys will be unpredictable, but what if the food is lousy?


L: Cough, cough, cough . . . . .
J: I know a potion to make you unsick.

October 27, 2006

Spelled like it sounds . . .

I suggested that Jeff look over his week's spelling words while I prepared dinner. Moments later, "What's this 3 doing here?" I looked over his shoulder. "I think the 3 is silent."

October 24, 2006


Complete the sentence to make a cause-effect paragraph.

Last week I spilled a bottle of blue ink in my grandmother's living room. Grandma says, "You are grounded!." I had a fit!

_______________ Hart

October 22, 2006

Encounter with Nature

There is no doubt about it. I am running a personal wildlife refuge. But, what the heck! How agile can a raccoon be?

I stood puzzling over this for a few minutes, until it finally dawned on me. I had left the garage door up, in position horizonal to the ceiling. Still, how the hell did a raccoon get up there? And why didn't he wipe his feet on the "Welcome, Raccoons" mat I so thoughtfully put out?

October 18, 2006

From the desk of . . .

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write up an interview with Ginny and Ron Weasley. I shared it with a few fellow Harry Potter fans who enjoyed it. Having gone to the trouble of writing it, I also posted it to a few major Harry Potter web sites.

For the most part, the Muggle webmasters loved it and most readers were very positive. Almost everyone readily recognized it as an unusual hybrid of journalism and fan fiction. There were, however, a few bewildered readers who didn't get it. Most memorably, one poster wrote, "I would much rather have read an interview with Bonnie Wright and Rupert Grint. Why didn't you do that?"

The truth is I don't know Ms. Wright or Mr. Grint, or their agents, publicists and managers. I do not even know the author J.K. Rowling. That's the whole point: I do know the real Ginny and Ron. I know Harry Potter, too.

I know Count Olaf, Oliver Twist, the March sisters, Tom, Huck and Becky, Willy Wonka, Wendy, Michael and John. I have been party to the innermost thoughts of Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones. My acquaintance with the famous is not limited to humans. I know plenty of witches, fairies, Hobbits, wizards, gods and goddesses and talking animals. I know an ant that types, a spider that spells and a pig that herds sheep!

Some of these are old friends I have had for decades and other are new. I've been gradually introducing my boys to some of these old acquaintances, and along the way I have met many new ones.

I may look like a middle-aged suburban scribbler, but oh, the adventures I have had, the evil and heroism I have witnessed, and the interesting and enchanted lands I have visited . . .

There are plenty other people whose job it is to write about movie actors.

Sorrel Lucent

October 11, 2006

Making comparisons

Complete the sentence to make a comparison paragraph.

As pets, dog are very different from cats. Dogs do not have claws. Dogs take walks and cats like to lounge around.

_______________ Hart

October 8, 2006

Miracle Worker

When Anne Sullivan arrived at the Keller household, she noticed that the family did not hold little Helen to any standard of civilized behavior. Helen ran around the dinner table, yanking food off the adults' plates, among other things. The Kellers tolerated this for two reasons: they felt that Helen was entitled to accommodation because of her "afflictions,” and they had no way of teaching her otherwise.

I am guilty of this mentality, too. Most of the obnoxious conduct in our household is due to "afflictions," too. I am not indulgent, but most of these behaviors are utterly intractable. If I had to mete out discipline for every infraction, I would do nothing else all day and I would issue consequences for the same undesirable behaviors day after day, year after year. (Wait. I do that now.)

Anne Sullivan must have known intuitively that despite her disabilities Helen Keller still existed in sighted and hearing world. It is a harsh truth that I have come to understand, too, as the boys have gotten older. While we have struggled with simple social rules that most 4-year-olds easily have mastered--do not touch other people; wait until others are finished talking before speaking; no screaming indoors; answer when your name is spoken; time has marched on.

Now that the boys are teenagers, I realize that not only will I not be around to remind them to make eye contact when speaking to someone, I will not be available forever to cook, do laundry and organize their lives into manageable bits.

Time for a paradigm shift. Even kids like mine, with their limitations, have to exist in this world. Talk of increased privileges and responsibility discourages me. I can't very well say, "Here's $5. Ride your bike over to Jewel, pick up a loaf of bread and box of Rice Krispies."

It recently dawned on me that there are a number of tasks that the boys COULD DO quite competently given an opportunity. I could send someone to the yogurt case to select a few and bring them back to the cart. I could show the boys which half gallon of orange juice is the best buy this week. Jeff announced to me that junior high kids are expected to make their own lunches. Done. Hart wants to select his own clothes to wear each day. Done. Take the garbage to the curb. Done. Learn basic kitchen skills? Do laundry? Select and wrap a gift? Initiate a playdate?

If I waited until the boys learned to use appropriate volume when speaking before demonstrating very basic life skills, I'll be shopping and cooking for them for a long, long time. I learned recently that teaching hair-washing is not that difficult if demonstrated and broken down into basic steps. Wet, shampoo, lather, rinse.


J: When I grow up, I want to be a madman.
L: You are one now!

October 6, 2006

Name Game

My last name is unusual, vaguely ethnic-sounding and has an "x." Although it is a one-syllable name, I am often asked to pronounce it and spell it. "X?" "Yes, with an X at the end. That's it, that's the whole name." These reasons that made me loathe my name when I was growing up. It is a cactus of a name in a flower bed of Smiths and Millers.

Like red hair or a crooked nose, in adulthood, these singular features seem less burdensome. I guess I have gotten used to it. There are a few dozen people with this name in the entire world and we are all somehow related. If someone asks me about another person with that name, invariably, they mean someone in my immediate family.

With one notable exception. Last year, an older man noticed my name on my checkbook and said, "I once knew a guy with that name." Probably my dad, I told him. He attended the University of Chicago. "No, no, in Vienna, before the War." He went on to explain that he dated a woman with that last name and in fact, he met up with her again when they were both inmates in Auschwitz. My interest was piqued, but I had no idea who the woman might be.

When I asked my youngest brother, the keeper of all information genealogical, he told me he knew of this woman, now in her 80s and living in Israel. He was, in fact, corresponding with her grandson, our 4th cousin, twice-removed.


Dear YLJF,

Twenty-four years ago, I wore a "loud" shirt to a family wedding and since then no one has ever let me forget it. At every occasion, someone will say something about it, like, "You look fine today, not like at Sue's wedding, when you wore THAT shirt." Enough, already!

___________________________________ Loud

Dear Loud,

Etiquette dictates that the wedding guests (or their clothes) are not supposed to upstage the bride and groom.

However, you have achieved something every celebrity aspires to . . . an outfit so memorable that folks are still talking about it nearly a quarter century later! What Oscar winner can claim that? If you really want to put the kibosh on the remarks, wear the shirt again. When anyone comments, say, "Everyone has talked so much about this shirt, I thought they might want to see it again."

October 4, 2006

Poetry Homework


At night sometimes after Miss Edna goes to bed I go
up on the roof
Sometimes I sit counting the stars
Maybe one is my mama and
another one is my daddy And maybe that's why
soometimes they flicker a bit
I mean the stars flicker

_____________________ Jacqueline Woodson, Locomotion

Where do you go when you want to have some quiet time to think about things?

I go to my bedroom
or I go somewhere tiny and small
like the closet.
I put the light on
and read.
It is the only place
Hart cannot come in.

_____________________ Jeff

October 2, 2006

New Year

There are traditional Jewish blessings for the most mundane of things: washing hands, eating, putting on new clothes. There are also blessings for unusual events, such as seeing a rainbow, an ocean or a very tall person (No kidding!)

Here's a bit of Jewish trivia. There is a blessing for seeing a great multitude of Jews together. No wonder I did not learn that one: I grew up in a small Ohio city, with a modest Jewish population. Even if they were all in the same place at the same time, it could hardly be called a multitude. Since I have moved to Chicago, I think of that blessing at this time every year.

A long time ago, in Ohio, most people had never seen a bagel, much less gefilte fish or halvah. Here in Chicago, I was surprised to find that grocery stores advertise traditional food for the season. Around here, public schools are closed. It's not unusual to see a backyard Sukkah or kosher food at the store.

Our synagogue holds its holiday services in a huge historic suburban church. Since the congregants must walk or park on the street, there truly is a multitude of Jews all heading towards this enormous church at the same time. Extraordinary. Last night, I sat in the balcony looking down at the crowd of heads below. I don't know most of them personally. Although I often feel isolated and alone in my tiny family of three, it is heartening to remember that I am part of this multitude, not only in my own local community, but in the whole world.

September 29, 2006

Bar Mitzvah Cheer

Planning a Bar Mitzvah gala can be stressful under any circumstances, but I am determined to remain serene. There are a number of personalities involved in this, any of which could cause me a nervous breakdown or at least an Excedrin headache. These include:

My mother, who is coming almost directly from China, jet-lagged and presumably in the same clothes she wore to climb the Great Wall.

My former in-laws, whose idea of punctuality differs from mine by about 40-90 minutes.

My former husband, who has been known to have second thoughts about venue, menu, dress minutes before an event begins.

My boys. Let's just say that their behavior is consistently unpredictable or predictably inconsistent.

None of this is going to get me down. Unlike my wedding, for which I felt responsible for all eventualities large and small (except divorce), this event is in God's hands now, so to speak. Not that I am not trying to smooth the way. I am. I have given the boys this speech a few times now. "You are Bar Mitzvah age now. That means you take responsibility for you own actions. If you misbehave or act silly in front of your invited guests, that is your own choice."

I also set some ground rules. The boys are not to be on the pulpit together. Each is to be accompanied individually by an adult at all times. They are not to sit together in the congregation. I have scoped out the location of exits in case I need to employ a “time-out.”

If all else fails, I can quietly contemplate the stained glass windows during the service. At the party, I plan to have a great time.

September 24, 2006


Dear YLJF,
I am a senior citizen with a closet full of "dressy dresses" which I have worn over the past four decades to weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, cotillions, dinner-dances and other occasions. My grandson is getting married and my son and daughter-in-law are urging me to buy a new dress for this event! Do I have to?
___________________________________ Closets are Full

Dear CAF,
It's true that you are unlikely to live another 40 years, as to get adequate wear out of this new purchase, so I see your point. Since your dress collection spans the decades, why not stroll around the mall to see what stores have at the moment and pull out a similar-looking dress from your collection? Most of the wedding guests probably were not born when you wore it the first time.

September 20, 2006

Cryptic VIII

H: Can Jeff live with me?
L: What do you mean?
H: He'll have one room and I'll have another. Can he live with me?
L: When you are grownups? When you are adults and live on your own, you can make your own arrangements.
H: See, Jeff. I told you. It's not against the law.


Dear YLJF:

I'm a guy whose hair is thinning, so I've decided to wear it real long. I don't comb it over the top; that's a comb-over--not for me. I gather it on top, stir it into a pile, and hairspray it (Consort for Men) in place. Lately, my wife has been saying it's time for an actual haircut. I think my system works and saves the price of a barber. But I'll go with whatever you say.

_____________________________ When Hair Is Right It's Right

WHIRIR: I admire your ingenuity! Fashionably-speaking, if you are deficient in one area, compensate in another. However, all that gathering, stirring, piling and spraying sounds very time-consuming. And your wife's opinion merits consideration. How about a wearing a ponytail tied with a colorful scrunchy, or an attractive baseball cap?

September 18, 2006

Cryptic VII

L: Wow. Look, a street fair. That looks fun.
H: There's a hula hoop.
L: A hula hoop? Are there kids' activities that you can see?
H: No, there's just a hula hoop lying on the sidewalk.
L: Really? The thing you put around your waist and have go around you?
H: No . . . from Hawaii, you put it around your neck.

September 16, 2006

Are We Not Men?

Listening to DEVO, 1978
My dad: Devo? Ja, we like Devo.

Listening to DEVO, 2006
H: What kind of music is this? I like it.

Hart S., Criminal Mastermind

Offense: unlawful breaking and entering of parental bedroom for nefarious purposes.

Evidence: Original first-issue Beanie Baby found with tags removed. Toy unharmed. Tags found in perp's bedroom.
Defense: Perp claims brother is responsible.
No charges. First warning. Toy eventually sold.

Evidence: Expensive diamond engagement ring missing. Recovered in basement clothes dryer.
No charges. Ring removed to bank safety deposit box.

Evidence: New toy car bearing original price tag of $26.99. $30 simultaneously missing from dresser.
Witness (babysitter): Perp claims permission to spend the money.
Defense: "It's my money."
Toy returned to store for refund.

Evidence: Perp discovered at scene of crime.
Arresting officer inquires what perp is doing. Perp claims to be repairing broken shoe rack in closet. Officer asks how rack was broken.
Defense: Perp takes 5th Amendment rights, requests legal counsel.

September 15, 2006

Chevy Bel-Air by Jeff (art)


Dear YLJF,

My pajamas might have a few holes in them, but they've got years of wear left. Can I hang on to them for a while longer?
_________________________________ Too Tired To Shop

Dear TTTS,

Absolutely! You can get more use out of your "comfort" wardrobe by wearing it to garden, do household repairs, run local errands or lounge on weekends. Picking up a loaf of bread at 11pm? YOU'LL LOOK JUST FINE.

September 14, 2006

Bar Mitzvah bios (photos)

Hart's favorite school subject is Art. Hart is interested in nature and animals and is a member of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. He loves Purim and Hanukah.

Jeffrey is a 7th grader. His favorite Jewish holiday is Passover. His interests include cars, dinosaurs and origami. Jeff is a member of the Evanston Speed Skating Club. He enjoys speed skating, soccer and basketball.

Bait and Switch

Many years ago when I was acting, I traveled some distance to an audition, which turned out to be an aggressive sales pitch for professional headshots. As such deceptions go, it took a very long time to spin the web. I was standing, half-listening, clutching my backpack for fear of the director/saleswoman extricating my checkbook by means of telekinesis, when she said to me, "You are very photogenic. Have you ever considered modeling?" (No, I have never considered modeling for many reasons. Among those is the fact that I am five feet tall. Not "five-foot-something." FIVE FEET. Period.) She was so cloyingly earnest, so serious: at that moment, I realized that passive resistance was futile. I had to escape.

It is the small price to pay for living in the world, to be subjected to schemes. There is the long, rigorous job interview in which it is slowly revealed that there actually is no employment opening. Sincere young men have engaged me in conversation and then tried to sell me magazines I do not want. Respectable-looking, well-dressed people have asked me for directions, then demanded money or told me how Jesus came into their lives.

I remembered that phony audition this week, after I had a preliminary phone conversation with a potential internet date. I answered an ad for a man who described himself as intelligent, articulate, funny and warm. And he was. We chatted for over an hour about our interests, what we are looking for in a partner, our former spouses, our reading habits.

The plot unfolds, then thickens. Finally, there is the denouement, where the ruse is revealed. And then, there is the moment of truth where you have to either buy the magazines, so to speak, or slowly back away and run like hell.

That is exactly what happened. I was enjoying the conversation, the easy banter, when a creeping realization took hold. What I thought was friendly give-and-take was intended to finalize a transaction of a very different sort.

September 13, 2006

Love, Valour, Compassion

Parents go to extraordinary lengths for their children. It is an evolutionary prerogative, of course, but what of people who have tubes retied to produce a second child as a marrow donor for the first child, those who donate organs, those who find themselves in dire poverty to pay for a child's medical or legal needs, people who DIE for their children? These news-worthy heroes always astonish me . . . people who undertake an act of amazing love, valor and compassion.

Luckily, I am not in such a situation. My life with Hart and Jeff calls for heroics, no doubt, but of the smaller, more modest sort. It works this way: I force myself to be patient most of the time until the 32nd occurrence of some behavior, then I explode. No matter, the boys are always up for number 33, 34, 35, 36. They never tire of aberrant behavior, even if they know that it is abnormal.

Ever so often, I cash in my chips all at once. "Do you know why we will never have another pet? Do you, do you!?" Yes, they do. "We bothered the cat," someone will mutter. But not once or twice, or even daily. "How many times a day did I say, 'Leave her alone?'" "Hundreds," they confess. Every single day.

"You are so crabby, Mommy," they tell me. Oh yes, I know I am. You would be crabby too if you were awakened every single weekday for over ten years in the wee hours of the morning. Every single day.

"Did you brush your teeth today?"

"Keep your hands to yourself and do not touch each other."

"Dirty clothes go in the chute." Pray, tell me, do 25-year-old men still fling their dirty underwear at each other? The boys think it is hilarious even after doing it for years!

"If I am speaking to your brother, you must wait to speak."

"Stay in your seat while you are eating." (Sadly, a complete lost cause. It's not a realistic goal: I reward Hart if he gets up fewer than three times.)

"Stop screaming." Variations: "Stop screaming, I am in the same room." "Stop screaming, we are in the same zip code." "Stop screaming AND stop touching each other." "Stop screaming. I am on the phone." "Stop screaming. It's 4 am on Saturday."

Every single day.

I am not really living in a hard-hitting documentary, as I occasionally imagine. I am living GROUNDHOG DAY, like Bill Murray, reliving the same exact day over and over again.

Julian, Chloe and Allison (photos)

Summer 2006

September 10, 2006

Cryptic VI

H: Where are my grhmtifjdk? Ninth and tenth.
L: I can't understand you. Ninth and tenth what?
H: I am putting on my shoes. I'm looking for grhmtifjdk in fmdmmmsnt.
L: Slower and clearer, please.
H: Where are the ninth and tenth? I am looking in the fmdmmmsnt.
L: I have no idea what you are saying. Do you need my help? Speak slower and use other words and stay standing in the same place while you talk.
H: Fmdmmmsnt. Sldddqeooirlksjfd.
L: Why are you in the furnace room? What's there?
J: He's looking for two Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
L: For sure, they aren't with the dirty laundry.

September 7, 2006


Dear YLJF:

I loved the pilot. Maybe you can help me. My sister-in-law embarrassed me at a family gathering by telling me that my top and pants clashed. I thought I looked fine. I wore a navy, red, pink and white striped shirt with a blue and pink floral skirt. The colors matched perfectly.
___________________________________ Sick of Sis-in-law

SOSIL: You were on the right track. If the idea of one solid piece and one patterned piece is too complex, wear ONLY solids. Every single solid color in the universe goes with every single other solid color. Easy.
P.S. Your SIL wears Crocs, don't listen to her.

Dear YLJF: I am a busy mother of three children, ages 2,4,6. We are fortunate to live in southern California, so I take the kids to the beach almost every day. I hate the way I look in a bathing suit. Any recommendations for beach wear?
___________________________________ Sunny CA

Dear SC: SPF 45! If you are over 5'4", wear a hat. If you are shorter than that, don't. You will look like a mushroom. Camouflage figure flaws around hips, waist and thighs with small children.

September 6, 2006

Cryptic V

H: What happened to the old garden?
Me: I bought a new one at the grocery store today.

September 3, 2006

YOU LOOK JUST FINE! A television proposal

Description: Half-hour reality series. Market research done on female viewers of all ages demonstrates that the majority of respondents have heard of at least one of the following cable programs, WHAT NOT TO WEAR, COVER SHOT, A MAKEOVER STORY. However, the study also shows that 17% of female viewers aged 31-45 and 38% of female viewers aged 46-65 are not interested in a conventional makeover for themselves or others, but rather are looking for validation of their own "personal style." This demographic is an underutilized market. In addition to the above-mentioned population, the pilot of YOU LOOK JUST FINE! tested well with gay men, aged 35-50.

Transcript of pilot/12.5 minutes

Sheila B., 28, 192 lbs, 5'2" and her sister Karen, 30.
Sheila: As you can see I am overweight. It's such a drag trying to find clothes that fit me and look good.
Karen: She's always wearing these horrible spandex pants. She has a closet full of black stretchy pants.
Sheila: Black makes you look slimmer!
Host: That's right.
Sheila: Told you!
Host: You look just fine. However, I see that you are short. Shorter women need taller hair. A few curlers and a bit of Dippity-Do and there you are! (Demonstrates putting three rollers at the top of Sheila's head.) Thanks for coming. (Yells off-camera as Sheila and Karen leave.) You have to sleep on a rolled up towel . . .

Crystal M. 59, 148 lbs, 5'8"
Host: Welcome, Crystal.

Crystal: I am turning 60 this year and it's really depressing.
Host: Hmmmm. You look fine to me.
Crystal: Every time I look in the mirror I see more wrinkles.
Host: You are wearing your hair swept back. That could be the problem. You need puffy bangs to hide your forehead. See? There you go.
Crystal: Also, I have to have these stupid reading glasses. I have turned into my own grandmother.
Host: Those glasses are much too small. No one will notice the wrinkles if your glasses are large enough to cover them. Remember TOOTSIE? No one could tell she was really Dustin Hoffman.

Melissa N. 37, 134 lbs, 5'3"
Melissa: I have spent the past year dieting and I have lost 27 pounds.
Host: Great.
Melissa: I guess I am not used to the new me. I am still wearing the same clothes. I haven't bought anything new. I just wear the usual uniform of baggy, oversized tops and sweatpants.
Host: Are you comfortable? That's the most important thing.
Melissa: Well, yes, I guess I am. I thought I was in some rut.
Host: You look just fine. Congratulations on the weight loss. Keep up the good work.

Gina G. 58, 126 lbs, 5'11"
Gina: My children complain I look like an aging hippie. I guess I am one.
Host: Those jeans look clean enough to me.
Gina: I have had this pair since my sophomore year of college. My hair used to be black, of course, but can you believe I have not had a haircut in seventeen years? (Whips braid around.)
Host: Ouch. That thing is lethal. I have to tell you that a woman of your age cannot wear such long hair.
Gina: My kids tell me I should get it cut. I am nervous about going to a hairdresser after all these years.
Host: Ridiculous.
Gina: I suppose you are right. Why should I be afraid of going to a hair salon?
Host: No, I meant ridiculous to pay someone to cut it. (Pulls out a pair of sewing scissors and cuts off the braid.) You look just fine now.
Gina: (holds braid) Can I keep this, as a souvenir?
Host: Of course. Don’t take those scissors though. I need them. That’s all for today. Thanks, and remember, YOU LOOK JUST FINE!

Tag: Send your fashion queries and comments to YOU LOOK JUST FINE! Our presenter promises to personally reply to all submissions. Photos welcome.

September 2, 2006

September 1, 2006


Me: Why are you two guys dressed exactly alike today?
H: We are twins.
J: Our shoes are different.

August 31, 2006


I am very sad because I do not have Hobbes and I miss my cat so much. I hope Hobbes is happy in Kitty Heaven. Hart, May 2006.

Boston (photos)

Hart, my brother Arnie, Chloe with Ted, cousins Julian and Hart, Jeff and Leah, Boston, August 2006

August 25, 2006

Demon Rum

Of all the horrors afflicting Eastern European orphans, surely fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most brutal and tragic. FAS is not unique to Romania, Russia and Ukraine: wherever there is poverty and despair, substance abuse is sure to follow.

The effects of alcohol on a developing fetus are well-documented. Behavioral effects following prenatal alcohol exposure include hyperactivity, attention deficits, lack of inhibition, learning disabilities or mental retardation, language and social delays, among others. Sound familiar?

In cases of severe exposure, where the mother is a binge drinker or drank throughout the pregnancy, the children are born with facial anomalies. The features of these children are commonly discussed at post-adoption seminars. It has been many years since I have attended these meetings: I confess I naively was paying more attention to the information about attachment disorder, ADHD and speech/language development.

It was therefore a strange and jarring surprise to notice a little girl at our community swimming pool who looked like a casebook photograph of the severe effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Dark-haired and petite, she had the distinctive broad face, wide-set eyes, upturned nose and the unique long, smooth upper lip without noticeable philtrum ridges. Although I have seen plenty of photos, thankfully, I have never actually seen anyone, in vivo, with the facial presentation of this syndrome.

Who is she? Adopted? From where? Where does she live now? I looked around to see if there was any adult who seemed to be with her, not that I could trot up to a parent and strike up a conversation about FAS . . . but her presence piqued my curiosity. I was not at all curious about her appearance. I recognized that face.

Parking advice

J: You have to pay the meteor.

August 24, 2006


Two friends were reminiscing over their teenagers' naughty words of yore. There is a charm and innocence in children when "diaper" can induce paroxysms of giggles.

It takes some social awareness to appreciate scatological humor, so Hart and Jeff missed that stage entirely. At age 10, they went straight to the hardcore vocabulary.

I was appalled, of course, since I am so careful to monitor my own language with the boys. But, I remained sanguine. "I am a grown-up," I told them, "I have heard all those ugly words before." That took a bit of the edge off of the fun of saying them.

It is not without irony, though. Hart's articulation is poor and his syntax convoluted. However, the entire zip code can hear these expressions on occasion, pronounced loud and clear!

August 22, 2006

Talk II

Jeff is still talking incessantly. What does he say? Bits of song lyrics, movie dialogue, nonsense syllables, sound effects, provocative chants to rile up Hart, funny words and phrases.* Nothing of particular note, except that he does it all the time.

When both boys are in the house, he is VERY LOUD. Even when he is alone, Jeff is humming, buzzing, muttering. It is, for him, the unfortunate convergence of hyperactivity, dysinhibition and the constant need for some form of internal stimulation. Understanding that does not make this habit any more tolerable to me.

Occasionally, as parents are wont to do, I have something to say to Jeff that requires him to turn off the white noise. “Jeff!” “Jeff?” “Jeff, stop talking now.” “Jeff, it’s my turn to talk.” “Jeff?” On the fifth or sixth call, he takes a breath. I have about two seconds to speak until the next tsunami of utterances.

Sometimes, what I have to say takes longer than my allotted time. “Jeff, you are interrupting me. Stop talking for a minute.” "Jeff?" Maybe I have it backwards, maybe he believes I am interrupting him. After all, he was speaking first.

piña colada
boobs (pronounced "boops")
"turtle trouble"
"at LAST"
"intruder alert!"

Cryptic IV

H: I can't carry that. I'm full of hands.

August 21, 2006

August 20, 2006

Cryptic III

H: Look, tadpoles.
Me: Tadpoles in a restaurant? Where?
H: Over there, tadpoles.
Me: Do you think those plant leaves are shaped like tadpoles?
H: No, there, tadpoles.
Me: I see where you are pointing. Those are called cattails.

Cryptic II

Me: I am watching the news.
H: What do they say?
Me: No liquids on the plane. You may pack them in the luggage but you can't carry liquids with you to your seat. No drinks, no sunblock, no shampoo.
H: No milk?
Me: You can drink milk on the plane, but you can't bring it on with you.
H: How about elephants?

August 17, 2006

Caveat Emptor

I'm a size 2!” Every time I hear that commercial, I invariably prick up my ears. That could be me, I think. I could make Kirstie Alley and Jenny Craig proud. I could eat at Subway every day and be featured in commercials. I could have buns of steel. By purchasing the meal plan, the fat-busting herbal supplements, the excercise machine, that could be me prancing around in a bikini, showing off my flat stomach and toned arms. Each of these 30-second reveries is dissolved by the fine print at the end of the ad, “Results not typical.”

I once had a brief moment of results-not-typical fame. A dozen years ago, I took a preparation course to improve my math scores on my second GMAT attempt. My scores were impressive enough to get me into the business school of my choice, 99th percentile on the verbal test and 93rd percentile overall. I qualified for B-school or, alternatively, a job teaching the prep course.

The adoption business is not obligated to the same truth-in-advertising legal minutia as the diet business. There is no such caveat on the brochures and websites which show photographs of adorable “waiting” children.

A common feature of adoption agency promotion is the informational meeting. There are maps and videos and payment schedules, of course. But the highlight of these gatherings is show-and-tell portion featuring newly-returned parents and their darling children. Chinese girls snuggle in their father's arms, while he describes the ease and alacrity of the process, the help and support of the agency staff. Mothers holding blonde Russian boys tell how quickly little Sergei, Boris or Igor learned English, his smooth transition into second grade, his Cub Scout merit badges and gymnastics awards.

With a decade of hindsight, I have realized that these people are the size 2s, the Subway Jareds of the adoption world. These families are the great success stories. Theirs are the children featured in the agency’s glossy brochures. Although the foreign adoption industry does not care to advertise it, there are many more families like ours. The truth: the chance of getting a healthy, bright, well-adjusted child through foreign adoption like those at the meeting, is slim indeed.

Back to the video montage in the hotel conference room. There is Dmitri playing with the family dog, then Natasha and Marina at their first communion. Here are three girls from the same Chinese orphanage playing together in the California surf. The crawl along the bottom of the screen does not say, “Results not typical” but it probably should.

August 16, 2006


H: I am too slippery for pizza.

August 12, 2006


When Jeff and I walked into the restaurant, he immediately spotted the model Corvette and rushed over. Of course, there was a little boy attached to the vehicle, so the two of them immediately began talking about their shared passion--CARS. Hard to believe that there is another boy as passionate about automobiles, but there is, and as inevitably happens, they found each other. I introduced myself to his parents and sat down at the adjacent table while the two boys admired each others' models.

We mothers sheepishly discussed activities for car-obsessed boys. Have they been to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles? Yes, and what about that Hot Wheels Hall of Fame exhibit? Have they been to the annual Chicago Auto Show? Not yet, maybe this year. California Legoland's driving range? Yep. Seen the Pixar movie, CARS? Six times already. Does your son like the TV shows, OVERHAULING and RIDES? Never seen 'em. What channel? How about getting the boys together to play? You bet.

The boys were already planning on a toy car swap. Avery is less than half Jeff's age, but it does not matter to either of them. He is conversant about all makes and models of cars. "Awesome." His dad once let him sit on his lap and steer the car in a parking lot. "Sweet."

We have had one dinner together at the same restaurant where we met. Both boys brought their flashiest and newest toy cars to show. Avery had a portable DVD player with a Hot Wheels movie. Avery's mom and I had our own dinner conversation on the other side of the table.

It was extraordinary. Jeff is not much interested in talking and he does not generally respond to conversational overtures. His restaurant M.O. involves shoveling down the food and asking when we will leave. I kept glancing over to see him holding forth on his favorite topic. Avery seemed equally enthralled.

I once heard a parent of an autistic child say how demanding and stressful it is for her child to be in "our world." "We know we have to allow him time in relax in his world." I never understood that so well until I saw Jeffrey find a normal, regular kid who loves his world, too.

August 9, 2006

Jeff's 13th birthday interview

Favorite song: Werewolves of London, Warren Zevon

Favorite movie: Eight-Legged Freaks
2nd favorite movie: Finding Nemo

Favorite play: Ragtime the Musical

Favorite book: Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel

August 3, 2006

To sleep, perchance, to dream

In all the time the boys have lived with me, they have never permitted me an uninterupted nights' sleep. The method of torture has changed over the years, but the effect is the same. When they were younger, we endured nights of crib-escaping, then midnight refridgerator raids and late-night-wee-hour rampages. In recent years, the modus operandi is a loud frat party in Hart's room at around 5 am, followed by simultaneous bellowing and running around the house.

An exhaustive (no pun!) number of techniques have failed. When the din gets unbearable, I simply drag myself out of bed, round up the partyers and escort them back to their respective bedrooms. I can close my eyes for about ten more minutes, which is about the time it takes until the next break-out. Once we are within 15 minutes of my clock radio alarm, not that I need one, I just rouse myself and start the day.

This past week introduced an interesting twist. The morning rumpus schedule is unchanged, but since Jeff does not have school, he can return to bed for an hour or two once Hart leaves for summer school, and then be up for some more fun when Hart gets home at lunchtime.

This morning as I was blearily fixing breakfast, I said to Hart, "You know, if you ever want to give me a present, you could let me sleep until it is actually time to get up."

His reply: I never thought of that.

August 2, 2006

Fashion sense

It's scorching hot out, so we have been headed to our local community pool. One might think that being an "inner ring" suburb adjacent to a major city, some of that fashion-forwardness would creep north, but that is not the case.

Recently seen:

Eeny weeny teeny bikini on very pregnant woman. Diana Spencer could carry it off, being both very tall, not so pregnant and a princess.

Camouflage bikini, trimmed with pale pink piping. For jungle warfare in beribboned bushes?

Cliche´ black socks. Worn with white linen shorts, white printed wife-beater and brown loafers. To his credit, I think they were athletic socks.

Unfortunate tattoo. A belly-button starburst. What was she thinking . . . my flabby, middle-aged tummy looks goooooood?

Very high-cut two-piece suit. Unfortunate look on post-menopausal woman. The effect is the dreaded dinosaur leg, and a bustline three inches above the leg opening. The wearer looked like she was sitting down, even while standing up.

Women swimming with shorts on. We all hate our hips and thighs. Who are they kidding?

I embrace the diversity of our species in all their near-naked glory. By comparison, in my conservative Lands' End one-piece, I look great!

July 28, 2006

Mr. K

When Mr. K got out of the taxi and came to the door to speak to me, I knew there was trouble. His complaints were many: Hart was disrespectful; Hart had used bad words; Hart had threatened him. I listened carefully. I promised to speak to Hart and I pointed out that there was a reason that Hart attended a special school. More importantly, he was NOT TO RESPOND to provocative remarks, or in fact, respond to any remarks at all.

A few days later, the doorbell rang again. Hart had refused to sit in his seat and wear his seat belt. I could feel my blood rushing. "Mr. K, you cannot drive the cab unless Hart is safely in his seat. Please pull over immediately if this happens." Mr. K was not appeased. "But, I will be sitting there for hours!" I handed him a Post-It note, "If Hart is not sitting properly in the cab, you must immediately stop the car, phone me on my cell phone, and I will come and pick him up from you."

The assurance of my cell phone number worked, sort of. Mr. K would phone me, rattling off a litany of misbehaviors, I would cut him off, ask to speak to Hart, issue dire threats and then wait in the driveway to save Mr. K. the effort of getting out of the car to complain.

Then, one Friday, it was all over. My cell phone rang . . . Hart's social worker asked to me to come pick up Hart at school. Mr. K had arrived, taken a few choice expletives as Hart approached the cab, and simply turned around and driven off without a word, or a passenger. I could only feel some sense of relief as I headed towards school. Clearly, this was not working out.

En route, my phone rang. It was Mr. K! "Yes, I am sure it was very offensive." "No, I do not know why he does that." "Yes, I am sure you felt justified." I felt very tired and defeated. "Mr. K, Hart attends a special school. You understand that Hart is ill, don't you?" "THEN HE WILL TAKE A GUN AND KILL ME."

This is the kind of remark that parents of typical children will never ever hear. Sure, strangers feel free to weigh in with their fail-safe discipline techniques. Other children feel affronted by my kids' behavior. But this, from a cab driver hired and specially trained to transport special needs children to school? From a coach who refused to make any accommodation for Hart whatsoever? From Jeff's special education teacher who called me "a bored housewife who needs a hobby" at an official IEP meeting. From a principal who slammed the door on me when no one could locate my child when I arrived at the pick-up time?

Mr. K's exit sent me into a funk. Do the cab drivers, skating coaches, teachers, principals think they are letting me in on some secret? Believe me, I know how difficult Hart and Jeff are. In fact, I know better than anyone else in the entire world.

I would have wallowed in this pity party for myself, had I not come up with a little mental exercise that proved to be quite therapeutic. I made a list in two columns: zeroes and heroes. On one side, I listed the names of the Mr. Ks of the world. Not the thoughtless strangers, but the real culprits: people who should know better and still don't get it. Then I listed the heroes, not just the good teachers, doctors and therapists but professionals who have gone way beyond the call of duty. And the accidental heroes, ordinary children who have taken Hart or Jeff under their wing, caregivers who have shown extraordinary compassion and affection for our family and unstinting dedication.

Truthfully, the "zero" list is very long. Depressingly long. The hero list is much longer. To wit, a few examples:

Stephanie O'Connell: After a year of legal wrangling, Jeff transferred from public school to a specialized school for children with learning disabilities. Within a few months, the principal and dean informed me that Jeff's behavior was just too disruptive and he was on probation. Stephanie, Jeff's teacher, took matters into her own hands. She was determined to make her classroom work for Jeff. She lobbied successfully for additional services for him, an aide, occupational therapy, frequent breaks. It was she who opened the door to reading for Jeff by her creative approach. Years later, I asked her why she had gone to such great lengths for one of her pupils. "I loved him, I just loved him," she told me.

Kerry Murphy: Hart is a capable and dedicated figure skater, but a difficult and uncooperative student. Kerry always makes sure that there is an extra teacher or assistant in Hart's class and some special stickers or prizes to encourage him. When I ran into scheduling difficulties and considered moving Hart to another rink, Kerry said, "We want Hart in our program and I'll do what it takes to make it work for him."

Leah Okumura: Leah started babysitting for us occasionally when she was still in high school. She took care of the boys for seven years, until graduate school and marriage took her to Boston. Leah endured all manner of high-jinks, but she always came back. Her composure, her good sense, evident even at age seventeen, amazed and inspired me. One down side: she set the bar impossibly high for all other caregivers.

Leah and Jeff in Boston, August 2006

Charles Fox: Charlie does this for a living. He is an attorney specializing in educational issues for special needs children. Charlie has taken hysterical phone calls from me at all times of the day or night. He shepherded me through a long and protracted legal battle, and a few short, unprotrated ones. He has provided moral support and good counsel on issues large and small and he does so with good cheer and great wit.

Chris Grene and Ellen Sontag: Chris is Jeff's social worker at school, and Ellen is Hart's social worker and case manager. Chris has gone to extraordinary lengths to learn about Jeff's complex and varied difficulties. She is in frequent communication with Jeff's private therapist, Sandra; the two have put their heads together over the course of five years to develop creative solutions for Jeff. Chris is a tireless advocate.

Ellen has a caseload of 15 or 16 emotionally-troubled students, so I am amazed that she can meet with me every single week for an entire hour and make me feel like Hart and I are the most important and beloved people in the world to her.

Man walking dog somewhere in Arizona: Jeff rushed to hug a small dog, after (as he is trained to do) he asked if he could pet the dog. The dog owner asked me if Jeff had any "special challenges?" Good catch. I do not recall the rest of our conversation or anything about the dog, but that man's kindness and tact are remembered and appreciated.

So long, Mr. K. There are plenty of other heroes in the lives of disabled children and their parents. Thankfully.

July 27, 2006

Summer Journal 2006

June 26, 2006
I went to camp. I went in a tent and had marshmallows. Next morning I went to bingo and got some prizes.

June 27, 2006
yesterday I was bored. Because my brother was not here. He is at camp. He will be there for two weeks.

June 28, 2006
Yesterday I did one model of a roadster. next I panted my other model silver. Then I saw a thunderstorm I was not afraid.

June 29, 2006
Yesterday I went to the movies. I saw Jack Black the movie. liked it because it was funny.

June 30, 2006
Yesterday I had a nap because I was bored. Then I had dinner. Next I went to see Shani Davis. He is a olympic skater.

July 5, 2006
I went to the fireworks and I had fun. next I went to a parade in Chicago. Last I had a party at my dad's house.

July 6, 2006
Yesterday I was bored at home. So I went to play with Hart. We traded cars. Then we had dinner. We had Mexican.

July 7, 2006
I did "fast forward" at school. I made chocolate pancake. My favorite thing is to go home from school in a taxi.

July 10, 2006
I went to a fair. I listened to music. I was walking with mom. I had a hot dog.

July 11, 2006
I like to sleep instead of going to school I like to play with Hart when I don't have school.

July 12, 2006
I went outside. I set my trucks out and Mom totally smashed my metal dump truck and I had to throw it away. Then I went to the movies.

July 13, 2006
Me and mom and Hart went to the schools. They were closed. So we went home. At home we played with cars.

July 14, 2006
today I saw a movie. It was about soldiers. the soldiers fight a space creature.

July 18, 2006
I had some ice cream at home. I went to the pool and I went to the slide and got wet. Then I went home and played with Hart.

July 20, 2006
I finished my model car. Next I looked the other way to not see Hart's helicopter when it was done. Next I had ice cream at home.

July 21, 2006
I had a blast at home when Hart gave me the truck. Next I went to speed skating. We got oreo chocolate ice cream.

July 24, 2006
the best thing this weekend was going to the pool. next I went in Hart's bed to play. I was playing with cars.

July 26, 2006
today is my last day in computers. I am glad to not got to computer tomorrow. I am going to watch a movie tomorrow.

July 24, 2006

Mean people s**k!

Scene: Aldi grocery store, Monday, 11:38 am

Two 60ish women inadvertently go in the "out" door and pause to read the weekly circular posted on the window, effectively blocking the exit with their shopping cart. I pause and lean on my cart, waiting for them to notice me and move. An older man remarks to me, "You are one patient lady," and rolls his cart around me and tells the women to "Get the hell out of the way." The first woman snaps to attention and quickly clears off. The second one hollers after the retreating man, "You don't need to be so rude." Without even turning around, he gives her the finger. She screams back, "You dirty old man!"

Frankly, when it comes to flipping the bird, I prefer not be the flippee, the flipper or, especially, a witness to three senior citizens flipping each other off.

I haven't seen this much unwarranted meanness since the Reagan administration. Anyone remember LBJ's War on Poverty? Ronald Reagan's war on Welfare Mothers? No matter what one's political affiliation, it is a simple matter of fact that a Republican administration engenders meanness. Something about the GOP platform encourages every-good-man-for-himself mentality. If you have the misfortune of being poorer or slower than the rest of the pack, it must be your own damn fault.

I play online backgammon for relaxation, only it was not very relaxing until I turned off the "chat" feature. The overall tenor of the whole game is competitive, of course, but nasty competitive. I found out very quickly that with the ability to chat, opponents swear, curse and accuse cheating if I win, but swear, curse and mock me if I lose. The world IS going to hell if anonymous players talk trash over BACKGAMMON!

It does not seem tantamount to social chaos to go in the wrong door at the grocery store, although possibly a bit foolish. Could that guy not have said, "Excuse me?" Could the ladies have apologized for creating the bottleneck? Apparently not.

If the Clinton era was a time of random kindness and senseless acts of beauty, now is a time of random rudeness and senseless acts of cruelty.

July 23, 2006

Losing my mind

Maybe I really am losing my sanity. It could be happening so subtly and gradually that I am not aware of it. It's a sad side effect of being single: there is no other adult around to provide a reality check. No one shouts at me to "get a grip" anymore, whether I need it or not. I am so preoccupied with being a good, sensible "therapeutic" parent, that my sense of self is possibly gently ebbing away.

Occasionally, I have episodes where I hear myself speaking and I realize how unhinged and hysterical I must appear, but I cannot stop. No amount of internal screaming to "get a grip" seems to help.

A few months ago at Jeff's school play, I watched almost the entire show with my eyes fixed on one of the other kids who was slowing and methodically shredding a silk scarf . . . . my silk scarf, in fact, intended as part of Jeff's costume. No amount to sensible self-talk could dampen the rising anxiety I felt. I had to leave the auditorium.

Then today, our local block party. Every summer on a nice Sunday, traffic barricades appear on either the block to the south or the block to the north. I never pay much attention. I am invited, I suppose, the same way all the third graders in one class are invited to Bobby's birthday party. Invited, but not welcomed.

My impression of the block party's purpose is that adults move their lawn chairs from the lawn into the middle of the street and kids ride their bikes maniacally down the middle of the road, instead of near the curb. The other entertainment is a visit from a local fire engine.

This morning, I noticed that our entire street was blocked off with saw horses, three blocks, including all the alleys and side streets. My house happens to be dead center and unlike previous years, there was no obvious egress either one block up or down. I simply moved one of the side street barricades to drive out. My misfortune was taking what I thought would be a less intrusive route back home three hours later.

Without realizing it, I had driven up to a circle of occupied lawn chairs placed dead center in the street. I offered to turn around and go another way. I asked if there was a route the angry mob preferred. I explained that I was a neighbor, too, and in fact a resident of this very block, but the damage was done. Short of turning back time and parking on a side street, there was nothing for it, but to bear the neighborly swearing and threats. Pretty harrowing.

Was it really distressing enough to cause me to cry? I have lived here seventeen years, and never had reason to exchange words with anyone. Without Jeff in the back seat, maybe it would not have been so humiliating. With another adult living here, maybe I wouldn't feel so vulnerable.

The neighbors know where I live, they know my car. I am a single woman living with two young children and I clearly need to get a grip. In the meantime, I'll have to leave my house only under cover of darkness.