Tag Archives: Family

My Mother Was Hot Stuff

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My mom & I circa 1970.

My mom was hot stuff when I was little.

She was pretty and had straight teeth.

She wore pink hoop earrings and wore floppy hats.

She did cartwheels with the girls who lived in the white house across the street.

My mother is in nearly all of my earliest childhood memories. She encouraged me to paint, explore calligraphy, and use pipe cleaners to make frogs and ladybugs. She loved when I sang and danced and rode horses and did backflips off the diving board. 

When I was sick, my mother brought the black-and-white television into my bedroom along with a little bell, which she told me to ring if I needed anything. On those miserable days, I watched My Three Sons and The Don Ho Show until my mother emerged with green medicine and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served on a swirly green and blue plastic tray.

One day, I didn’t want to be my mother’s twin anymore.

Pink and yellow were not my colors.

I remember shouting and slamming doors: the tears.

I saw my mother throw her hands up, exhausted, not knowing what else to do.

I felt powerful then. Driving her to pain and chaos was fun.

Now that I have a teenager in the house, I want to tell my mother, I’m sorry. Because I see how precious it is, that time when our children are young. And what a gift it is, to let a mother hold on to the little things for another day, another year.

Because it hurts when our children reject our cuddles.

Because it was cruel to play with her heart.

Even when I didn’t give her any credit, my mother has remained steadfast, guiding me with an invisible hand.

She still is.

I suspect she always will be.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Hey mom, you have two good hands. And from the looks of this photo, you knew how to style your own hair. Do you think you could have done something with mine? Seriously. Also, if you still have that hat, can I have borrow it? xoxoRASJ

Tell me something you remember about your mother.

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The Beauty of a Grandmother

“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ~Franz Kafka

Grandma Muriel holds me during the winter of 1980.

Keeping warm during the winter of 1980.

My Grandma Muriel was fabulous.

She was.

Fiery, artistic and independent, my Grandma Muriel worked outside the home – an unusual arrangement for a woman during the 1950s. But she was a decorator who needed to make things beautiful. She was a crafty critter, forever knitting and beading. She transformed umbrella stands and drab pieces of office furniture into a pieces of art with gallons of Mod-Podge and photographs of daffodils and tulips.

She loved a good party, loved to be the center of attention. Being sexy was important to her. Looking good was important to her. After she lost both breasts to cancer, she spent hours primping in the mirror, making sure her clothes laid just so, that her wigs and eye-lashes curled perfectly.

She liked to be prepared for events that might happen. “You never know when there might be a party,” she’d say.

My grandma couldn’t walk into a store and simply buy one item; she bought in quantity. Part of this may have been due to the fact that she and my grandfather were in hotel and restaurant supply, so they were used to buying in bulk, but her habit extended beyond that. In her basement storehouse, hundreds of napkins were stacked alongside, plastic plates, cups and forks. The bathroom closets shelved tens of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and dozens of bottles of Milk of Magnesia. Her kitchen pantry was always bursting with canned goods.

As a teenager, when I visited my grandparents during summer vacations, she took me shopping. “When you find something you love, buy one in every color,” she advised on more than one occasion.

My mother says it was difficult growing up with my grandmother. That my Grandma Muriel couldn’t get through a day without a glass of something or other. That she was depressed, narcissistic and unsympathetic.

But the grandmother I knew played games with me and helped me complete complicated crossword puzzles. The grandmother I knew indulged me, maybe even spoiled me. If my parents said, You can’t have those jeans, Grandma Muriel bought them for me.

She took me to ride horses. Leaning up against the other side of a broken-down fence, her thinning hair in skinny ponytails, she grinned wildly as I cantered and trotted and jumped.

Together, we visited flea markets. Under dark pavilions, we inspected the offerings. She taught me how to bargain, to name my price and be ready to walk away from whatever item I thought I wanted.

I stood in tall grass beside my grandmother, each of us wearing boots, quietly painting what we saw: she at a real easel, me on an oversized clipboard. Later, I squatted beside her in her magnificent garden, pinching Japanese beetles between our gloved fingers.

On days where the weather didn’t lend itself to outside endeavors, Grandma Muriel set me up with an old typewriter and told me to write. Sitting on her living room carpet, I tapped out stories. At night, she carried a smooth black bowl of fruit upstairs to my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed. As I bit into a juicy black plum, my grandmother read the words I had written that day, and nodded her head. She told me I had promise, and I believed her.

The Grandma Muriel I knew was filled with joy, positive and affirming.

I suppose I pleased her.

Maybe by the time grandchildren arrived, she had relaxed, figured out what is important in life.

Or maybe she was self-medicating with alcohol and pills, as my mother suggests. I don’t know. It is not impossible for me to imagine my grandmother as difficult, opinionated and judgmental. I’m sure she was all that, too.

Just not with me.

My Grandma Muriel passed away in August 1982. Over thirty years later, I still think of her every day. She was the embodiment of beauty.

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This piece in running in conjunction with other writers who are commemorating August McLaughlin’s 2nd annual Beauty of a Woman (BOAW) celebration. Check out the line-up over at her place.

Not a Tale for Children

Recently, I had to make a decision about whether or not to call Child Protective Services. The boy involved is a smart boy. He is not a troublemaker. The people who needed to be reported were the boy’s parents who left him, alone, without any organized adult supervision for several days. In the end, I decided not to do it, but I have fretted over this decision every day since. This is my way of working it out a little.

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Not a Tale for Children

His face is not a face. It is an onion to be peeled, a puzzle to be pieced together. His pain is so deep under the surface even he cannot find the center, the source. He remembers very little, but he recalls two sets of hands. The woman’s hands first: long, slender fingers pointing to her chest, and a heart beating there. These hands lifted him when he was tired and could walk no further; these hands ruffled his locks even when he hadn’t bathed; these hands felt like sunshine warming his knee.

The other hands were different. Those hands had fingernails sharpened to claws. Those hands had scarred knuckles. Those hands smelled metallic and gripped a gun with a feeling that he imagines is something close to love. He remembers bruises and fists and, finally, he remembers no hands at all.

He remembers the smell of grass vaguely, but then he is not sure. Maybe he is recalling warm bread with apricot jam, or the scent behind a baby’s knees, or the memory of a thick yellow comforter on a soft bed. A real bed. A place to rest a body or a head.

He remembers he used to have wings, feathers that extended from the center of his back, in the place where his shoulder blades met. His wings were eggshell-colored and silky, too — of this he is certain.

He remembers the day his wings caught fire.

It was the twenty-seventh day after they noticed the wind had stopped moving across the land. Twenty-seven days since the last orange butterfly visited the blue flowers that puffed out purple tongues. On that day, he felt a fist of fire cracking its way up his back and then his wings — which he had always been taught to believe could fly him away from the cracking cement and the muffled rumbling in the distance, the rubble — his beautiful wings turned brown and curled into wispy tendrils of dust.

It had not been a slow burning. His wings exploded into flame and the air around him turned brown and green. He remembers the smell of burning flesh.

Because he was ashamed of his loss, he hid for five days, coming out only at night to scavenge amidst the wreckage, searching for marshmallows and sunflower seeds and bits of cheese. After a while, he forgot what he was hiding for and emerged, small and pigeon-toed. Amazingly, no-one seemed to notice that his wings were gone. Tall, crooked shadows curved over his tiny frame and then rushed past, leaving him questioning if he had ever had them in the first place.

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The Day The Last Baby Tooth Fell Out

mouth

My son didn’t lose his teeth.

Nearly all of Tech’s chompers came in all “fakakta,” a Yiddish word meaning completely crazy. They just never got wiggly, so each one needed to be pulled by the dentist.

It seemed like such a chore. Why couldn’t my son just loose his teeth the way other children did? Swallow them accidentally while eating cake or donuts? Why did everything have to be such a production?

I always anticipated a fight on the way to the dentist’s chair. And yet, Tech never complained. Sitting on hard black waiting room chairs, he wasn’t nervous. Not even the first time. He just waited for his name to be called, and after the first time, he was a pro. He knew there would be a shot of Novocain, followed by numbness, followed by pressure. But he had faith in the adults around him. And he always appeared, chewing on a wad of bloody gauze, to hand me a tiny plastic container that held his tooth, or – in one instance – four teeth.

Last Friday, Tech informed me that he had a loose tooth. I didn’t think much of it; I figured eventually I’d call the dentist and make an appointment to have it extracted.

But that night, Tech took one bite into a slice of pizza and spat his mouthful of half-chewed food onto his plate and started mining. It only took a moment for him to find the tiny sauce-covered nugget.

That's it. The last one.

That’s it. The last one.

Holding it in his hands, Tech slurred his words. “Dat’s la lass wun.”

And then I realized what he was saying.

My son had just lost his last baby tooth.

I stopped chewing and looked across the table at my husband.

TechSupport is our only child. At thirteen years old, he is in no hurry to grow up. He tells us stories of classmates who have girlfriends or boyfriends, kids who drink and smoke after school or on weekends at parties he doesn’t attend. He isn’t interested in any of this at the moment. He has only just recently become a little teenagerishy.

And while he may not realize it, at thirteen years old, my son has crossed over. Lately, it feels like he is more on the grown up side of things than on the boy side. He’s tall. And with his longer hair, he looks older than he is – especially when he stands next to some of his friends who are shorter and stubbier than he is.

The Tooth Fairy has always left a little to be desired on our house. Tech figured out I was The Fairy at age 7, when his $2 bill came accompanied by a note typed in my favorite font. When questioned, I could not deny it. He had the evidence. A common-sense kind of guy, Tech has never been interested in magic — except to figure out how the tricks really worked.

That Friday night, after the dishes were done, I found my purse and tried to give my son a few bucks.

He shook his head, refusing. He’d seen the news by then. And even though the story was just unfolding, I think he felt the weight of what had happened in Connecticut.

I moved closer to him. We stand eye to eye these days, and I was surprised to see that night his eyes were light brown, the color of cream soda. I pressed a few single dollar bills against his chest. “It’s the last one! And it fell out all by itself.”

“It just knew to stop holding on.” Tech shrugged. “Kind of like you need to stop holding on, Mom.”

I reached out a hand to touch Tech’s shoulder, but he is squirmy these days, and he moved away. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like being touched.

“Will you just put my tooth in with the others?” he asked.

I raised an eyebrow. How did he know about the purple box in the corner of my husband’s closet?

“Dad showed me,” Tech answered, reading my mind. “I used to think it was weird that you guys kept my teeth. But now… I get it.”

I know it's a little creepy, but...

I know it’s a little creepy, but…

I walked upstairs and sat on the floor inside the quiet closet. As I removed the top to the old blue shoebox, I was surprised by the oddities the box held: an old watch, an ancient skull (a gift given from my father-in-law to my husband, before he went off to medical school), and the purple jewelry box with the psychedelic rectangular pattern on the cover. I opened the purple clamshell and plopped the last of Tech’s baby teeth inside before snapping it shut.

I know that most people do not save teeth. I know plenty of people who think saving teeth is pretty disgusting. I suppose I saved Tech’s teeth because the wonky, misshapen bits are little perfectly-imperfect pieces-parts of a person I love, something that I can hold in my hands. I suppose, one day, those little nubs will serve as a reminder of a simpler, sweeter time: a time when my boy wanted cuddles and Goldfish crackers and not much else.

I shook the purple box.

It sounded like diamonds rattling around in there.

And then I thought about all those kids from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I thought of their teeth.

I know it’s weird, but grief isn’t logical.

I thought of all those baby teeth that hadn’t yet fallen out.

Of all those permanent teeth that hadn’t yet come in.

How nothing is permanent.

How everything is breakable.

And I wept, alone in the closet.

Because the sky isn’t up there; it is between us.

I have never been a hovercraft parent, but right now, I’m holding on like one of my son’s stubborn teeth: not ready to let go.

What personal mementos of your children are most precious to you?

tweet me @rasjacobson

I’m unplugging until December 27th, but I want to wish those of you who celebrate a Merry Christmas. And to everyone else, I hope you enjoy the time off with family and friends. Let’s get ready to ring in 2013.

Make a Wish: It’s 12:12 on 12-12-12!

Jacobson.Bar.Mitzvah.-02407

Dad & me, dancing at my son’s bar mitzvah!

My father is 75 today!

My arithmetic-loving son wants permission to get out of class to call his arithmetic-loving grandfather to wish him a happy birthday at 12:12 PM today. You know, because he is missing out right now on account of having to go to sleep.

“Stuff like this only happens to certain people!” Tech reminded me. “You have to recognize it!”

Turns out TechSupport is right.

December, 12, 2012 or 12-12-12 will be the last date of its kind – when all three numericals in a date are the same – until January, 1, 2101. That’s 88 years from now.

However, there is a bit of a dark cloud looming over my father’s big celebration. You know, the thing about the world ending in 9 days — on December 21, 2012? We have all heard this prediction by now, yes?

It occurred to me that the usual gift I give my dad might not be the best choice this year. See, I usually make my father a calendar each December featuring photographs of family members. But if my dad only has 9 days to enjoy his present, I figured, what’s the point?

I started brainstorming cheap gifts other options that might be good to give my father, assuming the world is going to end in a little over a week.

Here’s what I have come up with:

51. Fruit From Harry & David. Because nothing says “I love you” like Royal Riviera Pears. I’m pretty sure my father could polish off a box of 9 pears in 9 days. On second thought, maybe I’ll just spring for the box of 6. Dad isn’t big on wasting things.

2. Tickets to a Show. Gotta tell ya. There isn’t much going on in Syracuse in the way of entertainment right now. But I think my dad would enjoy getting jiggy to some Gaelic music. He might love Enter the Haggis, scheduled to perform at the Westcott Theater a few days before things get ugly.

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Don’t think about your arteries. Just eat me.

3. A Gift Card to A Local Deli & Ice Cream Shoppe. My father stopped eating red meat and dairy over 20 years ago when he learned he had high cholesterol. Knowing he has just 9 days left, I’d bring my dad to a great deli and make start with a toasted sesame bagel loaded with twice the cream cheese. I’d encourage him to stick around for a hot corned beef sandwich with mustard for lunch. If he is a good boy and polishes off his hot pastrami & brisket and his knish, I’d send him to Carvel for a brownie sundae. Surely, this is not the time to be heart smart. Or kosher.

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Call me crazy, but I think my dad would dig this doll.

4. Sex Toys. With only a few days left to live, why hold back? I’m thinking it’s time for my dad to pull out the silk scarves and try at least five of the Fifty Shades with my mother. You know, if they aren’t already doing that.

mariuana165. Drugs. My father has never inhaled. With only a few days left on the planet, I would get him a baggy filled with green sticky bud, rustle up some magic mushrooms, maybe haul out that betel nut I’ve been saving for a rainy day, and give it to my father to share with my mother. What’s to lose? Those two crazy kids can stare at their hands for hours. They can ride unicorns down the rainbow or chat with imaginary parrots. Hell, they can take naked pictures of themselves rubbing food onto the green velvet wallpaper that’s been hanging in the hall since 1963. If they ration carefully, they can enjoy themselves for 9 days straight and never come down.

Of course, I don’t really believe the world is going to end on December 21st.

That’s why it is now necessary to smother my father in a some genuine daughter-love.

  • Thanks for coming to all my gymnastics meets and dance recitals, Dad. I felt your love radiating from the stands.
  • Thanks him for poking your pointer finger into the middle of my back. You definitely trained me to stand up straight.
  • Thanks for yelling at me that time I threw away the pennies. You were right. It was an ungrateful thing to do, and small change really does add up.
  • Remember the time that you sat me on a raft in the Atlantic Ocean, and I was scared, and you promised you wouldn’t let go… and you didn’t. Thanks for teaching me about trust. I know you do not make idle promises.
  • I need you to know that I could listen to you talk about anything for hours. That you set the standard against which I measure every man. That you taught me about learning from doing. About finishing what I start, whether the outcome is good or bad.
  • About standing by one’s partner, when everything is blue skies and cotton candy – but also when the toilet is over-flowing and there is poop everywhere you turn.

Oh, I also need to tell my dad that when I saw him on Saturday, I removed a particular object from his desk. The desk that he is careful to keep just so. Unfortunately, I cannot tell him which item I took or where I put it.

At first, he will freak out, but eventually he will realize that I am joking.

Like I’m joking about these crappy gifts.

We got my dad something cool, and – G-d willing — he will be able to enjoy it as he watches the next Syracuse basketball game, scheduled for December 27th.

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Happy birthday, Dad.

And congratulations on making it to ¾ of a century.

Whatever you are doing, please keep doing it.

PS: By the way, that thing we got you? That’s your Hanukkah present, too. No calendar this year. You know, just in case. So don’t hold your breath.

What gift would you recommend giving to someone whose special day falls between now and Armageddon?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

Gratitude: It Is Decided

I am beyond grateful today.

When I asked people to help me to design a new header for this blog, I didn’t think anyone would do it.

As usual, I have been surprised by this wonderful writing community.

I communicated with all of the people who submitted entries to my contest, each of whom insisted that if I wanted to use the header that he or she designed that I could simply use it.

Steve from Brown Road Chronicles told me he didn’t even know there was a prize involved when he made the header in the first place and suggested that I make a donation to our local food pantry. Val Erde from Arty Old Bird thought that making a donation sounded like a great idea, as did Jules, who told me to hold onto her header and use it whenever I want. The two other bloggers insisted they remain anonymous, but agreed with everyone else.

So I made my decision.

If you look up, you will see my new header.

I love it.

And, shockingly, I love that I am not wearing my hat.

Who’da thunk it?

After Thanksgiving, I will make a donation at my local food pantry in recognition of all the participating bloggers’ names.

Even the anonymous ones.

In a few hours, my house will be filled with family. My parents are traveling to be with us. They will find a cozy place on the couch and plant themselves there. My nephews will talk about medical school and college, and I will cling to my eldest niece, knowing she will be heading somewhere fabulous in the Fall.

I will look at my son and his younger cousin, my niece, and feel a sense of awe. Too soon, they — like their older cousins — will leave home. My hope is that everyone comes back once in a while to share in this family tradition. In a few hours, while the men shout about how the damn TV remote isn’t working (because our TV remote totally sucks), I will be drowning in love and potato peels.

I am thrilled to host this year’s feast, which means Hubby and I are offering our house, preparing the table, making fifteen pounds of mashed potatoes, a bunch of side dishes, and a dessert or two.

Because like Jenny Hansen and Susie Lindau, I have major turkey anxiety.

I would rather set the table and wash all the dishes than be responsible for the bird.

There are the tables, ready to go.

May we all eat well and remember the many blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

I feel so fortunate right now. Truly, I wish I had long enough arms to give everyone in real life and this blogosphere a big hug.

With much gratitude,

xoxoRASJ

Celebrating 13

Tech’s 13th b’day cake • Yup, Kit-Kats & M&Ms & chocolate cake!

It should have been a day for parades and singing and whooping it up and flowers.

I was sure there would be balloons.

Instead there was a vacuum extractor.

It doesn’t surprise me that my son is as cautious as he is. His introduction to the world was of rough and tumble handling, of being ripped away, and I believe that it left its mark on him – though he knows none of the details.

In a hazy dream, I saw blood fill one of those pink plastic hospital basins and wondered: Whose blood could that be?

I am told that my son stopped breathing five times after he was born.

I think he innately senses that life is fragile, unpredictable and doesn’t always turn out as planned.

It was not in the birth plan for my uterus not to contract.

{Who knew I had a feisty uterus?}

It was not in the birth plan to lose so much blood. It was not in the birth plan to be rushed to away for an emergency hysterectomy.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t have a birth plan.

But I had plans.

I’d planned to go home with my newborn and revel in his newness. I’d planned to be up and around within 24 hours. I’d planned for people to marvel at us in the grocery store: “Up and around already?” they’d say.

I’d planned long, lazy, late summer walks with our fancy-schmancy new stroller. I’d planned to bring my son outside and show him the world, let him feel the August sun on his cheeks.

On my eighth day in the hospital, my OB-GYN stood beside my hospital bed.

And while a moyel read blessings and performed my son’s circumcision, my doctor sobbed.

What is it?” I asked. “You must have seen sixty-five bazillion of these.”

My doctor wiped her eyes and her mascara smeared over her nose.

I don’t know why I remember this, but I do.

“There was a point where I thought I was going to lose you both. I’m so happy you’re leaving the hospital as a family.”

And we did leave the hospital as a family.

{And we figured out how to get the $@%&! bucket in $@%&! carseat.}

And the sun went down and it came up again.

And thirteen years later, my husband and I have this fabulous son.

And I know it sounds all braggy and everything but he is incredibly smart, so we like to tease him how much smarter he might have been if he hadn’t lost all those brain cells in the NICU.

We are fortunate to be able to laugh about these things.

Because it could have ended in another, completely devastating way.

And now, as my ever-lengthening teenager heads out each morning, he still gives me a smooch — even in front of his friends.

He still thinks I’m cool.

{Sometimes.}

He still twirls my hair and tells me I’m pretty and that he’s glad I’m his mom.

{Right before he falls asleep.}

Who could ask for more?

I believe we will keep him.

Tonight he will eat something sweet.

We will push him up against the measuring door to see how much he has grown.

You know, on the outside.

People say 13 is an unlucky number.

But I feel so dang lucky.

And balloons or not, we celebrate his life every day.

Because why wouldn’t we?

What was the last thing you celebrated? Anyone else have a feisty uterus? Or a tough delivery?

The Happy Hora

Hubby and I, up on the chairs in 1995. Do you not love my shoes?

In 1995, when my husband and I married, I remember dancing to the hora. At some point, someone brought out two chairs. As the traditional music played, we sat down as friends and family members held the legs of our chairs and raised us gently into the air, turned us in circles, together, my new husband and me. I remember staring at my husband from my chair. Noticing his wedding ring glinting on his finger, how foreign it looked.

Over the last several years, I’ve been to a lot more bar and bat mitzvahs than weddings. I’ve danced the hora at least nineteen-hundred forty-six bazillion times. To the uninitiated, the hora is a dance where everybody forms a circle and holds hands. You are supposed to step forward toward the right with the left foot, then follow with the right foot. The left foot is then supposed to be brought back, followed by the right foot. In my experience, almost no one dares to do the crisscross thing with their legs because dance floors are generally jammed so everyone mostly just goes around in circles.

Tech in the air!

At bar and bat mitzvahs, it is customary to raise the honoree, and sometimes his or her family members, on a chair during the hora.

The last time I sat in the chair was nearly seventeen years ago, when my husband and I were married.

Let me tell you something: the wedding hora is different from the b’nai mitzvah hora.

First of all, by definition, there are waaaaay more kids at a bar mitzvah than there usually are at a wedding.

I don’t think any of our friends had kids when we married so our wedding hora was pretty sedate.

During certain parts of the hora at my son’s bar mitzvah, I felt like I was in a mosh pit. All those circles going in all those directions. And then all that going in and going out. I was digging our DJ’s version of Hava Nagillah and feeling pleased that I was managing to move so easily in my four-inch heels when some kid gave me a pretty good elbow to the chin.

Whatever.

I wasn’t going to let a blow to the face ruin my night. In fact, I barely felt it.

As the mother of an only child, I knew I needed to pay attention. After all, my husband and I recognized this would be our one chance to experience everything. I watched friends pull a cushioned chair onto the dance floor. Surrounded by cheering friends and family members, Tech went first and made it look easy. He laughed and smiled as the strongest men in the room bounced him around in a circle.

“Hold on, Mom!” Tech warned as we traded places.

Holy shizzlesticks.

I now understand why some friends had warned me before the fact:

I don’t know who was holding the legs of my chair but who put all the tall guys on one side and all the short guys on the other? I was positively crooked. At one point, I bounced so high off my seat, I thought I was going to have an emergency landing.

Listen, I have no fear of being lifted by people who are scampered. I just wasn’t prepared for the “let’s-try-to-eject-the-momma-from-the-chair” thing that was happening beneath me.

This video is every Jewish mother’s nightmare:

Someone snapped this picture and posted it on Facebook.

Waiting for the ride to be over.

Someone asked me: “What were you thinking about while you were up there?”

You wanna know know what I was thinking?

That I needed to keep my legs together like two tightly twisted vines.

Because there would be no “junk” showing at my son’s bar mitzvah.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

That night, I couldn’t stop smiling.

I am pretty sure I was radiating something close to pure joy.

All day, my son amazed me with his comport, his flexibility, and composure; I could have danced all night.

And once I got off that chair, I did.

What is the happiest dance you ever remember doing?

6 Lessons From A Lemonade Stand: A Guest Post by Diana Sabloff

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This piece is special because it is written by my cousin, Diana Sabloff. If you ask me, nothing screams summer like an end-of-the-driveway lemonade stand. In fact, we have an unspoken rule in our family that we must never drive past a homemade lemonade stand that is 100% maintained by kids. If parents are there, we can ease on down the road, but if I see kids out there in the world, with banners and pitchers, wearing grins on their faces and hearts on their sleeves… well, if you ask me, it’s positively un-American to zoom by. Even if the lemonade is crappy, the idea is awesome: gotta love those little entrepreneurs.

And Diana’s hot day at the garage sale/lemonade stand gleaned many lessons. Thanks, Diana, for being a great guest blogger!

• • •

Lessons From a Lemonade Stand

I was selfish. I wanted my garage back. Or at least a path through it. It had been packed from the cement floor to the ceiling rafters with boxes-o-stuff for a long time, but when I couldn’t get to the tools and my kids couldn’t get to their toy box, I knew the time had come.

Moving the boxes from out of the garage and onto the driveway was like transferring Mount Everest one pebble at a time.

By 8 am, I was filthy and sweaty.

Like really sweaty.

And hot.

And not just a little hot.

We live in the northeast, so I had worried about rain. It had never occurred to me that the day of our yard sale would turn out to be a triple-digit record breaker. Truly, it was a most awful trifecta: hazy, hot and humid.

My stepson suggested the kids set up a lemonade stand, and we all thought that was a brilliant idea.

• Lemonade mixed? Check.
• Plastic cups? Check.
• Sign made? Check.
• Table set up? Check.

image from Yellow Sky Photography from flickr.com

And then the people started coming.

Who knew our collective junk was treasure in disguise?

And then, right as I was trying to sell a green leathery-vinyl recliner, my 6-year old daughter came marching up the driveway.

I quit! she yelled.

I smiled at the potential buyer who was ready to shell out $5 bucks for the recliner and asked my daughter what was wrong. She said that her father and brother weren’t being fair; they wanted to raise the price of the lemonade from 25-cents to 50-cents, and she didn’t want to.

I quickly sealed the deal for the chair and, feeling pretty proud of myself, I figured I could negotiate a truce between the munchkins.

I went down to talk to Boy Munchkin, who informed me that 25-cents was too cheap and he could make twice as much money selling it for 50-cents. (When did he become Alex P Keaton?). My husband had agreed and already put up the new sign. My daughter insisted that was too much, and held up the bag of money they had already made.

I suddenly felt very inadequate with my $5 sale.

I said 25-cents seemed fair. My daughter beamed while my son spun on his heel and said he was quitting.

Realizing a truce was futile, I went in the house, got a second pitcher of lemonade, a second poster board, and a second table.

I announced that the partnership was being dissolved, and they each were responsible for selling their own lemonade, and the profits up until that point would be split 50-50, unless someone walked away, in which case the person who kept working would keep all the money.

Lesson #1: Go into business with family members at your own risk.

Boy Munchkin displayed remarkable business sense for an 8-year old: “What price is she selling at?”

Girl Munchkin was pleased with the new arrangement. She put on her biggest smile and shouted: “GETCHER LEMONADE HERE: 25-CENTS!”

Boy Munchkin shouted, “That’s not fair! No one will buy from me if they can get it from her for 25-cents!”

He stormed off after I helpfully tried to explain the workings of a free market.

Lesson #2: Be aware of your price point — and your competitor’s.

The woman who bought the chair offered to buy a cup of lemonade from Munchkinette – for 50-cents. How nice, I thought. Because the lemonade pitcher was heavy, I helped my daughter to pour.

“Mom!” my daughter shrieked, “That’s too much! Stop! You should only fill it half-way!”

Baffled, I asked, “Why should the cup only be filled half-way? Especially when this nice lady is hot and paying double for your lemonade?”

Munchkinette replied, “Because half is all she needs!”

The nice lady gave me the “Oh-I’m-really-sorry-and-I–really-need-to-leave” look. She drank her ½ cup and threw her empty into the garbage can. Munchkinette looked up at me defiantly and said, “See, I told you. Half is all they need.”

Lesson #3: Find your differentiation strategy, and make it work.

As high noon approached, deals were being made in every corner of our yard. The kids went inside for a break, leaving their older brother and his girlfriend in charge of the lemonade stands.

During this time, not one glass of lemonade was sold.

Not. One. Drop.

Lesson #4: Be careful whom you trust to run your business so they don’t run it into the ground.

After lunch, Munchkin decided to employ a new tactic for selling lemonade. He offered delivery for an extra 50-cents. His older brother asked for a cup to be delivered to the front lawn. After 10 minutes, the lemonade never arrived, so my older son bought from Munchkinette.

Lesson #5: Check your distribution channel to make sure deliveries come on time. Or else you’ll lose business to your competitors.

Undeterred, Munchkin modified his tactics and employed his older brother to deliver the lemonade to shoppers up and down the driveway and to the front lawn. This lasted under 10 minutes, as my stepson got a bite on some of his items and that were for sale and disappeared. Munchkin pulled a Trump and fired his brother for failure to perform the requisite duties as an employee.

Lesson #6: It’s hard to find good help.

At 4 pm, we packed it in. Leftover items were bagged and ready for donation.

We tallied the profits and admired the beautiful, empty space in the garage!

Amazingly, the kids’ lemonade stand netted $40, one quarter at a time!

Munchkinette looked over at her brother who was still upset about forfeiting all the partnership proceeds when he had stopped working earlier in the day and immediately decided to give him all their partnership money, saying she just wanted to keep what she made on her own.

Munchkin hugged his sister, and they both walked away — together, happily — with about $20 in coins.

Priceless.

What’s the best item you ever found (or unloaded) at a garage sale? What have you learned from garage sales? And what are your policies about lemonade stands?

A Note to My Father on His 74th Birthday

Dear Dad:

It’s 12:25 am, so you are probably sitting at the kitchen table having your late-night snack.

And while could probably call, I didn’t want to wake up mom.

So I had to write you a quick note because I didn’t want you to think I forgot your birthday.

Because I didn’t.

But by the time I can talk to you tomorrow, it will be late afternoon, so I just wanted to tell you a few things.

Last week, I went out to buy you a gift.

I bought you a Syracuse University stadium blanket.

You know, the kind of thing that you can cozy up under when you watch SU sports on television.

I talked to mom and she said that you have many blankets and that it would be a waste.

So I returned it.

Because I know she is right.

You wouldn’t really want a blanket.

Then mom suggested that I buy you sweatpants.

She told me your size and a brand name and even where to go.

And I thought about it, but seriously… sweatpants?

I couldn’t do it, Dad.

We need a new picture!

You mean more to me than sweatpants.

Even if you can really use them.

Because you can buy your own sweatpants. And every time I try to buy you pants, you end up having to return them for a different color or size or style, so what’s the point?

And anyway I know that what you really want is for me to be with you on your birthday.

To cozy up with you under one of your many warm blankets, probably on the couch in the sunroom.

To sit at the kitchen table and share a tangerine and a few dozen handfuls of peanuts.

To talk about politics or do a crossword puzzle until we finish it.

Even if that means staying up way past midnight.

But I can’t be there, Dad.

I just wanted you to know that I know what you want.

You want your family.

Your children and your grand-children.

I will talk to you later, okay?

xoxo

Your only daughter

How do you show you love and appreciate someone when you can’t be near them?