• We meet every month or two.  We sit around a long table, sometimes in a dark-paneled room in the church downtown where my temple is located, sometimes in a brightly lit conference room in a neighborhood cultural center.  We are middle-aged, Reform Jews.  We are young, ritually observant, Turkish Muslims.  We kvell over babies and share baked treats.  Our conversations focus on favorite passages from our respective books of scripture, the role music plays in our worship services, the “bad women” in our faith traditions, and so on.  We volunteer a few times a year at a food bank or soup kitchen.  We call ourselves “Sisters in Spirit.”

    Our topic this past Sunday was Jewish and Muslim doctrine concerning the environment. Several Sisters had prepared to lead the discussion.  The ten of us never got anywhere near Muslim and Jewish perspectives on animal rights or ecological justice.

    In the wake of the Daesh attacks in Paris, at services and over email, we Jewish Sisters had been worrying about our Muslim Sisters.  At services and over email, we wondered if it would OK to open the meeting by asking “Are you OK?”  We didn’t want to put anyone on the spot. We needn’t have worried.  One after another, our Muslim Sisters told stories of verbal abuse and feelings ranging from isolation to fear.

    One Sister — dark, sweeping eyebrows punctuating a face encircled by a satiny, fuchsia head scarf — described sitting outside in the sun, eating lunch at a Whole Foods market Monday after the Paris attacks.  A man approached her.  He called her an “Arab,” then berated her loudly for covering her head and allying herself with terrorists.  His words, though offensive, didn’t really bother her, she said, since the man seemed “kinda crazy.”  It broke her heart, meanwhile, that her fellow sun seekers heard the words but said and did nothing.  She worried that she’ll be attacked if she drives badly or jaywalks.  She’d heard stories from other women in headscarves being shoved towards oncoming T trains.

    Another Sister — sparkly eyes behind rimless glasses, creamy scarf surrounding a delicate face — fed a toddler perched on her lap.  On Tuesday after the Paris attacks, she went to the weekly parent support group she’s been attending  for more than two years.  She is the only Muslim in the group.  She spoke at the beginning of the meeting, apologizing on behalf of all Muslims everywhere for the actions of a handful of terrorists, explaining that violence in the name of God has no part of the religion she practices.  She wanted someone to tell her that her apology was unnecessary.  She hoped someone might say that they all already knew this about her. But no one said a word. Worse, no one met her gaze.

    A third in the group spoke.  New to Boston and to our group, my Sister — a tall woman whose patterned scarf was pinned expertly to frame her even-featured face — talked about enrolling her daughter in first grade. The classroom teacher in her daughter’s public school is Jewish. She felt the teacher had been reluctant to engage with her, perhaps because of her head scarf. She worried about what this might mean for her daughter’s experiences in the class.  At back to school night, the teacher explained to parents that there would be no birthday celebrations to protect students with food allergies. The teacher said, as a funny aside, that, of course, she really does miss cupcakes.  So, my Sister baked.  She packed one cupcake in a Ziplock bag and wrote a note.  She had heard the teacher missing cupcakes, so she wanted to give her one. No nuts.  The teacher, she said, seemed more comfortable thereafter, looking her in the eye, not “in the head scarf.

    None of these women is from Syria.  None is a refugee.  All are struggling to find ways to connect with Americans who seem primed to view them as scary, other.

    As our conversation continued, we wondered how to identify strategies to diffuse tension and increase acceptance. How to find opportunities to forge common bonds? How to lay the groundwork for hard conversations? How to help one another ask what seem at first to be hard questions but are hard only because they have not  yet been asked? Nothing we came up with was as effective, we decided, as the cupcake, which helped a teacher view a woman in a head scarf as a mother, a parent, and a person.

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  • Excavating in the basement storage area this week, I unearthed “Lily, Max + Sam’s Day by Day Book, Volume I” (Mark’s titling), a.k.a. “The Book of Life” (my titling).  Mark and I began recording in the book on October 22, 1992, when we brought our two-week-old triplets home from Yale-New Haven Hospital.  We seem to have stopped keeping records on Friday, January 30, 1993 – the last page of the book and also the eve of the kids’ baby naming ceremony.  If there is a second volume, I don’t remember it…or haven’t come across it.

    On the sheets of this pad, we tracked each kid’s ins and outs.  That is: what the babies took in…and what came out t’other end. Who could muster an oral report at 2 AM? Who’d remember by 4 PM? These records aren’t very interesting, except to demonstrate how often we were feeding and changing diapers..  The jottings – in my hand unless otherwise indicated – evoke what it was like to get premature triplets (who weighed about 4 lbs. each at birth, about 34 weeks gestation) from two weeks to three months old.

    ***

     SONG LYRICS (what else to do during 2 AM feedings?):

    The Baby Song:

    Lily & Max & Sam / How proud of them we am / They roll around their eyes / And hardly ever cries.

    Sung to the Tune of “If I Only Had a Brain” (Wizard of Oz “Scarecrow Song”):

    I wile away the whiles / And burp away the miles / …if I only had a smile / I would laugh / I would chortle / I would giggle / I’d cavort-le / …if I only had a smile.

    ***

    RUNNING COMMENTS (in my hand unless otherwise noted):

    10/22/92

    [Mark’s hand]: All Home

    Saturday, 10/24/92

    Max will be tall & rangy? Sam short & fine boned?

    They’ll never forget each others’ birthdays.  Sam will be a financial wizard in Hong Kong. Lily will be saving the rainforest in Costa Rica – giving speeches, and Max will be a truck farmer in N. California – all will conference call on Oct. 7 to wish each other a happy birthday.

    Smelling Max’s head, I know that no matter how old the babes are I’ll always smell them and love them. I’ll always kiss their heads and think of their babyhoods.

    Sunday, 10/25/92

    Sam: easy lay of the burp world.

    Max: champion Arm Wrestler?  Symphony Conductor? Houdini?

    Monday, 10/26/92

    [Mark’s hand] Sam: Now the monk of the burp world.

    [my hand] 10 PM feeding – WPLR burp contest – looking for an 11-second belch – while we’re trying to squeeze out a little squeak from each baby.

    10/27/92

    Sam: A lesson in why not to prejudge your children.

    Visit to pediatrician: Lily = 5 lbs. 1 oz.  Max & Sam = 4 lbs. 14 oz.

    10/28/92

    Big-time spit-up day: Sam & Lily

    10/30/92

    7:20 AM:

    Max’s arms are huge – so are his hands & feet.  Could he take after his Uncle Tom?  Hard Man II?

    All the babes are fussing more, crying more, awake more.  Their heads seem bigger, neck muscles stronger.  Lily consistently awakens 30  mins – 1 hr. before feed times.  Sam is awake much of the time now, cries until he is held and rocked and assured of a pacifier.

    10/31/92

    At the allergist, a nurse asked Mark what the kids were going to be for Halloween.  Mark’s response: “Asleep.”

    11/1/92

    I just get tireder and tireder…took a long walk (for me) outdoors – leaves spectacular – 1st time I’d been out so long in months.

    11/3/92: Election Day

    (two “I Voted Today” stickers affixed to the page)

    Got out of the house today: to vote, to the bank, to Macy’s, to the OB.  Changed my purse (to match shoes?!) – and found that I had not used my brown bag since the end of March, when I found out I was pregnant.  Inside: medical receipts. List of questions for Dr. Gutman, including, “How many fetal sacs do you see?”

    By the time I got to the safe deposit box at the bank, where I locked away plastic ID bracelets from the hospital (Baby Girl A, Baby Boy B & Baby Boy C…), I wept in silence in the little private room.  Time lost.  Time gone.  Babies gained.

    11/4/92: Wed.  Clinton wins!

    Hard night. Lily screams, then won’t eat & falls asleep.  Sam is still constipated! Max just chugs along, plays with his hands, moves his head.  All babes gaining head control.  Born 4 weeks ago today.

    11/5/92: Thurs

    Max is really starting to track with his eyes – exciting! Sam seems more comfortable now that he’s pooped some.  And Lily is determined, serious, earnest…a delight.

    11/7/92: Saturday

    Lots of hose-type spit-ups today – M & L both.  M constipated. Feedings run into feedings.  Neither Mark nor I went outside today.  Flurries predicted overnight.

    11/8/92: Sunday

    Everybody had a bath, production-line style.  Photo shoot followed.

    [Mark’s hand]: Lily raises head! 5x! Joins Max!

    11/10/92:

    Sam to pediatrician: wt: 6 lbs. 2 oz.!! Head 34 ¼; chest 32; length 19 ½.  Got his HIB vaccine (barely cried, brave boy!).  Dr. La Camera says all’s well, answers all our questions.

    11/12/92: Thursday

    [Mark’s hand]: Max & Lily go to Dr.:  Both 6 lb 3 oz. Lily 19 ½ in. Max 19 ¼ in.

    [my hand]: Both get HIB vaccines. The big kids do great!

    11/14/92: Saturday

    We took a walk w/ the triplet stroller – freedom! Sam moved his head well.

    11/15/92: Sunday

    Friends babysit while we walk to cemetery & back!  Lovely to be out together alone.

    11/18/92: Wednesday

    6 weeks old.

    11/30/92: Monday

    Mark goes back to work. (drawing of a frownie face)

    12/1/92: Tuesday

    Baths relaxed the babems – Max & Sam were comatose at 6 PM feeding…Lily was calm and able to feed.  Three different people; three different levels of stimulation.

    12/4/92: Friday

    Wrote an article […] on design in Woodbridge.  Felt great to be back in the saddle.

    Sat on couch in British art center and read Beyond the 100th Meridian.  Bliss.

    Today, I had it all.

    12/5/92: Saturday

    First snow. Dusting.

    Trip to Dr. La Camera – Max (9 lbs. 7 oz. w/ diaper).  Max has “intertigo” – horrible blistering – scalded area in groin – raspberry colored & horrible.  Dr. La Camera prescribes ointment 3-4x a day.  He is a Wonderful man.

    12/6/92: Sunday

    Dr. La Camera calls just to check on Max, whose little groin looks much better.  Long walk with w/ Max in sling.

    12/7/92: Monday

    Long walk with Sam.  Max’s rash looks better.

    12/8/92: Tuesday

    Walked to Walgreen’s with Lily.

    12/9/92: Wednesday

    9 weeks old today. Sam is pushing up & moving his head; pushing off of my shoulder, reaching a little bit.  Max pulls my thumb to his mouth.

    Lunar eclipse – easily viewed from backyard.

    12/11/92: Friday

    Horrible disgusting driving sleet, snow & rain.  Why can’t we live where there are eucalyptus trees?

    Lily to Dr. La Camera: 8 lbs. 5 oz. DPT and polio. 20 ½ in. long.

    Dr. La Camera says: OK to let the babes cry – will teach them they can take care of their own needs.

    And what about us?

    12/12/92: Saturday

    Very cold; more heavy snow. Awoke to sound of snow ploughs for 1st time this yr. Turned to heavy snow by 7 a.m. High winds. Veritable blizzard.

    12/13/92: Sunday

    Walk w/ Sam in snow.

    Nobody to help us during day or night. Hard.  Horrible colic w/ Sam.

    12/15/92: Tuesday

    Max & Sam to pediatrician: Dr. La Camera says they’re doing wonderfully. DPT & polio.

    Max: 10 lbs. 21 in. in length.

    Sam: 9 lbs. 8 oz. 20 7/8 in. in length.

    Sometimes, I think I can’t get any more tired.

    Mark came home from the office with 102 degree F.

    12/17/92: Thursday

    Lily waits!

    [Mark’s hand]: Daddy’s Back!!

    12/18/92: Friday

    Mark & I to E. Rock with Champagne. Climb E. Rock, eat Chuck’s Chicken Salad, drink Veuve Cliquot and warm ourselves in the winter sun.  Can’t believe we’ve come through the last year so well. So blessed.

    Pour the remainder of the bottle onto the rock in name of each of the kids, thereby “christening” the rock in their honor.

    12/19/92: Saturday

    1st night of Chanukah.

    12/20/92: Sunday

    Lily takes a shower with Mom!

    12/21/92: Monday

    Sam showers w/ Mom! Walk w/ Lily! Max smiles.

    12/22/92: Tuesday

    Max showers w/ Mom!

    Play time: Max up most of AM & early PM. Lily & Sam up early PM.

    12/23/92: Wednesday

    Lily smiles!

    Put boys on bed at night – dangle rattles near head – they are fascinated and agitated – Max more animated – and both boys intent on seeing.

    12/25/92: Christmas

    Max: Guiness Book Record SPIT – even hits toy box.

    12/26/92: Saturday, last night of Chanukah

    Max showers w/ Dad – Lily & Sam w/ Mom – in AM.

    Lily awake more or less from 1 PM 8:30+.

    Lily smiles a bit & plays.

    12/31/92:

    Sam smiles!

    1/1/93: Friday

    New Year’s Day

    1/2/93: Saturday

    [Mark’s hand]: Walk kids for 30 mins. Cold.

    1/3/93: Saturday

    Mark & I go out to lunch & to the movies: The Crying Game. Walk kids from 4 – 4:40.

    1/4/93: Monday

    Max rolls over! Flips from tummy to back!

    Walk w/ kids – great weather.

    1/5/93: Thursday

    Max is incredibly frustrated – wants to play, can’t do all he wants, can’t always flip over – howls in protest.

    Lily just cries…because?  Sam, too. Why?

    Much screaming at night/evening.

    1/8/93: Friday

    Afternoon in library: how can I be the same person I was when last I sat in the periodical room at Sterling?

    1/9/93: Satuday

    Out to firm dinner.

    1/10/93: Sunday

    Max bathes w/ Dad.

    1/11/93: Monday

    Lily & Max to Dr. La Camera – HIB vaccine.

    Max: 22 in. long, 12 lbs. 4 oz.

    Lily: 22 in. long; 10 lbs. 3 oz.

    Snow.

    Dr. La Camera says it’s time to add in semi-solids. Will switch back to a 4-hourly schedule, add rice, then applesauce, and hope the fussing dwindles.  Also will begin to work on sleeping through the night.

    1/12/93: Tuesday

    Snow.

    [Mark’s hand]: Lily sleeps til 7:30!!!

    First day with rice cereal – Lily HATES it and decides she’s never going on solids.  Max says it’s OK but would be better with salt.  Sam sucks his down eagerly, finishing it all, then licks bowl with tongue. “Spoon?” he says. “NO problem!”

    Just imagine when they first taste raspberries, chocolate, asparagus, lettuce! Fresh green beans! The world is waiting at your feet, little babies. I hope you love it as much as I do.

    Second verse: Lily changes her mind and sucks down cereal.

    1/13/93: Wednesday

    Snow.  More sleeping through the night!

    1/14/93: Thursday

    Snow.

    1/15/93: Friday

    [Mark’s hand]: We wake everybody!

    1/18/93: Monday

    [Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps through (to 6 AM).  No one cries.

    1/20/93: Wednesday

    Sam to Dr. La Camera: 12 lbs 7 oz…23” long!

    We listen to Clinton’s inaugural address on radio in car on way home.

    1/26/93: Tuesday

    [Mark’s hand]: Everyone sleeps thru – No crying

    1/30/93: Friday

    Visits from Aunt Laura, Uncle Michael, Aunt Katherine, Uncle Chris, Cousin Emma, Grandad Klaus, Grandma Pat, Grandpa Jack & Annette.  Friday night supper here.

     

     

     

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  • I took a red-eye flight from California overnight so I’d be back in Boston today to take Lily to the airport. It mattered to me that I be able to have a few hours with her before she left for five weeks in Spain. And it really mattered to me that I be able to escort her to security.

    I won’t be in Boston when Lily returns. Though that’s disappointing (because I won’t be here to hear the rush of stories when she’s fresh off the plane), it feels somehow far less significant to me than missing the send off.

    Of course, I love graduations and celebrations of achieving goals. But even more, I love the feeling that I’ve done all I can to help my kids step out into the wide world with open eyes and hearts.

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  • Last night, I listened to “Glory (Feat. Blue Ivy Carter),” rapper Jay-Z’s tribute to the birth January 7 of his daughter.  And then I listened again.  I couldn’t get the refrain out of my head: “My greatest creation was you.”

    Many musical papas have written love songs to their newborns, with ABC News’s Bill Weir noting that fatherhood is “the ultimate softening agent.”   Dads who’ve publicly crooned to their kids include John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, George Strait, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Alan Sparhawk, Loudon Wainwright, and David Byrne (in no particular order).

    All of these songwriters — with the exception of Jay-Z — focus on the baby as they marvel at the newly arrived.  But not “HOV” — Jehovah, God’s gift to rap — as he refers to himself.  Who is this new, sweetly wailing creature? “A younger, smarter, faster me,” Jay-Z exults.  Not even a younger, smarter, faster…Beyoncé?  The rapper acknowledges his daughter’s mother, diva Beyoncé Knowles, who burst onto the pop music scene as lead singer for the girl group Destiny’s Child: “You’re a child of destiny / You’re the child of my destiny / You’re my child with the child from Destiny’s Child / That’s a hell of a recipe.”

    “Glory” shines a light on two classic parenting mistakes. Never assume that your child will be a better version of you.  Don’t think that there’s a special recipe to produce a great “creation.” Little Blue Ivy might just turn out to be tone deaf, hate music, and have two left feet.

    When I think about the (initially) female progeny of power performing duos — Carrie Fischer, Jane Fonda, or Chaz Bono, say — I don’t think happy.  Narcissistic parents have trouble grasping that the “glory” of giving birth to a child comes from the “giving” part.  Maybe Beyoncé will have enough good sense and girl power to tell her husband, a man who publicly crowed that he “got the hottest chick in the game wearin’ my chain,” a man who declared himself, “not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” that in twenty years’ time, the “feat” in the “glory” of having children is in giving them some of the same freedoms we’ve given ourselves.

    Or maybe he’ll listen to himself. “This is the life that I chose,” Jay-Z rapped in “december 4th,” a hit song about his own birthday from The Black Album, “rather than the life that chose me.”

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  • Sam got home from school last Thursday.  I picked him up from South Station.  Max arrived this past Saturday evening on a bus from New York.  Mark and I were at a party for our favorite nonagenarian, so we couldn’t get him. A friend of his ferried him to the house.  And on Monday, after she’d finished her exams, handed in her last essay, and tidied her room, Lily got an extra special lift home from Max and Sam, who had driven out to Western Mass to bring her home from college.  The three of them took a detour on their way back to collect a gorgeous ceramic bowl they’d ordered.

    Each is growing — up and out and away.  At the same time, they are choosing to continue to be a part of each others’ lives.  Perhaps it’s true that we middle class mothers at the beginning of the new millennium have fetishized child rearing to the point that we’ve created an even bigger chasm between rich and poor.  At the moment, I’m glad I’ve been able to give these three a sense that making family takes conscious effort.  Because now, in this first stretch of time away from home, they understand that it takes effort to continue their relationships with one another and with Mark and me.

    And guess what? They gave me that beautiful bowl for Chanukah. I am filling it with new memories, the fruits of my labor.

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  • It’s been almost two weeks since Mark and I embarked on our empty nesting adventure.  My tears have dried.  I’m starting to enjoy increased freedom and diminished stress.  Fun is being had. A book — a library book, no less — has helped me shift into drive.  I checked out non-fiction writer Melissa Fay Greene‘s No Biking in the House without a Helmet (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).

    Greene is a brilliant storyteller.  I first encountered her work in Praying for Sheetrock (1992), a lyrically written chronicle of the legal and political fight to bring civil rights to rural Georgia.  She belongs in the same class of writers as Tracy Kidder, Buzz Bissinger, William Finnegan, and Susan Orlean.  Orlean presents herself as a woman in a ballsy – sexy – edgy way.  Greene doesn’t trade on her looks.  She’s a public mother, a wife, a person deeply concerned with raising children (not with jetting off to exotic locales to commune with a fertility goddess).

    In No Biking, Greene describes how she and her husband, Donny, went from a family of four (biological) children to nine (through international adoption). She’d hit her early forties and no longer had very young children at home.  Her oldest was well into high school, and she thought, “Why not?”  Greene got pregnant, but the pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She’d already done the hard work of choosing to expand her family, so when she learned of Romanian children languishing in orphanages, she convinced her husband and four children to make room for one more.

    As she began her adoption journey, she stuck to one guiding principle: she would only consider healthy, older children who had started their lives in families where they’d had a chance to bond and love. From Romania, Greene moved on to Ethiopia in the height of the AIDS crisis. There, over time, she adopted a daughter and three sons, two of whom are biological brothers.

    Greene argues passionately in No Biking for the power of family.  She exults in the beauty of raising children and the basic pleasures of having growing kids underfoot. It’s not all smooth sailing for Greene and her husband, though, especially as the oldest kids leave home. Greene realizes a bit too late that those older kids, the boys especially, have provided a pecking order that has kept the younger kids in line and relatively free from conflict.  Their absence produces a dearth of order and fun, leaving the family in a state of crisis.

    Greene also realizes that no matter how many children she adopts, she can’t avoid the pangs associated with children’s inevitable departure.  She has launched her two oldest sons and finds herself sitting, alone, at a gate in the Cleveland airport:

    It seemed especially unfair for these goodbyes to hurt so much, since the working THEORY was that Donny and I would AVOID the pain of empty nest by continuing to FILL the nest. I sadly phoned Donny from the waiting area. “I don’t think our plan is working. We’re getting all the pain of empty nest anyway…” “I know,” he said. “But we don’t get to go to Paris.” (280)

    Raising children, Greene asserts, doesn’t diminish a woman’s intelligence or capacities. Raising kids takes patience and skill, not to mention organizational prowess. Without these, parents can wind up turning  a family into a “group home.” Her account left me feeling joyful.  There really is something profound to celebrate.  And there is also something profound to mourn.

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  • Two Ends

    Two of the kids – Lily and Max – finished high school in early June.  I know, I know.  They call it “commencement.”  It’s supposed to be a beginning, the start of what’s coming next.  I like the idea of “graduation.”  You move (up?) from one step to another.  But, really, it felt so much like an ending.  The end of waving kids off in the morning from the breakfast table, the end of dropping kids at the train station and picking them up again in the afternoon, the end of having supper ready for everybody and hearing holy hell when everybody is sick of chicken, the end of having gangs of boys hanging out in the basement in front of the TV.  It was hard to think about beginnings, especially because nothing had begun yet.  It will.  I know it.  But it hadn’t then and hasn’t yet.

    We celebrated a lot of these ends, and it was joyful.  I threw parties.  Grandparents traveled to Boston from distant locales.  There were presents.  Everybody dressed up and looked spiffy.  Mark, the kids, and I traversed Alaska’s Inside Passage, from Juneau to Ketchikan, as a way to note these endings.  The five of us had – let it be publicly acknowledged – a lot of fun. Together.  As a family.  A dream come true.

    For Sam, of course, things haven’t exactly ended, because he is spending another year boarding and will have his commencement/graduation/end next June.  It’ll be different, in part because he’ll already have made the leap to “away.”  And it’ll be different because he won’t be graduating near home, so I can’t make all my neighbors gather and fuss.  But with luck we’ll all be together again – grandparents included – and it’ll be a big huge deal.  That’s the way it seems to be turning out in this family.  Reaching goals, coming to a place of achievement, marking rites of passage: we notice, and we eat cake.

    A Middle

    So, now, it’s high summer – August – and I feel like a yo-yo.  I keep pinging around.  I helped Lily get set up on the Cape so she could work her usual summer job at the fruit’n’veg stand.  I helped Sam get started at Berklee, where he’s been percussing away. I’ve helped Max and four others find an apartment in New York, where they’ll be volunteering with City Year for 11 months in public schools. Max hasn’t started yet, but he’s fully engaged in planning and will soon head with Mark in a U-Haul filled with furniture donated from generous friends.

    And I’m in the middle of too many projects.  I’m working on the syllabus for the course I’ll be teaching in the fall.  I’ve done another round of research for a long piece, but I haven’t written it yet.  I’ve emptied my office of books, but I still have a dozen, deep file cabinet drawers to sort through and vast stacks of papers to sort.  Good news: underneath the horrible, mouldy carpet lies a hard wood floor.  Such potential.  Kind of a metaphor for everything else.  Who knows what’s underneath?  Maybe something that with a bit of polish will shine?

    I feel stuck in the middle, meanwhile. After all the fanfare, not much has changed.  I’m still buying groceries and emptying the dishwasher.  The kids are keenly aware that new sorts of independence are just around the corner, but they haven’t quite reached the corner yet.  A bit of push-me-pull-you has ensued.  Normal, I know, in the Separation Derby, but not always comfortable.

    A Beginning

    You give everything you’ve got to these growing, shifting children, and if you are actually able to give what they need – not necessarily what they want or you expect – you get … to be left alone.  This somehow seems a bad bargain at the moment, although older friends tell me it’s actually great.  Right now, I think, “Who’d be crazy enough to sign on?  Three times?”  But that’s what the Bowl o’ Cherries is all about.  You’ve got to savor the delicious fruit of raising a family, recognizing that you’re going to be left with a messy napkin filled with pits.  The tasty fruit is gone.  The seeds are to scatter.  They’re going to mature into the loveliest trees. Probably in someone else’s yard.  You’ve been so busy getting to this point that other parts of the garden have lain fallow or even gone to seed. What to do?  Begin again.

    Mired in the middle after so many endings, I am engaging in a tiny beginning. I’ve had my first two cello lessons and can now play both the “Dreidel” song and “Jingle Bells.”  Pizzicato only.  I told this to a neighbor’s son, a young man I have loved since he and my kids were all 5.  He’s a wonderful musician with a wry sense of humor.  Next, he assured me: Bach’s cello suites – preferably Number Two.  I told him to check back with me in 2014.

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  • Two pieces in yesterday’s New York Times caught my attention  One, by The Times’ ombudsman Arthur S. Brisbane, addressed the paucity of obituaries celebrating women’s lives. The other, by “Motherlode” blogger Lisa Belkin, analyzed the decision of a group of academic psychologists to declare parenthood the pinnacle of human experience. Both Brisbane and Belkin were well-intentioned, but both missed the implications or their arguments on the connection between parenthood and women’s lives.

    Brisbane was addressing reader Mike Sponder’s complaint that The New York Times seems to publish women’s and men’s obituaries at a 1:8 ratio. “Women rarely die, it seems,” Sponder quipped. Brisbane turned over Sponder’s observation to Times obituary editor Bill McDonald. McDonald wrote that the Times has to “narrow the field to those who made the largest imprint and possibly found fame or notoriety in the process.” Given where women were seventy or eighty years ago, when most of these dead people were born, there’s not much chance that they’d make the cut. Brisbane urged McDonald to look harder, contacting organizations such as NOW to cast a wider net.

    Belkin wrote this week’s Times Magazine’s “The Way We Live Now” column about a new configuration of  the hierarchy of needs Abraham Maslow posited in his 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow theorized that people have to meet low-level needs first (food, shelter, safety) before they can contemplate reaching their full potential, or “self-actualizing.” The tippy top of human experience these days? Parenting. That word used to be thought of as a noun, Belkin noted, but these days it’s a verb whose infinitive form is “to parent.” Belkin was appalled by the new hierarchy.  “Most of all,” she wrote, “it raises the question of whether to sanctify parenting has gone a bit too far.”  The psychologists who put parenting at the top of human experience, just above finding and retaining a mate, she wrote, have lost their sense of perspective. Parents, she proclaimed, are supposed to be making themselves unnecessary, since the goal of parenting is to raise self-sufficient adults.

    Maslow wrote his essay when many of those appearing in current Times obits were born. In other words, his organizing principle of human behavior informed the worldview of those now in their seventies and eighties — as well as obit editor Bill McDonald. By telling McDonald to look harder for notable women, Times ombudsman Arthur Brisbane didn’t challenge the fundamental assumption that greatness and notability appear primarily in the public sphere.

    For her part, Lisa Belkin missed a critical bit of demographic data. Academic fields, especially psychology, have largely been feminized in the last seventy years. When Maslow was busy focusing on self-actualization in 1943, he was writing as a man for a mostly-male audience of academics and practitioners. The group that reconfigured Maslow’s hierarchy doesn’t resemble Maslow and his peers. Belkin didn’t mention in her condemnation the possibility that women, who continue to perform the bulk of parenting responsibilities, likely made up a large part of the academic psychologists who declared mating and procreating the pinnacle of human experience. She didn’t consider that for the first time women have had a chance to value their own roles, to publicly declare that what they do (we do) privately matters as much as or more than anything else transpiring on the planet.

    While I, too, am grossed out by the self-indulgence of my generation (and myself) at times, I want to make sure to celebrate this new hierarchy of experience. This ranking values something that has historically been private and unworthy of note. If we follow the reasoning of McDonald, Brisbane, and Belkin, humans who spent and continue to spend much of their lives raising the next generation to be healthy, independent adults aren’t worthy of obituaries in the Times.  If we follow Maslow.2, perhaps we have to rethink what it means to make an impact publicly, since, for the first time, an academic discipline has privileged what has traditionally been women’s private sphere.

    Maybe it’s time for editors and reporters to acknowledge more fully that creating families and caring for others (parenting, nursing, teaching…) at times may well be the way we humans make “the largest imprint,” whether we find “fame or notoriety in the process.”

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  • Lily came out of her interview at a small, elite New England liberal arts college sure that she’d had a good conversation but frustrated by the content. She knew she was supposed to “take charge” of the interview, so she asked a question about how well the college accommodated students with learning differences. She wanted to know, specifically, how she would go about fulfilling a language requirement given she’s dyslexic. The interviewer reassured her that the academic dean was always willing to go to bat for students with documented disabilities. Some professors wouldn’t “get it,” the interviewer said, but college policy would always back up LD students. With accommodations, Lily would be able to fulfill her requirements, just like everyone else. “Besides,” the interviewer told Lily, “it’s no one’s business.”

    I shook my head as Lily gave me the report. The phrase “no one’s business” evoked the kinds of things people who considered themselves enlightened would say about “different lifestyles” when I was growing up. Upon learning that so-and-so was lesbian or gay, a free-thinker in the ’70s might say, “I don’t have a problem with that. It’s no one’s business, whatever two people choose to do behind closed doors.”

    How far we’ve come as a country in terms of sexuality. Our goal isn’t to tolerate but to embrace. Full equality means that workers put same-sex partners on health insurance policies, high school students take whomever they wish to the prom, and little kids grow up celebrating family as two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, a mom and a dad, or any combination thereof. Ads, TV shows, films, music — all forms of popular culture normalize the range of sexuality at long last.

    In the best of all possible worlds, every college admissions interviewer would openly ask students about their learning styles. Kids wouldn’t just submit standardized tests. They’d submit learning profiles. The goal wouldn’t be to see if institutions of higher learning adhered to the law.  It would be to make sure that every professor, lecturer, and teaching assistant had undergone rigorous training in multi-modal learning.  Every syllabus would offer a variety of assessment techniques.  All students would be choosing courses based on what would maximize their chances to master material and produce good work.

    Hip schools have come to promote LGBTQ safe spaces, pasting rainbow-colored stickers on classrooms, offices, and meeting areas, making it everybody’s business to protect against discrimination and danger. I’d like to see LD communities developing a similar icon, something that would immediately signify that kids with learning differences are welcome and safe.  The ADA may have reached its 20th anniversary, but we still have a long way to go when college admissions officers think they’re being sensitive when they tell students “it’s no one’s business” if they’re LD.

    I felt terrible telling Lily to steer future interview conversations away from dyslexia and accommodations.  What did she want the admissions folks to know about her?  That she is a tremendous student? That she is a budding documentary filmmaker?  That she has tons of experience working with young children and is interested in human development?  That she loves to spend time outdoors?  Only after an institution has admitted her should she bring up dyslexia, because, as the admissions officer explained all too clearly, we’re living in an academic world of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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  • I slowed my pace Saturday afternoon. I fell back to savor the view. Six long, suntanned legs in step, striding along a wide, dirt path. I wasn’t straining to hear the conversation, but I couldn’t help hearing the laughter. I just wanted to look.

    In my arms: Sam’s black trousers, rumpled white button down shirt, black belt, black tie, black socks, and dust-covered black shoes. It’d taken him a few trips into his cabin at camp to find everything he’d need to wear for the concert that night. I cradled the outfit, remembering trips to Macy’s and Target to secure each item, several of which have been pressed into service for years.

    A summer of firsts. This isn’t Sam’s first time at music camp.  It’s actually his fifth. But it’s the first time his sibs have been able to visit. Instead of going away on their own adventures, they’ve spent the summer close to home. Lily’s been working in a produce market. Max has been punching in at Economy Hardware and training for soccer. They’ve both been getting ready to apply to colleges (emphasis on the getting). Sam will take an extra year before he’s at this stage. He’s going to boarding school in September for another go at junior year before rushing headlong into college madness. While he finishes off music camp this week, Lily, Max, and I will visit colleges.

    Sam will leave home first. It’s a year earlier than I’d anticipated. I thought I was done with my grieving, having had my fill of middle-of-the night waking this past spring. I was wrong. It’s all right at the surface again, and I am mourning the loss of time with gifted, goofy Sam. But I’m not the only one grieving.  Lily and Max are having to figure out the letting-go themselves. “It’s like missing a piece of a puzzle,” Lily tells me.  “When we’re together, it’s like, ‘Ahh. Yeah.  There’s that missing piece.'” As with everything else in our family, things are complicated.  The celebrations.  The milestones. The losses. There are inevitable feelings of comparison and competition that are known to all families with children, but these are magnified exponentially with multiples. Who talked first?  Walked? Rode a bike? Started dating? And now: the first to leave home?

    The competition evaporated — at least for a little while Saturday — as the three fell in together.  I wanted to stand right next to Sam and hear the full report. But instead, I hung back. I marveled at the three sets of long legs with the same intensity that I counted toes after their birth. I thought about the almost 18 years of work Mark and I have done to create a family where these three can delight in such close connection and also claim what each needs and knows.  I loved.

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