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A New Loss

26 Aug

I am finally finding time to write, but must interrupt the regular format of my posts with sadness as our family has lost one of its great matriarchs. I use this word with purpose, especially after reading this definition: “A highly respected woman who is a mother” (“Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, 2000. Web). My husband’s Aunt Helen became my aunt from our first family event. She epitomized the “Other Mothers” I am grateful to have had; as I wrote in my post,  Even one week before she succumbed to non-smoker’s lung cancer at age 86, she shared her wisdom and positive spin with me. While I think I was one of her biggest fans, I realize that her entire family and her friends tie for first place in that category. She was also a fan of each of us, always interested in and supportive of our endeavors. I appreciated her subscription to this blog. She read it and commented to me as an “other mother” and as a regular reader.   I am glad that she and my mom had the chance to meet. My mom, being a great judge of character, immediately liked her. Her daughters, son, grandchildren, brother and all of us nieces, nephews and cousins have been inspired by her and will miss her greatly.  As Aunt Helen, generous and selfless, would have wanted, we are not dwelling on our loss.  She would be glad to know we celebrate her and carry on with strength and optimism.

Just a few weeks later, I watched a dear friend, my husband’s stepmother, grieve as her mother passed away.  She had the great fortune to enjoy a very long and wonderful relationship with her mom who died at age 92. Yet, losing your mom, at any age, is so difficult.

I have actually debated (with myself, in my head), if I would find losing my mom harder had she lived longer. As silly as it sounds, I think maybe I’d be even more spoiled, more used to having her around. I might not have learned to make certain decisions (right or wrong….) on my own.  I would have become more dependent on her advice, help, etc. I wonder, would the adjustment to life as a motherless daughter and parent, be more difficult if my mom had lived another 20 years? So, when a relative or friend experiences this loss, I sometimes think, “Oh she has it so much harder than I did.”  And, then, I almost get angry with myself as I realize that A. I had it really hard. When my mom died, I was filled with agony. I could  not have imagined a more painful period of time. My adjustment was not easier than anyone else’s.  B. What I would have done or would still do to have been granted more time with mom. It would have been wonderful to share even one more day with her. And C. It’s all so personal, unique and unpredictable. We cannot measure the suffering we experience when our mother dies. No one’s is easier, better, harder.

It just is.

It’s all Greek to Me….

21 Jan

I continue to be amazed by how many new situations I encounter which make me think of my mother, passionately miss her and be even more impressed by her. Some things seem so simple to me, like deciding to join a sorority in college. Well, at least I thought my daughter’s interest in joining a sorority was normal and expected, after all, I joined Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) my freshman year at Rutgers University.

Sharing the news that Sandra planned to “rush” at University of Miami drew a myriad of opinions accompanied by comments including, “Oh really. Why would she do that?”, “I didn’t have any interest in my college’s sororities,” “My daughter never wanted to do that,” as well as “That’s great, she’ll love it.” I was surprised at receiving the negative reactions. The intention was not to be condescending, of course. Perhaps these opinions were derived from a lack of familiarity with college Greek life or were based on what they have seen in movies and on television.

So, I thought about how my mom supported my decision to pledge a sorority despite her complete lack of experience with one. She did not attend a 4 year college and even if she had, I do not think she would have been a sorority girl. When I pledged, my sister was already a senior at Swarthmore College which had banned sororities.  I am pretty sure that my parents’ only concern with the whole Greek thing was cost and interference with my school work. After I assured them that neither would be an issue, they seemed infected with my excitement. I know that my mom was thrilled to bring me her old black silk taffeta dress to wear to my first sorority formal. She might not have been the sorority type, but was proud to have the appropriate wardrobe!

Raising children has helped me to be non-judgmental and tolerant of others. We make decisions for ourselves and our children that might conflict with what we thought we would do and/or what “everyone else is doing.” I emulate my parents’ compulsion to raise my sister and me as individuals.  While I am sure not all of their rules, decisions, etc. were right, they were at least based on their own beliefs and standards. And, I know they would be proud that they taught us to make thoughtful and independent decisions.

Of course, since I did truly enjoy my sorority days, I am all in favor of Sandra pledging. Interestingly, I am not disappointed that she did not pledge ZTA (on the other hand, that would have been really neat—she’d be a legacy). Sandra is the ideal sorority girl—she treasures her friendships and desires that sisterhood camaraderie. She is so full of energy and enthusiasm—she loved all of the quirky camp traditions and will be the first to memorize her Delta Gamma songs, handshakes, etc. Sorority gatherings will fuel her need for socializing 24/7.  And, she even considered the various sorority philanthropies in making her sorority choice since charitable work is important to her.  I am really proud of her and I know that my mom would be too—she would swoon over her granddaughter and all of her adventures, including this latest one.

Running as One

29 Apr

Run as One 2009

I’m back from a short blog hiatus. I’ve had a busy few weeks as my daughter, Sandra, debated her college choice, but I am excited to write after being inspired by this morning’s activity. Sandra and I participated, for the 6th time, in the Thomas G. Labrecque Run as One . This is always a very special and emotional day for us and is even more so this year since it is the last time we will participate together for at least the next four years since she will be at her chosen school!

We ran our first Run as One in 2006 after our friend and neighbor died from lung cancer 32 days after being diagnosed. Felice Jentis, a non-smoker and one of the warmest and most gregarious women we’ve known, was only 39 years old. To help her and her family during her illness, her friends created Team Felice. After her death a foundation, was started to help fund research and each year Team Felice raises money and awareness while running and walking with the Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation.

When Felice died, Sandra was 12 years old and was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Struggling with a desire to do something commemorative, she decided to base her Mitzvah Project (a service-oriented project intended to make a difference in the world) on lung cancer. After all, my mom died from the same type of lung cancer when my daughter was only 4 months old and she had always felt gypped and sad. This was her chance to do something about it. She created and sold bracelets and donated the money to the  Felice Lipit Jentis Memorial BAC Research Trust . And, we ran, together.

Each year, we meet Team Felice in Central Park and after hellos and hugs, we run. The gathering gives us all an opportunity to remember Felice and talk about her. Then my daughter and I go to the whiteboard that the Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation sets up for people to write messages. We write notes to my mom. Today, I wrote, “I’ll always miss and love you mom” and I include her name. Sandra added, “I wish I could have known you.” Today we looked for a special color and chose a fuscia sharpie marker. It matched the bright sunny sky and strong feelings we experienced.

I love this day. We struggle with the sadness and grief, but find energy and hope through today’s event.  We said our goodbyes to Felice’s family and friends today with the usual, “See you next year.” Then, we left Central Park with the bittersweet feeling that, although we cannot share this day while Sandra is away at college, whether together or not, we can always run as one.

Michael Bloomberg Doesn’t Go Home Much Anymore, Do You?

25 Mar

As I read a recent New York Times article, Mayor’s Ties to Hometown Fade, But for a Few, They are Still Felt, I wondered why this observation is newsworthy. After all, I thought, I have visited my hometown only a few times after my mom’s death. Why is it so unusual to stop visiting your hometown after it is void of your immediate family?

Unlike some people who are disappointed that Bloomberg does not visit his hometown, Medford, Massachusetts anymore and unlike others who (in comments entered after the article was published) do not care if Bloomberg visits any town, I thought his devotion to his mom and donations to the town are admirable. In a 2009 biography, Bloomberg admitted to not liking his hometown. He found it boring and uninspiring. Yet, he did visit his mother who remained in town, living in the same house he grew up in until her death last year. When approached to donate to the Medford Arts Council, Bloomberg gave $25,000. He has given even more to the public schools, a local orchestra, a hospital and a sports complex. He has even donated over one million dollars to the town’s synagogue. He did not stop there. He started a fund for the town’s public library. Due to his suggestions, Medford residents and New York City corporations have given generously to the library, certainly a project that wins my approval.

So, after reading about Bloomberg’s continued dedication, albeit financial, to his hometown, I was impressed. He has very strong, perhaps eternal, ties to Medford.

Unlike Bloomberg, I have very fond memories of  my hometown. Like Bloomberg, after my mom left Old Bridge, my ties to Old Bridge quickly faded. In fact, I have gone back only a few times, most recently when I found out about a neighborhood reunion at our pool club. Unlike Bloomberg, people who still live in Old Bridge did not pine for my connection and I certainly would not have expected them to.  It was great to see both the people who still live in Lakeridge West and those who returned for the reunion. Since I still live in New Jersey and, even more relevant, since I work in a school district only 20 minutes from Old Bridge, I do find out about what’s going on there. I have driven through the town a few times and I always love to look around and see what has changed. I might not have reason to return to Old Bridge again and that’s really okay.

All of this makes me wonder, what ties, if any, do you have to your hometown? Do you keep up with news about the town? If you no longer have family in your hometown, do you still visit?


Grynbaum, Michael. “Mayor’s Ties to Hometown Fade, But for a Few, They Are Still Felt.” New York Times. 03 19 12, A14. Print.


Dancing and Dining In NYC and at Home

1 Jan

Happy and Healthy New Year to YOU!

This past holiday week was filled with celebrations and relaxation and most interestingly, for me, moments of reminiscence. As usual, my flashback to moments with my mom occurred spontaneously.

First, as I was battling traffic in New York City, I drove past the New York Hilton on 6th Avenue and was immediately transported back to the years in which my parents attended the winter CIBS Ball (Cosmetic Industry Buyers and Suppliers Association winter event). I could immediately picture my mom’s ballgowns and shoes. It was an extravagant treat for her to buy a new gown and matching shoes. To me, a wide-eyed child who waited anxiously to see the Miss America Pageant, this ball prep was enormously exciting.  I imagine that she was often filled with anxiety as she chose the right dress and shoes within, I’m sure, a tight budget. She was always worried about being seen in the same dress as a previous year or as another guest. When I was an older teenager, I would insult her to prove a point: “No one cares about what you are wearing each year—they would never remember if you wear the same dress.” No matter what I said, she would never feel confident repeating a dress. I always loved looking through her boxes of fancy shoes. Many were black and some had fancy clips or buttons. I remember one shiny pair of sandals- black patent leather with mirrored heels. And, of course, she chose the perfect make-up, complimented by one of her many Charles of the Ritz lipsticks ( Some years my parents chose to enlist my grandmother’s babysitting service so they could stay overnight after the ball. I was excited by that too—imagining their whole night from party to pajamas. They would come home with a table photo showing all of the fancy dresses and tuxedos.

The other strong recollection I had was my parents’ New Year’s Eve party. Since I allow my imagination to embellish stories, here I envision the party taking place several years in a row. I remember the dark brown and maroon rug being rolled up and placed on one side of the room so they could dance. How exciting it was to watch as our family room was transformed into a party place. Once the party started, I would watch the dancing for a little while, impressed with the adults.  Decades before Dancing with the Stars, adults with and without talent “tore up” my family’s floor.

As I celebrated Hanukkah, enjoyed holiday cheer and anticipated 2012, I enjoyed these random and often elaborate memories. While holidays often create an especially despondent longing for my mom, they also often fill me with warm feelings of how grateful I am to have had and to remember many meaningful moments with my mom. And, I wonder if this happens to everyone.  Do you remember your mom’s holiday events and special moments? Even if they did not directly involve you, what were they like for her and for you?


How to Find and Eat Every Morsel of Lobster

27 Nov

Do you know how to crack open a lobster and find every piece of meat? Whether my mom enjoyed the challenge or just loved lobster, she was never satisfied until the lobster was completely cleaned out. Actually, this obsession was typical of her Type A, perfectionist behavior. When she took on a task, she made sure to complete it-with great attention to detail and outcome.

When she was first diagnosed with lung cancer, my dear friend and her fiancé sought a  way to cheer her up, to get her mind off her illness for at least a few hours. I can remember their insistence on going out for a seafood dinner with my mom. How thoughtful! They told her that she had to take them up on her offer –they needed better lobster-eating techniques. While the impetus was to distract and entertain my mom, there was also the desire to learn how to eat lobster Phyllis-style. So, the four of us drove south to Bahrs Seafood Restaurant in Atlantic Highlands. My friends still talk about that wonderful night and important food lesson!

Recently, I had the good fortune to pass this great lobster talent along to my son. While my family has eaten many pounds of lobster both in restaurants and at home, I had never demonstrated the proper clean-out/get every drop procedure. I usually just take over the eating when they think they are done (selfishly wanting those few extra pieces for myself)! A few weeks ago, my son and I were enjoying a weekend away for his soccer tournament and found ourselves looking for a restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland. He, a seafood fanatic, spotted Freddy’s Lobster Restaurant and soon after, he was ready to dig into a beautifully steamed red lobster. Since we were alone and chatting about all sorts of things, I started to reminisce about my mom’s lobster eating. One thing led to another and soon he was enjoying every single piece of meat, from the tail and claw to the tiny walking legs. I am fully confident that he will continue to find every morsel of meat in lobsters and, hopefully even pass the technique along to his own children!

I am grateful for all of the big and little things my mom taught me. I vacuum and dust in crevices and corners, fold towels in thirds, use a spatula to scrape batter from the bowl, spin lettuce dry and even eat the white part of an orange (she was right—great nutritional value in the pith). What special or even ordinary techniques do you employ because of your mom’s instruction?

I often think back to the dinner my friends and I shared with my mother about 20 years ago and I am flooded with warm and sweet memories. Despite the underlying reason for our dinner, I have a vivid picture of us enjoying the evening—watching boats pass in the bay while we ate, laughed and savored each moment and each morsel of lobster.

College Road Trip –a long and winding road.

9 Oct

As I and my family become immersed in the frenzy of my daughter’s college application process, I wish I could talk to my mom about my senior year, her coping mechanisms and just get that re-assurance that it will all work out.

My friends (my colleagues in Parenting, Inc.) and I discuss how much this whole college search and application process has changed over the last 25 – 30 years. We all agree it seems much more grueling. Like so many other things in our lives, it is more complicated and competitive. We can’t really blame this change completely on technology, but the fact that a tremendous amount of the planning and applying takes place on-line, makes this another task we can obsess about 24 hours a day!

There are some important similarities I recall about my own experience. We think that our teens go overboard with tutors and counselors, but even I had a few appointments with a college counselor to help me figure out what I might study and where. College visits/ road trips were all exciting. I enjoyed visiting Tufts with my parents and actually recall walking around the campus with dreams of a 4 year stay. I also remember the Reuben sandwich I enjoyed when we took a break in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. My mother and I enjoyed a long car ride to Cornell and then survived a scary ride home in a white-out snowstorm. I remember being thankful for my mom’s willingness to stay in a hotel while I camped out in a dorm room there.

My most  vivid memory is actually a regret.  My final decision to attend Rutgers College makes me proud, but I never shared the exact reason with my parents. After Tufts and Cornell rejected my application (easy to say now, a horrible feeling then), I had to choose between Brandeis and Rutgers. Even after meeting with my lovely counselor, I was still unsure of my career path. I thought I should follow my sister’s grand footsteps and consider law or a similar, highly respected career. At the time, teaching was not the popular choice. Salaries were still low as  was the esteem, or so I thought. Yet, somehow I knew that I might choose to be a teacher. And, so I privately decided to opt for the less expensive education, I started out majoring in economics and taking courses that were not right for me. Fortunately, Rutgers was the perfect place to alter my path and follow my true calling to become an English teacher.

I wish I could tell my mom and dad about my secret decision, but I also think they might have known. Most importantly, I still get chills as I recall their show of approval and support of my decisions. I know I made them proud!

So, now back to my current journey as the mom of a college-seeker. And, since I do not recall my mom nagging me to edit college essays and finish applications (most likely a selective memory loss), I aspire to be the supportive and understanding mom.

How about your experience, then and now? I would love to know your story—it might just help this current journey.

Mothers and Maids

5 Sep

Having read and watched The Help, I am filled with thoughts about my mom and mothers. This story can be enjoyed and even analyzed on many levels, including the role of mothers—then and now. Other mothers abound in the story. Skeeter is honest about who raised her and might even find the term “Other mother” demeaning in reference to Constantine, her family’s maid. She shows resentment toward her mom and love for her family’s “help” as she repeatedly reminds her mother that Constantine raised her. And, isn’t Aibileen more like a mother to Mae Mobley’s than the child’s own mom, Elizabeth? It seems appropriate when Mae Mobley tells Aibileen, “You’re my mom.”

For me, one of the most poignant moments in the movie is towards the end, when Skeeter and her mom come to terms with their past and future. While their emotional connection still seems disjointed, I appreciate their honesty. I love when Charlotte says to her daughter, Skeeter, “Courage sometimes skips a generation, thank you for bringing it back to our family.” It took great courage for Charlotte to admit her wrongdoings.

I am thankful to have had a mother who, like “the help,” raised me with unconditional love and taught me to be honest and fair. And, the story reminds me to mother my children with those same intentions.

If you read the book or movie, what moments made you think about your mom and her influence? Were you influenced or “mothered” by anyone else and what effect did that have?

Other Mothers in the Wake of Irene

1 Sep

A mom’s empathy and help is priceless….

One of the most heartwarming, reassuring and appreciated consequences of Hurricane Irene’s destructive stop in our town is the outpouring of help from women throughout our neighborhoods.  I think many of us in town have long felt a great sense of community. We have two amazing networks/listservs, the Working Moms Group and our Newcomers/Encore Group. The advice, help and camaraderie emanating from these groups is precious and mother-like.

In the aftermath of this storm, women have offered help in every way imaginable.  Like a mom, these women have thought of all of our essential needs: a warm meal, laundry, a place to shower. Due to the devastation from Irene, these women are giving information on and lending fans, de-humidifiers, wet vacs and even generators. And, because of our reliance on technology, their offers also include wifi access and a home to charge computers and cell phones. It started with friends offering such help to their immediate circles of friends. And, then it spread. Just today, one woman posted an offer for anyone in town to borrow her mom’s stockpots for boiling our unsafe water. The offers keep coming: friends and acquaintances who hear that I am without power, have reached out with empathy and offers for us to meet those essential needs and even take a swim in their pool while the laundry finishes.

And, just like a real mom, there is some daughter guilt. I actually feel bad if I can’t take someone/everyone up on their offers. I would love to spend time with each of these “other moms”. The idea of dinner and powering up at each person’s house, is tempting and reassuring. However, reality and the imminent start of school intervene and force me to turn down some offers. Instead we  sometimes we go to the library or Starbucks in order to work incognito.

I often think about times that I turned my mom down on her offers (or requests) to get together. My “no” was often accompanied with guilt. While I regret  not saying yes all of the time, I know how unrealistic that is and that she understood. Saying no to someone who offers her heart and house to you is hard. So many of us moms feel great when we give to others. It’s almost ironic that I want to give these “other moms” the satisfaction of giving.

I hope you are lucky enough to have your mom or other moms in your life. Perhaps you are also an “other mom.” I’d love to hear your story!

3 Aug

My mom!

My mom would have turned 80 today. Since she died before looking “old,” I find it easy and comforting to picture her when she looked young (okay, 60) and radiant as in this photo.

Recently, I received my daily e-mail quotation from Real Simple and was struck by how it conveys a main impetus for my blog (after eliminating the “in-law”).

“Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends” (Mencken).

Because I have a conscience which I credit my mom with helping develop, her impact on my life has never ended. I guess that would be a good goal or the moment when we know, as mothers, that we’ve succeeded with our children—when we see that they are making decisions and living life as if we are part of their conscience.

It’s exactly what I miss—my mom’s advice, support and criticism. I have this romanticized vision of my mom telling me how great my children are—how it’s because of what I do…  Also, I imagine her telling me that I am doing some things wrong. I think I would love to hear her say, “You’re letting her stay out too late….Do you think he is eating enough vegetables?…Have you ever thought you should limit computer access?” And, I imagine changing these problems simply because my mom thinks I should. Of course, in reality, I know some of these comments would make me angry. It is easy for me imagine her visit as all wonderful, how nice to be the conscience of a person who is always doing the right thing. But, I know that your conscience (i.e. your mom) is also great at pointing out your flaws and mistakes.

Still, I continue to miss all of that and wish my 80-year-old mom was here. I am grateful that she at least left me with a very solid foundation and is an active part of my conscience.

I am not sure if H. L. Mencken said this with the positive force that I infer, but I am thankful for the thought. And, I wonder, who makes up your conscience?


Mencken, H. L. “Daily Thought.” Real Simple  29 July 2011 : Web. 2 Aug 2011..