Sunday, October 26, 2008


On the other side of the Ari news, he woke up this morning and looked at my book on the bed and said, "This book not Mama's. This book my book." He then took the book and looked at me.

I said, "Oh, this book is not Mama's book, it's Ari's book?"

He nodded and opened up the book to "read" it. "Oh, uh huh," he said, in his "very interesting" voice.

This was repeated throughout the day with increasing ferocity. Suddenly everything was Ari's, to the point that he was snatching things up and saying, "Mine mine mine!" in a shrill voice. It was funny for me because it reminded me of a game Auntie Papaya and I have played for a long time. In loving mimicry of a client of hers who used to go around saying "Mine mine mine!" over every object, she and I used to pick certain objects--usually beds, couches and pillows, and declaim in the same way over them. When we were young and vigorous we used to also shove each other off of said objects. Anyway, Ari's clutching at objects in this way was pretty funny but also developmentally interesting. Anyone know what's going on in that little noggin of his?

A few other funny Ari comments. I'm not sure if they'll translate here or not: a few nights ago I was saying good night to Andi and Ari was asleep. He drowsily roused himself as I whispered, "good night," and added, "moon."

And just tonight he spooned up his cereal and dribbled it from a great height on his high chair tray. Gravely surveying the results he said, "Fun." For some reason we found that comment hysterical.

He is increasingly social, which is hard to imagine but true. He goes and greets the neighbors and on a playground will just walk up to other children and say hello.

Oh, I like to hug him myself and whisper inside, "mine, mine, mine." Lucky me.
Ari says please and thank you now.

I can't tell you how that makes me feel.

You'll have to guess.

Friday, October 24, 2008


So it's been one of those days, I have been amazed by it. One of those convergence days. First, at work there were two stories forwarded to me that were very interesting. For those of you who read this who are also look at my FB page, I'll upload them there. One was a story about the other guy--there is always an Other Guy; we have one in my family. (Actually, come to think of it, we have many in my family, but that's another story.) This is the Other Guy who did NOT get the Nobel Prize. In my Research class we were actually discussing this guy who won the prize due to his jellyfish research. The story, told there, was a "persistence pays off" message. Well, according to this sad story in the Times, Dr. Prasher actually discovered the glowing jellyfish protein that led to the Nobel prize. But he didn't get any recognition for it. Why? Because he had lost his funding prior to the prize; because he did not aggressively self-market himself, and perhaps because he may have suffered from depression, which limited his ability to self-market in a world that, contrary to everything we are taught and still believe despite ourselves, does not reward raw intelligence or native ability. It rewards--to a large degree anyway--shameless self-promotion and greed. (Woven as a sub-text to this story is the convulsions of the market and Alan Greenspan saying to the public--essentially, "Mea culpa, I had no idea people would be this greedy." ???)

Okay, so Dr. Prasher now drives a courtesy car for a Toyota dealership--a man whiskers away from winning the Nobel prize. That's one thing; and I think all of us who have ever felt fragile or vulnerable or as though for whatever reason we don't fit into the more ambitious, hard-angled world we felt we were born into, can identify, in a sad and fearful way, with his experience. I sure could. I felt as though I was him, minus the near-massive accomplishment. I also appreciated his seeming humility and wisdom in the face of his experience. Check out the article; it is in the Well section.

Next, there was a beautiful article (again in the Times, again, I think in the Well section) about doctors relying increasingly on the literature to humanize their work and their patients. The doctors in this article believe that literary training--called narrative medicine--can strengthen a young doctor's compassionate instinct, the article said. (I'll upload this too.) I am writing in a hurry because of Ari, but I think you can all imagine how beautiful I found this idea and how important. And personally, how I connected with it--how much literature--reading and writing--has transformed me and my yearnings and my sense of meaning. Don't you miss it? Don't I? I do. So deeply.

Last, I went today to a training on health literacy for older adults. I was appalled to learn that over 40% of the U.S. population is not literate enough to read their medication bottle; to truly sign a consent form; to understand a bus map. Words (and I do not underestimate the irony of this phrase, even while writing in haste) do not express how deeply and profoundly I felt this; felt how impotent and terrified and self-loathing and angry people in that situation must feel. How helpless. It is a public health crisis and a shame upon us as a people. How on earth can we consider ourselves part of a democratic nation? How on earth can we allow people to blame themselves as individuals for something that we all need to change?

Grappling with that on the heels of the article about narrative medicine made me feel so keenly how life's injustices wound us in our most tender and primitive places. The very places someone should kiss and croon over and cuddle. The places in our heart that need the deepest reassurance.

Sometimes I think I don't want to be a therapist. I want to just cuddle up that person and say, "It's O.K." And mean it. And know it is true.

I want it to be true. And I want to be able to make it true.

Thank you for reading this. I am so glad that you can. And that you do.

Monday, October 20, 2008


--Ari splashed around so much while drinking his blueberry-mango-strawberry-banana smoothie that it seemed as though he had purple freckles. It is difficult to describe how ineffably cute it is to see your child with purple freckles, though I imagine I wouldn't feel that way if they were permanent.

--He managed to pet the cat so that the cat wanted to stay near him--this is a big accomplishment and made him very happy.

--He relished his broccoli and ate lots of it while saying "Brocly, Brocly!" (It was loaded up with olive oil, salt, and nutritional yeast.)

--He said "Hiya papaya" with all 3 syllables (up until now he has called Auntie Papaya "Paya."

--He had his first phone conversation--with Grandpa. True, Ari's part of the conversation was, as my father said, merely, "Hello," some silence, and "Bye," but still a milestone.

--He called Grandpa "Danpa" when he got off the phone. (Up until now Grandpa has been "Dadi," which, of course, is what I call him.

--When asked what eyes were for, he said, "seeing." Ears are for "hearing." Mouth is for "eating." Legs are for "shoes."

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Walking today through the golden scuffling leaves on the ground and the tearful skies overhead I had to stop over the BU bridge and watch as a throng of birds swooped and flew low, altogether, in unison, black against the blue-gray sky. I was late for class but I still couldn't help myself. They joined together and dove low then swirled up, and then slashed down again, a timeless pattern. Other people kept walking by and I would try to catch their eyes and gesture up--it was so beautiful--but they kept going, lost in their ipods, ignoring the sky and the water and the birds all joined in wild harmony.

Moments like this--moments too when I look at my friend skillfully and artfully assembling a salad, the beets raw and bright against the chevre, the carrots orange and the lettuce so very green--or when a solitary fire-red Maple leaf comes to pause as if posturing like a dancer on a stage, fluttering to the pavement with the others reposing there--I feel suffused with a recognition that this is it. This is my life. I am 40 years old, and so is my cousin Sarah. (It was her birthday yesterday; I have adored her for half of my life.) Half my life is over; these moments are it. It doesn't get any better than this. I don't mean this in a groovy, mealy-mouthed mindfulness way. I sometimes feel as though I get very preachy on those points, as if I have some special knowledge, and I don't mean to do that. It is just that awareness floods up at the strangest times. You all know those times yourself. It happened again today when the tea kettle shrilled and I poured myself hot water over a tea bag. And the tea bag sort of sizzled as the water went over it. And I thought, "G-d, thank you!"--in the deepest and most primal way. Those alive moments. I don't know why they happen when they do.

I was walking from the library this morning and was sort of muttering in my mind--as I continually do--about all the things I have to get done. So many things. And I was adding job search to that list. And mentally bemoaning that I will be making so little money and facing so much stress for at least the short run--and that's if I'm lucky enough in this economy to find a job. And will I be able to pay off my loans? Etcetera.

As I walked along and noticed this, I decided to direct my attention to my feet. And as soon as I did, as I felt the pavement and slowed my walking I realized: Next year is still going to be busy and stressful. It is always going to be busy and stressful. Hey, kiddo. It doesn't get any better than this.

Just thinking that, it felt as though everything changed. I was still walking, still feeling my feet against their sneakers on the pavement. Still noticing the sneakers squeaking as they have ever since they went through the wash. Still feeling that tired little ache in my heels. Still feeling some sadness and fear and resentment that life isn't different than it is. But everything was different. My whole chest and body opened up--tingly--and I felt so grateful for all the goodness in my life. The people I love, who have done so much for me. My parents. My papaya. Andi and the roommates. My brother and sister in law. Ari and all the children I adore. I am so lucky. I want you to know I do know it. Thank G-d, I really do.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

no news is....

It's been so long since I last posted that certain people have been prodding me to post again--which I must say is flattering. So here I am. Looking back, I said I'd write about being a mother of a toddler, social work, and politics. Didn't I? And so here's the basic update on all of those things. Politics: we live by tenterhooks, or at least I do, feeling as though the entire world has become labile (there's the social work) as we try to understand what is happening to us. Every day we hear about a new economic meltdown that seems to have--right now--eclipsed the environmental meltdowns that previously occupied us. I was late to work this morning and so got to listen to the BBC and heard how England and Ireland and Spain have been rocked by unemployment rates. In Spain the unemployment rate is 13% and expected to climb. It makes sense following on the heels of unprecedented economic and housing expansion in Spain... some people were really objecting to that, as I recall. So we can't really be surprised by all this.

Nonetheless we are still gaping at the headlines and croaking to one another, "Can it really be?" People are beginning to say this won't be as bad as the Great Depression only insofar as it won't resemble the Great Depression--it will look like something altogether different. And yet McCain is still talking about capital gain cuts for the wealthy and trickle down economics.

Meanwhile, Kofi Anan is talking about how pathetic we are here in the so called "first world" countries, moaning on and on about our recessions or depressions or whatever we call them.  "Wake up!" he seems to want to tell us.  "There are thousands of children starving to death every day.  Your problems are really not that bad.  Really."  It helps to take another look at these things. 

There is such a split in this country in how the red and the blue folks see things, it makes the credit crisis look like nothing. It's more like the Great Schism. It's a credibility crisis. And ironically, both sides seem to feel as though the other is lazy and unwilling to be responsible and buck up to help others and do what it right. Both sides see despicable immorality seething around them and both sides draw back, repulsed from the other. At least that's how it seems to me.

I've been having a situation at work lately that has been really uncomfortable--almost repugnant--to me. As it arises, I keep noticing that I have such a strong desire to demonize this person with whom I feel increasingly locked in a passive-aggressive, smiling, subtle combat. You know the type. The type that social workers engage in. As I drive from one place to another, eat, take a shower, take a walk, all the time I find myself reviewing this conflict and coming up with new smiling, subtle things to say to make my point with this person who is, by now, not with me. Except of course this person is with me, since I'm chatting angrily with this person silently and frequently. Defending myself, trying not to defend myself, etc. When I notice this, I try to slow down and sit with it. I notice it in my body as a throbbing sensation and an constriction--my breathing becomes more shallow and restricted. I just notice that. I notice that at times I attack the other person in my mind, and when I notice that, I send that person metta (lovingkindness) if I can.

The thing is, it isn't about me.

If I can only relax into that--my own basic irrelevance--it is so much easier to get up and go on and just fall more elegantly into my life and the challenges of it and even--sometimes--get myself to listen to John McCain and even Sarah Palin rather than simply pretending they don't exist.

Generally, though, I pretend they don't exist.  I admit it. 

Oh, and the mama thing: Ari now knows almost all the letters of the alphabet! And he regularly recognizes the letters of his name as meaning "Ari."  I'm going to start him on Hebrew soon.  We try to count in as many languages as I can think up--English, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, French.  I have to get Grandma to teach him Armenian. I relish almost every moment I spend with him, except when he wakes me up at night. Last weekend there was one night he kept me up all night and nearly the whole time I imagined blogging about it the next day in excruciating detail but you will be glad to find out that I did not have the time to do that. Oh, and over the long weekend Ari asked for his teachers at Tot Lot several times. So he has reached the point now where he feels as if they exist, even when they are not in front of him. So much I learn from him.  Every day. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

the nature of names

This morning when Ari woke up, I wrote his name in the moisture on the window, and he looked at it and said, confidently, "Ari!"

It probably was a good guess but I still thought it was exciting.

He knows certain letters pretty well and others sort of well. For example, he knows "O" fairly reliably if you say, "What letter is this?" and point to O. He will answer glibly and happily, "Oh!" (It is very cute for the doting one.) But if you give him the alphabet and say, "Find the O" he will only find it half the time.

It is so interesting. You can almost watch those neural networks forming. The receptors lighting up and lighting up again, trying to form stable pathways. At least I think that's what's going on. I keep trying to get the Roommates to explain it to me, and they try, but my neural networks just slog along sluggishly, refusing to fire when I ask them to, so my understanding of our neural chemistry is, uh, limited. But I'm trying! It's tricky starting all over again and again, and once again, at 40, but I am indeed trying.

Rosh Hashannah services were so soothing for so many reasons. One, which may not sound good, is that I didn't take Ari the first day. It was wonderful to do something spiritual for a whole day. I took him the second day, and that was pretty relaxed too, not as I thought it might be. We left after the Shofar blowing and then we got to see a little of Auntie Papaya and Yona. Which reminded me of the old days, before we had four boys between us, when Auntie Papaya and I went and did tashlich at the duck pond. (I don't think that counts, but oh well. We didn't know or care about that then.)

The first day actually started out hard. I don't know if you could tell when you read my last post, but my knickers were kinda in a twist over this whole bailout thing and, well, the panic that is setting in cross the nation among all of those who read the papers and who aren't just following the news about the Rockefeller phony kidnapping guy. I sat in services on the first day and for the first hour or so I spent a fair amount of time fretting. First, I worried about how we could go on with these things when the world was coming apart. Then I thought, well, is there something better we could be doing than praying? Sure, some sarcastic parts of me replied. But the repetition of the familiar Hebrew songs and chants was irresistibly soothing. I found myself thinking that Jews have survived so many calamities. Surely we can survive economic meltdown and global warming.

I didn't bring Ari on the first day and I wondered if perhaps I should have. Other people paraded around with their babies in their arms--waiting for the shofar blowing. I knew that if I had Ari there would be no quiet dandling on the knee and eventually--slowly--I found myself making peace with that. A recognition not unlike what happens after sitting on a retreat. A unclenching, a retrenching from doubt. Acceptance, is what I think they call it. Earlier, I had also found myself cycling through the liturgy, breaking it all apart, deriding that which I didn't think was true, etc. I was thinking how religion was getting into all these messes, to start with, and how I didn't want to be party with all of that confusion and pain. But then, as I started to relax, I just melted into the recognition that humans are religious animals--at least many of us. We just are. So we can, in a William James sense, just accept our own religious psychology and have a progressive understanding of what it means to be spiritual beings having a human experience, rather than clinging to a rather idolatrous fundamentalist view. I don't need to exclude myself from my fellow humans. I really don't. I can let myself belong.

It is such a peaceful thing. To take my place in the nature of things. Like Ari, when I see my name, and recognize my place, it gives me joy.