Monday, December 1, 2014

A lighthearted memory from fourth grade

Spiech, Lisa

May 21
to me
Hi Mrs. Schwartz,
Today I announced a States research project that we would be working on through the end of the year.   Both fourth grade classes will be researching one of our states and writing an informational piece based on the research.  The 50 states are being divided between the two fourth grade classes.  I explained to the class that I was going to randomly pull their name stick and then they could come and pull a state name out of a cup.  I explained that they might not get a state they want, but they could certainly research a state they were interested in on their own. When Alex picked from the cup he got Delaware and was very disappointed.  He went back to his seat and cried.  He cried for about a half an hour.  I told him he could go down to the health office until he felt better, but he said he would be fine.  I just wanted you to know how upset he was.

Thank you for sending Alex’s writing in before NJ ASK.  I could tell he worked very hard on it and did a good job.  I haven’t had a chance yet to return it to him with comments.

Thank you and have a nice evening,
Lisa Spiech

Jodi Schwartz

May 21
to Lisa
I didn't mean to laugh when I read this,  but I did :)
I've been spending time with Alex this evening learning some cool stuff about Delaware and he is feeling more inspired.
Have a good night

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Dear Alex,

Tomorrow marks the one-week anniversary of your having left for sleep away camp for the very first time.  When you left I didn't cry.  I'm generally stoic like that, so it wasn't so surprising.  

I did however walk around for a few days with a funny feeling in my stomach because I didn't know what every minute of every day is like for you at Indian Head. The only way I could even glimpse into knowing was to scour the photo website for smiling pictures of you.  Pictures of you doing fun things.  Pictures of you with other campers with your arms slung around each other because you were the best of friends.

Of course, I recognize that this is unrealistic.  Nobody becomes best friends overnight.  It takes time and "bonding" experiences for that to happen.  Intellectualizing didn't help the pit in my stomach.  In fact, it made it worse when I stopped to think about how you might be doing at any given moment.  You, my emotionally brilliant son who over-analyzes every interaction (in other words, you are just like me).  Who could take a meaningless glance from another kid as something meaningful.

I waited for "the call", when the camp director calls each parent of a new camper with the news that "hey, your kid is doing great here!"  I waited with a giant hole in my stomach after my friend who also had a son starting this year at IHC got her thumbs up call and I hadn't.  Did that mean that you were taking longer than normal to adjust?  That you were sitting in a corner with your head in your hands, supremely unhappy and wondering why I had sent you there?  Did you do something outlandish and weird to stand out and make an impression on your bunkmates only to have them brand you as the outlandish and weird kid?  Oh Alex, growing up is so hard.  I am constantly amazed not only at your bravery, but by the bravery of all children.

Then Joel called.  And he said that you were off to a great start.  He used child psychology speak and told me that you were "exhibiting all the right markers for adjustment."  My favorite was that he told me in conversation with you that you said so far camp was a "9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10".  What I love about that comment is that it is so uniquely Alex.  So filled with your demand for perfection and for believing that absolute perfection is not achievable.  So a 9.5 from you is basically like saying camp IS perfect.

An audible sigh.  The pit in my stomach has magically disappeared.  And yes, I still stalk the IHC photo website for pictures of you.  The weird thing is (and this is where the title of this post comes in) now that I know you are okay, I am not really missing you as much.  I have always been an out of sight, out of mind kind of person.  Whenever I move to a new place, I have the ability to move on and find a new group of people to be my friends.  But I never imagined that they same ability to let go in the moment would be true for my own son.  (And I suppose it's not 100% true, as I type I wish that I could be hanging out with you because I am intensely thinking about you.)  The summer that I had imagined without you was one of me sitting in your room, looking at your things and pictures of you and pining away waiting for you to come home. Instead, I am eagerly awaiting our call next week and visiting day the week after and wondering if we will have things to discuss or if when I ask you about your day that you will reply "fine" and to what did you do today you will reply "stuff" just like you always do.  Stuff like whatever is going on in this camp photo with whoever these kids are (hopefully they will be your life-long friends and PS you need either a hat or sunglasses, dude!)

Alex, my greatest wish is that we will always remain strongly connected.  That even when you live far away that we will talk about both the important and the mundane regularly.

I love you so much,

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The first day

Dear Alex,

For the first time in the ten plus years that you have been a part of my life I have absolutely no idea what you are doing right now, how you are feeling, what it looks like where you are.  That is because today you got onto a bus without looking back and left for your first summer at Indian Head sleep away camp.

Since 11 a.m. when the bus left, I have been wandering around in a bit of a fog.  Excedrin took away my stress headache, but there is still this weird feeling in my stomach which I know will stay for the entirety of the summer.  I am hoping that the feeling will ease up a bit once I know that you have made a friend and are happy.  That wont be for a few days; it's just crazy to be feeling like this.

For posterity, I want you to know that your sister cried the entire car ride home from the bus.  She was inconsolable - that you didn't hug her goodbye, that you said you weren't going to miss her and probably that she was having intense feelings and emotions about what it would be like to be home without you, to miss you with all of her heart.

Your dad was feeling emotional too.  He held it together until we received a video email from one of the owners of your camp.  It was sent to first time parents reminding us that we have given you a gift, one that you would love and that you would be happy.  This put daddy over the edge and he started to cry as well.

To make ourselves feel better this is what we did:
Dad - watched World Cup soccer and took Avery to the pool
Avery - watched My Little Pony and went to the pool with Dad
Me - Ate your Krackel Bar from Hershey Park (sorry!) along with some other snacks and then went to Ridgewood and bought two pairs of shoes

I hope that you didn't need to do anything to feel better and that you are just excited and have a lot of adrenaline right now.

I love you with all of my heart.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Hi Kids,

It's a blue sky, cloudless beautiful springtime Friday and I find myself daydreaming just a little bit this morning.

And I wanted to let you know that I still think about what I want to be when I grow up, even as you look at me and think I am completely grown up.

I think that maybe I would still like to try to be a doctor or a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner and that today I actually looked up a five year program and wondered about its feasibility.

It's really hard to rock the boat, particularly when your life seems idyllic for the most part.  So I wonder if any of this daydreaming will ever become a reality?

And if somehow it did, would I just begin to daydream about other things?  Like being a writer?  Or owning a small knitting store?  Or starting a better school lunch program?

The one job that I never dream about changing is being your mom.  Even when you are making me angry or sad or just plain crazy, I love the two of you fiercely.  

See you in about an hour so that we can have our Friday lunch together.  I treasure these times with you and am grateful for the career that allows for Fridays with my kids.

Love you,

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Dear Avery

It is 1040 pm and your dad and I just came upstairs to go to bed. I flipped on the lights in our bedroom, went back into the hallway to talk to your dad and then walked fully into the bedroom.
There you were just sitting cross legged on our bed not looking at me and not saying anything.

I jumped back, scared and surprised. When I picked you up you put your head on my shoulder. You didn't resist when I put you in bed. You just turned over and went to bed.

Even when you are freaking me out you are warm and snuggly and sweet.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Dear Avery,

The title of this blog post is "Punim".  It is Yiddish for the word face.  I don't use too many Yiddish words in part because I do not know them, but in part because it makes me feel like a cultural Jew instead of an observant one, and I don't like that feeling.  (Just another insight into my crazy).

Punim, however is a word that I like to keep a part of my vocabulary.  Because it means so much more than face.  It is layered with meaning; it means 'beautiful face', 'the face I love' and it absolutely cannot be said without total and complete endearment.

Yes my love, you are my shana punim.  And for your sixth birthday, I would like to write in detail about that punim.  That not so beautiful right now, bruised and battered face.  From things like a 'rug burn' from the rubber surface at the playground and things like a bruised and swollen nose from falling face first on a stone floor while running around and dancing and things like little round red dots from scratching springtime bug bites.

Okay, I'm your mom, so take this as you will - even with all of those bruises, you are still one of the most gorgeous creatures on this earth!

What I really want to talk about for your sixth birthday is your strength and your resilience in light of all these recent normal kid bruises.  I am amazed with your toughness.  Your ability to get up, wipe yourself off and go back to playing as hard as possible, because it seems that playing and enjoying life and being with friends supersedes any amount of pain or discomfort you might be feeling at the moment.  Oh how I love this about you!

I hope as you grow, you remember to be always exuberant, to take pleasure in the small and large joys of friends, family and daily life.

Happy sixth birthday, Avery! (I hope you lose a tooth soon),

P.S. I want to remind you that you donated 10 inches of hair to Pantene Great Lengths in honor of your sixth birthday.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Double Digit Defiance - The Ugly Side of Raising a Confident Kid

Dear Alex,

Sometimes these blog posts write themselves if you wait long enough.  There was one recent event that I had hoped to relay to you in your ten year old birthday letter from me - and I will get to it here - but in the meantime, several other events nearly identical in what they say about you as a ten year old have emerged.

If one of your dad's nicknames is Easily Excitable Eric, I think one of yours should be Overly Opinionated Alex (Absolutely Arrogant Alex has better alliteration, but is a bit too strong).  As you reach your pre-teen years, you have taken an approach in letting people know exactly where you stand, regardless of their position in life, regardless of whether that opinion might hurt someone's feelings.  You just have an opinion and come hell or high water, you are going to let everyone know.

Of course, my (typical) response to this type of behavior is to try and prove your opinion wrong.  To change what you think because it bothers me that you believe there only to be right and wrong, black and white in the world, with absolutely no shades of grey.  This is, of course, what it means to be ten years old and to find your place in the world, but it still bothers me.

At ten years old you say things like:

  • To your teacher, Mrs. Spiech "Homework planners are POINTLESS. If all of our worksheets are in our homework folders, why should we have to write down in a planner that we need to complete those worksheets!"

  • To your Auntie Dawn who lives in Manhattan (and just treated you to a fantastic night in the city, complete with dinner in the East Village, tickets to Blue Man Group and your very own iPad mini) "New York is a terrible place to live.  It smells.  It's dirty.  Apartments are small.  There is little grass and trees."

  • To me and to anyone who will listen about your future college ambitions "I'm definitely going to live in LA when I grow up.  I'm going to go to UCLA.  I'm going to live near Hollywood.  UCLA is the best/the only/the most fantastic of film schools in the country.  There are no other good places to learn how to become a director, be in the film industry."

As the mother to this ten year old, I respond:

  • Alex, you cannot speak to your teacher that way.  It is inappropriate to speak to a person in a position of authority in that manner. (Although, secretly I'm kind of proud that you feel confident enough to stand up to someone in a position of authority.)

  • Alex, if you hate Manhattan so much, I can PROMISE you that these yearly extravagant celebrations with your Aunt are DONE.  Why should she do so many nice things for you if all you do in return is say horrible things to her about the place she has chosen to make her home.  Oh and by the way, if you're so keen to visit London, you better be prepared because all those things that you say you hate about Manhattan are EXACTLY the same in London. (Although secretly I cannot WAIT to take you to the great cities of Europe.)

  • Alex, do you really think Los Angeles is all that great?  The smog and pollution there from all the cars is WAY worse than the pollution here in Manhattan.  And you better do your research before you go around saying that UCLA is the only school that has the type of program you want.  What about USC?  What about NYU?  You sound ignorant and uninformed when you paint the world as so completely black and white.  (Although secretly, I love that you have such ambition and drive, a true north, at such a young age.)
This is your evolving personality at ten.  However, most of the time you continue to be just who you have always have been - you find joy in both base humor and erudite language, you love movies, you love video games, you love being with friends, you love a good book, you love hamburgers, you often pretend to be annoyed by (but secretly love the attention from) your sister, you feel frustrated by those things at which you are not immediately perfect including spelling, punctuation, handwriting, baseball, basketball.  You are most definitely my child, made in my image, which makes me both love you and feel for you fiercely.

Happy tenth birthday, Alex!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Making me proud

When I think about what idyllic children should be, this is one of the images that floats into my head.

Alex reading to a clean, freshly showered and pajama-clad Avery before bed last night.

Simply heartwarming.

Korean Mikvah

I've been procrastinating writing this post. It has been mulling around in my head for the past two and half months, but still I have been struggling to put the proverbial pen to paper.  Maybe because there is an element of sacrilege to it.

I guess I'll start with the basics.  What is a mikvah?  If you want to learn a lot about it, you can check out this website: 
or you can just go to to read it described as a ritual bath to which Orthodox Jews are traditionally required to go on certain occassions, as before the sabbath and after each menstrual period, to cleanse and purify themselves.

Basically a deep pool like this one:

I think most modern Americans associate water and purity ceremonies with baptism, not Judaism, but here it is, the most observant among us go not once to 'join the club', but rather WEEKLY, before EVERY Shabbat to ensure purity of mind, body and soul.

Sure, I could have the time to do that myself, but then my kids would likely not have Shabbat dinner. :)

Still there is something about water and ritual and silence and meditation that appeals to me.  Maybe not weekly, but certainly this ever elusive me-time would be welcomed monthly? Seasonally?  And then there is reality-I manage to eek out one afternoon a year for this.  Usually the last week of December when things have calmed down at work, but it is not an affiliated mikvah I head to; rather a Korean spa called King Sauna in Palisades Park.

When you arrive, you are given a locker key and a set of utilitarian, almost communist-like uniform.  You head directly to the locker room, take a deep breath and get completely naked to walk into the women's spa, pictured below:

Yes. I wrote completely naked.  But so is everyone else.  And you can just check your ego in that locker along with the rest of your belongings, because there will be women who are older than you and younger than you, ones with more scars than you and less scars than you, ones who are skinnier and fatter than you, ones who are more and less beautiful than you.

There are generations of families (grandmother, mother and daughter) who are hanging out (naked!) in pools that range from boiling hot to icy cold.  There are steam rooms.  There are showers.  There are tables on which you can get the most amazing body scrub, facial and massage from women who speak very little English.

The purification that happens for me in this room is that of feeling better about my own body.  

When I am feeling quite waterlogged, I put on the uniform of pink shorts and t-shirt and head to one of the many co-ed healing rooms.  Below is a picture of the mineral salt room:

In these rooms, you sit on a mat on the ground in silence surrounded by men and women who are also silent.  Some appear to be asleep, but most are just quiet.  There are many rooms with different types of minerals or healing properties like the one pictured above, but there are also recliner chairs in rows in front of televisions where people just lie down in their uniforms to take naps.

The purification that happens for me in these areas is very much connected to the mind.  It is difficult for me to be among a group of people, albeit strangers, and be completely silent.  It is also freeing and after some time I relax into letting my mind wander and be free.

Then there is the food.  Which is fantastic and is served cafeteria style as seen below:

I eat lots of spicy and savory veggies and noodles and drink lots of water and sit on a bright salmon pink oversized chair and watch soap operas.  It is the only day of the year that I would ever consider watching a soap opera and four years into visiting King Sauna, I would say that my trip would not be complete without it.

So I have already written about the purification of body and mind.  Does this mean that the food I eat and soap operas I watch serve as purification of the soul?  As delicious as the food is (and as trashy as the TV is), the answer is no.  For me, connection with the soul has never been in silence and always involves music.  Sometimes it's voices raised in prayer and sometimes it's just a song that strikes me.  

I had not set out to write a review of King Sauna; instead I had intended to write about the importance of ritual across different cultures and faiths.  It didn't work out the way I planned, but I am still pleased because I learned something about myself and the sheer importance of the role of music in my life.  It all makes sense.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Growing boys and cute things that little girls say

Hi kids,

It has been too long since I have written to you.  Winter seems to be never ending this year, but I think we may be reaching the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In just a few weeks, Alex will turn ten - double digits! and Avery is not far behind in turning six.

Alex you have been physically growing taller before our very eyes.  In the past month alone, you have grown another half inch and are now just a half inch shy of five feet.  I have also quipped to people lately that you are made out of hamburgers.  This is your favorite food and I indulge you in them to keep up with your never ending hunger.  In fact, this morning when I woke you up for school, you turned over, opened your eyes and said to me, "I am REALLY hungry."  It is a joy and wonder to watch you continue to grow and be healthy and happy.  And just so you remember yourself at this point in time, this video will remind you always of your amazing confidence and talent.

Alex rocks it at his first School of Rock Concert

Avery, you might not be in the middle of a physical growth spurt right now, but you are certainly developing that little mind of yours.  You are trying your hardest to become a reader; we are so proud.  And you continue to have the imagination that even the most creative people yearn for.  I look forward to learning what this unique and incredible creativity means for you in life.

As always, love to you both,