Daughter, Whole

bat-mitzvah

Several weeks ago, my triumphant, thriving, sensitive and sweet daughter Sammi read from the Torah for the first time.

In the Jewish ceremony known colloquially as a “Bat Mitzvah,” my daughter consciously took her place in her community by chanting three verses of a chapter from Leviticus. Like all children who become a Bat or Bar Mitzvah (literally, a daughter or son of the covenant), she studied for months to learn the melody and the Hebrew words she’d be chanting and all the prayers she’d need to know to share leadership of the service and analyze the chapter of Torah in English. She has a lovely, clear voice, and she spent weeks with headphones on listening to the sound of her tutor’s voice chanting her verses, and singing along. I’d heard her practicing, but nothing really prepared me for the feeling I would have on the day she became a Bat Mitzvah, as I stood next to her at the podium as she chanted in front of the congregation of our synagogue and all of the friends and family who gathered to bear witness. It was not what I expected. Continue Reading…

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My Daughter Is Twelve and Four

swallow-my-sunshine-yellow-bowl

Earlier this month, my twelve year old daughter Sammi mused to me, as she rummaged through the refrigerator for a snack, that she was hungry all the time these days.

“I feel like I just always want something to eat!” she told me as she scooped refried beans into a bowl at the counter.

“That’s pretty normal for a kid your age,” I reminded her. “You’re doing your last big growth spurt right now.”

“Yeah,” she answered, sprinkling shredded cheese on her bowl of beans and sliding it into the microwave, “but this is crazy. By seventh period every day, I’m already trying to think about what’s left in my lunchbox to eat on the walk home! I just chew gum and try to make it for three more classes.”

I made some suggestions about keeping a small snack in her bag to nibble between classes, and she brought her bowl of beans and cheese to the counter to eat as she got started on homework.

Four years ago, I would not have recognized one thing from this scene: not her independence, not her strong shoulders or her thick hair, not my casual tone, and, most of all, not the fact that my daughter was making the equivalent of a full meal as an after-school snack.

Four years ago, a bowl of refried beans and cheese would have come home from school with her in a thermos, missing a few spoonfuls, and be dumped in the trash by dinner time when she still hadn’t finished it.

Four years ago, my relationship with Sammi was almost entirely composed of my trying gently to encourage her to eat, my trying not-so-gently to encourage her to eat, and my internal monologue that blamed everything that went wrong with her temperament to my failure to find exactly the right things for her to eat.

Four years ago, I didn’t really know my daughter at all. Continue Reading…

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Passover in the Children’s Hospital

soup-veggiesTonight is the first night of Passover, and I woke up early to chop carrots and celery and onions and garlic, the four-musketeers of my favorite parts of the traditional festive meal we’ll have tonight. As I type, I can smell the matzo-ball-soup cooking, the potatoes I added thickening the broth, the dill adding the freshness of spring. I don’t have much time to plan the seder itself, a religious service observed at my second favorite chapel in the world: my dining room table, second only to my kitchen.

I appreciate this day more now than when I was younger, possibly because I spent one terrible, heavy Passover in the hospital with my youngest daughter as she recovered from heart surgery. I think of it now, every year, as I chop and season and clean and prepare for the sometimes 28, sometimes 15 people who come to my house to share the meal with us.

That year, it was just me and Sammi: me in an armchair and her in her tipped-up hospital bed, eating matzo with jam and fat-free cheese and watching The Prince of Egypt on Netflix. It was beautiful, and it was terrible, and while I’m glad we did it, I never want to do it again. Continue Reading…

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Write the Story You Need to Read

write-the-story-you-need-to-read

“rapid breathing of the newborn”

“morbidity vascular ring repair”

“esophageal dilatation toddler”

“vascular ring story blog happy ending”

“double aortic arch multiple surgeries”

“afraid my child will die”

“misdiagnosis eosinophilic esophagitis”

These are all real search terms I’ve typed into Google in the years since my daughter — now twelve years old and completely healthy — was diagnosed with a Double Aortic Arch just after her first birthday. In the intervening years, I typed those words into a desktop computer while nursing her on a big pillow in my lap or while she played on the floor nearby with her big sister; on a laptop at a coffeeshop while she went to preschool; on my first smartphone while I waited for her to come out of general anesthesia. I’ve been searching for stories like hers since I knew she’d have a story to tell. Continue Reading…

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No Way Through It But to Do It

kids-and-homework

She is at the kitchen counter, tongue jutted out over her top lip, pencil in an awkward grip, tears rolling down her face.

“There’s so much of this!” she says, between strangled sobs.

I chop carrots, a profile at a counter perpendicular to the one where her science book, notebook, tablet, and half-eaten bowl of cheese crackers are scattered. Her hair is in her eyes, and she keeps angrily tucking it behind her ear. I put down the knife, rinse my hands, wipe them on the back pockets of my jeans, and walk gently and slowly around the edges of the counter. I pull her hair back and wrap it into a quick ponytail, and then I kiss the top of her warm, slightly-sweaty head.

“No way through it but to do it,” I tell her.

She falls forward, her head in her arms, and cries, still gripping the pencil. I rub her back, softly, and rest my cheek on her neck to whisper in her ear, little useless things about getting a drink of water, taking a five minute break, finishing her snack. She growls and rises, determined through tears to get it done.

I straighten and make my way back toward the carrots, noting that her sister is on the couch in the next room, laptop propped on her knees, papers everywhere, water bottle cuddled against her side. She’s absentmindedly eating a package of dried seaweed, listening to music, and occasionally holding her phone up at just the right angle for a photo containing only half her face. She looks up, and I blow her a kiss. She smiles, waves, and catches it.

The battle rages on at the counter.

I wonder what made my two daughters so different: the older one go-with-the-flow, flexible, arched toward satisfaction; and the younger one frustrated, questioning, mourning, her happiness easily won but equally easily lost. Continue Reading…

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