In Defense of Compassion

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Most of my adult life has been propelled, in one way or another, by compassion.

As someone who began making a career in internet technology during the dot-com boom, I was always uneasy with what on earth I was doing by pushing pixels across a screen for a living. Who did I help, making web sites to prop up the egos of CEOs and corporate shareholders? It took me years to press my way into service to something with more value to humanity. By 1999, I was using the pixel-pushing skills I’d learned to support the voices of non-profit organizations. Necessarily, the budgets and the ability to innovate came later to these organizations. I could not charge them money they did not have; it was not greed that motivated their protest. My prices as a freelancer changed to reflect this. I adjusted and leaned toward compassion.

Then, when my children were born in the early 2000s, my entire life became an exercise in compassionate listening. A baby cried, unable to manage her emotions or get her needs met in any other way, and I held her. I sang to her, I soothed her. It seemed unconscionable to behave any other way. Another baby was born, this time sick and in pain, and she cried even more and for far longer than the first one had. My compassion was called upon constantly, to weigh my own needs against hers and to ask myself whether she had any other means of expressing her misery, any reserves of patience or space in her brain to make the developmental leaps a child with a full stomach and no pain can make. She did not, much of the time, and I needed to dig deep to find my own untapped wells of compassion. She needed every drop I had. Continue Reading…

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The Teal Pumpkin Project: Because We Remember

teal-pumpkin-remember

When my daughter Sammi was five, Halloween could have been just horrible.

Just a few months earlier, Sammi had been diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. An inflammatory condition of the esophagus — the tube that runs between the mouth and the stomach — it is poorly understood and responds to only a handful of imperfect treatments. The treatment we chose for her was called the Six Food Elimination Diet, a set of food restrictions that required her to avoid anything with dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, fish, or wheat. We were already vegetarians; this was a huge lifestyle change for our entire family.

Sammi had just started kindergarten, learning to read and write and follow instructions in a classroom that necessarily had been forced to eliminate Play-Doh (wheat) and to keep a small box with “Sammi-safe” snacks available for the days — most days — when she could not eat the shared snacks brought by her classmates. It was a rough start. And then, it was Halloween.

On this particular diet, the only kind of typical Halloween candy she could eat were Smarties and Dum-Dums. All other candies contained a forbidden item or were produced on equipment that might be shared with a forbidden item, and so I tried to figure out how to save Halloween. How would it be to walk from house to house and say, over and over again, “No, you can’t eat that one. No, you can’t eat that one either. No, no, no”?

Finally, I decided to solve our problem with a combination of money and magic. Continue Reading…

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Three Days of Reckoning

stroller

When my now-eleven-year-old-daughter Sammi was still in my belly, I had a dream: a thin girl with straight, dirty blond hair and glasses, about nine or ten, was pushing a stroller at the zoo. I couldn’t see who was in the stroller, but something told me that pushing this stroller was very important for that young girl. Standing in place, her thin legs visible under short-shorts, she pushed her glasses above her eyes and wiped the bridge of her nose, then leaned forward, pressing her arms out and putting all her weight into the stroller. It rolled forward, and a gaggle of children I couldn’t quite make out ran and pranced around her as they moved toward the nearest animal exhibit.

That’s all the dream was — a girl I’d never seen pushing a stroller — and, at the time, I knew it was important but couldn’t quite figure out how. After all, I didn’t know I was having a second girl, and this baby in my belly had a round, dimpled older sister with a head full of huge dark curls.

But now, this week, I glimpsed a shadow of this image in real life. Sammi stood in a paper gown, waiting for the pediatrician. She had tried sitting on my lap in the chair, but her legs are now finally long and gangly enough that this is uncomfortable for both of us. I offered her the chair, but it was cold against her bare thighs, and she wanted to avoid the examining table until she had no other choice. So, she stood there: petite but solid, the plastic belt of the gown forcing the beginnings of a woman’s figure into my imagination, and I thought to myself: I really never pictured her at this age. Continue Reading…

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Soup Is My Legacy

souppotI hear my daughter Sammi’s steps on the stairs before her voice calls out to me. Still, I don’t run to unlock the door; she has keys, and my hands are covered in a sticky mass of egg and flakes of matzo meal. When I hear the key turn in the lock, I know what I’ll hear next and, still, it thrills me every time.

“Mommy!,” is the beginning and then, barely as that first word ends, the deep inhale begins, followed by, “Oooohhh! Really?!! Matzo ball soup!!! YES!!!”

This is my legacy, every bit of it, from the key in the door to the recognition of home to the smell of what’s cooking and what it means. This is how I want to be remembered.


Sammi has always loved soup. As a toddler, struggling to gain weight after her first cardiac surgery, she deigned to take tiny sips of a soup whose recipe I’d found in an old magazine and adapted. Chickpea soup became our savior, keeping her weight from dropping to the magically low number that would mean feeding tube. We spiked it with extra virgin coconut oil and kept a batch in the fridge at all times. It got so that I could not eat it myself, but never mind that — Sammi ate and did not wither, sipped and did not die.

When Sammi was only two, I brought a batch of that soup — a recipe I could make in my sleep and, half-crazed with insomnia in those years, often nearly did — to the home of parents who had just accepted two little boys as foster children. Sammi sat in her car seat as I hoisted the pot up the stairs and handed it over. There was, of course, another pot at home for her. These days, when I run into that other mother, she often mentions that soup, usually with the two words we use: “I made The Soup. Your soup. You know? The Soup.”

And I know. Of course I know. It’s powerful soup. Continue Reading…

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The Gift of No Dessert

Swallow, My Sunshine: Blueberries in a bowl
My daughter pauses on her way to return the jar of honey to the cabinet, angles her body toward the counter, and reaches for her buzzing phone. Absentmindedly, one hand still holding the honey while the other wraps itself around the phone, her gaze travels down to the messages that have come in while we were eating dinner. I wait to see what happens next.

As I suspected, the honey drifts toward the counter, set down as the connection between my eleven-year-old and her new friends from middle school crackles back into existence again. She is absorbed, and I turn back to the sink to finish the dishes. Ten minutes later, I dry the last pot and announce, “Bedtime, kiddo. Up you go.”

“BUT!” she says, loudly, “I was gonna have DESSERT!”

“No time left,” I answer, squeezing her shoulders. “You chose to look at your phone for the last ten minutes. Put the honey away and let’s go upstairs.”

“BUT!” she repeats. “I’m HUNGRY!”

I look at the time and mentally inventory the fridge and pantry for the quickest thing. “There’s no time for regular dessert. You can eat one yogurt squeeze or a handful of blueberries. You have five minutes.”

And then, as she opens the fridge quickly and sighs, I take in her long legs, strong shoulders, and thick hair, and I am grateful for the three hundredth time that five minutes is plenty of time for whichever she chooses. Not so long ago, there would have been neither phone time, nor the choice of fruit, nor the option to begin eating anything with so little time to spare before bedtime.

Not so long ago, my daughter Sammi could barely eat anything in five minutes. Continue Reading…

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