Ten Gifts I Didn’t Deserve

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In the years I’ve spent as a parent, I’ve been humbled hundreds of times. Sometimes one of my daughters has a proclivity the other lacks. Other times, the health challenges of one make me see the relative good health of the other as anything but a given. Most often, though, I am humbled by the ways I see the challenges of other children and families. The things I took for granted always, always, reveal themselves to be as symptoms of my own ignorance. I could make the list below almost endless, pages and pages of gifts that no one is guaranteed but that I — somehow, luckily — was given. I will never take them for granted again. Never. Continue Reading…

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I Was Always There

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I hate this picture.

I hate that my daughter — normally so sunny, so funny and vital and affectionate and bright — asked me to take this photo. She asked me because she wanted to keep a record of her time staying in the cardiac intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, where she was trapped after surgery to move her aorta from where it was crushing her esophagus. She asked me to take this picture — this haunting, heartbreaking picture — because I’d suggested that she keep a journal of each day, mostly so she could see herself getting better each day. I hadn’t anticipated that she’d be awake for the photos the first day. Somehow, though, she pried her eyes apart and did her best to smile, right there, as the sun was beginning to set on day one. Continue Reading…

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Daughter, Whole

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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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What You Brought Home

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Dear Sammi Sunshine,

On the day that we brought you home from the hospital, we were nearly out of the parking garage when I remembered the milk — my milk, your milk, stored in the infant intensive care unit freezer. I’d been waking up every three hours for over a week to pump it and bring it in a little cooler to you each morning. I sprung out of the car, wincing from the cesarean section scar still healing on my abdomen, and went back into the hospital for it. It was the first thing you brought into our home — you, your tiny perfect self, and twenty-six ounces of expressed breast milk. Continue Reading…

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My Daughter Is Twelve and Four

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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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