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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What I Was (Not) Thinking

In the fall of 2010, my younger daughter began kindergarten on a dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, wheat-free, nut-free, vegetarian diet.

In late October, she got to add eggs back into her diet on a trial basis, and I learned how incredibly, incredibly useful eggs can be in managing a diet as challenging as hers. When we added back eggs, it made it possible for us to make these ridiculous — and I mean ridiculous — “pizzas:”

everything-free-pizza

Continue Reading…

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Twelve Years in Music

music-tools

I’ve loved music since I was a very little girl. My parents owned a record store before I was born; their music collection was spectacular, including every emblematic song of the 60s with rare gems thrown in. My earliest memories of their records are of the Beatles’ “All Together Now,” with its b-side of “Hey Bulldog,” a song so dark that it scared me. I can picture the green apple on the record label. I can picture the carpeted floor beneath me. I can remember the spot between the couch and the record cabinet where I sat and carefully edged the records out of their sleeves.

Like most people, my most powerful musical memories take me right back into the moment, bringing with them the smells and images and sensations that were present when the memories embedded themselves. In his fascinating book about music and the brain, the late neuroscientist Oliver Sachs wrote, “Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.”

These ten songs represent powerful piercings of my heart over the last twelve years of parenting my daughter Sammi, which was — as mothers of medically complicated children know — a more physical, spiritual, and emotional journey than the one I’ve shared with my older daughter. Of course there is powerful music to remember with her, too, but this music below served as survival tools in unique ways for Sammi and I. Perhaps these tools will help others, as well. Continue Reading…

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Forget It, Or Don’t, Or Hold It Lightly

swallow-my-sunshine-chairIt was December, 2013, when we had that awful conversation, the doctor and my husband and I.

It was cold out, and my body wasn’t ready for it yet. That’s why my chin was quivering as I sat in the upholstered chair next to the window, cradling one phone while my husband stood alert in the next room with another extension in his hand. It was cold outside, and I didn’t have my winter metabolism running by then, so my hand shook. It shook so much that the paper in front of me was blank the whole time. I never wrote anything. At the end of the conversation, when the doctor’s excitement oozed through the phone because the missing piece might really fit in the puzzle this time, my paper was blank and my toes were tucked under my bottom in the chair, holding me tightly into the space where I was curled now, so cold, so cold because I was near the window, the winter window, on a frigid day. That’s why I shook. That’s why I shivered.

But actually, it turns out, it was November. Continue Reading…

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Musical Fences

She was a tiny bump in my belly, straining against my leggings, when I bought the fiddle.

I knew it would be years and years before I could bring myself to make a purchase this extravagant and this selfish just for myself. I knew I needed something to remind myself of who I was without her, without her sister and without my husband, and that when this baby was born and home, I would be overwhelmed and need the occasional escape. I went to several violin shops before I settled on this gentle, caramel-sounding fiddle, which I played in the musty basement practice room of the folk music shop.

I played Roaring River and Bumblebee in a Jar and Courting Days Waltz, and I knew the fiddle was mine. It was easy under my chin and pressed into the space between my thumb and my index finger. It belonged to me: four strings to fence me off from the loss of self. Continue Reading…

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