Love, Parenting, Relationships

Dear 38-year-old Me

Dear Jen:

It’s a trend in the last decade or so for writers or celebrities to pen letters to their younger, seemingly more innocent and vulnerable selves.

While sometimes introspective and poignant, this practice is a waste of time.

Letters lead only to wistful and wishful thinking.

Energy is better spent focusing on inventing a time travel machine.  Time travel is an action plan.

The thing is, I have trouble understanding the directions blockersto my 6-year-old’s “Blockers” board game, let alone the mind-bending quantum physics required to figure out how time travel would work.

The closest we writers will likely get to inventing a time travel machine is live tweeting a Quantum Leap marathon.

And so, we write letters.

Reading and writing letters are the next best thing to time travel.

I learned this last week as I was looking at old emails from the past 10 years.

Why was I looking at old emails from the past 10 years?

Because today I celebrate 10 years of being a mother.

I was looking for something in particular in my old sent letters.

A file called, “Tobey Grows.”

When I was pregnant with Tobey, I was a complete lunatic.

My husband told me so at the time, but I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just being an insensitive asshole.

But time traveling back into 2002 and reading the journal I kept both during my pregnancy and during Tobey’s first year of life, I see what a complete and utter crazy, control freak I was.

Don’t get me wrong: I was also really cute. Hot even. (Man, my hair will never be that blonde again. Damn, hormones.)

12/2003, Tucson, Arizona
12/2003, Tucson, Arizona

But I was convinced that I was so powerful…and yet often felt completely and utterly powerless.

I thought that by maintaining control over my world, over my child’s world, that I could somehow protect him. Keep him safe. Turn him into the healthiest, strongest human being ever poised to be President of the United States of America.

And at the same time, as I read these journal entries and think back to that younger, blonder time, I realize how terrified I was.

How in a moment powerful transformed into powerless.

A fall from a swing. A slip in the bath. A bug bite. An allergic reaction.

That’s all it took to turn me into a powerless heap of Jello.

My life as a mother hasn’t changed all that much.  Powerful still turns into powerless in an instant.

But now, I know that powerful is an illusion.

I know that control is an illusion.

I know that I am not in control.

I’m not the driver.

I’m the navigator, sometimes.

I’m the backseat driver, a lot.

I’m the guy who writes the instructions manual.

I’m the girl upstairs who edits the manual three years later.

I’m the old lady who laughs at the manual years later when cars learn how to drive themselves.

*   *   *   *

This is not an easy understanding to retain, dear 38-year-old Me.

I’m still very susceptible to believing I am in control.

That I can keep him safe.

That I can protect him from this scary world.

That he will make it…thanks to me.

I’m still a bit of a complete lunatic. And I still think my husband is being a complete asshole when he tells me so.

But, for the record, he’s usually right.

The only difference now, 10 years later, is I can recognize my craziness a lot quicker.

And acknowledge it. And forgive it.

I’m a lot more forgiving of myself now.

It took me 10 years to let compassion for myself in.

And while my hair is not as blonde, my shoulders are a lot lighter than they were 10 years ago when I first became a mother.

2012, Israel
2012, Israel

And the compassion I have for myself spreads to those around me…

To my husband.

To my own mother.

To my mother-in-law.

To my children.

To my friends.

To my enemies.

To strangers.

*   *   *   *

Dear 38-year-old Me:

Since opening my heart to my son 10 years ago, I have become so much more vulnerable to pain, to fear.

And somehow, strangely, during that same period of time I’ve managed to let go of pain, of fear.

A bit.

And let in love — a bit more.

I’m writing this letter to you today to remind you of that.

So that tomorrow, when fear creeps in, when control takes over, you remember that it’s all an illusion.

You remember that your husband is right.

You’re acting like a complete lunatic.

Love is more powerful than fear.



And breathe again.


38-year-old Me

Community, Letting Go, Love

There’s only this catastrophe

I’ve been a tad bit obsessed with catastrophe since I was nine years old.

Maybe longer; but I remember waking up in a sweat from catastrophe dreams around that time.

Tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis.

The dreams weren’t always nightmares. In fact, sometimes I woke up feeling empowered because no matter how scary the dream, I always woke up alive.

Sometimes I even kicked some tsunami ass.

jon kabat zinn

I learned later that catastrophe dreams typically indicate anxiety or stress. (Surprise, surprise.)

This understanding transformed a recurring nightmare into an opportunity for introspection. An ongoing opportunity.

And while I don’t have catastrophe dreams very often anymore, when I do, I know it’s time to slow down. It’s time to recalibrate. Return to the basics. Ask myself what’s important.

Remind myself to live less in my mind and more in the moment.

This moment.

It’s all we can do.

It’s all we have.

This moment.

This understanding is what we wake up to in the moment following tragedy.

This understanding is what we wake up to in the moment before a perceived catastrophe.

And then we fall asleep again.

But, what if we were to carry this understanding with us?

Into the next moment?

Into this very moment?

The only moment we have.

Life is a catastrophe, to paraphrase Jon Kabat-Zinn, the mindfulness guru who probably best perpetuated in the U.S. this concept of “living in the moment.”

Bills to pay. Kids to feed. Spouses to please. Bosses to appease. The everyday catastrophes of life.

Which means we can stop waiting for a catastrophe to happen.

This is it.

And to paraphrase an unwitting proponent of mindfulness, Jonathan Larsen, the creator of the hit Broadway musical Rent — who died the day before his show premiered Off-Broadway:

There’s no day but today.

Words that constitute the same concept as “living in the moment” but with a musically moving execution. And the topical catastrophe of AIDS.

AIDS or not. Natural disaster or not. Mayan apocalypse or not. Madness or not. Pain or not. Fear or not.

“There is no future. There is no past….”

There’s no day but today.  And it’s not bad background music to hum to a Mayan apocalypse.

Letting Go, Living in Community, Love

The magical power of you (yes, you)

Twice a month, on average, I travel to Tel Aviv for work.

And twice a month, on average, after I park my car on Menachem Begin street in Ramat Gan I walk over to Cafe Cafe to order an espresso k’tzar to go.

Today, I walked into Cafe Cafe and before I could order, the waitress hanging out by the bar looked at me and said “Espresso k’tzar?”

Incredulous, I asked her in Hebrew, “You remember? Really?”

She said, “Of course.”

Now, a skeptic might say, she has a statistically high chance of guessing what I will order at an espresso bar in Israel and nailing it. After all Cafe Cafe is no Starbucks, and there’s no peppermint or pumpkin or other array of holiday coffee drink specials.

However, anyone who knows Israel would know that the waitress’ chances would have been 5x as high if she had said instead of espresso k’tzar:


Since 9.75 times out of 10, Israelis in Tel Aviv order hafooch (a latte).

But she didn’t. She said a short espresso, which is what I always order the two times a month I am in Cafe Cafe in Ramat Gan.

And this little gesture — this “remembering” of little old me — made me stop. Completely stop. I stopped inside a moment I would normally speed through.

Suddenly, I looked at this stranger differently.  I interacted with my coffee differently.

All it took was one, seemingly simple interaction to change the way I walked the three blocks from the cafe to my destination.

Instead of noticing the sewage smell emanating from open garbage container like I normally do on this walk, I noticed the shimmer of a single bee stopping to buzz in the sunlight above a sidewalk block.

Do you see it?


I couldn’t capture its majesty in the moment. But I got closer to a bee than I ever have before. Because, for once, its beauty resonated with me more than its potential danger.

And, for me, this is huge.

Beauty overtook fear.

My interaction with a nameless barista was a moment of magic in my day. And considering I had just gotten out of my car after having spent two hours in bad traffic on the highway alone, magic was much-needed.

The magic of you is the minor yet major factor in whether or not my day starts off with wonder and hope or with cynicism and despair.

Of course, I play a part in the magic trick, too. I am the magician’s assistant. I need to be willing to see and believe in the magic in order for it to work.

It helped that I was listening to a series of TED talks on my commute to work this morning. It helped that one of those talks was Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” I was in the right frame of mind to be happy. It helped that one of those talks was Louie Schwartzberg’s “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” I was in the right frame of mind to appreciate and be thankful for all that my eyes could see during that three block walk.

Shawn and Louie — strangers on a stage — helped.

Sometimes you are a magician. And I am your assistant.

And sometimes, we switch.

Switch on. Each other.

And the extraordinary magic in minor moments.

Love, Making Friends, Relationships, Spirituality

Wonder might be what saves us

(This was originally posted on The Times of Israel)

In college, one of my best friends was Stephanie. We met sophomore year as we both hesitantly decided to join the eager freshman girls in sorority rush. By the time Rush Week was over, we knew that no matter how much or little we ended up liking the girls dressed in matching t-shirts and hair ribbons, we’d have each other.

And we did. Until the summer before Junior year when Stephanie got sick. She didn’t return for fall semester, and instead spent the next nine months receiving treatment for lymphoma. We spoke on the phone often during that time — in fact, when I remember Stephanie, I remember her phone voice, “Hey Jen, It’s Steph.” But I visited her only once at her parent’s home in Pennsylvania, a winter break road trip I dared alone from my parent’s house across the Delaware River.

I remember carefully washing my hands when I entered the house, and I remember how cheerful Steph was that day despite being clearly weakened. We played board games, and she showed me her computer station in the basement. The place, she told me, where she still felt connected to the world.

This was in 1994. The internet was still very young. I can’t remember if I even had an email address yet. If I did, I didn’t use it for anything other than connecting with my friends at school. But to Steph, the internet was everything. It was her only thing.

She told me about the friends she had made online; the games they could actually play together; the chat rooms. I remember being curious, but also sad. Who were these “friends” that my friend was so eager to meet each day; and how could she possibly get to know them simply through the green letters peppering a dark monitor screen?

But now I understand.

Almost 20 years later, I understand.

I understand how a stranger can make you feel alive.

How technology can be a life line.

And while for some, this is a more literal truth than for others; I do believe it can be a truth for us all.

I’m no technophile. In fact, I’m the mom that severely limits her kid’s computer time; rolls her eyes at her husband’s urgent need for the new IPhone; and worries that the next generation will never learn how to spell because they’ve never lived without Spell Check.

But, I’m no technophobe either. In fact, I believe that technology, and more specifically social media, just might be what saves us.

It’s a lofty statement with modest origins.

I realized today, for instance, how using Instagram has reignited my sense of wonder.

Through the lens of my mobile phone camera and the filter of Instagram, I suddenly find myself marveling at the beauty that is the backyard of my otherwise unattractive rental home in the Galilee:

I’m touched by the remnants of a lost time and place:

I feel in my heart the true miracle that is my son playing on the playground the day after a cease fire:

Through Instagram, I see the world with hopeful eyes, and from that space find myself seeking new objects of wonder.

Every day.

Wonder. Hope.

I’m on the look out for wonder and hope.

And when I find it, I want to share it.

This is what the world needs more of.

And it’s not just Instagram. Twitter ignites my curiosity. It’s in this space that I meet up with science geeks; where I’m reminded of just how many people out there really, truly want to save our planet. It’s in this space that I found my community in Israel; where I realized I’m not alone in my quest to make this land and the gentle hearts of those of us who live here understood by those who don’t.

Wonder and hope.

And Facebook, too. It’s here I’m inspired by the joy of the people I love. It’s here where I’m reminded by just how much people care about me, and just how much I care about others. How much my heart can burst at the photograph of a new baby born to someone I’ve never met in real life, but know through her blog what a gift that baby truly is.

Wonder and hope.

Social media –and your sharing bits and pieces of your wonder and hope — makes me feel alive.

And together, our joy at living, just might be what saves us.


Remedy for discontent

 ”’Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping,

I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why…”

Lyrics written before I was born, and yet as I sing them out loud today, I feel their depth and their truth. They penetrate my heart, and silence my mind.

But only for a moment.

And then the mind awakens.

How many of us are empty and aching and don’t know why?

How many of us do know why, but are afraid to admit it? Afraid to do anything about it?


How many of us are, like Kathy, sleeping?

And at the same time restless?

Casually cognizant of our discontent but resigned to its permanence in this one precious life we have to live?

Why don’t we do something?


We are 9 days away from an internationally-renowned pop culture event – the end of the long count of the Mayan calendar. Otherwise known as the Mayan Apocalypse, aka 2012, aka End of Days.

Whoever was in charge of brand strategy for the Mayan civilization should get a big fat bonus.

News stories from Russia indicate people are stocking up on disaster supplies; reports also abound of tourist influx to pseudo-scientific hotspots like Mount Rtanj in Serbia or Pic de Bugarach in the Pyrenees.

Some of us are scared and admit it.

Some of us are scared, and won’t admit it.

Some are smug.

Some of us clueless.

Most of us fall in between.

No matter where we fall, our lives are certainly about to feel like a scene from a Michael Bay movie.

And no matter where we fall, for a moment, for certain, we will awaken.

What is going to happen next? we wonder.

Will the sky fall?

Will the stock market crash?

Will Target run out of transistor radios and matches?

And who gets to score the soundtrack?


Here’s my question:

Is it possible that we crave disasters?

That there’s something soothing about an imagined apocalypse?

An end to the agonizing restlessness of our real lives? A beginning of a craved banding together of humanity?

Is this the spark that created Doomsday Preppers? World War Z? The Walking Dead?

This interest in disaster is not just the stuff of the fringe. It’s not just the stuff of zealous religious folk who think the End of Days heralds the coming of Jesus. It’s not just the stuff of conspiracy theorists who are certain the Mayans knew what they were talking about and the government does too, but is hiding the secret from the good people.

It’s the stuff of all of us.

Secretly, perhaps, we all wish for something that will shake us from our slumber.

Secretly, or not so secretly, we wish for something that will force us to make a decision. To take action. To live a life of deeper meaning.

A life where our actions feed our hearts, not our heads.

And, perhaps, we think the answer lies only in global catastrophe.

How else but a global catastrophe could we justify leaving our jobs? Selling our house? Breaking our lease? Ending our broken relationships? Dropping out of school? Trekking across Africa alone for seven years?

If the zombies were to take over, on the other hand, we’d finally have an excuse to quit our job. To change majors. To tell people what we really think of them.

On the other side of catastrophe is a new beginning.


“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat

We smoked the last one an hour ago

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine

And the moon rose over an open field.”

The final scene from disaster drama Melancholia
A final scene from Melancholia

Finding your inner patriot

When do you decidedly fit into a nation?

Is it when you feel confident in a voting booth?

Is it when you feel the urge to buy cotton harem pants that drop just below the knee?

Is it when you recognize the country’s top celebs?

Mentors on Israel's The Voice
Mentors on Israel’s The Voice

If so, I’m not there yet.

Yesterday, on my drive into Tel Aviv for a meeting, I noticed a billboard for The Voice staring down at me from high above the freeway. Four faces: And none were remotely recognizable to me.

I couldn’t relate to the dress or hairstyle on any of the four. None looked like my friend, my father, or even someone I’d choose to be on of my top 5 list “freebies.”

Where am I? I thought.

Tel Aviv, my self answered.

And I live here? I thought.

No, not in Tel Aviv. And that’s part of the problem.

I live in the outskirts. I live a sheltered life.

On purpose.

But what happens when you live a quiet, sheltered life on purpose is this feeling of complete and utter disconnect. It takes a lot longer, presumably, to feel like an “Israeli” among Israelis.

Of course, part of the problem is I have a nice big fat crutch called “English.”

I work mostly in English. Many of my friends speak in English.

I stick to my English books on my Kindle and the little TV I watch is in English.

At some point in the last six months or so, I stopped trying so hard to fit in.

Which on the one hand makes my life a lot easier, but on the other hand keeps me stuck feeling like a tourist in this country. A foreigner. An outsider.

I’m a lot less lost than I was two years ago, but I’m not quite found yet either.

Which is okay.

Think about it, I told myself as I parked the car in Ramat Gan.

You spent 30-something years  in New Jersey, and you never quite found yourself there either.

Nor could I relate to the celebrities plastered on billboards. Nor were any of those celebs on my “top 5 freebie list.”

The cast of Jersey Shore
The cast of Jersey Shore