Thursday, April 17, 2014

How NOT to Teach Your Teen to Drive

I would like to propose a new federal regulation:

Only one parent at a time shall be permitted in the vehicle when a teenager is learning to drive.

Yes, that is correct.  

Moms, if you want to jump into the passenger seat while junior grabs the wheel, go right ahead!

Dads, if you want to press on the "imaginary" brake while your princess runs several stop signs, be my guest.

However, if junior is behind the wheel and mom is in the passenger seat, dad is forbidden to be in the back seat, in the trunk, under the hood, or anywhere within a 50 mile radius of the vehicle in question. 

We shall call this new legislation "The Weinstein Law".

Two months ago, despite delays brought on by mother nature and her bi-weekly snow storms, my 16-year old daughter Melissa finally obtained her learner's permit.  This meant that I could legally teach her how to drive!  For our first outing, Melissa got into the car, put on her seat belt, checked the mirrors, and then slowly pulled out of our driveway.  In the meantime, I pulled out my hair, had a heart attackpumped the imaginary brake with all my might, stayed calm as she made the 1.5 mile journey to the local library.  Honestly, despite taking longer than necessary to turn left and enduring the beeping taunts of the impatient driver behind her, she did great!

The following weekend, my husband Bob took her out for her second session of driving lessons, still keeping to the safety of our fairly calm neighborhood roads.  Once again, Bob reported, our fledgling teen driver did fantastic!

So, in the great scheme of things, operation "Teach Melissa to Drive" seemed to be right on target. 

But not for long.

When Melissa accepted an invitation to a party hosted by a friend who lived less than a mile from our house, it seemed fitting that she should get behind the wheel for the short excursion.  Bob and I figured we would drop her off, and then go have dinner and perhaps, see a movie.

Melissa took her honorary spot in the driver's seat, Bob joined her up front, while I was relegated to the depths of the back seat. Although our final destination was practically around the corner, we were unfamiliar with the development and therefore, pulled out our trusty GPS.


As we set off, GPS tried to tell Melissa that she would need to turn in 0.5 miles, 0.4 miles, 0.3 miles, 0.2 miles, 0.1 mile, ...........


At this stage of our journey, I felt it fair to point out the obvious:  "Bob she missed the turn!"

Bob: "It's alright, just keep going, just keep going!"

Melissa: "What's the speed limit?"

Bob: "Don't worry about the speed limit just keep going."

GPS: "Turn left in 0.2 miles."

Me: "Bob she needs to turn left!  GPS says she needs to turn left!  I don't want to miss the turn again!

Melissa: "Do I turn here?"

Bob: "No, don't turn here!"

Me: "Yes, Bob she needs to turn here.  Melissa, slow down, put your turn signal on, and make the left here!"

Bob: "Lisa, stop telling her what to do! We can't both tell her how to drive!  I am giving the instructions!"

Melissa slowed down, put on her signal, and safely turned into the development.

GPS: "Drive 0.1 mile and make a left."

Bob: "Ok, now make a u-turn."

Me: "Why are you telling her to make a u-turn!? GPS is giving her another way to get to the house!  GPS is telling her to turn left! She should follow GPS!"

Bob: "Lisa, stop telling her how to drive!  I am giving the instructions!"

Melissa (in a bit of a panic): "What should I do!?"

(Fortunately, we were in a very quiet neighborhood with no other cars in sight.)

Bob: "Ok, drive up closer to the intersection so you can see if any other cars are coming."

Melissa propelled the car 0.0001111 millimeters forward.




GPS: "Make a left."



Melissa made the turn.

GPS: "Drive 400 feet to destination, on right."




Me: "Oh sorry, I thought we passed the house."


Melissa: "Sniff! Sob! Waaah!"

So there you have it folks.  The rationale for immediate implementation of "The Weinstein Law". I urge you to support this legislation!  Call your members of congress today!

Bob, Melissa, and I get along quite well....when we are not behind the wheel of a car!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Recovery

Sit still.



These instructions, although quite appealing, are rarely ever heeded in "Lisa World".  With my full-time job as a communications manager for a home health agency, coupled with my full-time mom and wife duties, I simply do not know how to take time to - as the old cliche goes - stop and smell the roses.

It seems there is always something to be done.  Never mind the never-ending flow of soiled clothes and dirty dishes, we are also talking about vacuuming, taking out the trash and recycling, changing the cat litter, carrying things upstairs, bringing different things downstairs, going food shopping, putting food away, cooking dinner, making lunch, and driving my 16-year old daughter Melissa here, there, and everywhere.

It took a major life-changing event for me to force myself to sit.... and stay put!

It took major surgery.

Following a series of misdiagnoses and failed treatments by more physicians than one can imagine, I found a urogynecologist (a surgeon who specializes in urology and gynecology) who correctly identified my problems.  The discovery of this wonderful doctor gave cause for celebration in my household, for I could now, finally, attribute my pain to an actual, very real condition - uterine and pelvic organ prolapse.

Thanks to a number of non-surgical interventions over the past four years, the pain subsided.

For a while.

But it came back.

In all of its sinister glory.

Although the prospect of major surgery did not send me jumping for joy, after careful consideration, my husband Bob and I decided it would be the best option.

Repair the prolapse - relieve the pain. (Hopefully)

Today, I am five days post-op, and..... I. Do. Not. Like. Sitting. Still.

However, if I am going to recover, I know I must.

The laundry? The dishes? My wonderful Melissa will rise to the occasion.

Getting me everything I need and showing me more love than I think I deserve? My husband Bob, who has truly earned the title of greatest man alive.

What's more, each day I am greeting by the thoughtful well wishes of family and friends who have sent cards, food, and flowers to help me feel just a wee bit better.

So I will read. I will watch TV.  I will blog.  I will sleep.  Anything that requires minimal movement, if that's what I have to do to get back on my feet on the full road to recovery.

What do you mean I have to stay in bed and REST!?

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Fire

As vice president of her youth group, my 16-year old daughter Melissa can often be found  co-leading chapter meetings or lending her creative skills to a committee of teens planning a calendar full of special events.  And so it was on Thursday of last week that I found myself, once again, on my way to the community center where the meetings are held, ready to fulfill my end of the carpool bargain to pick up Melissa and her friend Gabby and drive them home.

With an Olympic-size indoor poor, comprehensive fitness complex, a preschool, a conference center and dozens of classrooms, the community center is an impressive facility, used by hundreds of people on any given weekday evening.

Arriving early as I usually do, I loitered in the lobby, flipping through some brochures to pass the time until the meeting ended.

I didn't pay much mind to the middle-aged man who walked through the lobby following his workout, until he paused in front of the information desk and announced that he smelled smoke.

To verify this seemingly odd claim, I took a deep breath and, indeed,  inhaled the distinctive odor of a recently lit match.

The elderly woman at the information desk called security, her nonchalant manner demonstrating no sense of urgency, no indication that she had detected the ominous scent that now permeated the entire lobby.

My thoughts turned to Melissa!

I know from experience that my daughter tends to linger a bit longer after the official chapter meetings have ended, taking advantage of a few moments to debrief with the other board members.  However, as my mind began to make sense of the impending danger, I determined that on this night there would be no such lingering....I had to get her out of the building!

I propelled my out of shape body up the stairs faster than I thought possible.  Here, the smell of smoke became noticeably stronger, leading me to the incorrect conclusion that the fire had started on the second floor.

That's right.

The second floor!

The floor that played host to my Melissa and her unsuspecting friends!

I raced down the hall, becoming more and more frantic with the passing of each classroom. Finally, when I arrived at the far reaches of the second floor corridor, I burst through the door,  an emotional wreck of a mom, ordering Melissa and her friends to evacuate because the building was on fire!

They didn't need to be told twice.

Together we raced toward the stairs, banging on classroom doors as adults and teens alike poured into the hall, all striving to reach the safety of the fresh air that beckoned from beyond the building's front doors.

Smoke continued to fill the corridor.  As Melissa and her friends descended the stairs, the fire alarms finally began to reverberate throughout the building, providing proof positive to anyone who doubted the danger that they needed  to GET OUT!

We tore through the lobby, only to witness a community center employee attempting to calm the masses, assuring everyone that the fire had been extinguished and they could come back in.  Not wanting to take any chances, I yelled for Melissa and her friends to ignore this attempt at reassurance and to keep going!

Shaken, but unharmed, Melissa and Gabby followed me to the car, where, during the drive home, we wondered aloud what had started the fire, and if the building had gone up in flames.

Fortunately, it had not.

Yet, unanswered questions remained.

1. What started the fire?
2. Why did it take so long for someone to activate the alarm?
3. Why did an employee tell people it was safe to return to the building, when the large facility was still filled with toxic smoke?

The next day I called the community center, expressing my disappointment at how the staff had handled the emergency.  A senior member of the community center's administration listened to my call with grave concern.  Tucked away in a board meeting in one of the classrooms on the second floor, he too, had born witness to the events of the previous evening.

The fire had started on the first floor in the preschool kitchen, and had indeed, been extinguished almost immediately. However, he agreed that the alarm should have been pulled the moment the flames had sparked, and that nobody should have been allowed back inside until the fire department - not a member of the community center staff -  gave the ok.

He assured me that the community center will use the fire as a terrifying wake up call for much needed emergency response training so that if it ever happens again, the staff will know what to do...and what NOT to do.                                                  

Thankfully, there were no injuries, but I shudder to think what might have been if the fire had not been contained.  Because in a fire, waiting ten minutes before pulling an alarm could mean the difference between life and death.

To learn more about fire escape plans, visit the U.S. Fire Administration.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mother/Daughter Program

We gathered together in the cozy, darkened living room of a suburban home in southern New Jersey.  Teenage girls and their mothers, our faces framed by the shimmering glow of dozens of tiny tealight candles.

One by one, the girls spoke, taking advantage of this judgement-free environment where they could safely admit to being overly critical of themselves and to having feelings of fear, shame, and embarrassment.

I looked across the room at the program leaders, my 16-year old daughter Melissa and her friend, who sat with notebooks on their laps, asking the questions that had elicited such raw, emotional responses from their peers.

"Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable in your own skin?"

"Have you ever felt embarrassed or ashamed of who you are?"

"How do you cope when you are feeling upset, or stressed, or out of control?"

The question and answer session came as part of a Mother/Daughter program hosted by B'nai B'rith Girls (BBG), an international Jewish youth organization focused on leadership skills, confidence building, community service, religion and spirituality, sisterhood, and friendship.

Each year, the girls in Melissa's local BBG chapter dedicate their time and resources to raising funds and awareness for a "stand-up cause".  Armed with the knowledge that nearly half a million teens suffer from anorexia and bulimia, the girls unanimously chose to focus on Eating Disorder as their 2014 cause.

As chapter vice president, Melissa had played a key role in planning the Mother/Daughter program, which featured a guest speaker from The Renfrew Center, a local eating disorders treatment center, as well as the  mind/body/attitude discussion that encouraged the girls to share from the heart.

They spoke of feeling awkward about their body shape. They spoke of feeling like they didn't belong.  They spoke of feeling stressed, feeling pressured to do too much, to get good grades, to look just right, to be pretty, to be popular, to be fit in.

And as the girls spoke, their mothers listened.

And then we talked.

We told our daughters that we faced the same challenges, and they don't go away, but they get easier to handle the older you get. We told our daughters that we know we'll never be perfect, but we no longer care.  We told our daughters that throughout our lives we've developed a deep bond with the friends who love us for who we are...and that everyone else who dares to judge us no longer matter.

We told our daughters that we wished when they looked in the mirror that they could see what we see....a teenage girl who is so incredible, so talented, and so wonderful.

We told our daughters that no matter how bad things get, no matter where they are or what they do, that they can come to us, they can talk to us, they can tell us anything because we are their best friend.

We told our daughters that we love them unconditionally.

We told our daughters that we think they are beautiful.

I just hope they think so too.

Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences.  In the United States, 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.  To learn more visit the National Eating Disorders Association.

My daughter Melissa (front row, 2nd from left) with her BBG girls!

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Tribute to Les Miserable

While watching a production of the Broadway classic Les Miserable, I stole a glance at my 7-year old niece Amy, sitting two seats away.  Although she is a creative child who loves to dance and sing, I still had doubts she would understand the complicated tale of love, loss, revolution, and redemption. What's more, the 3-hour show, devoid of spoken dialogue, tells the entire story through song.

Yet, as I studied the expression on her sweet, young face, I knew, then and there, that my niece had fully embraced the experience.  Amy's wide, innocent eyes glistened with tears as she watched the show's tragic heroine Eponine sing tender words of comfort as she lay to rest in the arms of her unrequited love.

Don't you fret M'sieur Marius
I don't feel any pain
A little fall of rain
Can hardly hurt me now
You're here, that's all I need to know
And you will keep me safe
And you will keep me close
And rain, will make the flowers grow

Amy was not alone.

I too, felt my cheeks wet with emotion as many in the audience wiped tears from their eyes.

I had seen Les Mis countless times - the Broadway production in New York City, the national touring production in Philadelphia, and of course, the movie version starring Hugh Jackman.   I knew about Eponine's heart-wrenching destiny. I knew every word of her final song. I cried each time she drew her last breath. Yet this time, this time....the tears that flowed were more than tears of sorrow. They were tears of wonderment, of pride, of joy.  For I simply could not believe that the actors whose talents struck such an emotional chord with their audience were high school students!

Yes, high school students!  Shawnee High School students, to be exact.

Last year, when my teenage daughter Melissa told me her school planned to tackle Les Mis, she could barely contain her excitement.   Like her parents, she had also seen both the stage and screen version and had fallen in love with the story, the characters, and the music.  For over a year, Melissa and her friends analyzed their high school's decision to produce such a difficult show.

She was thrilled to be a part of something so special, cast as an onlooker with a solo in the cart crash scene, and lending her sweet vocals to the "Girlfriends of Students" ensemble.

After countless late afternoon and weekend rehearsals, opening night had finally arrived! My husband Bob and I sat in the audience, waiting with anticipation for the lights to dim, excited but still unsure that high school students could pull this off.

I am happy to share that those kids, those high school students, proved us so very, very wrong!

We. Were. blown. Away.

The actors poured every ounce of their passion, energy, enthusiasm, and talent into bringing the characters to life.

It was, by far, the best production of Les Miserable that I have ever seen!

Congratulations to the entire cast, crew, and Jim Sheffer's orchestra.  And a special tip of the hat to music teachers Gina Kehl and Rob Joubert who had the faith and confidence in their students' ability to shine!
Melissa with Bob and me following her performance in Les Miserable

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The "Lost" Newspaper

On Friday, February 21, as the crowds enter the auditorium of Shawnee High School in Southern NJ, they will be taken back in time to mid-19th century France as a group of talented young thespians perform the hit Broadway classic Les Miserable!

What this has meant to the Weinstein family is endless treks to and from the school to transport my 16-year old daughter Melissa to rehearsals. (She does a great job as part of the awesome ensemble, as "Onlooker #3" in the first act and as a"Girlfriend of student" in the second act!)

During the week, she can usually charm her way into finding a ride home from a compassionate mom of one of her friends, or my husband Bob or I will leave work early to pick her up.

However, rehearsals are also scheduled on Saturday.

Early on Saturday.

Really early on Saturday!

The day when I do not have to pound on the alarm clock at 6:15 am.

The day with no deadlines. No obligations.

The day when I can curl deep under my warm covers for as long as humanly possible.

But alas, the show must go on.

For the past few weeks, Bob and I have taken turns arising from our weekend slumber to ensure Melissa made it to the stage on time.  This week, after graciously accepting Bob's offer to drive her, I said my goodbyes as they walked out the door then happily climbed back to bed.

A half an hour later I awakened to the sound of chaos as Bob's angry voice reverberated throughout the house.  Bewildered, I walked downstairs, only to find Melissa, who should have been at rehearsal, sitting in the living room on her computer, indifferent to her father, who paced the kitchen floor, phone in hang, in the midst of a full blown tantrum.

"We got all the way to school and they told us rehearsal has been rescheduled for 10," she said, without taking her eyes off of Facebook.


That explained why my daughter had mysteriously reappeared in my living room, however, I had yet to learn the reason for my husband's rage.

My curiosity led me into the kitchen, where I witnessed the following interaction between my spouse and an automated female computer voice.

Automated voice: "If you did not receive your paper this morning, say yes"

Bob: "YES!"

Automated voice: "What was that? I didn't get that. Please repeat your response. If you did not receive your paper this morning, say yes."

Bob: (as he forcefully punched random buttons on the phone): "YES!"

Automated voice: "What was that? I didn't get that. Please repeat your response. If you did not receive your paper this morning, say yes."

Bob: (as he continued to pulverize random phone buttons) "YES!"

Automated voice: "What was that? I didn't get that. Please repeat your response. If you did not receive your paper this morning, say yes."

Bob: "YES!"     "YES!"   "YES!"

At this point I tried to ask him what was going on, however, the maniacal expression he shot in my direction told me, loud and clear, to wait until the phone call  had ended.

Automated voice: "Ok.  Thank you.  We will replace that for you.  Please say "daily" or "Saturday" to indicate what paper you need to have replaced.

Bob: "Saturday."

Automated voice: "What was that?  I didn't get that. Please repeat your response."

Bob: "Saturday!   "Saturday!"   "Saturday!"

And so on it went for another frustrating ten minutes until Bob, satisfied that he would get a new newspaper, finally slammed down the phone.



I found the whole scenario rather odd.  We have certainly had instances where our newspaper has been delivered late, or not at all.  But for them to actually deliver last week's just didn't make sense.

For the past month, our area has been blanketed with storm after winter storm.  Perhaps last week's  newspaper had been buried deep under layer upon layer of snow.  In light of a minimal thaw that occurred during yesterday's rare sunshine, maybe last Saturday's paper had suddenly become visible, and Melissa picked up it, thinking it was the current edition.

No sooner had I presented this hypothesis did I realize it could not be right.  For you see, last Saturday, Bob, Melissa, and I had climbed into the car very early for a drive to New York City to attend a Beatles festival.  I remember taking the newspaper and throwing it into the car, thinking that we'd read it in our hotel room.  Well, we never did read the newspaper. In fact, now that I thought about it, last Saturday's newspaper still sat on the floor of the passenger seat of my car.

"Wait," came a voice from the living room, as my daughter suddenly became interested in this turn of events.  "Did you say that last Saturday's paper was on the floor of the car?"

Seems that this morning as Bob and Melissa headed out for her rehearsal, Bob asked Melissa to grab the newspaper from our driveway and bring it into the car.  So, as instructed, she put the newspaper on the floor of the passenger seat....not realizing that last week's newspaper was there also.

Unbeknownst to Bob, he inadvertently grabbed the old edition from the floor of the passenger seat, came inside, took off his coat, made his coffee, and sat down for what he thought would be an enjoyable, relaxing breakfast reading the paper.  That is  - until he saw sports scores from seven days prior!  That's when the proverbial "you know what" hit the fan.

Upon the realization that the current edition of the newspaper sat a mere few feet away in the passenger seat of my car, I looked at my husband with a grin.  Seems his tireless tirade against an automated voice had been for naught.

Melissa walked out to the car, retrieved the current edition, and handed it to Bob, who wasted no time sheepishly burying his nose in the sports scores.

Later that day as we walked to the car we noticed, sitting there peacefully on our driveway on top of the snow, lay our "no longer needed" replacement newspaper.  I guess those "morons" at the newspaper managed to get it right....this time!

Our no longer necessary replacement newspaper!

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Melissa Fell Down!

Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the planet, when visions of iPhones had not yet materialized in the mind of Steve Jobs, members of the general population were forced to capture the daily antics of their children on huge, bulky, complicated video cameras that even my husband Bob, a former TV director, had trouble operating.

Yet there he stood, camera in hand, in the middle of the sidewalk in front of our tiny townhouse in a suburban New Jersey town called Hillsborough. The subject of his attempt at an award-winning documentary? My daughter Melissa, three years old at the time (now 16), who would be attempting her first ride on her new tricycle.

My mother-in-law Pearl, enjoying an extended family vacation away from her North Carolina home, watched proudly from the sidelines as Melissa (with help from mommy) mounted the trike.  My little cherub placed her feet on the pedals and began her slow journey along the sidewalk.  All went well until it came time for "The Turn"!  Yes. The "treacherous" turn from the sidewalk onto the short path that led to our front door.  I suppose that Melissa, lacking the well honed skills of a seasoned tricycle rider, misjudged her approach. Turning the wheel too far to the right, gravity took over and my baby landed face down on the sidewalk.

Much to my chagrin, instead of helping, Bob continued filming Melissa as she lay there, waiting for her mommy to pick her up and make everything all better.  Fortunately, we found minimal damage on my offspring or on her bike, so we continued our carefree afternoon of pedal pushing down the pavement.

All was well.  That is...until later that evening when we snuggled onto the couch in our cozy living room and popped the video into the VCR (a rudimentary machine used to watch moving images).  The events of the afternoon filled the screen.  A smiling Melissa, waving proudly as she tackled her first bike ride.  Then came the "tragedy" of the misjudged right turn, a quick image of my horror-filled gasp, and the camera panning to a tight shot of Melissa face down on the sidewalk.

Bob, Pearl, and I turned our attention from the Melissa on the TV screen to the Melissa who sat cuddled next to us on the couch.  The twinkle in her big brown eyes had all but disappeared, and her mouth had formed that distinctive pout that signaled the start of her tears.

She pointed to the TV screen and cried out in anguish.....


I instinctively embraced my baby, assuring her that everything was just A-Ok.

That's when I heard the noise.

Uncontrollable giggles.

Yes. Fits of roaring, uncontrollable giggles coming from Grandma Pearl.

Realizing that her beloved grandmother was laughing at her, Melissa cried even harder.


To this day, my mother-in-law still roars with laughter when we retell the tale of Melissa's inability to make a right turn. In fact, that inability is still a cause for laughter!

Last Monday, my "baby" experienced another milestone in her young life, her first driving lesson!  I waited with anticipation by my office phone, anxious for details of her inaugural trip behind the wheel.  As soon as I heard her voice, I knew all had not gone according to plan.

"How was it?" I asked with excitement.

"Horrible," came her morose reply.

"Oh no," I exclaimed. "What happened?"

"Well mom, let's just say there are tire tracks across our front lawn."

With a tremendous amount of difficulty, I stifled a giggle, knowing that my laughter would not help comfort my daughter, who was already close to tears.  She went on to explain how, lacking the skills of a seasoned driver, she misjudged her approach to the driveway.  That, coupled with the instructor's stern demeanor and lack of clear instruction caused her to panic.  As a result she hit the accelerator a bit too hard.

She feared her mom and dad would either be angry or find the incident extremely funny. And quite frankly, she didn't know which reaction would be worse.

Privately, Bob and I did find it funny.  We bent over double with laughter!  In time, Melissa laughed too, as she took Steve Jobs' trusted invention out of the pocket of her jeans and snapped everlasting evidence of her first time driving a car.

Much like her first time riding a tricycle, I'm sure we'll be laughing for years to come!

The tire tracks on our lawn created by first-time driver Melissa!

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