Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Surprise in the Notebook

For years, my husband Bob and I have dreamed of taking a trip to London.

Yes, London!

Where the Fab Four found their fame.
Where 2,000 year old buildings co-exist with modern skyscrapers.
Where royal weddings in all their regalia are watched world-wide.
Where you'll find culture, history, entertainment, and shopping galore!

Yes, London!

But would we ever find the right time to go?

As much as I wanted to experience our first overseas vacation, something stood in the overprotective "mommy" fears.  I did not want to leave my daughter Melissa for such a long time, knowing I'd be so far away if anything should happen.  Logically, I knew Melissa would be safe under the loving roof of her big sister Jessica's home.  In fact, she'd be treated like a queen. But still, those overprotective "mommy" fears kept my feet firmly grounded on United States soil.

That is, until Melissa joined the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO).

As part of this international organization for teens that fosters community service, leadership skills, friendship, and Jewish heritage, Melissa had the opportunity to spend two weeks this summer at a leadership camp on a college campus in West Virginia.

Hmmmm, if Melissa was tucked away at a leadership camp, perhaps, just perhaps, I could loosen the reins on my overprotective "mommy" fears and take a dream vacation with my hubby to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  I knew she'd be safe, and that at least a dozen family members and friends would gladly be "on call"  to handle an unlikely emergency while we were away.

What's more, my "baby" would be 17. I had to allow myself to let go, if for only two week's time.

As Bob and I sat in the airport, I pulled out my journal, disguised as a standard yellow notebook. By the end of my travels, I hoped to fill these pages with every nuance of our journey, starting with the jumbled emotions that played tug of war with my heart as we waited to board the plane that would whisk us across the pond.

Nervous. Scared. Excited. Worried.

I hadn't even left the country, and already I missed my daughter.

Pen in hand, I opened my journal, only to discover that somebody had already filled up the first two pages. Thinking I had taken one of Melissa's school notebooks by mistake, I started reading.

I had not taken the wrong notebook. My "baby" had written her parents a letter of goodbye, full of hope, and joy, and wisdom, and love.  With her permission, I share her heart-felt words with you now.

Dear Mom and Dad,
     By the time you read this, you will probably be on a plane to England and I will be at camp meeting new people. But knowing my mother, you will probably read this before you even leave the house. Anyway, I'm excited for you guys to finally experience a different country and bask in all of its historic (boring) glory.
     No, but seriously I'm not gonna lie - I'm a little jealous. I know you have so many fun, amazing things planned and so many adventures to go on. Just remember, don't be afraid to try new things! Mom, don't avoid eating certain foods just because you think it will taste yucky. You won't know unless you try.
     And Dad, don't be afraid to step out of the tour group for a second if you see something that isn't being explained. The most beautiful and interesting things in the world could be the thing that the tour guide passes.
     And to both of you - live in the moment. Take in every single thing you see, notice how you are feeling at that moment, and think of it as a blessing.  Not many people get the chance to do what you're doing, so appreciate every minute you have in this magical place and don't waste it constantly looking at your itinerary or watch. Go with the flow and don't be upset if things aren't going as planned. Some of the best moments are made when you don't plan them.
     As for me, I'm going to try to take my own advice at camp. Even though I've been reading blogs and watching videos about what you do there, I'm still nervous for the whole experience. But I know it will be a great one that will allow me to grow as a leader and a person.  It will be the longest I've been away from you guys I think but I will text every night before I go to bed and hopefully find a good time to call before it's bedtime for you guys. Stupid time change...
     I'll miss you guys so much. I'm also going to keep a journal (like mother like daughter) so you can both read about my experiences when we get home. And I can't wait to read about your's!
     Just remember, live in the moment and don't spend too much time writing in this.  Do take lots of pictures though. The goofiest ones you can think of.
     I love you both so much. Don't miss me too much! Enjoy your time together because 20 years is definitely worth celebrating.  Dad, try not to annoy mommy too much!
PS - Bring me back a cute British boy!

Melissa's letter was the most wonderful surprise! We may have been worlds away, but her words brought me closer to her charming spirit than she'll ever know.

Reading those words, I knew there would be no need to worry. My beautiful daughter, so full of of wisdom beyond her years, would be just fine.

And so would I.

Bob and me in front of the famous Tower Bridge in London! Our vacation was better than I could have imagined, because I spent it with my best friend and love of my life!  Happy 20 anniversary Bob!!

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Melissa's Surprise Party!

Birthdays are usually met with much fanfare in my family.  To be more specific - birthdays for my daughter Melissa are usually met with much fanfare.

With each 12 month cycle, I threw out all of the stops to celebrate yet another milestone in my young daughter's life.  A family party when she reached her first birthday, a clown to entertain the toddlers at age 2, a Chuck E. Cheese party at age 3, a swim party, a bowling party, a mini golf party and so on.

As she approached the teen years, the milestones became less monumental.  Movies with a few friends...a day at the beach, until this year, her 17th birthday, when Melissa thought we had planned no celebration AT ALL.

I understand why she held onto that misguided assumption.  On the day of her 17th birthday, July 1, she will board a plane en-route to a two week leadership camp sponsored by B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, (BBYO), an international organization for teens that focuses on community service, friendship, leadership, and Jewish heritage.

Since her departure date coincidentally fell on her birthday, she did not expect a big deal. In fact, she did not expect anything at all.  And because of that lack of expectation, she spent the past week somewhat bummed, convinced that nobody would even remember her special day.

Unbeknownst to my baby girl, the covert operation "Surprise Melissa" had been in full swing for three week's time.  In partnership with some of the best teenagers I have ever known, we devised a top secret plan to have Melissa spend the day at her friend Erica's house.  My husband Bob and I nonchalantly told her we were going to a nice dinner to celebrate her birthday. Ho Hum...couldn't get more boring than that!

When my offspring finally walked out the door this afternoon, I sprung into action.  Her friends came over, grabbed the decorations that had been safely tucked away from inquisitive eyes in the back of my closet, and turned my house into a party zone.

When Erica texted her secret code, "The eagle is flying", 10 teenagers stood at the ready, anxiously awaiting Melissa's reaction to a party she had no role in planning.

When Melissa opened the door, 10 teenagers shouted SURPRISE!

Mission accomplished!

Melissa, you are the most wonderful thing to ever happen to me.  On July 1, 1997 when  I held you in my arms for that first magical time, I fell in love.....and that love grows ever deeper every time that I wake up and look at your beautiful face.

You have evolved into an incredible young lady, a gifted musician and a natural born leader who has an oh so compassionate heart.  Happy 17th birthday my dear, sweet daughter.


Celebrating a successful surprise party are (from l to r) Devon, Maggie, John, Erica, Tabitha, Gabby, Nick, Melissa, Sarah, John, Micaela, and Hayden (kneeling)

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting Melissa into the Car

It has become an annual tradition for my small family to pile into the car each year on Father's Day weekend for the three hour drive to Washington, D.C. to visit my step-daughter Jessica and her husband Brian.

It is also an annual tradition for my small family to pay homage to the numerous rest stops along the way, and this trip proved no different. After tending to "our business", we walked slowly back to the car, only to find the passenger side door blocked by the occupants of the mini van in the parking space next to our's.

My 16-year old daughter Melissa and I watched patiently as the mom climbed into the back of the mini van, buckled two toddlers into their respective car seats, then made sure they had snacks, drinks, and toys to last throughout their journey.  Finally, the harried yet apologetic mom took her rightful place in the driver's seat and went on her merry way.

As we returned to our rightful places in the car and went on our merry way, my thoughts turned to the scene we had just witnessed, and to the 10,735,254 times I had performed the same car seat routine with my daughter.

"In many ways, it's so much easier now than when Melissa was a baby," I said, sharing my melancholy thoughts with my husband Bob.  "But in many other ways it's even harder now that she's older."

"What do you mean?" asked Melissa, a hint of hurt feelings in her casual tone.

I thought long and hard before answering, wanting to choose my words wisely, lest I let her think that being her mommy has been difficult.

I thought about then.

I thought about now.

I thought about that eventful day in July, 1997, when we brought Melissa home for the very first time.  Bob gently lifted our bundle of joy from my protective arms and placed her into the car seat, which we had haphazardly attempted to correctly install.

"How do you hook up this $%@# thing?" asked Bob in exasperation.

"Let me try," I said, climbing into the back with him.

After several minutes we were no closer to safely securing our child, and absolutely convinced that that state would bestow the title of "unfit parents" upon us even before we got our infant home.

Thankfully, some wonderfully kind hospital employees came to the rescue, and with our newborn in tow, we headed onto the highway of life as Melissa's mommy and daddy.

The following summer, more exasperation greeted my husband as he tried to install a bigger contraption to tote our ever-changing cherub.

As we witnessed the evolution from toddler to preschooler, her non-stop growth resulted in yet another sophisticated car seat that required a master's in engineering to set up.

Then came the elementary school years, and with it an oh so easy to use booster seat.  Finally, my "baby" had reached the milestone of sitting in the back seat with no supporting apparatus at all, except of course the seat belt.  And before long my preteen sat in the front with me, rejoicing in her new-found freedom to control the radio!

In the not so distant future, my daughter, the proud recipient of an official, state-issued learner's permit, will make the transition from  passenger seat to her rightful place behind the wheel, and go on her merry way.

Away from me.

Away from my loving arms.

With that thought I realized why being a mommy to Melissa is so much harder today.

For today, tomorrow, and the years to come, I will no longer be able to shield her from harm by the simple act of strapping her in.

I looked at my beautiful, self-sufficient teen who'll turn 17 in two week's time.  My daughter is blessed with an inner beauty that radiates through her dazzling smile.  She has a strong moral compass and is a natural born leader. What's more, her compassionate heart coupled with an innate thirst for perfection leaves me bursting with pride.

But will that be enough for her to battle the unknown obstacles that will most surely create unexpected road blocks on her journey called life? Will it be enough to keep her happy, to keep her smiling, to keep her safe?

I just don't know.

But what I do know is, no matter where life takes her, no matter how far away, I will always be here to strap her back in.

My "baby" has grown from needing a car seat, to taking her rightful place in the driver's seat!

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

When Will I Feel Like Me Again?

A trip to the local mall is a fairly routine occurrence for my family, and last week's visit proved no different.  After landing a rare, perfect parking spot, my husband Bob and I strolled hand in hand the to the entrance.

Our first stop, a visit to the Men's section of one of the four department stores that anchor the mall.  Bob, whose stocky frame has withered from a size "XXL" to a welcoming "Medium", needed a new wardrobe.  I helped him pick out some designer duds, and gave him a reassuring thumbs up as he modeled shirt after shirt.  However, by the time we stood at the sales desk to pay for his polos, I felt my body starting to give out.  Indeed, the familiar exhaustion that has plagued my bones had begun to rear its ugly head.

Against my better judgement, I ignored the warning signs to stop and sit down, opting instead to go on a quest to dress for success by searching for professional business attire in the Misses section, a short distance away. While Bob found an uncomfortable bench to wait, I set my sights on the selection of the bright summer styles that beckoned from beyond the perfume, handbags, shoes, and lingerie.

Would I be able to reach my destination?

The answer? A resounding NO.

Bob's expression of surprise greeted me as I plopped onto the bench beside him.

"Why are you back so soon?" he asked.  "I thought you were going to try on dresses."

"I got too tired," I responded, ashamed of my lack of energy.  "Do you mind if we go home?'

"Of course not," he replied, his kind smile showering me with love as we strolled, hand in hand, out of the mall.

The reason for my frustrating fatigue?  Major surgery to correct problems with my "plumbing", which involved a partial hysterectomy and pelvic floor prolapse repair.

What I have discovered since leaving the hospital a mere seven weeks ago is that nobody - not the doctor, not the nurses - nobody tells you what to expect.

Nobody tells you that your favorite jeans will gather dust in the far reaches of your closet, thanks to the swelling and bloating that make them impossible to put on.

Nobody tells you that you'll need clothes with extreme elasticity to avoid putting pressure on your tender tummy.

Nobody tells you that you'll need a nap every few hours, or that a trip to the mall may as well be a climb up Mt. Everest.

 Nobody tells you that when you steal a quick glance in the mirror, a stranger with a strange body will be staring back.

Nobody tells you that as your body heals, you'll just feel, well....different.

Fortunately, a strong, steady presence in my life has kept self-pity at bay.  My sweet, selfless, oh so wonderful Bob!  Not a day has passed since my discharge that my husband doesn't tell me, assure me, and remind me that I am beautiful.

I must learn to believe him.

I must learn to accept who I am....a woman who has now entered the last phase of her 40's, armed with the unfortunate knowledge that a week's worth of dieting will no longer result in the loss of five pounds, as it did during her 20's.  In fact, these days, a week's worth of dieting has the strange potential to add more weight, thanks to swelling and bloating.


So, while I wistfully stare of photos of a 25-year old me, I will no longer do so with the longing to look like I looked back then.  I will heed the predictable, yet beneficial advice echoed by experts by the thousands - eat healthy and get plenty of exercise.

After all, I want to enjoy every moment with my sweet, caring husband, and give him the pleasure of telling me I'm beautiful every day, for 50 more birthdays to come!

My wonderful husband Bob and me.
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

You Can't Go to Disney Without Me!

Three months prior to the two hour flight that would transport my family from the dreary cold of a New Jersey winter to the sunny skies of Florida, my husband Bob spent an entire morning on hold - his cell phone in one ear and our home phone in the other - waiting patiently for someone to pick up at least one of the two calls he had placed.

His goal?  To make a reservation for "Breakfast with the Princesses", the planned highlight of my 4-year old daughter Melissa's first trip to the Walt "Happiest Place on Earth" Disney World.

His efforts were worth the wait. The much anticipated breakfast inside Cinderella's Castle lived up to its reputation. My star-struck daughter gazed in awe as Belle, Mary Poppins, Cinderella, and Ariel treated her like a princess in her own right, showering her with hugs and kisses.

We have been back to Disney countless times since that first trip in February of 2002.  The heart-warming memories of each visit meticulously preserved thanks to pages and pages of dusty old photo albums.

Last week, while looking for a non-strenuous activity to pass the time during recovery from major surgery, something drew me to those memories. I gazed at the photo albums as if visiting an old friend, each picture taking me to a place where princesses came to life and a little girl's imagination kept reality at bay.

With every photo, my daughter grew a wee bit taller, her features giving way from the baby-faced cherub who marveled at meeting princesses to a beautiful young lady who, despite the chance of ruining her teen reputation, still chose to pose with Mary Poppins.

Today, at 16, even though the allure of the "celebrity" princesses is no longer a draw for Melissa, she still loves all things Disney.  Sure, we've traveled to other vacation destinations.  Canada's Niagara Falls, Tennessee's Great Smokey Mountains, and the beloved beaches of our own Jersey shore, a mere hour's drive, door to door. Yet no other location pulls us back like the promise of "The Happiest Place on Earth."  For it is in this place that I have watched my daughter, in spite of her evolution from toddler to teen, shed her inhibitions and embrace the magic.

It is here that she'll choose to hold her daddy's hand in favor of the iPhone texts that connect her to the world beyond our vacation.  It is here, miles from her peers, that I become her "default" best friend.  It is here that I relish our time together as a family, putting aside thoughts of years to come when Melissa might no longer choose to do Disney with mom and dad.

But I still had time, didn't I? Days and months and years of time, before that day would arrive.

Or did I?

She has been saving for her next trip to "The Happiest Place on Earth".  But this time it will be her classmates, not mom and dad, who will share the magic as they take Disney by storm during their senior class trip in two years' time.

Will there be the chance for one last visit as a family, one last opportunity to capture the magic with mom and dad before my daughter relinquishes the comfort of her poster-filled bedroom in favor of a college dorm?

Before she begins her journey towards independence?

Before she leaves her childhood behind?

Before I am forced to say goodbye?

Melissa at 5, and again at 15. Will there be time for one last trip to Disney with mom and dad before she goes off to college?

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nocturnal Nonsense

(This is a repeat of a blog that originally appeared in April, 2012)

Several months ago, somewhere between the time my head hit the pillow and my alarm clock shook me out of bed, my husband Bob began twitching and shaking in his sleep.  I gently rubbed his arm, with the goal of easing him out of his bad dream without causing him to shout in terror.

"Sweety, are you alright?" I asked soothingly.

He turned to me with a look of confusion on his face before uttering these incomprehensible words, "I have to go to the bathroom but I don't know where it is."

Now, at this point I should explain that we have called our current location "home" for the past eight years.  Navigation to and from said bathroom can be accomplished quite easily, even without the aid of a GPS unit.  (In point two feet, turn left at the end of the bed, then arrive at destination on right)  So when Bob questioned his inability to remember the site of the room where he has read countless novels while sitting on the porcelain throne, I became concerned.  Perhaps the early symptoms of dementia had taken hold, threatening to rob my hubby of all of his precious memories.

"Bob, our bathroom is right over there, just where it's always been," I said reassuringly.

He stared at me once again, trying to comprehend the instructions I had just provided.  Then, he began  to giggle.  "Oh," he said, laughing even harder.  "I'm dreaming!"

And with that he rolled over, re-positioned the pillows, closed his eyes and promptly returned to his land of nocturnal nonsense.

I should have blamed the dream world immediately, for this certainly cannot be counted as Bob's first night time break with reality.  My earliest inkling that deep REM sleep would cause irrational behavior came early on in our marriage, when a bedroom ceiling fan provided some measure of relief during the hot summer months inside our new home.  One day, during those dangerous hours between dark and light, Bob woke up in a panic, pointed up and the ceiling fan and yelled for the world to hear...


After convincing my poor husband that our bedroom did not serve as the opening sequence for M.A.S.H., he fell back asleep.  As for me, I lay awake and  wondered, did I marry a nutcase?  Perhaps.  But his nocturnal nonsense seemed harmless at best, and made for good stories to entertain friends and family.  Certainly he'd never actually cause harm to himself....or me.....

Or so I thought.

A few months later, we had enjoyed a long, tiring, yet fun-filled day touring the city of Boston.  By the time 11 pm rolled around, we more than happily snuggled into our cozy, king-size hotel room bed, hoping to reclaim the energy needed for another day of sightseeing.  Suddenly, Bob awakened from a deep sleep, his fist pumped, ready to strike.  I rolled over and looked at my mate, a stranger ready to pummel me to pieces.  Before I had the chance to run for my life he stopped and said, "Oh wait, I know who you are!"

Saved by the sanity.

The next time I did not fare quite so well.

Seems my prize-fighter of a husband conjured a dream where he entered the ring, about to go up against heavy weight champion Joe Frazier.  Only, Joe's body was, in reality, the back of my head.  Thankfully I had not been sleeping with my face toward him, for lord only knows what would have become of my nose.  He awakened quite startled at the sound of my screaming, wondering why I would cry in the middle of the night, and insisting his target had been Joe, not me.


Now if you ask Bob, he'll insist his nocturnal nonsense pales in comparison to mine, and unfortunately, my 16-year old daughter Melissa can back up his claim.

If I am having a nightmare, it usually involves terror of some sort of another, and an increasingly frustrating inability to actually let out a dream-based scream.  Invariably, as I try to call for help, I end up emitting a low, eerie sounding moan, which gradually gets louder and louder as my voice appears to channel dark spirits until finally, an ear-splitting, terrifying scream erupts from the deepest bowels of my body, scaring my husband, daughter, neighbors, the entire population of China, etc., out of their minds.

Melissa will yell, "MOM WAKE UP!"

Bob will grab me and hug me and repeat over and over, "It's only a dream, it's only a dream, it's only a dream."

Unlike Bob, after a troubling nightmare my mind stays alert, rehashing the horror over and over.  Whereas he simply rolls over and reenters his slumber, unaware of his antics until I remind him in the morning.

As for Melissa, seems she has not inherited her parents' propensity for nocturnal nonsense and doesn't appreciate when our dreams interrupt her deep sleep.

To her we're just a couple of nocturnal nincompoops.  Sounds like the plot of a bad dream where Bob is in a boxing match and I am his opponent and nobody can help me because try as I might, I can't scream... oh no, here we go again...AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

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!

My "baby" behind the wheel!

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