New Year’s Non-Resolutions

The end of the year tends to spur people into becoming reflective. I’d argue that I tend to be fairly reflective most of the time anyway but there is something about the end of a year and the start of the new one that makes me think on a slightly broader scale. I live much of my life focused on the present; what tasks need to be completed, why are the kids crying, how do I get from point A to point B, etc. There are so many small fires to be put out that I sometimes forget about finding ways to stop them from starting in the first place. That is what this time of year is for: taking stock of where we were and what we’ve done and making decisions and plans for the coming year.

To that end, I thought of a few things I have in mind for the coming year. I’m not going to call them resolutions; I find that word has become too closely associated with fixing the pieces of ourselves that are “broken” and that’s not how I see myself. I have my share of flaws, to be sure, but there is a major difference between being imperfect and being broken. In that vein, I was looking for ways to build on the foundation that already exists, rather than making sweeping changes or starting from scratch. To use computing terminology, I want to upgrade the current software instead of repairing faulty wiring or installing an entirely new operating system.

One more thing: the tweaks I mention below vary in their degrees of importance. (There’s a reason I’m calling them tweaks.) It’s much easier to maintain slight adjustments over the long term than it is to keep up with large scale changes. I’d rather commit to smaller shifts that are more realistic than come up with loftier goals that set me up for disappointment.

And so, without further ado, I present my 2018 Non-Resolutions.

1. Stop the Hoarding

Let’s be clear: I’m not a hoarder. I don’t obsess with acquiring new things and I have no problem getting rid of garbage and junk mail that come into my apartment every day. Show me something I haven’t used in three years and I’ll throw it out without batting an eye (usually). What I do have a problem with is that I make piles. Piles of receipts, piles of electronics chargers, piles of papers that I may need but I’m not entirely sure. I make these piles because I don’t know where something should go immediately or because I’m just putting it down and intending to put it away later (which, of course, I never do).

2018 Non-Resolution: no more piles. If something is out, I’m going to put it away immediately. No more putting things down and “coming back to it.” I’ll have a specific spot for things I’m not ready for yet and make sure that it’s empty before I go to bed each evening.

2. Better Quality Family Time

A few nights ago, Trudy and I were watching television,1 which is not exactly a rare occurrence for us. Most of our evenings end up with the two of us sitting on the couch and watching a show while also scanning through social media feeds on our phones or doing work on the computer. This particular evening, though, ended differently. We had put away our phones and were actually sitting right next to each other, as opposed to near each other. We were both fully present in the moment2 and we were only focused on the show and each other. It was just… nice.

2018 Non-Resolution: focus on one thing at a time. Watch the show and nothing else. Be with Trudy and nowhere else. Play with my kids and be present with them. Leave the phone aside and keep my attention on the people I’m with so I can get more done and enjoy being with the people closest to me.

3. Keep on Writing

This is a harder one than it may seem. There are times when the words just flow out, when I have the entire post formulated in my head before I even start typing. Then there are other times, though, where I start and stop numerous times before finding an opening that seems to stick. I’ll be the first to admit that some posts are “better” than others – more creative, more heartfelt, more meaningful. It depends heavily on the subject matter of the post. But, no matter how the post turns out, I know that I feel better about myself when I can publish new posts consistently.

2018 Non-Resolution: keep the streak going. I’ve published a new blog post in nine of the last ten weeks (I took Thanksgiving week off) after having gone through a four-month dry spell. I’ve been feeling more confident about my work and my ability to find the words to describe my experiences. I need to make sure I continue my progress.

These are a few of my non-resolutions. Feel free to leave some of your own in the comments section, whether they’re significant life-altering moves or little adjustments to make your daily routines go more smoothly. Either way, I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year. May 2018 bring all of us more laughter than tears, more successes than setbacks and more love than heartbreak. Oh, and of course, plenty of writing material.

Happy new year.


1. For the record, we were watching The West Wing. We never watched the show when it was airing and we started binge-watching it around Christmas when our current shows were on winter break.

2. I mean, as much as one can be when watching television.

“Are You Ready?”

I woke up early that morning.

I don’t remember the exact time but it was probably around 5:00 AM. I shut off the alarm, blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to the dark hotel room, and made my way to the bathroom to shave and take a shower. There was no stumbling or grogginess; my body knew what was coming and it woke up immediately to get ready.

I was practically alone as I ate breakfast in the hotel lobby. I watched as hotel staff and a few guests walked past sporadically, moving luggage and cleaning carts and trays of food for the breakfast buffet. The scrambled eggs and pancakes were standard hotel fare but I was so distracted that I barely tasted them. My mother walked over to me as I was finishing and asked me how I was doing.

“Fine,” I said with a smile. “A little nervous, but really fine. I’m ready.”

We spoke for another minute or two before I picked up my bag and clothes and made my way out to the car. I don’t remember what was on the radio; either way, it was nothing more than background noise. I made the turns on autopilot, preoccupied with speeches and dances and the fear of tripping. The sun had just started dimly backlighting the heavy, ominous clouds when I arrived.

The building was dark and quiet. “This would be a great place to play Manhunt,” twelve-year-old me thought. There were a couple of lights on at the end of the hallway to my right and I thought I heard voices – laughter, in particular – from behind the door I knew was there. I turned left, though, and walked through the large space, weaving between tables and chairs that had all been covered with white cloths. A single light bulb hung by the front door, casting a dim glow over the lobby. I turned the knob to the room that had been set aside for me and grimaced slightly when I realized it was locked.

The fluorescent lights in the men’s room were not as harsh as I had expected them to be. I hung the garment bag on the door of one of the stalls and placed the shiny black shoes on the sink counter. I began changing, doing my best to keep the clean suit off of the floor. I noticed my heart beginning to beat slightly stronger and faster as I dressed; I had to stop at one point to force my trembling fingers to relax so I could maneuver the cuff links. I threw my other clothes back in the bag when I had finished, gave myself one last once-over in the mirror and came outside.

The lobby was brighter now; someone had turned on the lights while I was getting dressed. The small tables around the room and the art on the walls were much easier to see. I also was no longer alone; two young women were sitting nearby in long, dark brown gowns getting their hair done. They greeted me as I came out and we spoke for a minute about how early they had arrived, everyone’s lack of sleep and the scarcity of electrical outlets for the stylists’ hair dryers and straightening irons. I joked about the symbolism of blowing a fuse in such a large building, today of all days. The young women laughed; the stylists did not.

I had just started to make my way back into the large room with the white tablecloths when I was stopped by a short, dark-skinned woman. She wore a plain black pantsuit and her curly hair had been pinned back behind her head. She was cradling a camera in one hand and directed me back into the lobby with the other.

“You clean up nice,” she said with a smile. “Do you want to see her?”

My heart started pounding again immediately.

“Now? Already?” I asked.

“You have someplace else to be?” she asked with a wink.

“What? No, of course not,” I stammered as she chuckled.

I inhaled deeply and held it for a second before letting it out. My heart was still beating heavily but it no longer felt like it was using a battering ram on my ribs. My fingers trembled for a second before I shook them out. I closed my eyes, took another breath, exhaled and looked her in the eye.

“I’m ready.”

She shooed the other women out of the room and positioned me with my back to the doorway where we had been standing. I closed my eyes again and tried to control my breathing. My heart had begun using its battering ram again and it was going to be too long a day for me to let that continue. I heard the photographer speaking behind me, followed by the swish of fabric and lace and the closing of a door. The photographer came around in front of me, snapped a few photos, told me to close my eyes and had me turn around.

“Whenever you’re ready,” she said.

I opened my eyes.

Trudy was standing in front of me. Her hair grazed her shoulders with a slight curl at the ends. Her eyes were gleaming with happiness and her diamond white dress was shining in the light of the moment. A smile crept across her face as she watched my reaction to seeing her.

I felt my breathing come back to normal and my heart put its battering ram back down. My fingers were no longer trembling and I was no longer aware of anyone or anything but the unbelievable woman standing in front of me. I took a deep breath and my smile widened.

I was ready.

Strength and Beauty

The principal of the religious school where I teach led an exercise on Tuesday evening.

It was the first night of Hanukkah. We had gathered all of the students together in the small chapel of the synagogue so that we could talk about the holiday and light the hanukkiah1 together. After a quick refresher for the students about the correct way to light the candles – shamash2 first, candle for the first night on the right side of the hanukkiah, light the newer candles before the older ones, etc. – we all sang the blessings together while one of the teachers lit the candles.

Then we turned off the lights.

It took a minute or two for the students to quiet down. It was 5:30 in the evening and they were understandably antsy after a full day of school and then an hour or so of religious school. Once they were quiet, though, my principal asked everyone in the room to look at the Hanukkah candles in front of her for a few minutes in silence. She asked us to think about what the candles represent and to see what thoughts came to us as we watched them.

The room became still. The tiny candles were the only real sources of light in the room, save for the faint glow of the streetlights coming through the windows. The flames flickered slightly before stabilizing into a steady burn. They gleamed brightly, projecting shadows onto the walls and creating a halo of sorts around the hanukkiah that held them.

I started watching the other faces in the room as people focused on the hanukkiah. The third graders in the front row on the opposite side of the room were watching the candles intently. Their faces looked faintly orange from the firelight and I could see the reflections of the candles in one girl’s glasses. The sixth and seventh graders next to me fidgeted slightly in their seats as their gazes fixed on the candles before traveling elsewhere around the room. I was impressed; most of the students seemed to be taking the activity seriously.

I returned my focus to the candles for a minute, watching as the flames did their best to beat back the darkness of the room. I pictured the tiny fires standing up as tall as they could, with their chests puffed out and their arms folded across their chests, radiating attitude and strength. The darkness seemed to keep trying to close in, to swallow up the lights and extinguish the flames where they stood. The candles continued their steady burn, however, barely flickering in the dark chapel. It was almost as though the fires were so confident in their abilities that they were indifferent to the blackness working to engulf them.

I began picturing the little candles as my children. Eitan and Shayna, strength and beauty, standing together against the darkness that seems so pervasive in our world today. I imagined them working together to solve problems and supporting each other through trying times. I saw them leaning on each other to help their communities and improving circumstances for the people around them. I saw them as the embodiment of the phrase, “a light unto the nations.”

I found myself thinking of the Hebrew song I learned as a child about a small group of people banding together to beat back the threatening forces around them. I thought, in particular, of the following lines: Or echad, hu or katan; vechulanu or eitan — one light alone is small; all of us together have a light that is strong. It’s easy to see why I enjoy this song so much; my son’s name is one of the most important words of the song. But I also love the symbolism of it. Not only do candles create a stronger light when they are combined, people are able to create more influence when they join together. There is, indeed, strength in numbers.

I sat there, surrounded by religious school students in the dark synagogue chapel, with two tiny Hanukkah candles serving as the only light in the room. For a precious few minutes, I got lost in visions of a future in which my children joined other young people like those sitting next to me to spread goodness, love and compassion through a world that seems to be losing those feelings on a daily basis. I felt hopeful about the idea of my children playing a role in making the world a better place. I saw a future that seemed brighter than the one I have been picturing recently.

And I smiled.

1. A hanukkiah and a menorah are essentially the same thing except that a menorah has seven branches and the hanukkiah has nine. Their uses are also slightly different; a menorah can be used for light and rituals, while the hanukkiah is only used to perform the ritual of lighting Hanukkah candles.

2. The shamash is the “helper candle.” Its branch is usually slightly higher than the other branches to distinguish it from the candles used for each night of Hanukkah.

Compassion For a Military Man

I was sitting at the dining room table with my father when I said it.

We were playing backgammon while Trudy and our relatives were sitting behind me in the living room, watching television. I could see the steam rising from the cup of tea he had just poured himself. My tongue was still tingling from the single-malt Scotch sitting in front of me. I smiled as I took my turn; I was about to beat my father handily for the second straight game. Then, while my father was getting ready to roll the dice, I blurted it out.

“Tell me some Grandpa stories.”

My father stopped shaking the dice and looked at me. The edges of his lips curved upwards in the slightest hint of a smile.

“I can tell you stories or I can focus on the game. I can’t do both.”

I chuckled and said we should finish playing first. In retrospect, I should have quit while I was ahead and had him tell the stories; he ended up winning the best-of-five series.1 When we had finished, he leaned back in his chair, clasped his fingers in front of him and asked, “What kinds of stories are you looking for?”

I thought for a minute before answering.

“I don’t really know who Grandpa was.”


My grandfather holding my father, who apparently was a cute kid.

I knew a lot about my mother’s parents. I knew about their childhoods living in India, their immigration to the United States and their lives as parents and grandparents. I knew a fair amount about my father’s mother, from being born in Mexico and raised there and in Cuba to living in the United States after she got married. I knew that she and my father moved with my grandfather every two years with each new military station assignment. I knew these stories because my grandparents were all still alive and had been able to tell me themselves.

But it occurred to me recently that I knew very little about my father’s father, who passed away when I was very young. I knew he had been a radio andimg_2754communications operator in the Air Force and that he served in North Africa during World War II. I knew one or two stories about him joining the military and about his interactions with his relatives. I knew that anytime I saw Harry Caray on television when I was little, I pointed to the screen and said, “Grandpa!” because they both had white hair and glasses. (This picture of him and my grandmother was obviously taken long before his hair turned white.) And I knew that I had been named for him.2 But that was about it.

I decided that I wanted to know everything. What kind of a husband had he been? Had he been an involved father? How did he get along with other people? What did he do for fun?

“Maybe just start at the beginning?” I suggested.

My father shrugged and pursed his lips. His eyebrows raised slightly as his face took on the expression that I know I make all too often. It’s the face I make whenever I’m about to start a task and I’m not sure how things are going to turn out. It’s the expression that says, “Okay, here goes nothing.”

He began speaking about my grandfather’s life as a young man, from making a living as an ice delivery man to driving his brother from Philadelphia to Tucson. He told me how my grandfather joined the Air Force, made it through basic training and had begun his introductory flight lessons before someone realized he was wearing glasses. That’s why he ended up as a radio operator; military pilots can’t wear corrective lenses. He spoke about his relationship with my grandfather, his memories of the interactions between his parents and the ways my grandfather’s personality changed as he got older.

I was surprised by the conversation. The bits and pieces I had heard about my grandfather previously had been largely positive. My grandfather was, by most accounts, img_2757.jpgfairly well-liked and treated people well. He made decisions rationally and served his country both in times of war and peace. And yet, there were aspects of his personality that were decidedly less so, like his rigidity in terms of his expectations of others or his limitations as a father and husband. I suppose I should not have been shocked to hear that my grandfather had imperfections; he was human, after all. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed but I certainly found myself with some new perspectives about my father and his parents.

That being said, I also don’t regret asking about my grandfather. I asked the questions because I was looking for a stronger connection to my past and I found what I was looking for. Part of growing up is coming to the realization that our parents aren’t invincible beings who have all the answers.3 We all have to come to grips with the knowledge that our parents and grandparents have strengths and weaknesses and that some of their decisions turned out better than others. Our kids will go through the same process with us as they get older. We just have to try to have compassion for those who came before us so that we can understand where they came from. Hopefully, our children will try to find the same compassion when they think about us.

1. He killed me in those games. The second game was a double game; he got all of his pieces off the board before I got any, which means that his victory counted for two games. The tiebreaker was a single game but it really wasn’t close.

2. My grandfather’s name was Hyman, but my father said he never would have forced that on me. Instead, he and my mother named me Aaron, which, in Hebrew, is Aharon. The Hebrew word, har, means “mountain.” Hyman became “high man,” which became “mountain dweller,” which became Aaron.

3. With all due respect to Dennis Green, they might not be who we thought they were.

Coming Back to a Changing Reality

We’re back.

My family and I went on vacation for nine days to Boulder, Colorado and we came home this week. The flights were fairly easy and our car service trips to and from the airports went off with only minor hitches. When we got home, we flew through the unpacking process in record time; we were in the door around 7:00 PM and were fully unpacked by 8:45. After baths, dinner and one major tantrum involving silverware being thrown by one of our children (I won’t say which), both kids were asleep around 9:15. It was obviously later than their usual bedtime but that’s how things go when you’re dealing with airline flights and changing time zones.

I should say, before I go any further: I’m not going to write about the trip itself. I’m not going to go into detail about the party with the cats, dogs, goats and chickens where we somehow met someone who knew us (the second time that happened while we were away). I’m not going to write about the car trip through the winding Rocky Mountains, praying that Eitan would be able to hold his bowels until we reached a clean bathroom. I’m not going to write about the pool or the zoo or the hiking or the sunsets; you can follow me on Instagram for all that. I will write about family, but I have a specific angle in mind which deserves its own post, rather than being forced in here. Oh, and I also won’t write about Eitan shooing me off the ice rink so he could skate by himself (although I may at a later date).

I will, however, write about the fact that there was something about this trip that really seemed to affect Eitan and Shayna.

It’s often difficult for me to put my finger on the exact changes I see in my kids over time. Some of these were pretty obvious, though. Shayna has been walking and running for months already but she really took off while we were away. I saw her climbing into chairs, onto ledges and, of course, up many flights of stairs. Our walks through the zoo and around the lake took a bit longer because we had to wait for Shayna but there is nothing like watching her laugh while she’s running, especially if she thinks she is being chased.

Shayna was talking more, as well. She could already say the names of objects like shoes, fork, spoon, Mimi (her pacifier) and almost all of the Sesame Street characters. Then, on the trip, she began using the word “no.” Trudy and I laughed at first because it was cute to watch her little mouth sound out the word; it was much less cute by the end of the trip when Shayna would scream, “No! No! No!” any time she didn’t get her way. But even if Shayna didn’t add any other specific words to her repertoire on the trip, she still seemed to be communicating more directly and purposefully than she had before.

Eitan also seemed to go through a change, though his was a bit more subtle than Shayna’s. His speech patterns were already well established since he’s older and we were hardly shocked when he was able to jet off on the bicycle we borrowed from our relatives’ neighbors . The shift we saw with Eitan was more closely related to his mannerisms and the way he carried himself. He seemed more self-aware, more confident and… older. He described the concepts he has been learning in school matter-of-factly and was eager to demonstrate his reading, writing and math abilities. He engaged in real conversations and was able to laugh at jokes. Even his posture seemed straighter.

Eitan’s kindergarten teacher told Trudy and me at Meet the Teacher Night that kindergarten brings about the most significant changes in children. She said that kids coming into kindergarten are usually insecure and need considerable guidance as they figure out their next steps. By the end of the year, though, they have developed so many skills, both academically and socially, that they are practically different children. There have been countless times since September when Eitan has done or said things that have stopped us in our tracks. Shayna has had plenty of her own stop-short moments, too, although the situations are obviously different. Each time, Trudy and I just look at each other and ask, “Where did these kids come from?”

I’m not sure if the shifts I saw in our kids during our trip actually happened during the nine days we were in Colorado or if they just seemed starker to me because I finally had enough uninterrupted time to actually be with my family. Trudy seems to be slightly less shocked by our children’s ongoing emotional growth, although I’m not sure if that is really the case or if that’s just what I tell myself since she is around our kids more often than I am. Either way, I’m actually able to spend more time with my family on an ongoing basis than many other working parents with more rigid schedules and less accommodating employers. The problem is that, even if that’s the case, it feels sometimes like my interactions with Eitan and Shayna are happening with different kids from one weekend to the next.

The changes keep on coming; I just have to try to keep up.