Finding Goodness in Unexpected Places

“Someone give me some good news,” she said.

She wasn’t exasperated; she didn’t have that frustrated edge to her voice that people often have when they’ve been hearing nothing but terrible things for an extended period of time. The sigh she let out as she spoke hinted more at resignation than anger. Her request sounded as though she had all but given up the fight against negativity and was grasping for one last moment of hope to remain grounded.

I didn’t blame her for trying to lift the mood in the room; the office lunchroom conversation had not exactly been pleasant. It had been relatively short and the subject matter may not have held the same overbearing weight as the headlines screaming from the newspaper lying in the middle of the table. Still, discussing a coworker’s week-long struggles with digestive issues and the various challenges that go along with planning one’s wedding were enough to start bringing her down and she’d had enough.

“I don’t necessarily have good news,” I answered. “But how about an adorable picture?”

She smiled and nodded vigorously. I scrolled quickly through the photos on my phone, selected a shot I’d taken earlier that week of my children sharing a milkshake and passed the phone across the table. I grinned as she began kvelling; I mentioned that I could not believe the similarities in their faces, from the outlines of their noses to the curves of their cheeks to the shapes their lips formed as they puckered around their straws. She asked with a knowing smile if they love each other and I couldn’t answer yes emphatically enough.

I was glad that I had been able to help her smile at that moment but her request stuck with me through the rest of the day. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times recently when all I’ve wanted was for someone to show me something positive. The news has been one terrible thing after another after another. I pass multiple homeless people every day as I make my way through the city. I work with children who are doing their best to handle significant mental illnesses, many of which are as heartbreaking as they are scary.

Still, somehow, we keep breathing, keep moving, keep pushing through.

I made my phone calls and home visits during the rest of the afternoon, my coworker’s request periodically re-entering my consciousness. My wife and children had spent the day in the city with friends and I went to meet them when my visits were finished. Their faces lit up when they saw me and I had a passing thought that I had found my own personal piece of “good news.” We remained in the city for some time longer and then made our way through the evening rush hour crowds to take the subway home.

The subway had just started moving when I heard someone singing from the other side of the car. I couldn’t see him clearly through the commuters standing between us but I caught glimpses of his face. His skin was dark but his smile shone, practically eclipsing the pale fluorescent train lights. It was difficult to make out the songs over the murmurs of the other passengers and my daughter’s ongoing commentary (“Train! Ride train!”). I could tell that the people around him enjoyed it, though; their applause sounded more enthusiastic than the soft, polite claps I was used to hearing for subway performances.

The man began moving toward our side of the car, asking for donations as he weaved slowly between the other passengers. He stepped gingerly past our stroller, careful to protect his guitar from hitting the handles or the people sitting nearby. The family of tourists behind us said that they had not heard him playing and he began strumming immediately.

“Don’t worry… about a thing,” he sang.

I smiled, quickly recognizing the Bob Marley song. Shayna motioned for me to pick her up so she could get a better look at the musician. I planted my feet to balance her weight with that of my work bag and the movement of the train and hoisted her into my arms. I leaned in next to her ear and joined in softly.

“‘Cause every little thing… is gonna be all right.”

I leaned back against the subway pole and turned slightly so that Shayna could see the man with the guitar without having to look over my shoulder. The man returned her gaze as he sang, his warm smile continuing to shine.

“Don’t worry… about a thing,” the man sang again as he returned to the chorus. This time, though, I harmonized with him loudly enough for everyone near us to hear.

“‘Cause every little thing… is gonna be all right.”

Shayna giggled and smiled back, captivated with our duet. The man’s eyebrows rose briefly from the surprise of having an unexpected partner but his expression shifted quickly back to enthusiastic joy. We finished the song together and I passed him some money as he thanked me for joining in. He gave me a fist-bump and one last gracious smile before moving into the next subway car to perform for a fresh audience.

Positivity

I found myself thinking of my coworker again. She was right; the world seems so often like it’s crumbling around us that it’s difficult to find reasons to keep a positive attitude. That train ride made a difference, though. My kids saw their father sharing an interaction with a man who came from very different circumstances, not least of which had to do with the color of his skin. I felt good about providing an example for the way I expect my children to treat others, especially those less fortunate than we are. And, as for my singing companion, I can only hope that he appreciated my joining with him in what I assume was one of his lower moments.

There is still good news around; sometimes we just have to spread our own.


The “Reasons to Stay Positive” graphic was borrowed with permission from the creator, Ms. Dani DiPirro. Follow her @PositivelyPresent on Instagram.

Nerves of Steel

I’m nervous.

I don’t feel this way very often and, even when I do, I rarely let on. I pride myself on being flexible, adapting to situations as they come, taking in new information and adjusting accordingly. People tell me that they admire my calm, that they don’t understand how I can appear to be so relaxed in the face of difficult meetings, challenging personalities or mountains of paperwork. Somehow I manage to remain stoic, composed, cool under pressure through it all. I channel Yoda and Mr. Spock; I don’t let emotion get in my way.1

But this morning, I’m nervous.

I’m sitting on the subway, making my way to a school visit for work. My legs have been trembling for enough time now that I’m slightly worried about what will happen when I try to stand up. My pulse has quickened and I recognize the awkward discomfort in my stomach. I’m still the image of a duck, unflappable to observers, while their feet paddle furiously beneath the surface. I doubt anyone around me can tell anything is wrong just by looking at me, even though I feel like my body is tying itself into knots.

It’s not because of work, by the way. The visit I’m making this morning should be a cakewalk and, in general, work rarely gets me bent out of shape. I’ve been a social worker long enough and had enough people yell at me, threaten me and, in one case, use anti-Semitic slurs toward me, that I’ve come to accept the stressful parts of the job as simply that – part of the job. I enjoy my work because of the interactions with people, even when those interactions are uncomfortable.

My foot starts tapping on the subway floor, making my bag shake as it rests on top of my leg. I close my eyes and take a few breaths, inhaling deeply and counting the seconds as I let the air out, forcing my escalating anxiety back under control. It occurs to me that my current struggle to maintain my composure is fitting, given the piece I’ll be reading publicly in a few days, though that realization doesn’t help me feel much better.

My foot stops tapping as I hear the subway doors open. I open my eyes again to check the station but it’s not time to get off yet.

This is what happens to me anytime I speak in public. Miniature lessons in graduate school, reading Torah in synagogue during Shabbat services, the presentation I made to my entire department at work; the context doesn’t matter. It always starts out the same: my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest, my stomach does backflips and my legs turn to jelly right before I’m supposed to start. Then I breathe, start speaking and I’m on my way.

This is a new experience, though. I’m going to be reading my writing at a blogging conference for dads later this week and, days beforehand, I’m terrified. This conference has a lot riding on it, after all. The connections I make there can open up new writing opportunities for me and different ways for me to support my family. If I trip over a word or two as I’m reading, are these representatives going to think less of me? Are they going to lose sight of the story I’m telling because they’re distracted by my verbal fumbling? Am I going to lose my place and, in the process, the interest of a brand that would have otherwise pursued me?

Then there is the fact that I’m going to be away from home for three days. How are my kids going to behave while I’m gone? Is my wife going to be pulling her hair out and cursing at me while I’m schmoozing with other dads? What if someone gets hurt while I’m busy taking selfies with Chewbacca or test-driving a Kia or talking about football with Von Miller?2 I still remember the guilt I felt when Eitan fell into a wooden piece of playground equipment, bashing his chin and needing to be rushed to the doctor for x-rays. I was only on the train then; how will I feel if something happens and I’m thousands of miles away?

I take another breath. I inhale, hold it for a second, and slowly let it out. Then I do it again. And again.

And again.

I tell myself that I’m overreacting. I remind myself that my wife is amazing and that “capable” barely scratches the surface of her strengths as a parent. Plus, I’m only going to be gone for three days, two of which Eitan will be in school for. I remember that I’ve interacted online with many of the other dads countless times and that reading my post will only be five minutes of a much broader experience. I think of the congratulations and other well-wishes I received when the announcement was made about my participation at the conference.

I feel the knot in my stomach begin to loosen and my legs start to regain their stability. I stand, slinging my bag back over my shoulder and move toward the door if the subway. I know that I will probably feel nervous again just before my turn to speak but I feel much calmer now. I hold the bar nearby as the train comes to a stop and the doors open. I take another quick breath and step off the train.


1. My kids are the only real exception to this rule. I don’t become a blubbering mess in crises but there is some sort of glitch that causes my brain to suddenly have difficulty processing new information. It’s the only time I imagine I really look shaken.

2. These are all things I’m going to be able to do at Dad 2.0 because Lego, Kia and Best Buy are sponsors.

Not Quite Broadway

I took a personal day this week to be a parent chaperone on my son’s class field trip.

The trip was to a local theater to see a live performance of the children’s book, Click Clack Moo. I wouldn’t say it’s the most popular book ever, but Eitan has it and enjoys it very much. The basic premise is that Farmer Brown’s cows and chickens get very cold in the barn at night so they go on strike. They refuse to give Farmer Brown any milk or eggs unless he supplies them with electric blankets. The cows learn to use the old typewriter that Farmer Brown left in the barn to send him their demands; hence, the title for the book.

It’s a cute story; just trust me on this.

The show itself was cute, as well. The theater troupe turned the story into a musical and updated it a bit for the younger target audience. The most notable difference was the addition of Farmer Brown’s granddaughter, Jenny, who is visiting him. She has brought her laptop so she can check her email and keep in touch with her friends. Farmer Brown takes away the laptop (and the printer that Jenny also brought for some reason) because he feels like Jenny is never willing to help out on the farm and sticks it in the barn. I’m skipping parts, obviously, but the lesson of is about finding ways to compromise and work together toward a common goal, rather than sticking to one’s opinion at all costs.

My point, though, is less about the show or it’s message and more about taking the day to be with my son and his class. The time I have to spend with Eitan has continues to dwindle; my caseload at work was increased in the fall, I’m still teaching religious school twice per week and I’ve taken on some more private practice clients, as well. We’re all too familiar with this refrain by now; keeping busy means I’m making money to support my family but it’s a struggle to find time to actually be with my family. In fact, now that Shayna has begun expressing herself more clearly, I’m waiting for her to have her own “Daddy lives work!” moment. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

I try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can to stay involved. I take days off to volunteer for field trips or go to work late so I can be at the school for early morning class programs. Also, if making these arrangements means that I have to finish assignments at home in the evenings once in a while to make sure I get my paperwork done, so be it. I want Eitan to know that I’m working a lot but that he and Shayna are my top priority, no matter what else is going on.

There is an additional benefit to going on a field trip with a kindergarten class, though: it’s fun. Let’s be clear: Click Clack Moo was hardly sophisticated theater. The show was enjoyable for what it was but we’re not likely to see cows chanting with picket signs at the Minskoff Theater anytime soon. There is something to be said, however, for spending an hour watching people in ridiculous costumes, hearing relatively clever songs and, most importantly, listening to children laugh through the whole show. There’s a reason J.M. Barrie put orphans in the theater1 at the premiere of Peter Pan; children’s laughter reminds adults how to relax and just enjoy themselves.

It wasn’t only the performance, either. Between the bus rides and the waiting periods before and afterward, Eitan’s classmates and I had conversations and played games together. We played I Spy, told jokes and made faces at each other. The kids asked about my age and then told me how old their parents were. They told me about their families, their interests and each other. I don’t mean to paint myself as the Pied Piper of kindergarten children; certainly, some of my experiences as a camp counselor and as a father are clear indicators that there are limits to my powers of influence over kids. But these children, in particular, engaged with me because they knew I was their friend’s father and because I was an adult willing to listen to what they had to say.

This is not a commentary on other parents, either the other chaperones on the trip or the parents who were not present. Certainly, I understand that everyone faces a different set of circumstances regarding their availability to participate in these types of events. I’m fully aware that most jobs do not offer the kind of scheduling flexibility that mine does and that supervision for a family’s other children is not always as straightforward. Far be it from me to make any judgments about the ways in which parents demonstrate their involvement in their children’s lives. I just know that I had the opportunity to spend extra time with my son and his friends and I wanted to take advantage.

Eitan’s smile when he saw me waiting in the school lobby was all the justification I needed to know I had made the right choice.


1. My apologies that the video clip doesn’t show the opening of the play, when the kids actually start laughing. The adults in the audience watch a man come onto the stage dressed as a dog and have no idea how to react. It’s the children’s laughter that helps them relax and accept the entertainment. Again, just trust me on this.

Joy Breaking Through Grief

These seats are not nearly as comfortable as they look, I thought.

I fidgeted in my seat on the train, trying to find a better position. The dull ache in my left thigh that had bothering me for the last week or two returned, though I did my best to ignore it. I positioned my work bag on my lap, placed my coffee cup under the armrest next to me and took out my train ticket. I managed to slide out of my coat, doing my best not to disturb the heavyset man who had sat down next to me.

I had just settled in when I heard the conductor’s voice come over the train’s public address system.

“Attention, passengers: there are no trains coming into or going out of Penn Station at the moment due to signal problems. I repeat, there are no trains coming into or going out of Penn Station due to signal problems. As soon as we have more information, we will notify you.”

Of course.

The train car became filled with the sounds of people shuffling in their seats as they took out their phones to send messages about the travel delay. The voice of a young man behind me broke through the silence, informing the person on the other end of his call – and all of the passengers in our car – that he was sitting on the train and not moving.

So much for the quiet car, I thought.

The man next to me unfolded his copy of the New York Times and began to read, pausing every few moments to let out a cough. He pointed his mouth away from me but I found myself wincing anyway. To say that the last week had been taxing emotionally would be an understatement and I was going to need more energy for the coming weekend too. Getting sick was not an option.

I spied one of the train conductors walking along the platform toward the front of the train. She was speaking to someone through her walkie-talkie but I couldn’t make out any of the dialogue. She boarded the train again and I heard the sounds of the train’s brakes being released. The train lurched forward and we began moving through the tunnel.

I leaned my head back against the high seat-back and looked out the window. We cleared the tunnel and I gazed at the thick fog encroaching over the marshes near the train tracks. I could see the patches of ice that had managed to remain solid in the pond, despite the quick thaw of the past few days. The water rippled slightly as a breeze floated by.

I began picturing my wife’s uncle as my thoughts began to drift. I could hear him calling to his wife with his thick Brooklyn accent and trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to carry the tunes at the Passover seder. I imagined his hands, thick and strong, even as he aged, and the profile of his face, which had always reminded me of Yogi Berra. I thought of his smile, always warm and welcoming, and the way he always pulled me in for a hug instead of just shaking my hand.

The seats at the funeral weren’t so comfortable either, I thought, shifting my weight again.

My phone buzzed with the arrival of a text message from my brother, jolting me back to reality and reminding me why I was on the train in the first place. His wife had given birth to their first child last week, a mere two days after we had received word that my wife’s uncle passed away. My thoughts were replaced by the image of my brother’s newborn baby boy cradled in my arms when we went to visit him for the first time. He was bigger than my kids had been when they were first born but he still felt tiny, barely more than folds of skin and a mop of hair.

The edges of my lips curled slightly to form a sad smile as “Circle of Life” began playing in my head.

I began thinking about the highs and lows of the previous weekend again. I pondered my wife’s expressions of frustration as she mourned, the joy in my brother’s smile as he spoke about his new son and the Biblical phrase, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” I felt the familiar weight of intense emotions build between my shoulders and tried to remind myself that the coming weekend was supposed to be joyful. I knew, of course, that the circumcision of a Jewish baby boy is supposed to be cause for celebration. I just couldn’t quite shake the pangs of sorrow that were still lingering from the previous weekend.

The man next to me coughed again, startling me out of my reverie. The conductor’s voice came over the PA system again, announcing my stop. I shook my head quickly to recenter myself, gathered my belongings and excused myself out of the row. I made my way down from the train platform to my wife and children waiting for me in the car. The nerves in my thigh protested again as I sat down in the front seat but I felt the rest of my body relax. I didn’t know exactly what the weekend had in store for me but I did know that being around my wife and kids always seems to make things easier.

Here we go, I thought.

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.”

img_2756

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.