Archives for category: Parenting

Dearest Yael,

It is hard to find the words to express all that we are feeling today. Proud doesn’t seem quite enough, nor does grateful, although surely we are both of those things.

The journey you have been on these past 18 years hasn’t always been easy. And yet somehow, in a world that often overwhelmed you and placed numerous obstacles in your path, you dug down deep and found a fortitude and resilience that kept you moving forward. And as much as we would like to take credit for our part in getting you to where you are today, the truth is, it was that strength of spirit, that tenacity, that grit and that courage that played the greatest role in all that you have achieved.

Today marks the end of one chapter, but also the start of a new one. The pages are blank, the plot yours to create. We have no doubt you will fill it with the warmest of characters, the most beautiful of songs, stories of meaning, messages of hope and that each word will be imbued with love and faith. And even when the pages have moments of hardship, which is sure to happen, we know you will dig down deep and tap into those very same reserves that have helped you before and in the end, you will persevere and emerge even stronger for the challenges.

We believe in you. We always have. We believe in your heart and your dreams. We believe in your hopes and desires. We believe in your abilities, your potential and all of the promise that resides within. And no matter how old you get, we will always be your greatest cheerleaders and most devoted fans. We will always be here for whatever you need, even as we let go and give you the space to begin carving out a life on your own. Know that your safety net remains strong, ready and ever-present if ever you need it.

Perhaps the words proud and grateful aren’t quite enough to encompass the emotions of the day. But we will use them anyway. We are so very proud not only of your achievements, but of the fine human being that you have become. Your soul is pure, beautiful, generous and kind. It illuminates so much goodness into a world often tinged by darkness. What a gift that is sweet Yael. And we are grateful. We are grateful that God blessed us with the opportunity to raise you, to accompany and love you on this journey. We are proud to be your parents Yael Greene.

May you go forward from strength to strength. May you gain a deeper sense of self and purpose. May you continue to bring joy to all of those blessed to know you. May you never lose your enthusiasm for life, music and your Jewish faith. May you hold fast to your dreams.

The Midrash, in Kohelet Rabba, teaches us that

A person has three names:

one that she is called by her father and mother;

one that people know her by,

and one that she acquires for herself.

From this day forward, you will imbue your name with an even deeper meaning. You will continue to ascend with grace and mercy.  And you will show the world that the very best of who you are is yet to be.

Mazal tov Yael Channah Greene

We love you always.

Mom & Dad

yael graduation

Our beautiful girl. Diagnosed with autism at age 3. How far she has come and how very proud we are.

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DSCN1020

My daughters with Grandma & Grandpa on a visit to Long Island.

I remember the first time that I heard my mother’s voice after I found out my father had taken his life. I was in the back of Whole Foods, where I had received the devastating news, sitting with my friend Pam. My husband was on his way to me. But I needed to speak to my mom. So, with my hands shaking and an endless flow of sobs and tears, I dialed the number to the house that my father and mother had shared for over forty years.

My mother answered, and as she recounted what had happened, we sat on the phone crying. And she said to me, “Deborah, I don’t want the girls to know how their grandpa died.” When I asked her why, she answered, “I don’t want them to think he didn’t love them enough to stay.”  We both knew that we could not keep this from them. And even more, that we could not possibly grieve a lie. That wasn’t truly what my mother wanted. Her words were not born of shame, but rather the fear that my children would come to see their beloved grandfather as selfish, or perhaps see themselves as “not enough” to keep him here.

I promised my mother, vowed to her in fact, that I would make sure my daughters knew how much their grandpa loved them. I would tell them the truth about how he died, but I would remind them of all that they meant to him in life. Somehow I would find the words to impart all of that.

My husband took me home. And soon after, our daughters began to arrive from school. They did not all come home at the same time. And while it would have been easier to say the words only once, and to have them all together, it was obvious to them, as they walked through the door, that something was terribly wrong. There would be no postponing the conversation.

It began with my middle daughter, who was beaming because, on that same day, she had gotten her braces taken off. A friend had picked her up from school so that she could keep the appointment. And it fell to us to rob her of that smile, as we told her that her grandpa had taken his life.

Then we told our oldest, and finally our youngest.

We began each conversation with the reminder that I promised my mother I would give. “You know how much Grandpa loved you, right? He loved you so much and he was so proud of you.” As the words came out, the expressions on each of my daughters’ faces quickly changed. They could see in our faces that something was wrong. We then tried to gently frame the harsh news that we were about to deliver, “You know how much Grandpa has been struggling these last months? You know he has been dealing with depression and anxiety.” And before we could go further, my daughters knew. The tears and cries spilled out as they asked if their grandpa had killed himself. And my husband & I had to answer them with the hardest truth they would ever have to take in. “Yes. Grandpa took his life early this morning. He’s dead.” And then through my sobs I said the same thing my brother had said to me that morning when he told me of our father’s suicide: “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

The cries and screams that escaped from my children’s mouths, cries that came from a deep & primal place, will never leave me. They are forever seared into my memory. And I can say with certainty, that those were the hardest and most painful words that I have ever spoken to my children. Everything about them felt wrong. And time hasn’t changed that.

My daughters know that their grandfather died by suicide. They do not know the details of his death. They don’t need to and they are not ready for the imagery that my brother, my mother and I struggle with. They also know that their grandfather loved them very much, and that he died of an illness. It’s taken time for them to reach that place of understanding, and it doesn’t mean they don’t still struggle at times. We talk about it openly. They know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve this loss. But just as we did from the moment we shared that painful truth, we face and process the loss honestly.

Before my father was buried, each of my daughters wrote him a letter. They told him how much they loved him. They told him how much they would miss him and they shared their own personal memories and feelings. And in each of their letters they told their grandpa that they were not angry at him. They offered their forgiveness.

Those letters were placed in my father’s casket. He was laid to rest with their words and their love for all eternity. They know the truth. Their Grandpa died of an illness. It was not a reflection of his love for them. He loved them fully, deeply and wholly. That is his enduring legacy. His suicide is the final footnote that they must live with, but it is not & never will be the whole story.

Grandpa and his granddaughters

Grandpa & The Greene Girls

 

This post has been republished on The Mighty

shamash

In a place where there are no humans One must strive to be human (Hillel the Elder)

It is the holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It has been our family tradition these past few years, to perform eight mitzvot (moral deeds) over the course of the holiday, one for each light & night of Hanukkah. Our hope is that with each deed, each act of kindness that we perform, we can help to bring light and warmth into the world; at least our own little corner of it.

Last night, homemade cookies in hand, we headed to our synagogue, Congregation Har Hashem in Boulder, Colorado. On a cold and windy Tuesday night, we were housing and feeding members of our homeless community in partnership with BOHO ( Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow). We laid out the blankets that our guests would sleep on for the night. One blanket that served as their bed on the hardwood floors. We greeted them, served them food and rotated around the room offering desserts. We had the opportunity to talk to some of our guests, others were tired, cold and hungry and simply wanted to eat and close their eyes for some rest.

As we drove home, our daughters, ages 17, 16 and 13, reflected on the evening. The experience granted them perspective on their own lives, but more than that it allowed them to challenge the stereotypes so many of us have about the homeless. They reflected on the warmth, the gratitude, the eloquence and even the sense of hope that they encountered with so many of the people they served. They noted the smiles that met their own & reflected on the diversity of our guests. They were young, they were old. They were disabled and able-bodied. They were quiet and they were outgoing. They were single and they were couples.

It isn’t the first time we’ve given our daughters the chance to participate in a volunteer project that serves the needs of others. We’ve done it many times. It’s an important value for us. But yesterday evening, I believe, gave them the greatest opportunity to see, really see, the human beings who are without homes, not simply “the homeless.” They were moved by the people that they met.And each of them agreed that they very much wanted to participate in BOHO again.

This weekend, at the culmination of Hanukkah, we will head into Boulder with bags that we put together on the second night of the holiday; bags full of water, hand warmers, snacks and notes of kindness. We will personally hand them out to our homeless neighbors, those we so regularly encounter on the streets of this college town. We will keep the rest on hand in our cars, to ensure that whenever we pass another human being who is hungry and in need, we can give them a little something to quench their thirst, fill their bellies and show them that we care, that we see them and that they matter. We will also volunteer some of our time with Community Food Share. We won’t avert our eyes to the strangers in our midst. We can, in whatever capacity that we are able, reach out and act with compassion, faith and humanity. That is what we want to teach our daughters. That is the ultimate lesson we hope that they will carry through life.

So, what does all of this have to do with Donald Trump? I’ll tell you. It’s quite simple you see. Donald Trump offers sweeping, hateful, fear filled generalizations of people. He labels, he demonizes and he feeds on the worst notions that we have of the stranger. It’s hard to out shout him and we certainly can’t out spend him or find for ourselves the same type of bully pulpit from which he espouses his views.

But here is what we can do. We can give our children and ourselves the opportunity to have encounters with those who are different. We can engage in dialog with those whose socioeconomic, race, religious or even political views, are outside of the daily realm of our own lives. We can look them in the eye. We can introduce ourselves and we can talk to them. We can offer a smile or a kind gesture. We can, in short, begin to recognize the humanity behind the label or the circumstance. This is what happened for our daughters last night. This is what we hope will continue to happen each time we act upon the teachings of our Jewish faith.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the task [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” Pirkei Avot

I know, our food bags and our time serving others isn’t a global movement, nor does it address the overwhelming and very real challenges we face as a nation and as a people. But it does teach our children, our three precious daughters, to open their eyes wider. It teaches them to meet the stranger with compassion and to refrain from easy judgments and stereotypes. It teaches them humanity and compassion for others. It teaches them to answer hate with love, bigotry with acceptance, apathy with action and cruelty with kindness. And, we hope, it helps to protect them from getting swept up in demagoguery that categorizes anybody else as simply an “other” or an entire group of people as evil or villainous. It is our own family’s answer to the dehumanization of another human being based on race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing or other differences. Answer with humanity. Answer strongly and with your whole self. Answer wherever & whenever you can. And where there is darkness, seek always to be a source of light.

The Shamash is the candle that lights the others. Be a Shamash (Rabbi David Wolpe)

A reflection on this World Autism Acceptance Day–yes, you read it right. It is not Autism Awareness that we seek for our children, our friends, our loved ones living life on the autism spectrum. To be aware of someone’s existence, their gifts, their talents, their struggles, their needs, their strengths, their words or lack thereof is not enough. I am aware of many things–but to be aware does not mean that I act. It means that I see, that I know someone, some thing, some issue is in my presence–it’s passive–no, this autism mommy seeks acceptance–that which comes from actively trying to understand, engage & include. We have journeyed along this spectrum for 13 years now, knowingly at least, because of course the journey began long before we had a name or a diagnosis for what we were seeing. And in 13 years I’ve learned a lot-about autism, about advocacy, about tenacity, about courage and about the young woman who is my daughter. 13 years in and I know autism is fluid, some challenges lessen, others become less obvious, still others remain strong–but to be accepting of who my daughter is, I must be open to understanding her–fully, wholly & completely. I must continue to know how autism lives within her, so I can teach her to advocate for herself, find her way in this world, learn, grow and have every opportunity she deserves–but it isn’t enough–No, for that to happen you, her peers, her classmates, teachers, community members and those who will one day enter her life–need to know her for who she is, come to understand how autism impacts her, work to find ways to encourage & support her success, be a part of carving out a meaningful place for her in this society that centers around the “typical.” If you are simply “aware” of her, you are not engaged, committed, invested in all that she has been through, all that she is and all that she can one day become.
I want more than blue lights–I want more than awareness–I want to be a part of creating a society that can celebrate neurodiversity, that understands that an inability to speak, does not mean there are not words to share, that doesn’t think that the ultimate compliment I could receive as a parent is, “Wow, I’d never know she has autism.” Or, “Are you sure she has autism? She doesn’t seem autistic.” I’m not looking for her to “pass off” as anything other than who she is–and autism doesn’t look, act or think in any one specific way–no, it didn’t come in a one size fits all package–but you see, if we move beyond awareness to the true act of acceptance–we’d come to know that–and then, we can do so much more.

mirror

Dearest Daughter

When you look in the mirror, what is it that you see?

What image causes the quiet pain behind that radiant smile?

Growing up as a girl in this world isn’t easy is it?

The journey of self-acceptance & self-love seems riddled with pot holes & pitfalls, obstacles and road blocks.

How can a young woman like you grow to see herself as enough when the messages you are bombarded with seem to shout the polar opposite?

Not thin enough.

Not pretty enough.

Not fit enough.

Not popular enough.

I know your pain. You’ve shared it in moments of sadness. Entrusted me with the feelings masked behind the outgoing & effervescent persona that you show to the outside world. A persona that exudes the confidence, strong sense of self & security that you want so much to embody.

You’ve let me wipe your tears, hold you and tell you all that I see when I look at you. Perhaps I don’t say it often enough. I too can get fooled by that outer optimism and smile so, let me tell you again
what I see when I look at you, my darling daughter….

I see a smile that can light up a room. Even when a shroud of heaviness, sadness or despair lays itself over the shoulders of your friends, your family, or even the stranger-that smile, so simple, yet so powerful can lift away that shroud, even if only for a brief moment. It allows the light to seep in. What a gift that is.

I see your radiant blue eyes, and how they sparkle when you laugh. They are the windows into your soul. And yours is a soul so full of kindness, compassion and love. That is what draws people to you.

I see arms so strong that to be wrapped in their embrace is to know you are loved, cared for, supported. I have felt those hugs in my own moments of sadness, fear or worry. You my sweet girl, unable to see a hug exchanged in front of you, without wanting to be a part of it, have such power in those arms. You have arms that possess the strength to lift up another human being. You have arms that enable you to reach beyond yourself, stretching toward your dreams, unafraid to go beyond the familiar, the known, the safe.

Your legs, they root you in a life of meaning. They root you in your Jewish faith, in family, in community and in love. There is such strength in that. To be rooted is to know you belong, you have a place, you are loved and can love in return.

I see those long curly locks of yours, they flow and they bounce when you walk- and you know what my sweet girl, they are free—like your spirit. They dance in the wind, at times unable to be tamed to simply go in one single direction. Open, ready to be carried, to be lifted away toward a new adventure….

I see lips always ready to speak words of kindness, untainted by the bitterness of hate, envy and gossip. Ready to speak words that lift and nurture. You speak words of encouragement & support. Your words so often infused with optimism, with humor, with compassion and healing.

I look at you sweet daughter of mine, and I am in awe at the beautiful human being that you are. I pray one day, you will see her too, in all of her glory. She is flawed, she is imperfect, as are we all.

You carry the spark of the divine in you. You are B’tzelem Elohim (Bereshit 1:26), created in the image of God. In Jewish tradition we are taught, V’ahavta L’Reicha Kamocha (Leviticus 19:18) Love your neighbor as yourself. You who are so capable of loving the stranger, of finding their strengths in lieu of their flaws, their beauty in place of their imperfections, you who can gaze upon the stranger and seek out the best in them. It is my hope that you will learn to love yourself, as you love your neighbor.

And I want you to know, each and every day, that you are more than simply enough. You are, perhaps, one of the most beautiful human beings I will ever have the privilege of knowing. And I pray that one day, that is who you will see reflected back at you, when you gaze into the mirror.

“Love yourself unconditionally, just as you love those closest to you despite their faults.”
Les Brown

…here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― E.E. Cummings

me and noa pacemaker

Today marks two years since Noa received her pacemaker. And this week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. So, I thought to mark this day, and to honor the intentions of this week, I would share a post that I wrote on Facebook following our last visit to the pacemaker clinic.

Today I took our sweet (and sassy) baby girl (yes, she’s still my baby) Noa to visit the Pacemaker clinic. It remains surreal to me, a little over a year & a half after that grand mal seizure, that our daughter has this little device in her body at 11 & 1/2 years old–that little heart of hers, survived major open heart surgery as an infant–and then endured another trauma that alerted us to the fact that on it’s own–it simply can not function as it is supposed to. The doctor told me today that she is now 100 % dependent on the pacemaker–each time we have visited that number has gone up–until it can go no further–100% dependent. When they test the pacemaker, part of what they do is to stop it and watch her heart’s own rhythm–immediately Noa began missing beats. It is not an easy thing to have your child sit, fully present and aware, through conversations about how much she needs & depends on the pacemaker. How, without it, her heart does not work properly–those are moments that are hard for adults to process, let alone a child. My kid has a tough exterior, but when those moments come during the visit–the anxiety that raises her blood pressure, the tears that quietly stream down the side of her face–that exterior melts away and I see her fear. What more can I do than to reassure her, to hold her & to love her. The tests get completed, the conversations end, the wires come off–and slowly I help her shed the morning reminders of a broken heart–because hers is a heart so full of love, compassion, strength, joy, faith and so much resilience. Her heart bears scars-as does her body–but as we walk out the door of the hospital and return to the promise of the day that lies ahead–I tell her once again that we are strongest in the broken places-the places of healing…. and I know that we are profoundly grateful that, as hard as this journey has been at times, we live in a time where modern technology can save the life of our child–where doctors & nurses can fix & heal a broken heart. And so we journey forward–maybe with a little more sadness today for innocence lost–for what Noa has had to endure–but also with the knowledge that above all else–she has survived, she has thrived, she is here–and today, as every day with her is–today, is a gift!

Noa and Fred in hosp 13

God is closest to those with broken hearts.
– Jewish Proverb