Sep 4 2014
Jewish memories are made of this: sneaking out with my bunkmates for a thrilling nighttime swim. Israeli dancing on the lawn in the sunshine before lunch. Singing the birkat hamazon with gusto after dinner, concocting elaborately goofy skits for the talent show, playing friendly pickup games of GaGa, and sending a “Secret Shabbat-O-Gram” to my crush in Tent Gimel. Much more than the hours spent in synagogue or in religious school, I can directly trace my continued connection to Judaism to the unforgettable summers I spent at Camp Ramah in California. As it turns out, Ramah would play an even more crucial role for my son Nathan, who was born 14 years ago with Down syndrome.
Like many parents of children with disabilities, we have long struggled with keeping Nathan connected to our Jewish community. He enrolled in religious school a few times over the years, but it was never very successful. Following the Hebrew lessons was challenging, especially as he was still struggling to read and write English. When he tried to join groups of kids on the playground, they told him to stop following them around. Another year, his class spent months developing a Purim play to be performed for the whole congregation–finally an activity Nathan, an exuberant, natural-born entertainer, could excel in! I waited eagerly in the audience all evening only to discover that his sole role was to silently hold up an “applause” sign at the end–the only work-around his teacher could think of for his perceived inability to memorize lines from a script like the other kids. Reluctantly, we had to conclude that Nathan wasn’t getting much out of the experience, and we stopped sending him. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 11 2014
On Friday afternoon, while I was alone with my infant daughter for a moment, there was a knock at the door of our hospital room. A short, pudgy woman–who just begged to be called Bubbe–pushed her reading glasses up on her nose and looked down at her clipboard, “Are you the Rosen-Prinz family?”
“Yes,” I replied quietly as the baby lay asleep in my arms. I had become accustomed to the constant daily interruptions after many days in the pediatric intensive care unit where doctors worked tirelessly to diagnose my baby with what we would come to learn is a very rare illness.
“Would you like a Shabbat kit?” she offered. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 19 2014
The last thing I told her before it happened was, “Oh my goodness, Aliza, you’re so tiny! You’re barely showing!”
My oldest childhood friend was starting her sixth month of pregnancy, and she had the cutest baby belly I had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to see how enormous she would grow in the months ahead, and neither could she. But neither of us got the chance.
At just 24 weeks pregnant, she unexpectedly went into labor. She delivered a 1.5 pound baby boy, who was immediately rushed to the NICU. Aliza’s early labor was an incomprehensible fluke–up until that point her pregnancy was completely healthy; even her doctors were stymied. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 25 2014
The children’s service at the synagogue where I teach on Shabbat–filled with singing, dancing, and prayer–is saving me during my never-ending divorce proceedings. Though designed for a young audience, the hour provides an opportunity to reflect on the past week, to give thanks, and to ask for strength in the week ahead. I listen to a few words about the Parsha (the weekly Torah portion), kiss the Torah with the children, and take comfort in the momentary peace.
My favorite part of the tefilah (prayer) is and has always been the silent prayer. While I love our tradition, enjoy the melodies we sing and appreciate the liturgy that has been passed down for generations, the silent prayer is the one prayer I “get.” This prayer enables me to say whatever is in my heart in a way that reflects who I am, silently, unscripted, and uninhibited. My silent prayer now includes hopes for our children and asks for assistance with my problems, but overall the prayer is the same one I have been reciting since I was a child.
This past Shabbat, following class, I joined a friend for lunch at a nearby cafe. As we meandered back to our car enjoying the long anticipated spring weather, we passed by two women on a park bench typing on old typewriters. The sign next to them read, “Give us one word and we will give you two poems.” Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 4 2014
It all started innocently enough–with a nondescript letter from the hospital where I get my annual mammograms and ultrasounds (dense breasts, anyone?). It was included in the stack of mail that accumulated during our December pilgrimage to my sister’s ski house in Vermont (Christmas Day on the empty slope–a gift to the Jews, even if there are no available Chinese restaurants for dinner). The envelope’s only distinguishing characteristic was a sticker attached to the front. “Not a Bill,” it read. “Please Open.”
Inside was a form letter summoning me back to the hospital for additional scans of my breast. After consulting with the aforementioned-sister, who also happens to be an OB-GYN and multiple cancer survivor, we decided that there was no cause for alarm. I hadn’t received any ominous phone calls from my doctor. The follow-up appointment they scheduled was weeks away. And plenty of women are called back for additional views.
So I resumed my normal routine without panicking. Laundry. Lunchbox packing. Writing. Trips to Trader Joe’s. Schlepping to after-school activities. Rudimentary dinner preparations. The joys of typical suburban life. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 20 2014
Each night before my daughter, age 2.5, goes to sleep, she has a “special minute” with my husband, and then one with me.
This started as a compromise so that we didn’t both have to be present every night for her lengthy bedtime rituals, but the special minute has evolved into a complex ritual of its own. We talk about, in this order, five things at the drugstore, five things at the zoo, five things at the doctor, five things at the Jewish Museum (the National Museum of American Jewish History, here in Philadelphia), five things at the Please Touch Museum (the local children’s museum), five things about her mirror (yes, really), and five things about today.
And we do this every night, just when I’m the most exhausted, right when I’m on the verge of getting some alone time, exactly when I need her just to be asleep already. We talk and we talk and we talk. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 9 2013
“Please God, help me sleep!” That was my prayer, my urgent plea, while lying in bed wide awake three days after the birth of my son. I was beyond exhausted and I knew I only had a short window before I’d have to wake up again to feed him. My baby boy had just fallen asleep after his middle of the night feeding, and I desperately wanted to fall back asleep before he woke up again. My body ached with exhaustion and the pains of a still-healing episiotomy.
The problem was, I was wide awake. And in this state of being wide awake, I found myself contemplating the worthiness of bothering God with my desperate plea to sleep. I’ve asked for, and received, a lot of things over the years, big and small: a good job; a husband; a short line at the airport so I don’t miss my connecting flight; warm weather for my week of holidays. I had prayed like crazy for a child. At the age of 38, there was no way I took for granted a healthy pregnancy and now, the arrival of a healthy, eight pound baby boy.
I admit that over the years I have suffered from what I like to call the “not enough” syndrome. I’m not pretty enough; I’m not talented enough; I’m not ambitious enough; I’m not spontaneous enough; I don’t earn enough. There are even competing “not enough’s” such as: I don’t work hard enough and I don’t spend enough time with my family. I relate to this as a syndrome that disproportionately affects Jews, kind of like lactose intolerance (yes, I am lactose intolerant) although I’m sure we Jews haven’t cornered the market on feelings of inadequacy (or on lactose intolerance, for that matter). Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 14 2013
My youngest daughter, Piper, started out life as a pretty sick baby.
She was born in the middle of the night a little over a week early. I prefer to leave the hospital as soon as possible, since I despise being cold and bothered every hour. I like my bed and my house and very much missed my older daughter, Delanie. Piper had “other plans,” as I like to say. She had a small heart murmur, causing us to stay an additional day for some overly expensive testing.
One night, while my parents were visiting, Piper was having a coughing fit and turned purple. My mom, who is an RN, patted her back fairly hard and Piper seemed to be fine. We let the nurse know and she thought maybe because she was born via C-Section (my second) that she did not get all the mucus squeezed out of her. All in all, they monitored her and performed the additional test. Everything came back normal, and we went home. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 10 2013
Parenting has been compared to many things. I like to compare it to playing darts while wearing a blindfold. Because so often, it really does feel as though it’s just a stab in the dark.
Except when it works.
Some theory you have or some tactic you use works. And then, for one moment, you feel like a freakin’ parenting expert.
Which is exactly how I felt when I overheard the following conversation between my kids Lilly, age 10, and Jacob, age 6. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 11 2013
Giving birth was the most spiritual experience I ever had.
It was as if my body, mind and soul–my very being–was on high alert. I felt a new closeness to the man with whom I had fallen in love years before and who was now the father of my child. I felt an intense identification with the Creator God, to whom I prayed each day, and who was our partner in the creation of the new life I had just pushed from my body.
But as a religious Jewish woman, I was disappointed that my tradition provided no special prayer or ritual to mark my rite of passage from “woman” to “mother,” even as I softly said the generic Shehechiyanu blessing (“…who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time.”) Read the rest of this entry →