I’ve been obsessively watching “Friends’ for the last few months. I don’t know why exactly. I’ve seen every episode many times. I think because it feels so familiar and I’m still in such an unfamiliar land. I know those characters. And I know that city.
Almost every episode includes a shot of the World Trade Center Towers. I never noticed this until after 9-11. I’m glad they didn’t edit out all those images. Because seeing the Twin Towers is important. Remembering is important. On the 13 anniversary of the attacks. Or every ordinary day that follows.
We live in a scary time. Or at least it feels that way. Fears over Al Qaeda are now being trumped by the threat of ISIS. How brutal and cruel can people get? The fear of terrorism and the gun violence in our own country is all well… overwhelming.
No wonder we all watch dumb reality TV and sitcoms from the 90’s. We stress over after school schedules, homework and playdates because those things feel manageable. We don’t know to process or solve the rest of the craziness.
My children are now learning about 9-11 in their history books. But I want them to understand the way my own mother wanted me to understand about the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr and JFK. Those tragic events changed her. They ripped away her innocence, stole her unbridled optimism and transformed a nation.
That’s what I want my children to eventually understand. 9-11 changed us. We felt innocent before that day. We felt protected in our home country. Wars were something that belonged to past generations. But on 9-11, suddenly we were the ones under attack.
As I wrote several years ago… “There are some moments in life you don’t make peace with. They just become a part of you. Your fabric. Your layers. 9/11 is one of those days.”
My daughters know what happened on 9-11. But I want them to know what happens next. We are a country that embraces freedom, democracy and the human spirit. We know how to rise up against hate.
And yes, the evil of the world is overwhelming and complicated. But doing something good is simple.
So I ask you to really take a moment today to remember everyone who didn’t come home that night 13 years ago.
And the ones who lost their lives inhaling toxic fumes at ground zero.
And the ones who died fighting overseas.
Really remember them.
And then in their memory, do something kind for someone else. Someone you know. Or someone you don’t. It doesn’t really matter. And if possible, involve your children in this act of kindness. So they watch and they learn.
Because if we all embrace the good, hate really doesn’t stand a chance.
When my husband and I (along with our new baby girl Dylan) lived in the West Village, we had these nice neighbors named Barbara and Arthur. Barbara and Arthur had two kids (in their early and mid 20’s).
One day I noticed a large group of women convening at their home. I asked Barbara, “What’s the occasion?”
“The 25th anniversary of my daughter’s first playgroup!” she replied.
“Gosh, that is so nice! How wonderful that you all kept in touch,” I said.
But I also thought, “25 years?! That’s crazy!!”
I had my own moms’ playgroup at that time. Our babies were a few months old and we would convene once a week to let them roll around while we obsessed over whatever baby issues were overwhelming us…. eating, sleeping, nursing, not nursing, taking a pacifier, not taking a pacifier, and everything else that seemed to go with these little strange beings.
Having your first baby is a blip of time that seems like it will go on for a million years but it’s really 3 seconds. You live in some weird time capsule, where you see other people go on with their normal lives but yours is just a replay of the same day… nightly feedings, lack of sleep, changing, more feeding, argument with your spouse because of lack of sleep, repeat.
Your past life is gone and you don’t understand how to navigate your new life.
But this ridiculous passion you have for your baby keeps pushing you along, nudging you ever so slowly back to a life you sort of recognize but is still forever changed.
And that’s why you need the playgroup. Because the only moms who really understand at that moment are the ones right there. They will calm. They nod knowingly. They laugh along with you. You’d look at one of the moms and think, “Why is she so obsessed with strollers? She should be obsessed with sleep. Let’s talk about sleep. Why is my baby not sleeping?!!”
Then the babies grow. They become toddlers who become preschoolers who become elementary school students.
You have a living reminder of the years whisking by.
And one day, you look at your baby and she is turning 10. Ten. And you know it won’t stop there. Ten will turn into prom dresses which will turn into high school graduations which will turn into college diplomas.
My daughter Dylan will soon be ten.
I wish I could go back in time for just a moment, to experience the magic of her baby-ness. To hold her in my arms and press my lips to her incredibly soft cheeks. To just for an instant experience that moment when I couldn’t even imagine she’d talk to me one day, let alone turn into a beautiful, sensitive, creative, loving, amazing 10 year old girl.
And yet she did.
I still keep in touch with many of the women in that playgroup from so long ago. We shared something that I will forever hold with me. That first time mom thing. When life became a blur of love and care taking and nightly feedings and fatigue. When a baby sleeping in my arms made me feel like a superhero.
I think most schools are back in session now (man, what took some of you so long?).
Now I want you to look at the weekly schedule you’ve set up for your kids and yourself (you’re probably the chauffeur right?) and ask, have I scheduled time for my kids to just play?
Not play organized sports or play the piano or play for 4 minutes before 3 hours of dance. I mean, just creative, wild, energetic, zip down the slide, jump from the monkey bars, dig in the dirt, build things from sticks free play.
Schedule it. (I know. I’m bossy today.) And there’s a really good reason for it. Because research is showing us that time on the playground is essential for brain development. Which is why I joined Playworld Systems (a US manufacturer of playground equipment) to save play.
There is science behind this. And because I’ve always dreamed of being an 8th grade science teacher (well, that or an Olympic ice skater), I’ll explain.
According to a recent piece on NPR, research shows that play actually changes the connections of neurons in the front of the brain and these changes play an important role in a child’s ability to interact with people in positive ways, problem solve and even get better grades.
“In one study, researchers found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.” And that’s not all. “Countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less,” said Sergio Pellis, a Canadian researcher.
Which means 15 minutes of recess (the norm is some American schools) doesn’t really cut it.
Now there are some really cool playgrounds out there. Look at this one in Berkeley (of course) where kids can hammer, paint, saw and be free.
Courtesy: David Gilkey/NPR
You can seek out great playgrounds just about anywhere – a place where kids can have unstructured fun, letting their imaginations and creativity run free.
The wonderful thing about free play is that it is actually free. Unlike those classes where your kids learn how to act out Shakespearian plays backwards in the language of Quechua.
And free is awesome for your budget.
Now I know you like that child brain development thing and that no money thing sounds fabulous too but at this point, you might be jealous. Hey, why should my little Sally get all the fun and I’m still just the chauffeur around here?!
Turns out play is important for adults too.
It helps keep our minds sharp, connected in the world, bonded to our loved ones and well, happy. So go outside. Do something just for you, whatever sounds fun. I mean, don’t rob banks. That will get you thrown in jail, which is totally the opposite of fun.
But go out and play.
You can even swing from the monkey bars to show your kids how it’s done.
That if the PTA president at your kids’ new school shows you 10 clipboards and says, “Sign up to volunteer for whatever you like!” and you respond, “Where is the clipboard for nothing? Because I would really like to sign up for nothing” – she will not think it’s funny. At all.
That if you put up bulletin boards in your kids’ room, they will basically put nothing on them…
But they will pin a bunch of stuff to their walls instead…
That I haven’t brought my kids to the dentist for over a year and the last dentist was super shady. He didn’t do a lot of teeth cleaning. He mostly did magic tricks. So this time I’m going to bring them to someone who is skilled in dentistry rather than card tricks. It’s just a different way to go.
That if you try to watch the MTV awards, you won’t know what station they are on. Once you find the station, you won’t believe how old you are. The next night, the Emmy’s will make you feel less old but very unattractive. Takeaway: awards shows are only for when your self esteem is at an all time high.
That if you take your tween girls into a Justice store thinking you are going to quickly return something, you will become a hostage victim and will have little chance of leaving without buying something for your tween captors.
That if you leave your 4-year-old twins alone in a room, they will cut each other’s hair. This is what Chase snipped off Harlowe’s head…
On the bright side, my 4-year-old son did a pretty good job of cutting cool layers for his sister…
(And seeing is overrated anyway.)
That if your 4-year-old son begs and begs for you to cut off the back straps of his flip flops and you know you shouldn’t do it but you still do because he seems really certain – that he will never wear his flip flops again because now they “don’t feel right.”
No matter how many times you tell your 15-month-old son just to sit back and relax for a minute, he totally won’t.
That when your child says, “I’m going to leave out that game (with a million small pieces) so I can’t play with it later” – that is ALWAYS code for “I don’t plan on playing this again but you can just put it away after I go to bed.”
I need a parenting manual. Seriously, where do I get one of those?
I know my older daughter Dylan never wanted to move to Florida. I could tell because she did subtle things like leave a note every night by my bedside saying, “PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME MOVE.” And there were a lot of tears.
We promised her swimming, new friends, an adventure, a summer that never ends!
She responded by saying that sledding was the passion of her life.
I honestly thought that once we got into the groove of the sunshine state (which by the way, they are totally not kidding about because the sun here is fierce) that she would be happy. She was in 3rd grade. She’d be fine. Kids are resilient. Kids go with the flow!
There was no flow. She cried about missing her best friend and at one point, through streams of tears said, “But what about Lucas!” Who the hell was Lucas (name has been changed to protect some boy I never heard of), I thought? Apparently he had been in her class in New York for the last two years and now his absence was crushing.
Her school (although academically rigorous) was too big with very short recesses, strict rules and less focus on the arts than her New York school. Both my daughters had great teachers but somehow, Dylan’s spirit was wilting.
I tried to honor her feelings. I tried to tell her to be brave and keep moving forward. Sometimes in frustration, I told her to be more grateful for all the wonderful things in her life. Sometimes I just hugged her through my own tears because I honestly had no words. What was I supposed to say, I wondered?
So this year I moved Dylan and her younger sister Summer to a much smaller charter school. With no bus service, I’m doing a lot more driving and I’m pretty convinced that Florida is the most gigantic state ever. Like way bigger than Texas. I’m sure of it.
I could barely breathe the first day of school as I waited to find out how it all went.
And at the end of the day, I got a “good” from Dylan. By the end of the week, we were still in the good territory and she said her teacher was very nice. This was promising indeed.
Then we went to the beach. It was a gorgeous day and we found a great parking spot. We splashed into the water with our boogie boards where it quickly became clear that the jellyfish were out in full force.
After a young girl was stung, we quickly retreated to the shore where Dylan downward spiraled into a pit of misery about not being able to swim, missing New York, her friends, her old school and of course sledding.
Damn you jellyfish.
Of course, she has recovered. And her second week of school seems to be going well.
I still can’t quite exhale.
I only hope that someday when she faces tough challenges in life she’ll be able to say, “My parents made me move to Florida. And it was really hard. But now I know I can survive anything.”
I’m guessing she’ll be saying it from her apartment in New York.