My 6-year-old, myself

I ran my first marathon in my senior year of college, and when my parents came to campus for commencement, it was a frequent topic of conversation. I remember my mother hastening to tell my friends, "She didn't get it from us!"

At the time I felt vaguely offended by her eagerness to disassociate from me. But now that I'm a parent, I understand that instinct: Believe me, it seems to say to the people around you, I find my child as baffling as you do. 

My co-worker, with whom I share all my best Eli stories, has lately been insisting that Eli is more like me than I think. Last week, I told her that when Eli was home with the flu, at one point he called me in my office and, when I answered, just started chanting his own name over the phone. "It's Eli! Eli! Eli!"

She and I sat next to each other during a training session during which we practiced creating demo content for our website. I gave mine a headline: "Rachel rules." Then I created a card g…

Thank you for your service

People are usually surprised when they find out my husband Phil is a veteran. (A sergeant of the 4th infantry division, 4th brigade, to be exact.) I'm not sure if this is because Jewish boys from Queens don't generally join the military or if Phil and his hipster glasses and talent for building elaborate Magnatile structures don't give off a military-man vibe, or both.

People are even more surprised when they find out that Phil deployed to Iraq in 2003 as one of the first waves of American troops. On our second date, Phil charmed me by talking about the essential inflatable pillow he had packed for his tent. If you want to see Phil get animated about his service, ask him about (1) what it's like to shower in the Iraqi desert, (2) the time his fellow soldier wouldn't share her bread machine or (3) how conditions for deployed soldiers evolved since the early days (Phil thinks they got more "plush" because he and his guys were the ones who actually dug the h…

Baruch dayan ha'emet

When Eli was small, every night at bedtime I'd sing him the Hashkiveinu prayer. Hashkiveinu is like a Jewish "Now I lay me down to sleep": Cause us to lie down in peace and raise us up to life renewed; spread the shelter of Your peace over us; guide us with Your counsel and save us for the sake of Your Name. Shield us from foe, plague, sword, famine and anguish. Remove wrongdoing from before us and behind us, and shelter us in the shadow of Your wings. For it is You, O God, Who protects and rescues us; it is You, O God, Who are our gracious and compassionate King. Safeguard our coming and our going, to life and to peace from now to eternity. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who spreads a shelter of peace over us.

There are lots of English translations of Hashkiveinu — the one we often sing at our temple goes, "Spread the shelter of Your peace over us; guide us in wisdom, compassion and trust; save us for the sake of Your name; shield us from hatred, sorrow and pain&quo…

Unicorns are for everyone (or, "My kid likes pink but he also likes the patriarchy," or "Women: we've been here the whole time")

On the way home from the doctor after the great nurse neglect of 2018, Eli turned to me and said conversationally, “Do you know what it’s called when a boy likes girl things? A sissy!”

I think I stopped dead in my tracks on the sidewalk.

“No!” I practically shouted. “Where did you hear that? No!”

It turned out Eli was giving me his very bad takeaway from the very good book “Oliver Button is a Sissy,” written in 1979 (!) by Tomie dePaola (who, Google taught me today, is gay), which his teacher had read to his class.

The gist: Oliver Button likes to tap dance; bullies graffiti the school wall to read “Oliver Button is a sissy”; Oliver Button tap dances with exuberance in the school talent show; bullies revise their graffiti to read “Oliver Button is a star!”

When Eli told me this last part — “Oliver Button is a STAR!” — his eyes shone. Eli likes to dance, too  — exuberantly and in public, and recently he tried to insert himself as a contestant in a dance battle at the Maker Faire and ac…

I love you all the time

"I'm going to punch you!"

The first time my 3-year-old says these words to me, I silently lift him up, carry him into his room and deposit him on his bed, ordering him to sit there for three minutes — a classic time-out.

When the three-minute timer beeps, my boy emerges wet-eyed and tear-streaked, wounded. He has said the worst thing he could think of, and in return his worst fears have been realized: He's been exiled, banished. For a child as sociable as he is, as craving of interaction, it must surely have been torture for him, those three minutes. He's solemn as he declares he will never, ever say that again.

Never is a long time for a 3-year-old. Too long, because the next day I hear it again: those ugly words, flung like a dare. Punish me. Make me cry. In response I promptly burst into tears of my own — not fake, I'm-trying-to-get-you-to-empathize tears but real, frustrated, raw tears, the tears of a woman who doesn't understand where her sweet boy …

Human credentials

Last week I walked down the hall from my office to celebrate a co-worker's retirement. I ate half a piece of cake with some kind of tasty cannoli filling and then decided I would save the other half for after I finished my lunch salad.

But when I got back to my office, I had a missed call from the most dreaded contact I have saved in my phone: "PS 196 Nurse."

The call was one hour old. Nurse Annette had also called my office phone and then resorted to sending me an email. I was officially The Worst Working Mother of All Time.

When I finally got to school to pick up Eli, he deployed that time-honored weapon of our people: guilt. "Why didn't you answer your phone?" he asked in a small, sad voice. "I cried in the nurse's office."

The way that I can tell that Eli is genuinely not feeling well is that he's always really sweet to me when he's sick. "Thank you for coming to get me," he continued as we left school with a citation fro…

Now we are six

Dear Eli,


I have a confession: This is the very first year of your life where your birthday has seemed like a natural and inevitable scenario rather than an astonishing and unbelievable occurrence, the way it seemed when you turned One! Two! Three! Four! Five! This year I'm cool and casual about your swift and inexorable progression toward old age, just the mom of a 1st-grader, NBD.

You have so much to be proud of. Despite your misgivings about kindergarten ("Are we going to have time to play or is it just going to be all reading and writing and BORING STUFF?" you asked suspiciously at the end of pre-K), you rocked it. Your teacher tells us you have a "math brain" (which we all know you get from me! This is a lie. Thanks Daddy), but from my perspective the coolest thing you learned in kindergarten was how to read. Eli, I like to think I keep a pretty cool head about your accomplishments, but every time I see you reading my inner Jewish mother takes over an…