I love you all the time

[Apparently I wrote this post in 2015 but I never published it, so here it is!]

"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,…

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…

America is a promise

I don't think I've ever thought more about what America means and what it means to be American than I have this Fourth of July. This week, after I read this Washington Post article about an ICE raid in Ohio that left children virtually abandoned, I had the dismal thought that celebrating July 4 seemed almost obscene.

Then Eli and I read this library book:
Synopsis: White boy and his nuclear family go to their small-town park for a pet parade, popcorn and pizza at the Pee Wee Football booth, raffle tickets for the American Legion, antique cars, a bandstand, Kiwanis, firemen showing off water battles, the Knights of Columbus, a BBQ, a concert under the stars, Yankee Doodle, Stars and Stripes Forever, the Cub Scouts, a reading of the Declaration of Independence, the Star-Spangled Banner and fireworks.

Which is all fine, I guess, but it isn't like any Fourth of July I've ever had, and no one even says anything about freedom or democracy or independence or even the Coney Is…

No small hand will go unheld

In the morning I walk Eli to school. When we get within sight of the front door, as is his custom, Eli bursts into a sprint as if I've pushed his 'on' button. "Love you!" he calls over his shoulder without looking back, and then he is gone.

On the subway I pull my purple headphones over my ears and turn on The Daily, a New York Times podcast. The episode is about families of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School who are suing Alex Jones for perpetuating and profiting off the lie that they are actors, that their children's murder was a hoax. The host interviews a reporter who interviewed the father of a 6-year-old boy named Jesse Lewis.

"He remembers that day in such excruciating detail," she says: breakfast, a conversation about gingerbread houses, the moment when his son said "Love you" and darted around a corner for the last time.

That night after Eli is asleep I slip into his room. It's a stuffy, humid evening, maybe t…

Try everything

At night Eli’s bed is a cocoon. Clad only in underwear, no matter what the season, he burrows himself deep inside a web of blankets, balancing emoji pillows and Super Mario Bros. stuffed figures precariously on top.

“Listen,” I say seriously, snuggling in beside him, “the Tooth Fairy is going to come tonight, but after this I’ve decided you’re not allowed to lose any more teeth.”

He giggles, his tongue poking through the new hole in his lower gums. This time he lost the tooth in school and managed to save it, and I couldn’t believe how small it looked inside the Ziploc baggie, how it curved at one end like a question mark where it had once been secured inside his gums.

“You’re not allowed to grow any more either,” I continue. “You’re just going to stay 5.”

He giggles again. “I am going to get older,” he says, almost patiently; Mama, we’ve been through this. “I’m going to turn 6 and then 7 and then 9 and then when I’m 10 I’m going to get a phone and then I’ll go to college and get a jo…

Timing is everything

In parenting, as in comedy, timing is everything. When you have a brand-new, breathtakingly mysterious infant, it’s all about the moment-to-moment increments — generally, some variation on the question of What will keep this creature quiet and peaceful for the next minute? Parenting advice columns try to teach you how to stretch out the time between his feedings or how to prolong her nap.

Gradually, you start measuring time in weeks and months — when I signed my name on emails to my “June through December 2012 Forest Hills parents” Google group, I’d type “Rachel (Eli, 18 weeks).” Every month on the 16th, when I look at my Timehop app, it’s filled with pictures of baby Eli wearing his special onesie that proclaimed how many months old he was.

You’ve all seen similar pictures in your own Facebook feed, and some of them are invariably accompanied by shameful confessions about how they are “a few dates/weeks/months late, oops!” Because in parenting, as in comedy, it’s hard to get the tim…