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Rachel Maddow, This is Us and The Night That Sucked. Or not…  2

Two nights ago, millions of us awaited the season finale of our absolute favorite show, “This is Us”. Then, hours before it aired, Twitter went wild with the “breaking news” that Rachel Maddow had been given a copy of a Trump tax return. At last we were going to learn if the Liar-in- Chief was as rich as he claimed. If he actually paid taxes. But what to do? Both shows were airing at 9PM EST, and it felt like an existential choice. Which one to watch? Which one to DVR? I expected both shows to make me weep, but I opted to watch Rachel first as the Trump Tax Returns was also a continuing saga I’d been following for months.
And best I knew, no one was supposed to die.
 
In between commercials, I noted that social media was blowing up. “This is Us” was being tarred as the worst episode of the season. “Did they use the same writers? I don’t feel like I’m watching the same show.” Others felt duped. We’d been led to believe we were going to finally find out how Jack died. Why Kate was living with such enormous guilt that she couldn’t stop comfort eating. Instead, we learned how Jack and Rebekah met. Yawn. How could the writers we’ve come to love and trust deprive us of what they promised in the previews? Seriously? Jack wasn’t killed in a drunk driving incident? What about all those beer cans in the front seat?
And over at MSNBC, viewers were equally incensed. We were led to believe that Rachel was going to give us the smoking gun that would bring down the fat bastard. Adios Trump Regime. “You’re fired!” Instead, we got a paltry 2-page summary from 2005 that showed Trump’s income was sizeable and his tax burden appropriate. Even worse, Donald Jr. was ecstatic. Thanks Rachel. You proved what we said all along. My dad is a successful businessman. A real Honest Abe.
 
How could it be that our beloved Rachel fell into a Trump trap? Our nightly hero was too savvy for that. Surely she knew she was being played. Could even be that Trump himself leaked the return, as he had leaked endless other stories. We hadn’t seen this much fury since Trump announced the Muslim travel bans and millions protested in the streets.
But after watching both shows and reading the attacks, it gave THIS IS US new meaning. We are now a nation that feasts on winners and losers. Life is nothing more than a sporting event and at the end of the day, if our team hasn’t advanced, it is painful beyond words. In fact, we are now so accustomed to the hype and hyperbole, so certain that those who don’t share our point of view are the enemy, so completely convinced that only we are right, we’ve actually all lost our minds.
Remember when we got wild as kids? We were told to calm down and go to our rooms. Usually at a high decibel with a few threats thrown in for good measure.
It’s time to go to our rooms.
On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow did what she does every night. She presents small facts, mulls them over for their possible implications and then connects the dots in a way that only she can. Soon, we see the big picture. Understand that the 20-minute drive through the “A” block isn’t just meandering but taking us to a real destination. Like a great professor, she slowly and methodically explains what the average student will miss.
In that seemingly boring tax return, every line item posed a question that would require further investigation. Where did all those millions come from? Were they tied to Russian oligarchs? Organized crime? And if Trump paid his fair share of taxes, was he now going to change the rules to prevent that from ever happening again? Was the point of him winning a trip to the White House so that he could leave rich as Putin? Rachel never claimed she would bring him down on Tuesday night. Only that she’d been given a new tool with which to start hammering. And as her devoted fans know, this uber smart and tenacious journalist will not rest until the last nail hits the coffin. So need for Rachel shaming. If ever the story of the Trump tax returns comes to light it will be because she led the charge. Not in one night. But over time. Rest assured.
As for the season finale of This is Us? Many fans have called it an epic failure. And I would agree that the episode was a let down (full disclosure: out of boredom I zipped through it). But the writers did what they’d done all along. Shared a multi-layered story that crisscrossed between time periods, reminding us that both our past and present are driving the car. We go nowhere without the memories that shaped us. Did we want closure? Sure. Did we expect resolution? Totally. And yet, now we’ll have much more to learn in Season 2. Maybe get the answers we hoped for like the ones we want in our own lives.
I’m not sure that time heals all wounds, but I do believe it gives us greater clarity. Who among us has not looked back at a difficult challenge and realized that the outcome made sense? That hard as it was to live through, we landed where we were supposed to?
My hope, the one that lets me sleep, is that we will look back on this time in history and see the wisdom of the Universe. Nauseated and troubled as I am by Trump, the false prophet, sitting in the Oval Office confusing Tweets with Executive Orders, I believe that when he is removed, voters from both sides will take a deep breath and say, okay we can do a lot better than this convicted felon. That the point of the exercise was to remind us that despite the angry and painful rhetoric, we do have common goals. United we stand…
Of course, only time will tell and hopefully sooner than later. But, don’t despair. We are strong. We are determined. We are smart. We are good people. This is us, indeed.

Is Truth Stranger than Fiction in Marriage? I’m About to Find Out…  0

Marriage is on my mind.

IMG_5102Our oldest son and his wife recently celebrated their third anniversary in their new home. Our middle daughter and her husband are looking forward to celebrating their second anniversary somewhere not impacted by the Zika virus. And our youngest daughter got engaged in July to a wonderful young man we’ve known since they were in high school.

A few weeks after Taryn said yes, my husband and I celebrated the 40th anniversary of our first date by going to dinner at a French restaurant owned by the family whose restaurant we went to that steamy MaIMG_2067nhattan night in late July, 1976. The next morning we rode over to the apartment building on the upper east side where we first met. And now we are preparing for 2017 when our baby will become a bride exactly one week after we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

IMG_5336So many memories and milestones. It’s making me weepy.

But while all of this good stuff is happening in my personal life, my writing life is taking me in a different direction. I am at work on a novel about two troubled marriages in the same family and the role karma plays in choosing our mates. Here is a peek at the premise of WHEN WE COME BACK.

If we return from a past life is it for love or redemption?

Two roommates at Syracuse feel an inexplicable attachment to an entitled frat boy with whom they have little in common. Years later, one marries him and the other moves across the country to forget him. But when an unplanned reunion reveals that their shared history may not have ended with graduation, destiny is blamed for their imperfect souls and the shocking fallout. Oh, that crazy karma.

It is an odd confluence of emotions to be reflecting on the joys of wedded life when I am immersed in the worlds of a bored newlywed couple and the bride’s parents, who will not be buying anniversary cards this year unless Hallmark has a line that says things like, I fucking hate you. Please die. There is so much tension, drama and secrets that even though according to my outline I know how the story ends, my characters are in full bloom and could shock me.

I like to say, no surprise for the writer than none for the reader, either.

But how does my personal life mesh with my writing life? Sometime not well. Recently, my husband asked what was up with my attitude. “Are you mad at me?” Of course, after four decades there’s a good chance he’d done something to piss me off. But this time he was innocent. Turns out that I was so riled at my fictional husband I couldn’t turn off my anger. I went back to my manuscript and unleashed a torrent of blistering words. Then I felt much, much better.

Back to the Beginning at 250 E. 87th St., NYC

Back to the Beginning at 250 E. 87th St., NYC

One day I’ll close the chapter on these deeply flawed characters (and miss them as I do all of my characters), but it will be best as living with them is like living with Liz, Dick and they’re messed up kids. Then I’ll return to dealing with normal-people marital problems, like who is making the holidays this year and must we invite the other side of the family.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wants To Be A Funny Girl? Me!  4

Barbra-Streisand-Fanny-Brice

Who needs a laugh? Everyone! Sadly, women like me who write funny novels are thought of as the Rodney Dangerfield’s of publishing. We get no respect. Actually, we’re likened more to the childrens photographers at the mall. People love our work but don’t consider it art.

A few years back, authors Jennifer Weiner and Jonathan Franzen engaged in a well publicized duel, with Jennifer arguing that chick lit and humorous novels by women were the bread and butter of publishing. They just didn’t cause any excitement at the bank. In turn, Jonathan nailed her for complaining about the income disparity between men and women authors. Fair is fair, and all that sort of thing.

But, Jennifer Weiner was right. Historically, male authors have commanded the big advances, the talk show appearances and the take-a-bow reviews. Even male novelists who write funny, like Carl Hiassen and Joshua Ferris, get to don the green jackets, like Masters champions.

Why do you think that when J.K. Rowling ventured into writing adult thrillers she chose the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith?

It’s still a man’s world, but it’s no joke.

Q. How many male novelists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Nothing happens for 350 pages; receives fourteen awards.

I raise the issue because I have just re-read two of Jonathan Tropper’s novels, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU and ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO. His work is a delight. Hilarious, honest, touching and filled with pathos. He deserves his success, including the film adaptation of THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU.

Trust me, I don’t begrudge Jonathan or any novelist success. I just wish that the double standard would die. Like Mr.Tropper, my novels A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins) are funny, heartfelt tales of Jewish families in distress. They also have been optioned for TV and films and remain beloved by book clubs, especially after members have read one too many dark, literary (and often boring) novels.

Or, as I will often hear after a discussion, “When I read your book I laughed, cried and wouldn’t come out of the bathroom until I finished. When I read INSERT LITERARY TITLE, my mind drifted and I wondered if my Dunkin’ Donuts coupons were still good.”

It’s why I keep going. I have just completed my first novel for middle-grade readers, SO SICK OF SECRETS (calling all great agents!!) and am knee-deep into my new adult novel, WHEN WE COME BACK. Both stories are high-spirited and filled with great humor and heart. Both stories introduce characters that are in big, big trouble and will emerge triumphant (we don’t call ’em heroes for nothing). Both stories will hopefully get readers to hug these books to their chests and think, what a ride. That was so much fun.

But, see for yourself. Here is Page one from WHEN WE COME BACK, and then a clip in which Paula is trying to console her best friend, Jill at the funeral of Jill’s mother-in-law.

Like a storm surge that could overpower a seawall, Franny Segal was a force until her final day. And though her obituary referred to the fatal car crash that ended her life, it belied the truth. Cause of death was extreme stubbornness. Had she listened to her daughter-in-law, Jill, she would have had more time to terrorize those whom she claimed to love most. But the seventy-nine-year old matriarch hated to follow orders. Even well-meaning ones. Thus, she entered eternity due to an end-of-life decision involving nail polish.

Which is when the finger pointing began…

 

Paula hugged Jill. “How’s my bestie holding up?”

“I’m miserable.”

“And see? I thought you’d be happy. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead.”

“It’s not that,” she replied.

“Okay. What did Jackass do now?”

“It’s unimaginable, but I can’t tell you here.”

“Understood… Hey. Have you noticed all the old ladies like us are in black from head to toe? Then we cover up like mummies with scarves as big as burqas.”

Jill elbowed her. “Stop.”

“And could the girls’ dresses be any shorter? Is there a bar crawl after the final Amen?”

“You are not supposed to make me laugh.”

“Yes, I am. Whoa. You dug out The. Chanel. Bag.”

“It’s a Jewish funeral. It’s required for entry.”

Paula laughed. “Must be, because I’ve counted twenty of them and I just don’t get it. Chanel is so damn expensive that when I read their ads, I don’t know whether I’m looking at a phone number or a price. At least you didn’t get yours at a consignment shop.”

 

Now here is the big question. Will this novel make it onto the New York Times bestseller list? A girl writer can dream. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should submit this one under a man’s name.

Signed,

Seymour Butts
Author of UNDER THE GRANDSTAND

The ABCs of Middle School: Angst, Bewilderment and Confusion  0

mean middle school girlsMy daughter just read So Sick of Secrets, my new novel for middle school girls. Thankfully, she loved it and thought readers would connect with this high-spirited story about friendship and fate. But, what made her really happy was that at 28, she was long past those haunting years. “It was hard enough when all we had was AOL,” she said. “Everyone had their little groups and it was easy to feel excluded. I can’t even imagine what these girls go through now with texting and Snapchat. Brutal.”

Brutal, for sure. In doing research for the novel, I became immersed in the surreal existence of today’s thirteen-year-old girls. Just when they are trying to form an opinion of themselves, what they think, what they’re good at and how they want the world to see them, they have to walk this scary tightrope. At any moment, a hurtful photo, message or post can send them over the edge and make no mistake, emotional recovery is not a sure thing.

As we all remember, scars linger and can be a deterrent in forming healthy relationships, pursing passions or caring about the future.

Of course, some things haven’t changed. There have always been cliques that not only excluded kids, but demonized them. Bullies, too. Or, our supposed “friends” who spread rumors as a joke, but couldn’t take them back even if they were sorry. And who could forget the kids who made fun of our clothes, hair and bodies, giving us nicknames that often stuck?crying middle school girl

But, what is different now is social media, the most inhumane and damaging weapon ever to infiltrate school hallways. We didn’t experience sexting, embarrassing photos uploaded without consent, or vile group messages that couldn’t be deleted. We didn’t have girls crying in the guidance office because a boy they thought was a friend just sent a sexually explicit threat.

This was the world in which I entered when I created the character, Stella Jacoby, and I immediately felt her angst. Maybe the technology is new, but the emotional pain is not. The greatest challenge was letting her express her fears without making her sound whiny or pathetic. I also hoped to breathe enough life into her that she could navigate through her dark despair on her own. She does make mistakes and falters, but still manages to find her courage and prevail.

Glinda the good witch

As Glinda the good witch said, “You always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.”

If you are the parent, loved one or family friend of a middle school girl, please listen to her but mostly urge her to listen to herself. Survival may be as simple as her discovering that she has two voices. The one used to speak out and the one she hears in her head. If she is in search of a best friend, hopefully she will discover it is within.

 

Life Without a Mother  1

Today marks the second anniversary of my mother’s passing, and though she is deeply missed, her family honors her each day by living busy, meaningful lives. It is all she ever wanted for herself and for us. In honor or this day, I wanted to re-post my blog from last year about what it means to go on without a mother. Perhaps it will resonate with you as well.

 

Celebrating Doris and Harold Hymen

Celebrating Doris and Harold Hymen

In the past, anniversaries were milestone events that bookmarked the most meaningful chapters in my life. They were celebrated with parties and gifts and in good times, memorable vacations. But since my dad died in November, 2012 at the age of 88, and my mom followed a year ago today at the age of 91, the word anniversary has taken on a  different meaning. Less celebratory, more a nod to the cycles of life.

Of course, this day deserves respect and recognition, and yet the sobering impact of loss seems less clear cut. How best to commemorate the death of your mother without being maudlin?

First, I am mindful of the ancient Kaddish prayer that Jews recite during the mourning period and any time thereafter when a group of ten congregants (a minyon) convenes. Though identified as the mourner’s prayer, the word death or dying never appears. Instead the beautiful passages reaffirm life, faith in God and hope that peace descends on all the world.

I think it best to take a cue from the wisdom of my heritage.

Taryn and Grandma

Taryn and Grandma

Though I feel wistful about no longer being able to call my parents with family news, I appreciate the lifetime of conversations we enjoyed. Both parents were blessed with good health and longevity. Were active, vibrant and sharp until the end… Were committed to each other.

And truth be told, there were just as many conversations that scared and annoyed me. Ugh! They could be so damn stubborn, never once admitting that my advice on how to handle their challenges was right. And heaven forbid I should suggest something radical, like hiring a driver or home aid, stand back for the screaming, further amplified by their special hearing/loss phone.Mommy with her two daughters

And yet, I miss those calls, too, because my parents still had the fight in them. They would not give an inch on losing their freedom and independence, not even when it was truly in their best interest.

I think about that now. How fiercely they believed in their right to call the shots. It wasn’t so much about losing the upper hand, it was about not wanting to burden us with their problems. About wanting to make decisions that didn’t impact our already busy lives. About wanting to prove that though they were smaller, frailer, and very hard of hearing, they still could earn our respect.

Which brings me to today, the first anniversary of not having a mother. I could dwell on my memory of the frantic days leading up her death. The calls from my sister, Mira, the talks with the hospice care workers, the notes I wrote down about her labored breathing and long stretches of sleep. But instead I will reflect more on her steady, sensible, hard fought life.

My mother was a doer. From the minute she woke to the time she fell asleep with the TV on full blast, she never stopped going. Not a day went by without an agenda filled with tennis, swimming, working, food shopping, cooking, baking, meeting friends for dinner, and on Shabbat, going to Synagogue to give thanks for it all.

Our last Shabbat

Our last Shabbat

My mother’s art gallery was her walls filled with family photos. Her limousine was her trusty Buick Regal with a glove compartment that needed to be shut closed with electrical tape. Her favorite fashion designers were anything on sale at Dillards. And dining out need not be fancy. It just needed a coupon.

As for her greatest joy? Her three children and their spouses, eight beloved grandchildren and their spouses, and four great grandchildren- the mega bonus. How lucky she felt to have this big, noisy family who would descend on Sarasota to soak up the sun, the beach and her legendary chocolate chip cookies.

Mom and Dad, 2006

Mom and Dad, 2006

My parents with their offspring2013 iphone pix 619Mira and I returned there to celebrate my birthday in January, but mostly to reconnect with our cherished history. Three decades of visiting our parents and each time, feeling blessed to be sharing our journey with two people, two fine examples, of living a life that mattered.

Mom, we remember you today as we have every day, and know that your spirit and zest for life lives on in all of us. That is the only legacy one could possibly ask for.

 

 

Introducing the High-Spirited, Stella Jacoby  0

keep-calm-i-am-a-psychic-medium-257x300Thirteen-year-old Stella Jacoby is the lucky/not-so-lucky hero in SO SICK OF SECRETS, my first novel for young readers. Admittedly, it is not easy being cast in a Saralee Rosenberg novel. Faster than you can say “Noooooo”, the drama begins. Only through luck, pluck and some divine intervention does a happy ending await. Or not.

I recently chatted with Stella to find out how her life has changed since being set in a story that explores fate, friendship and the afterlife.

Saralee: It wasn’t that bad being in my novel. Was it?

Stella: Are you kidding? Before you showed up I had a best friend, an almost boyfriend and Rachel Ryder (Her Royal Slyness) wasn’t posting videos of my epic fashion failures.

Saralee: Sure. But when the story started you were also pretty sad. All you wanted was to communicate with your dead mother so that you could finally learn the truth about the tragedy that ended her life.

Stella: True. I just never thought you’d make my entire world blow up before I could get answers.

Saralee: Sometimes when your life is falling apart, it may be falling into place.

Stella: That’s my line!

Saralee: Which I wrote. Now be honest. In spite of getting ditched by your friends, worrying about your stepmom dying and scaring off your boy crush, Sam Brody, you have to admit you learned a lot.

Stella: Yep. I learned not to tell anyone that I could communicate with dead people.

Saralee: See? And I thought that would make you proud.

Stella: Because you’re not in middle school. Trust me. After the most popular girl in your grade accuses you of practicing witchcraft, it’s only a matter of time before someone dumps a bucket of water on your head.justice-tween-girls-clothes

Saralee: But good news. You never gave up on your belief that your real mother could hear you. And then after you met Phoebe Castle, Orlando’s popular TV medium, you learned that you might be a medium, too.

Stella: That was cool. Thanks.

Saralee: You’re welcome. Now think back. What was the scariest moment in the story?

Stella: For sure it was when Sam Brody disappeared and I knew it was my fault.

Saralee: That was scary for me, too.

Stella: Why? You could have made him show up at any time.

Saralee: No. At that point, it was YOUR journey and you had to decide how to bring him back. Or not bring him back.

Stella: Wait. What? I’m a fictional character. You’re the writer.

Saralee: Only at the start. After a writer breathes life into a character, gives them heart, hope and insights, the character dictates the outcome. The writer is simply the designated typist.

Stella: Now you tell me?

Saralee: You’ll know for the next novel.

Stella. Noooo. I have to go through this again?

Saralee: Sorry. If we sell the series, you are coming along for the ride. Meanwhile, thanks for being such a good sport. I know the plot was filled with tension and mystery, but that’s why you’re my hero.

Getting into Rehab is Easy. Getting out Requires a Fight.  0

“Mrs. Rosenberg, we generally don’t discharge patients unless we’ve evaluated them for seven days.”

“Well, I’ve evaluated my mother-in-law after only three days, and if we don’t get her out of here, she won’t make it to seven.”

So went the talks that felt more like hostage negotiations while trying to free my 89-year-old MIL from a famed rehab facility. Instead of attempting to help her regain her strength and balance after a short hospital stay, they stuck her in the dementia ward where the highlight of her day was listening to an accordion player who kept checking his phone, probably to see if he’d landed a better gig than playing for an audience that was too sleepy to clap.

NO! Not the accordion player again.

NO! Not the accordion player again.

Rehab sounds so promising. Have no fear. Your loved one will be like new when they leave. Ha! If it’s up to the facility, patients will be there for so long, they’ll forget what was wrong with them in the first place. Something to do with Medicare reimbursements, which are the mother’s milk of hospitals and institutions. Can’t provide all of this great care if people don’t stick around long enough to run up massive bills.

But provide actual rehabilitation? A nice concept if you can get it.

For the vast majority of the day, my mother-in-law was left in a wheelchair in the corner of the dining room. Thanks to adult diapers, she didn’t need to be “toileted”, so no need to check on her. To break up the monotony, she was served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Observing how much (or little) she ate was low on the list of priorities. As was searching for her brand new hearing aids, which mysteriously went missing soon after her arrival. What about bringing her down to her allotted 30-minute session of PT? “She said no, so we didn’t push.”

I understand that most hospitals and rehab centers are understaffed, and that it’s hard to keep up moral when the conditions and salaries are sub par. I do believe there are angels in all of these places who truly provide compassionate care. I even believe that their intentions are good. Unfortunately, too many hospitals/rehab centers are run by corporate entities that suck the lifeblood out of humanity in the name of profits.

"Are you sure you want to leave? We were just getting started."

“Are you sure you want to leave? We were just getting started.”

The only thing patients can count on are being turned into billboards for big pharma because injecting them with expensive drugs is good for business. As is keeping them in a prolonged stupor so that their recovery time is longer.

What’s the lesson? Brace yourself if you or a loved one are admitted to rehab. It will be nothing like the website and more like a quagmire of paper work, phone calls and fast-talking doctors and nurses who rattle off diagnoses faster than you can say Namenda, the drug of choice for keeping patients quiet.

As for the weary accordion player? In between renditions of I Could Have Danced All night and the Beer Barrel Polka, I bet he was praying it was time to run to his car. I know that’s what I was praying when I ran to mine.

If ever my mother-in-law and I needed to share a bottle of red with a straw, it’s now.

Club 61: Oprah, Christie and Me  7

Tomorrow is my 61st birthday and my husband keeps teasing that I am the oldest woman he has ever slept with. Such a kidder I thought as I spiked his coffee with prune juice.

And yet age is just a number, right?

I’m still pursuing my passions. Still working out and paying respects to the merciless jailer, Mr. Scale. Still putting more into a day than some do in a week. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t keeping my eye out for the finish line.

Will the day come when I can pop a chill pill called Damnitall and not panic that I want the bread basket for dinner?

I looked like this... never

I looked like this… never

Maybe not. Our favorite supermodel, Christie Brinkley, just wrote a new book called Timeless Beauty, about why  women must NEVER give up on their appearance. Ugh. She’s 61 like me and still looks like a cheerleader from the back (not to mention a MILF from the front). It’s tempting, of course, to ask how does she do it because the dream of looking ageless dies hard.

Then again, if I were to commit to her eating and exercise regimen, would it help me find a parking spot in midtown Manhattan? Achieve literary stardom? Actually stop the clock?

Sorry, Christie. Though you are adorable, unless your book comes bundled with your bank account and your gene pool, there is little hope for most women our age to look like you. That’s why we connect more Oprah. She’s smart, successful, charitable and has managed to stay a powerful force in a world that bores easily. And so what if she tips the scale? There’s just more to love.

Oh wait. For her 61st birthday, Oprah bought herself a big slice of the

A big loss for Oprah

A big loss for Oprah

Weight Watchers pie and is now drinking their corporate Kool-Aid (sugar free, of course). The message? No matter how accomplished a woman is, she matters not unless she’s also a head turner. So basically the woman who is universally beloved for her inspiring work, the woman who single- handedly built the largest media empire, still yearns to be small.

Even the defiant Princess Leah has bit the fat-free bullet. Though Carrie Fisher tweeted her annoyance at being judged about how well she did or didn’t age, she lost thirty pounds to reprise her role in Star Wars. Even strutted in a bathing suit as if she was cast in a beauty pageant instead of a film.

What is a birthday girl to do when the world is unsympathetic to aging?1456637_10203047097922547_6212040221428401171_n

I have decided that I must be doing something right if my husband of thirty-eight years tells me I’m more beautiful today than when we met.

If my doctor says he wishes more of his patients worked as hard as me to keep my weight and diabetes in check.

If my 8-year-old grandson greets me with a huge smile and a hundred more questions about the world.

If my children treat me like a hero and gladly share their lives with me.

If my writing colleagues continue to cheer me on because they so believe in my work…

If I can look in the mirror and wink.

Still crazy after all these years...

Still crazy after all these years…

So Oprah and Christie, I wish you well on your never ending journey to wear skinny jeans. But hint: they come in size 12, too. As for my birthday, you may wonder if I’m having cake. Hell, yes. I’m Saralee and I approve this message.

 

Life Lessons That Got Better With Age  0

My Dad and I

I buried my father three years ago today. His was a peaceful death, as dementia, the unforgiving thief, had already stolen him from us. But in spite of my sadness, there was little time to mourn. It was election day, my husband’s birthday and we were still reeling from Super Storm Sandy. For almost a week we had neither power nor heat. And only a few hours after the lights came back on, I got the call I’d dreaded.

In my mind I’d drafted his eulogy a dozen times. But when I had to finally commit the words to paper, I was filled with despair. How could a writer have so little to say? Then I realized he had left nothing  to chance. All I had to do was replay his “greatest hits”- his philosophies of life that not only shaped my world, but my writing.

Think of Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof. Ironically, Tevye was my father’s middle name in Hebrew.

So as this season of gratitude approaches, I will share some of the wit and wisdom from the Harold Hymen Library of Life Lessons (with special thanks to my sister, Mira Temkin, for helping me recall the ones I’d already forgotten).

"That's Baseball," said the great philosopher, Harold Hymen
“That’s Baseball,” said the great philosopher, Harold Hymen

THAT’S BASEBALL.  Don’t let the Cincinnati Reds hat fool you. My dad only wore it once, when he got to throw out the first pitch at a Spring Training game. Instead, he was a lifelong Cubs fan and knew all about losing. Which was the point of his metaphor every time I whined. Teachers weren’t fair. Cheaters didn’t always get caught. You could do everything right and still not win. Your friends might disappoint you, but you had to take the good with the bad. That’s baseball… and life.

STAY WITH THE GROUP. This was originally meant to keep me in line during class trips. He didn’t want me wandering off as I once did as a three-year-old at the beach. But later I realized he was also talking about staying part of a community. He was always active in town government, his synagogue, clubs and organizations, and believed that his life was richer for it. Staying with the group meant that my life would always have meaning and I’d never walk alone.

DON’T DO AS I DO, DO AS I SAY. As soon as I learned the meaning of the word hypocrite, I pointed fingers. Now I know differently. He was really trying to teach me that he’d made mistakes and developed bad habits, but he hoped I was stronger and smarter than him. Surely I could strive to do better, or at least not make the same mistakes.

DO FOR YOUR PARENTS SO THAT ONE DAY YOUR CHILDREN WILL DO FOR YOU. Every time I showed up in Sarasota to help my parents, my dad reminded me that my kids were watching and learning. He was right. My children are as devoted to me and my husband as we could ever ask, and I’m certain it has to do with the example we set.

CONFIDENCE IS THAT FEELING YOU HAVE RIGHT BEFORE YOU UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM. This made me laugh because it was true, thought it wasn’t meant to discourage me. It was more about accepting that we are not perfect and that getting clarity takes time. He also never wanted me to get so comfortable in a role that I took my eye off the ball. It was always better to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

NEVER WRAP ON THE DOOR WITH A RUBBER SPONGE.  My father was a big believer in chasing dreams and creating opportunities. When I’d start a new job, he’d ask when I was leaving and what I planned to do next. If I was elected president of an organization, he’d ask if I was grooming my successor. If I was struggling with my writing, or an agent, or a deal, he’d urge me to push for what I felt I deserved, and not fear banging the door down to get it.

IF YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO, YOU’LL NEVER WORK A DAY IN YOUR LIFE. With this philosophy, I left the corporate world and a steady paycheck for the uncertain writer’s life. Or what my husband calls the world’s most expensive hobby (that’s for another post). But once I discovered that nothing satisfied me more, or intrigued me more, or gave me more hope and happiness than writing novels, I had to follow my father’s advice. Yes, a passion can take you down a difficult path, but it will never feel like work.

Over the past few years, I have taken great solace knowing that he left a great legacy- not money- but something better. Valuable lessons that are as relevant today as they were when I first learned them. Not surprisingly, that was another one of his favorite expressions. “What I’m telling you today will be just as true tomorrow.”

Teach your children well, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Momzilla  3

Do My Children Look Miserable? Exactly.

Do My Children Look Miserable? Exactly.

As new mothers learn, there are two approaches to parenting. You either emulate your own mother’s attitudes and style, or you run in the opposite direction.

My mother, God rest her soul, grew up with very little and it seemed to suck the joy from her being. She was competent and responsible, but never gave the impression that she liked the job.

So I knew when I had my own family I would write a different playbook. I would be nurturing, supportive and involved. Relentless in boosting my children’s confidence. I’d yell and punish when the situation warranted it, but I would also live for their laughter.

Did I expect an award for this unconditional love? Hardly. But I did get life’s grand prize. A son and two grown daughters who are making their mark on the world through their careers, relationships and acts of giving. Truly, I can see evidence of my investment in them and am delighted with the return.

So imagine my surprise when I was interviewed for an article in the New York Times about mothers and daughters that are very close, and it created a firestorm of criticism. Oh no! I’m worse than a Tiger Mom. I’m a Momzilla!

At least according to the snarky haters and sanctimonious experts who mouth off on the Internet: #digitaldouches.

It started innocently. The article was intended as a fun look at moms who are so attached to their adult daughters, they hope/expect to be invited to their bachelorette parties.

So happens I did tease my daughter, Alex, about joining her bridal party and friends in Bloomington, IN when she  celebrated last fall. I am an IU alumni, too, as is my younger daughter, and it is just my happy place. But truly had she chosen Vegas or the Bahamas, it would never have occurred to me to be there. I’m not a drinker or a party girl and a big night out is when I can stay up past eleven.

They left without me? Yes!

They left without me? Yes!

So I repeat. My being on the guest list was never a real consideration, just something we joked about. And unlike the other mother featured in the article, who not only went to Vegas, but planned the whole weekend, I stayed home and stalked Facebook photos. Not to pine for the party that got away. To enjoy my daughter’s happiness.

Toasting Alex with Coffee is How I Roll

Toasting Alex with Coffee is How I Roll

But in my heart, I understood why the possibility appealed to me.

I got married at 22 without any wedding fanfare. In fact, barely a wedding at all. My parents were unhappy with my choice of mate (“Oy! He’s a New Yorker. A shanda!”) and bet on my divorcing him as soon as I realized my huge mistake. That’s why they were only willing to spring for a garden ceremony in the courtyard of our family synagogue along with a small backyard reception. Somewhere there are pictures.

And were they right? Thankfully not. Lee and I will be celebrating our 38th wedding anniversary this month and have a made a wonderful life together that remains strong and vibrant. We count ourselves among the lucky who made it this far and still enjoy each others company. Not every day, but that’s for a different post.

Meanwhile, I shared with the NY Times writer that when my daughter got engaged, unlike my mother who wanted no part of the festivities, I was beyond excited and happy. A child’s marriage is a milestone for the parents, too. Proof that you raised ’em right because they can love another human being, maybe even more than themselves.

Not so according to the haters. Though the article has yet to appear in print (it will run in this Sunday’s Style Section), the digital version was posted two days ago and has resulted in a massive pileup of finger-pointing. It also spawned a second article/attack on Jezebel, mostly towards me.

The consensus? I am a horrible, overbearing, pushy mother who can’t back off or let my daughter live her own life. Clearly I will have to take responsibility when her marriage ends because I have imposed my demands. Also, I need to get past my own wedding disappointment and stop living vicariously through her. And on and on.

Not buying it. Alex and I adore each other. Laugh together. Shop together. Talk about life, love, jobs, sports, movies, books, music, celebrities and hair, but of course we don’t share everything. There are boundaries and we’ve never been confused about our roles. We are neither friends nor sisters. We are a mother and daughter who honor, respect and love each other for who we are.

Our relationship, and the ones I enjoy with her brother and sister, have far exceeded my expectations of motherhood. And while I wish that I’d enjoyed a similar relationship with my own mother, I came to appreciate that she did the best she could. She loved and respected me, thought I was the funniest person on earth, and though we didn’t pal around, she honored me most by letting me be me.

My hope for the haters who are certain that they will define motherhood differently, is that one day they will be as blessed as me. Plus, I can go back to Bloomington with my daughters any time. Maybe they’ll even buy me a drink at Nicks.

Cheers!

Want to read the NY Times article and weigh in?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/fashion/weddings/when-mom-is-part-of-the-bachelorette-party-debauchery.html?emc=eta1&_r=0