Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Last Four and a Half Years in a Nutshell

Greg was recently fooling around with the video camera and "interviewing" Ethan while he was playing trains. He asked him what his three favorite things to do with Daddy were, and Ethan quickly rattled them off. I don't even remember what they were now, but there were definitely three, and he didn't have to dig deep.

Then it was my turn. "What are your three favorite things to do with Mommy?"

Number one came quickly. "Bake muffins!" Ethan said.

Then there was a long, uncomfortable pause. One that was probably, I don't know, six times as long as it needed to be.

"Watch tv?" Ethan offered tentatively, half statement, half question.

Then there was an interminable wait. Truly interminable. Finally, he spoke again, and plunged his four year old knife as deep as he could into the heart of a stay-at-home mother.

"I can't really think of a third thing."

I can't either, E. I'm too busy dusting off my resume.

Kidding! Kidding! OK, well, maybe not entirely....Sigh.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oh, Brother

I know I've only been in the blog business for a few weeks and have probably mentioned my brother Matt nine times already. Not surprising to anyone who knows him, or the close relationship we've shared over the years, including two separate (and surprisingly peaceful) co-habitations and one hilarious cross country trip in an overstuffed Jeep Wrangler, from which my butt still might be a little sore 17 years later.

Matt is a photographer of extraordinary, spine-tingling talent who's traveled around the world shooting everything from Super Bowls to wars to weddings. (Which can sometimes be as exasperating as wars for photographers, I think.) He's also an amazing writer. (Dare you to read this Washington Post story and not cry.) And he might just have the biggest heart of anyone I know. So much so that I've decided to let that infamous carrot-up-the-nose incident of our childhood slide.

So leave it to Matt, just when I thought all my excitement over the inauguration had died down, to give me chills all over again with his touching account of his inaugural experience. Read it here. And I'm voting this my new favorite Obama inaugural picture, hands down. Click on it to see it full size.

Oh, and fear not. I promise in the weeks ahead to give equal air time to the rest of the fabulous Mendelsohn boys -- Andrew, Daniel and Eric. It's just exhausting having this many siblings. ;-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009

My mom called yesterday and shared the following gem, which I had to pass on.

Rosa sat so Martin could walk;
Martin walked so Obama could run;
Obama ran so our children can fly!

It sums up how I feel today. I genuinely got choked up telling Ethan why today is so important and have had chills more times than I can count watching the ongoing coverage.

I'm proud of my fellow citizens. I'm proud of America. I'm thrilled to have a leader we can all be proud of. And maybe most importantly, I'm hopeful for my children's future.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The real reason I'm blogging....

Is to give me a forum to share totally self-indulgent but ridiculously cute things like this twenty seconds of video.

After months and months (well, just about 17, to be exact) of singing him "You Are My Sunshine," Alec surprised us this weekend by showing that he knows it by heart. We're particularly fond of his self-congratulatory (and slightly premature) applause at the end. Enjoy!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hosanna in the highest

I made clear when I launched this blog that it is most definitely a work in progress.

I don't really have an agenda yet, except to share my thoughts on whatever grabs me at the moment -- motherhood, pop culture, my concerns that I'm attracted to the President-elect, the ethnopolitics of Micronesia -- you name it. OK, maybe not so much that last one.

But today's offering concerns one of the most pressing issues in the JenMen universe:


Yes, cereal. But not just any cereal. Alpha Bits.

As a kid growing up on Long Island, few things brought me more joy than those lovely, lightly sweetened letter-shaped treats, one of the few sugary things my uber-health conscious mother would allow. I have fond memories of sitting on the redwood benches in our backyard with my beloved Uncle Allan, drenched in summer sun, snacking on green grapes and Alpha Bits.

If you're old enough, sing along, won't you?

As an adult, I'd often turn to Alpha Bits for comfort when the going got tough. Eating a bowl of Alpha Bits could always take the edge off for me. Not quite as out and out guilt -- or cavity -- inducing as, say, a bowl of Cap'n Crunch or Froot Loops. And not as depressing as a bowl of Bran Flakes. Alpha Bits was always just perfect.

And then the bastards took them away.

That's right. Took them away.

One day in the summer of 2005, I went to the grocery store and noticed something looked off about the Alpha Bits box. The colors weren't quite right. And it said something about a new formula with "zero grams of sugar."

How could Alpha-Bits have no sugar? I wondered.

Befuddled, I brought them home. And discovered that they had turned my beloved Alpha Bits into... letter-shaped Cheerios. I was horrified.

Immediately, I e-mailed Kraft. A nice publicist name Donetta delivered the crushing news: "This new version of the cereal will replace all existing versions of the cereal." I began to think very unkind thoughts about one Theresa Choh-Lee, the brand director for Alpha Bits quoted in the chirpy press release touting the introduction of this new whole grain nonsense they were trying to peddle. I scoured ebay, wondering if anyone was smart enough to have stockpiled them. Nada.

I died a little death that day. My Alpha Bits were just...gone. When you're in love with a breakfast cereal, it's not like you can just go and whip some up, either. They were really gone. I tried to find comfort in the fact that others shared my outrage.

Eventually, I noticed you couldn't even find the sugar-free version on the shelves. Maybe it was for the best. Alpha Bits were gone forever.

Years went by and I somehow tried to go on with my life. I had another child. We named him Alec Jaeger. But the hole in my world never completely healed. I put on a good face, mind you, but there was a light that went out in my eyes. I was not quite the same. Hobbled. Hurting.

I'm here today to report, however, that the universe works in mysterious ways. Some time last summer, just as I began to feel hopeful that the political winds might start blowing in the right direction, another little beacon of hope arrived back in our world, and it's called original Alpha Bits. With ten glorious grams of sugar per serving, and all the hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil a mom could ask for.

They're back, people. A little tricky to find, but back. I could sit at my desk right now and buy them online. A mere four dollars and 23 cents could bring joy to my heart.

I know there are much more pressing issues in the world right now, but I just wanted to take a moment to say: Thank you, God, for small miracles granted.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Boys will be...?

Not long ago, Ethan got in the car after preschool and made a devastating announcement.

"Mom, I really think I need a cooler backpack."

I almost had to stop the car. It was something I was totally unprepared to hear.

Cooler? Cooler? Where on earth did my sweet four year old get a hold of that concept? Thomas the Tank Engine, who had steadfastly carried him through the last year of school, was apparently no longer cutting it. He now needed, and I quote, a "yellow Bumblebee Transformer" backpack. Suffice it to say I know nothing of these Transformers he speaks of. We have no Transformers in this house yet; clearly, he learned about them at school.

In the interest of fairness, Ethan might not really understand what "cool" means; he recently refused to wear a certain sweater to school, saying it was "too cool" and that he definitely needed something less cool to wear.

But the backpack incident got me thinking nonetheless. When does that edge start to creep into little boys' lives and erode the pure sweetness that suffuses their early years?

I will confess I'm secretly proud that Ethan's affections are still un-selfconsciously baby-ish. He laughs out loud at Elmo. (He'll still watch Elmo, for crying out loud.) He harbors no particular affinity for Superheroes, or at least no more so than any other character. He asks to hold my hand in public, telling me it "makes him really happy" and makes pronouncements like, "I love my pajamas sooooooooo much!" without so much as a second thought. He wears goofy winter hats with pompoms that make him look so adorable I want to cry.

I harbor no illusions that this is a permanent state. In fact, I hope it's not a permanent state. I'm reminded of my friend Ann, who gently tried to dissuade her son from his adamant assertion that he needed to wear ties every day to kindergarten. Nobody wants their son to be that kid.

But when do little boys cross that line? Is it a gradual process, or do they one day just take a flying leap to cooler pastures and leave Elmo and pompom hats flapping in the breeze?

Whichever it is, given my current obsession with living in the moment, I'm going to remember to savor the Elmo days, and try not to think too hard about those Transformers looming on the horizon.

I tell Ethan all the time that I love him more than all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world. Not long ago he told me that he loves me more than all the crabs on all those beaches. It's not exactly poetic, but you get the drift. And I'll take it while I can.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Did someone say Extraordinary??

I've always been a big believer in serendipity. Maybe it's hereditary, since that seems to be a recurring theme in the incredible blog my brother Matt has been writing.

And I can't imagine a more serendipitous email than the one I got yesterday from my neighbor, Natalie Sherman. (Who was also my roommate in 1987, and I have the blackmail-worthy photos to prove it.)

Because just as I was pondering what I could do to make 2009 extraordinary, Natalie wrote to tell me about what her sister Leslie has resolved to do. And it makes my three dinky aspirations seem pretty pitiful by comparison.

Because Leslie's running the Boston Marathon.


Yep, blindfolded.

Leslie's four-and-a-half year old son Sawyer was born blind, and she's doing this to
show him that he can accomplish any goal he sets for himself. And that no goal is too high for him to aim for. (It's impossible for me to type that without chills, btw.) In the process, she'll be running to raise funds for Saywer's school, the Perkins School for the Blind, the nation's premiere educational institution for the blind. (They once had a student named Helen Keller. Perhaps you've heard of her...)

To read more about Leslie's quest, which I'm pretty sure is what you find when
you look up "extraordinary" in the dictionary, please go here. And please consider supporting her on this amazing journey so that all the students at Perkins can try to achieve their goals as well.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The challenge

I got an email a few weeks ago inviting me to be part of an interesting challenge for the new year.

The message began by pointing out how most of our lives have become somewhat humdrum, focused on the day to day: the kids, the jobs, the getting through.

"Not that our lives aren't wonderful, and the envy of roughly 99.99% of the world's population. They are. But how many more years do we have left to do something to make our days extraordinary?" it asked. "I'm not talking about some insane midlife crisis stunt (though, more power to you if that's what you need). But I'm also not talking about your typical New Year's resolution ... What I'm looking for is a pledge to do something extraordinary next year - literally, out of the ordinary - but achievable. Somewhere between losing that extra five pounds, and winning a Best Director Oscar."

Given how much I've been soul-searching of late in the wake of Emilie Lemmons' death, this couldn't have come at a better time. I first thought about vowing to stop feeling obligated to sample the cake at every children's birthday party I attend, but I suspected the idea was to aim a little higher.

So at the risk of jinxing myself (there's a $50 bottle of something in it for the person whose aspiration is voted the coolest, after they accomplish it), I submitted the following three Quixote-like stabs at achieving extraordinariness (a word I just coined on the spot and am rather liking):
  1. To play the cello in public again
  2. To have a byline in the New York Times (I have to keep up with my brother Matt, you know. Who's recently been gaining ground on my brother Daniel.)
  3. To build a loyal following for this blog that actually includes people I don't already know.
I'm thinking of the three, the last might actually be the most doable. What do you think? And what's your extraordinary idea for '09?

Update: The challenge has already been won, in my mind. She wasn't actually one of those competing, but it would be hard to find something more extraordinary, or inspirational, than what Leslie Nordin is doing, wouldn't it? Rock on, Leslie!

Friday, January 2, 2009

A funny thing happened...

So yesterday wasn't the best of days. And by 6:00, as an emergency measure against sticking my head in the oven, I suggested -- no, more like insisted -- the boys take a walk up the street with me. We might have been gone ten minutes. Probably more like seven or eight.

When we returned to the house, I noticed something odd. The kitchen was still a mess, thanks to Alec, but on the counter, amidst all the various things I had tried unsuccessfully to feed him for dinner, was an unfamiliar plastic cup filled with a pale liquid. I definitely hadn't put it there.

Puzzled, I smelled it.

Wine. Unmistakably.

I was understandably perplexed. And a little bit spooked.

I wondered if I had had some bizarre memory lapse where I had poured it for myself and just didn't recall. I asked my four year old if he knew anything about it, even though it was obvious he couldn't have done it.

There was a bottle of wine in plain view on the opposite counter. Had an intruder come in and helped himself? (We live in a neighborhood where some weirdo likes to hide out in alleys, stick himself in trash cans and ask unsuspecting passersby to help pull him out, so don't knock it.)

But my bag was right there on the kitchen floor. Cash still in it. Credit cards still all there. Was somebody lurking in my basement, waiting for one of us to go down there? My stomach felt uneasy.

I knew there had to be a logical explanation, but couldn't quite put my finger on one. I was left with that slightly unsettling feeling that something was just not quite right.

Was someone trying to send us a bizarre message about our need for ... alcohol?

And then I started to laugh.

Because right before we left on the walk, I saw our wonderful next door neighbor over the fence. The woman who made enough casseroles when Alec was born to feed our family well through 2011. I told her it had been one of "those" days. And laughed and said I needed a drink.

So how great is my next door neighbor?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Rest in Peace

I've spent much of the last week thinking about a woman I didn't know and never met.

Her name was Emilie Lemmons and she died of sarcoma last Wednesday in Minnesota at the age of 40, leaving behind her husband of five years and two little boys who are just two and a half and nine months old.

Emilie and I lived somewhat parallel lives. We were exactly the same age, both journalists by trade, both mothers of two boys born after we'd hit that awful "advanced maternal age" designation. We both got very involved in planning our weddings on the Knot, hers just a year after mine, and both went on to join private message boards that spun off of the Knot. We knew some people in common, but somehow our paths had never crossed until two weeks ago, when I saw a post from someone wondering how to help a mom friend who was entering hospice care and preparing to die. There was a link to the dying woman's blog and for some reason, I clicked on it. And I read Emilie's final entry in the online journal she'd been keeping for two years:
I'm actually purposefully not embedding this link, hoping you'll take the time to read it.)

I found myself reading that final post over and over again, and, naturally, reading backwards through Emilie's blog, catching up on the lovely life that I sadly knew was close to ending. People often marvel at the "strength" and "courage" of the terminally ill, sometimes, I suspect, because they don't know what else to say. Emilie had both strength and courage in spades, but what really struck me most was her grace. That she had the presence of mind to think that her last days, though of course agonizingly sad, might also be "amazing" and "spiritual"? I was humbled, to say the least.

Over the next few days, I thought of Emilie often, as I went through the motions of my day as a stay at home mom. Just knowing that she was out there somewhere, wondering how many more times she'd get to see her boys smear oatmeal on their heads, or hear their laughter, or do...anything shamed me into slowing down and being in the moment with my own kids, forced me to attempt to let go of the multitude of meaningless crap I let exasperate me daily. I spent a lot of time instead just drinking them in, savoring their sweet-smelling post-bath heads, their cockeyed smiles, their hilarious outbursts. ("Mom, is it ok if I take my cape off for breakfast?" a Superman pajama-clad Ethan recently asked me with priceless earnestness.) Cruelly, Emilie knew with absolute certainty her days were numbered; she passed away just five days after that last post. But in the bigger picture, aren't everyone's? Shouldn't we all be living that way?

There was a bit of deja vu surrounding Emilie's death for me. Ten years ago, I spent months working on a long Washingtonian story about the suicide of U.Va. student Sean Bryant. Spending so much time with people who'd been completely traumatized by Sean's sudden death, I came to the stunning realization that there's no one moment in life when you get to stand on a trophy platform and formally announce how much you appreciate and love your friends and family -- that if you aren't fully present and engaged in all those seemingly insignificant day to day encounters, you've missed your chance.

For a long time after I finished that story, I felt like I had suddenly developed a sixth sense, the sense of living powerfully in the present. I found myself truly engaged in every moment I had, no matter how incidental. I could die tomorrow, I kept thinking. I could wake up tomorrow and a friend could be gone. For a while, it was wonderful. I followed Anna Quindlen's advice and "
treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less." But I have to be honest: eventually, it was tiring. I often felt fearful. And maudlin, always wondering if a goodbye would be my last. With time, that sixth sense faded and I fell back into my old ways.

Until now. A stranger's death -- though this one anything but sudden -- has once again shocked me back into remembering what's really important in the end. But as I sit back and try to make sense of the unbearable heartbreak of Emilie's loss, I realize I don't want to have to be confronted with the cruelest twists of fate thrust upon others to relish the blissfully uncomplicated life I lead by contrast. I wish I could just be satisfied with how good I have it in Bedford Falls without Clarence having to concoct the terrifying, noir-ish bad dream sequence. I want to find that happy, middle place, somewhere in between spending every moment looking for the anvil falling from the sky, and living in oblivion, rushing through the doing it to get to the getting it done. I still want permission to be grumpy and unreasonable some days without feeling guilty that I'm not dying. And I don't want to become some insufferable Polyanna, feeling like every diaper change is a blessed, revelatory event for which I should be thankful. I just want to vow to live more....mindfully, grateful for the treasures I've been given and ever cognizant that none of them are permanent.

Adorable husband? Check. Two healthy, sunny children? Check. Roof over my head, food in the pantry, friends to laugh with? Times on Sunday, wine to drink, hot baths at my leisure? Check check, check, check. I could go on and on and on. It's all there, the important stuff. I know it is. It is for most of us, really, isn't it?

Rest in peace, Emilie. And thank you.

Well, howdy

So I've been avoiding the siren song of the blog for quite some time now.

Seems like everybody and their dog has a blog these days. I knew I was in the presence of some sort of important cultural touchstone when I discovered a blog where you could see what a Maryland mom was packing in her four-year-old's preschool lunchbox every day. No, really. Just googling "lunchbox blog" will get you an alarming number of hits.

Blogging seems like it should be a natural fit for me. Once upon a time, before I drove a station wagon and knew which sippy cups were BPA-free, I was actually a journalist. Even one with a web presence. I've got the requisite sarcasm and pop culture obsession. And Lord knows I like to talk about myself. You'd think I'd be all over the blogging thing.

But for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to jump in. The recent death of a stranger in Minnesota has changed all that, though. I originally wrote a note about Emilie Lemmons on my facebook page, but found myself wanted to write about her in a more formal way, to be part of the virtual community that was coming together to mourn. (Read about it here or here.)

And so, here we are at the top of a brand new year. I'm officially throwing my cyber hat in the ring with a post about Emilie.

World, meet my blog. Blog, world.