Putzel Is a New York Story With a Human Side

1385332_394609537348108_1848751758_n

My husband walked in from work when I was about ten minutes into the award-winning film Putzel, this evening. I had purchased it on iTunes as it was released April 8th world-wide, and I was watching on the laptop in the living room.

“Oh, does this take place in New York?” He asked, chomping on chips because I neglected to provide dinner.

“Yes, on the Upper West Side,” I answered. “Shhhhhh!”

We love films with New York City in a leading role. And Putzel, with its heart in a fish store on the Upper West Side is a New York story, a Jewish story, a love story, a family drama, a comedy, and a coming-of-middle-ish-age story, as much as it is a lesson in supervising over-zealous employees around smoked fish in the case.

Most of the cast is super recognizable; the characters, however, are so well sunk in to the New York streets they inhabit, you will believe easily each is tethered by an invisible force to the historic Himmelstein’s fish emporium.

“What is a Putzel?” Sally (Melanie Lynskey), the dancer slash white-fish-salad-loving bartender asks Walter, who has worn this nickname–in life and on his shirt–since he was a baby. The Yiddish slang word putz may be familiar, but the film seeks to answer just that: What will the man with the name tag become?

Putzel (Jack Carpenter) literally, physically cannot leave the boundaries of his family’s store’s delivery zone. His ambition is great (he wants only to take over the store according to his 40-year plan), but also greatly jeopardized by fear, romance, a shiksa, and years of misplaced loyalties.

Putzel tells us: life is long and difficult; and the end comes sooner than we wish. In between is the home and the best and the luck we allow ourselves to make of it: “The…what-if’s will zing you every time.”

These are real problems set against a backdrop that is the most human place on earth. You cannot help but hope that almost everyone in this film–however foolish or high on the dysfunctional meter–gets what he or she deeply wants.

This was in no part sponsored; the filmmaker is a friend, however, and I am pleased to do this unsolicited review. All opinions are my own. (Producers: Jason Chaet, Rick Moore, Allegra Cohen, Sheri Davani. Cast: Jack Carpenter, Melanie Lynskey, John Pankow, Susie Essman, Jarlath Conroy, Armando Riesco, Allegra Cohen, Steve Park, Adrian Martinez.)

Posted in New York City Living and Coping, Review, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Little Notes

I blame my husband. He started them thinking about the notes.

One afternoon my four year old girl asked why I hadn’t put a note in her lunch.

“What?”

“Daddy puts notes in our lunch.”

He’d been leaving notes on napkins when making their lunches in the morning: Have a great day. I love you. Love, daddy.

When I make them the night before school–no notes.

One morning our six year old forgot her lunch at home, so my husband ran it over to school on his way to work. When I took out the half-eaten contents later that day, I found a note that read: Sorry I forgot your lunch. I love you, Daddy.

And the six year old wrote back to him on a corner of the original note: Thank you.

That note is pinned to the bulletin board above my laptop still.

The six year old often leaves me notes, as well as questionnaires. When we fight at bedtime, she comes out with a piece of paper, at the bottom for me to circle are the words, Yes and No. In misspelled children’s language reads: Mommy, circle one if you will ever leave us. 

I have tucked among the many books next to my bed a recent note she wrote me after we discussed one weekend what it will mean when she goes to college: I love you mommy. I like every thing you do. I will or might stay nearby or not when I grow up.

Then one night after a particularly difficult bedtime during which I screamed and threatened and cursed, and they cried and laughed at me and cried some more, I was feeling horrendous and guilty and ashamed. I wanted to tell them how sorry I was we fought at bedtime.

I left them notes at the table for the next morning. The younger two can’t read, so the six year old read the notes to them. Each one gets his or her own short message: I love all the questions you ask me, and how you know so many things. Love, Mommy.

“Look Mommy left us notes!” I heard them scream the first few times they saw their names on folded paper by their chairs at breakfast.

And when I don’t, my son comes into my room, “Mommy, did you forget to leave us a note?” (Yes, sometimes I do forget.)

Notes have become what we do for each other. The younger girl did her best to sound out her way to an apology note this weekend: Daddy, on one side; Mommy, on the other. I’m sorry for being mean to you.

Our evenings are often hard as we squeeze in dinner and baths and homework and bedtime in a few hours. There is no way to undo the chaos once they are in bed and asleep, yet I spend much of the night wishing I could. These little messages, and the generous nature of mornings, give us all permission to begin again.

 

 

 

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Family Fun at Mountain Creek Resort

We spent part of a recent weekend “getting out and playing” at Mountain Creek and Crystal Springs Resort in very-close-by Vernon, New Jersey. This was the first time the kids and I had gone skiing, and, other than the unfortunate incident of my forgetting at home the bag in which ALL the kids’ winter and snow clothes were packed, we had a fabulous time!

The drive with traffic from New York City was about two hours (don’t leave on a Saturday mid-morning when the rest of the city is also going skiing). Realizing that we arrived with no warm clothes for the kids, our kind hosts helped me shop for items in the lodge’s ski shop–and I did wind up with some great ski clothes the kids will be wearing for several years (oh, they better be wearing these things for several years!).

I had never wanted to go skiing before, largely because of all the gear required to do so. And I was not wrong about this. The Bradfords’ lack of preparedness added a good 40 minutes onto the task at hand, but outfitting three children with many pounds of helmets, skis, and boots lived up to expectations. The staff at the mountain is, however, outstanding; they helped us size correctly, fasten safely, and carry our skis without causing serious injury to other guests. They also did not laugh at us.

photo 2

Our stellar ski instructor, Allie, was so delightful and patient that I offered her a job as our live-in nanny (she declined). I had never been on skis before–and I am completely in love with this sport now. (As long as this sport does not involve swinging high in the sky on a wire chair. The bunny trails will be a-okay with me for a long while.) We had such a great time learning to ski (I mean, to not fall). Ellie also loved the lesson; Henry lay down at the foot of some snow boarders; and Molly wanted lunch. My husband, an excellent skier, will have to wait for another opportunity to strut his mountain stuff as he spent the afternoon picking up various Bradfords from the snow and untangling skis.

Seriously, I loved this.

The kids favorite part of this trip quickly became the pools at the beautiful Minerals Resort and Spa. The gift shop had bathing suits (which were also forgotten in the bag at home), and we spent all evening shriveling up in the enormous indoor family pool and the kiddie pool (which is literally attached to the relaxing, steaming, hot tub–they are separated by a low wall. I can see you from here, kids!). There is, as well, a small bar in the pool area that we felt obligated, for the sake of this review, to sample.

The best thing ever according to all of us is the outdoor heated pool. It was dark by the time we swam over; and the moonlight, the steam, and the sky-ful of stars had us all mesmerized. There were several tantrums when it was time to leave the pool. (I’m sorry.)

photo 1 copy

There are great family restaurants, including Kites, where we had breakfast before taking the convenient shuttle outside the hotel lobby door back to the mountain on Sunday.

photo 4Because the kids were too young (and short) to go snow tubing, and too tired to go snow boarding (next time, husband), we visited the Mountain Coaster–a small roller coaster that provides a fast, exhilarating seven-minute ride around a raised track. The kids LOVED this. I know because we went on 25 times with each kid. 

photo 1

Mountain Creek is a wonderful, local place for a family vacation in the winter–and they have activities planned for all year around, including golf and a water park.

We will be bringing the kids back–with their luggage; and I am planning a girls’ weekend at one of the hotels, so we can enjoy the world class spa services, fitness facilities, and wine cellar.

{closed}GIVEAWAY: Here is the best part. I am giving away to one reader a four-pack of lift tickets for this season (expiring April 1.) Just leave a comment below about your favorite part of winter vacations. Winner will be drawn via Random.org and notified via e-mail. Contest ends March 4, 2014, at 11:59 ET. (It is a quick contest so that some lucky person can plan his or her trip!){winner was generated via random.org number generator on March 5, 2014; winner was notified immediately.}

photo 2 copy photo-2

I was compensated for this review with accommodations at the hotel, gear rental and lesson on the mountain, and Mountain Coaster tickets. All opinions, as always, are mine.

Posted in Event, Family Life, giveaway, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments, Review, sponsored, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Rafi’s Run and Helping Butterfly Children

Last year I met a very cool mom, writer, and actress named Wendy Stetson at a blogging event. Because we share a very cool name, we had a lot to chat about. It turns out that Wendy and I have a few friends in common–and I learned that Wendy and these friends are committed to helping a brave, strong, and adorable six-year-old girl named Rafi, who lives her life in constant unimaginable pain.

Rafaella Lily was born with a severe form of a rare genetic disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). Two years ago, a group of moms from Rafi’s preschool got together to make a difference for Rafi, and children like her. Rafi’s Run was created because there is currently no cure for EB. There is not even a treatment to minimize the pain.

Often referred to as “The worst disease you’ve never heard of,” EB is a devastating disorder which causes children’s skin to be so fragile that simply scratching an itch results in blisters and tears. Kids with EB are known as Butterfly Children, because their skin is as delicate as a butterfly’s wings.

rafjack

Rafi’s Run raises money to fund research for a cure for EB; thanks to the generosity of family, friends, and businesses, $400,000 has been collected for the cause. Every penny donated to Rafi’s Run goes directly to researchers who are already making amazing discoveries that will benefit not only kids with EB, but also children with similar disorders.

The run has elicited a tremendous outpouring of community involvement and national attention. The Third Annual Rafi’s Run Should be even bigger than the first two. The 2014 5K Run/Walk will take place in Riverside Park at West 103rd Street on Sunday March 9th, at 10:00 a.m., with a Children’s Fun Run at 11:00 a.m., for kids ages 12 and under. There will be a raffle and snacks, a musician, and a big green dinosaur; and everyone goes home with a very cool tee shirt. All donations are fully tax deductible and go directly to researchers via DebRAof America–the premier nonprofit organization for research into treatments for EB.

Please be a part in helping to find treatment and a cure for EB. Visit Rafi’s Run to learn how you can volunteer, participate, and support this really wonderful event.

rr13-17 rafisrunkids

Posted in Event, Family Life, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Being a Mom With Food Issues

We all knew women in college with issues around food–anorexia, bulimia, compulsive eating, women who didn’t eat so that they could drink more. Maybe you were one of those women to a degree, or maybe you lived with a roommate and know too well about eating disorders from that experience. I was one of those women, although my eating disorders started long before college.

Last week my friend Tracy Morrison wrote a heartfelt letter to Nordstrom explaining why a pillow for sale in its stores, meant to be cute, was spreading the dangerous message to girls that skinny is good, skinny is always the goal. The letter went viral, and Nordstrom removed the ridiculous pillow from its shelves.

It took Tracy tremendous courage to take on this topic–as well as a giant retailer–and to share her own story. What occurred to me as I watched so much support well up around this feat, is that so many moms are likely dealing with their own battles around weight and food and obsession. There is no expiration date on eating disorders, yet it is not something we acknowledge in the mom community in the present tense. Perhaps this is because we think these are issues we should be over “by now.”

We write and talk a great deal about making sure our daughters have a healthy body image; that they see past what the media serves up–flawless and impossibly proportioned women; that they play with Barbie without assuming she represents an ideal; that they look to movie characters who are strong and self-sufficient instead of meek and in need of rescue.

As a mom of two girls and one boy, I think of these things too. I don’t comment on my weight or anyone else’s. I don’t say I feel, look, smell, or sound fat. I compliment the kids on their clothes, their hair, their ideas, their good memories and their great questions, their athletic ability (or ambition), their schoolwork, and their compassion. I redirect conversations that begin with “I look….” I treat them like the whole persons they are.

But I am thinking about my weight most of the day, every day. I weigh myself so often that I know what each article of clothing I own weighs. I know how much my shoes weigh. I have two scales in case I need a second opinion. There are medications that have helped, or would help, my anxiety that I refuse to take because they are likely to cause weight gain. As insane as that sounds–as insane as that is–it won’t change because I wish it were different, or I pretend those aren’t my thoughts. Yet I am a world away from where I began, from a place to which I don’t want to return. Along with mountains of gratitude, I harbor shame and fear, still, in bringing this up.

My children didn’t know me when I didn’t eat or when I exercised compulsively, or when I got up in the middle of the night to binge on whatever was in the cabinets. They don’t know the measures I went to to be thin and thinner. Because I have worked very diligently–but not perfectly–over the past decade-plus, they do not need to ever know that woman.

There are few times in my adult life that I have spoken with friends–certainly not new friends–about my past struggles or the struggles I continue to have. Few people have shared their problems around food with me. So many times, however, have I seen a woman, around my age, clearly in trouble (as this can be a very visible disease) at the gym, in a store, or somewhere else; I have never approached anyone. Eating and body image issues are not cool when you’re in your forties, and I don’t want to expose another person to her embarrassment. Or my own.

After Tracy’s victory, I had a thought: Given the enormity of the eating disorder problem in colleges, is it possible that all these young women are recovered by their thirties and forties? I think that of those of us who survived–because some do not–many found solutions, or were able to leave it behind. But I think many are still at the mercy of the disorder, and some have developed eating disorders later in life. As grown women and mothers, we may not know there are support systems or even feel we deserve one at this point in our lives. It can feel like defeat because this is an indefatigable opponent.

I wish though, that we didn’t have to hide our battles from one another. I wish we could say that you aren’t bad if you have these thoughts and feel powerless around food, or compelled to exercise, or hate yourself when you aren’t a certain number. You aren’t a failed mom or woman because you cannot control your thoughts in the face of all the colors of information about nutrition, healthy living, acceptance. You probably have a problem that you cannot solve with your own thinking. Living like that isn’t the answer. But as someone who has spent many years in the illness, and many years in recovery, I know that, alone, I couldn’t imagine or read or wish myself out of the cage. The belief that we should know better when we are parents, keeps women (and men are not immune) from seeking the help that is most certainly out there in the form of anonymous programs, in- and out-patient treatment programs, and therapists that specialize.

I walk the line every day between wanting to protect my daughters from unnecessary influences on their pliable self-esteem and having my own mind with the fallout from twenty years of active eating disorders. That line may will always be the thinnest one in the room.

 

This post appeared originally, with a slightly different title, on Appleseeds blog.

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Special Kind of Attention

Early one recent winter morning, my four-year-old son came barreling into my bedroom. It was still dark outside, and the heat in our apartment was cranking up; the pipes in the bathroom banged on and on.

“Mommy, would you build me a space shuttle? Not like the one we had to color on, but a small one that blasts into space?” he asked.

My husband slept soundly even as Henry spoke in his loudest inside voice, and the tings from the heating grew in volume and frequency. “Henry, it’s still dark. Come lie down,” I requested, knowing he would not.

“NO! I want to go to the living room! Come! NOW! Come!”

The possibility of him waking his two sisters was great and familiar, so I dragged myself out of bed and onto the living room couch while Henry threw question after question at me: “Why is the moon shiny?” “Why is it still dark?” “Why are the leaves not on the trees?” “Why are the trees moving?” “What is the wind?” “Why is it nighttime and then morning and then nighttime?”

Finally, I turned on the television.

Henry gets a special kind of attention. It begins in these early morning hours and lasts until bedtime. Preschool has worked wonders for him — his vocabulary has improved, he is becoming more independent from his twin sister in social situations, he can express his thoughts with less hesitation.

His compulsive habits, however, still indicate his frustration with daily tasks — getting dressed by himself, putting shoes on quickly so we can leave the apartment, writing his name within the lines. He repeats himself: Mommy, I said don’t help me! Mommy, I said don’t help me! Mommy, I said don’t help me! Mommy, I said don’t help me… Or, depending on his mood: Mommy help me! Mommy help me! Mommy help me! Mommy help me… He throws books or toys or his rain boots when we don’t understand what he wants.

But that is some of the time. Much of the day, Henry is he is determined, sweet, curious, and funny. His teacher adores him. It’s when he is tired and unable to do one more thing that he breaks down. And with our days being back and forth to school with little down time, I understand this.

We humor Henry a lot. I tell the girls to just “Answer him!” or give him at toy he wants or let him sit in the stroller. I try hard not to do this; at the end of a long afternoon, when everyone has had enough, I want more than anything, control and peace. These are unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. The fault is not with them.

Last night we took the kids out to dinner. One of the girls wanted to go to a restaurant “we’ve never been to before.” Henry stood next to the table after screaming his dinner of macaroni and cheese was disgusting. He cried that he wanted to go home to eat. We tried to get him to sit down, but he refused. As the restaurant filled up, other diners turned and stared.

To avoid a meltdown we wouldn’t be able to stop, we let him stand quietly wherever he wanted. I would not have allowed either girl to do the same, I know this. “Please,” I say to them, “just behave and eat your dinner. Sit in your chairs and stop fighting.” And this, combined with threats of no dessert, works with them.

It would be terrible and cruel and untrue to say that I prefer one child over another. I do not treat them identically, and they know this. The world — our little world — is imperfect, less fair, not immune to pettiness. I hear often that I am being “unfair” and “mean,” that I don’t love the one who is complaining. And that one is usually one of the girls. I expect them to have insight into our family’s complexities.

What my children don’t know, and won’t fully understand until they have their own, is how each one has the whole of my heart. When I check on them at night while they sleep, kissing each on what skin is left exposed by pajamas and blankets, there is no different child, no difficult child, no expectation of one or the others. There is only my gratitude, the silent darkness in the room they share, the endless potential of each sleeping child

This post appeared originally on WhatToExpect.com with a different title.

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting the Unexpected at a Parent-Teacher Meeting

The hallway outside my oldest daughter’s first grade classroom is wallpapered with the children’s colorful work. I am waiting with other parents for our “parent teacher conference,” our ten minutes to learn how our child is adjusting. This year, I know so much less of what she does at school. I am giddy from the excitement of speaking for the first time with her teachers, and from being out on a weeknight.

I search for my daughter’s recent writing project among the many—stories about vacations and meals and cars and pets, all accompanied with drawings. My daughter has written about a trip to grandma and poppy’s house.

Her story is about, Cleo, the pet bird. How he scared her with his loud squawking, and she cried because of it. “Stop crying!” mommy said.

“Oh, that’s not good!” I laugh to the other parents.

And there is an illustration of mommy underneath the words: “Stop crying!”

That’s really not good, I think, growing slightly uneasy as I realize she may actually tell people how much I yell. The parents and I joke about the crazy things that kids say. I suddenly have a steel ball in my stomach.

 The teachers run late. I look among the hallway projects, their staples coming loose from parents’ pulling in order to read what our six and seven year olds are thinking.

Every year, twice a year, I hear how lovely my daughter is to have in class. She’s kind and smart. I love talking about her with her teachers. I am sure I will be calling my husband at work to tell him about the glowing report I received.

I am called to the room. One teacher asks quietly, “So who is Mollly?”

“What?” I asked. He spoke in a tiny whisper.

“Exactly.”

I learn that my daughter doesn’t speak in class. Not a word to the teachers. Barely a word at all. She asks other students to help her when she needs something. She never addresses the two teachers in the room, and she doesn’t respond when called upon.

“We want to hear her voice,” I am told, and: “We think she’s scared of making mistakes…that we’ll yell at her.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. A fear I had not vocalized outside of a therapist’s office—that my reactive anger at home will hurt my kids—is sitting in front of me. And I don’t have time to digest this.

“And of course we wouldn’t!” her teacher continues.

Immediately, I blame myself. I expect too much at home, and put pressure on her to not make mistakes. And I scream often over the mistakes—the messes that aren’t picked up when I ask, the spilled water on the table, all the little things that fill our days.

I remember being afraid to speak in class. And terrified of my answer not being the right one. I still get flush and my heart pounds when I have to speak to groups. And my husband is hardly better.

She inherited our shyness. How much of her silence in the classroom is her genetic bounty? How much is from “Stop crying”?

Molly has never said she doesn’t want to go to school in the morning—something I did regularly as a kid. She loves school. Each year, she starts out quiet. After a few weeks, she is more comfortable participating. I am baffled that she hasn’t warmed up to her teachers by November.

“I’m a perfectionist,” I admit. I want to say. I think of her story and drawing in the hallway. “And she’s really loud at home!” I added. Because she is really loud at home.

Her teachers look surprised when I share that she’s very vocal and active at home. Do they believe me? Are they also blaming me? Or are they just tired and want to get home?

My guilt is that of a mom who is trying. With three little kids at home, there is a lot of yelling. I put unreasonable demands on them at times—to behave better, clean up sooner, keep their voices down. I scream when they take too long getting ready and I am forced to repeat myself. I scream when I feel I’ve lost control over them, or the situation. To them, it must seem to come from nowhere. For me, it is a constant struggle to keep everyone on track and not sound like a dictator and sometimes worse. Evolving into a more patient mother is a slowly traveled road. Progress, as much as we’d like to simplify it, is more than just a decision.

My children may not see the progress yet, however—only the problem.

In the morning, before school, I tell Molly her teachers think she’s wonderful, but they want to hear her ideas. They want to hear her voice.

Little girls must learn to speak up and speak out for themselves. I thought I was teaching my two girls, and my boy, that. “You have to ask for what you need.”

“Ok mommy. I get scared to talk.”

“I really want you to raise your hand and participate in class. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. No one cares about that.”

“Ok. What does ‘participate’ mean?”

A couple of weeks later I observe her classroom, all of us parents scrunched into tiny chairs or standing against the wall honing in our child. Watching for clues to who he or she is and is becoming.

And Molly raises her hand. Once. And she answers when she’s called on. And she moves with the class during their dancing exercise. Her answer was wrong, and later she tells me she did a “jump” the opposite way during their dance. I assure her it is fine.

The relief loosens my breathing. I report the good news to her father. Perhaps I was wrong or exaggerating, or maybe I am letting myself off the hook—but I am impressed with Molly’s progress, which like my own, is in small increments. She is learning to speak her voice. And I am listening.

This post appeared originally on WhatToExpect.com titled “My Daughter’s Teacher Gave Me Bad News and I Blamed Myself.”

Posted in Family Life, It's All About Me, Mental health, New York City Living and Coping, Parenting Moments | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments