Tuesday, December 9, 2014

To Light or Not to Light

It’s that time of year again, that holly jolly season of giving and flying reindeer and elves on shelves and overwhelming confusion. You may recall last year’s holiday debacle, when I told Amelia the truth about Santa and instantly turned her into the class liar and then Santa’s most ardent defender. This year might be no better.
It’s no secret that I love to decorate. We decorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, birthdays, alternate Tuesdays, whatever. But December? Never. There’s an unspoken taboo about Jews decorating in December. My sister once asked my parents for a tree when we were kids, and we were promptly signed up for extra Jewish activities. But every year we helped our neighbors decorate their tree. We strung cranberries and popcorn and made ornaments and exchanged gifts and even ate Christmas dinner with them. We also drove all over the state (to be fair, we lived in Rhode Island so this wasn’t as ambitious as it sounds) to look at lights, we went to New York City to see the holiday windows, skate at Rockefeller Center and go to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. Yup, the one with the Rockettes in Santa hats. There may have even been some photos with a shopping mall Santa.
So why no tree? Where is that invisible, slippery line thou shalt not cross?
I still don’t know, but now I have to find and define it for Amelia. She’s surrounded by Christmas. I’m writing this post while waiting in the community theatre lobby, where her theatre class is rehearsing a Christmas performance. She’ll be wearing red and green and from what I can gather she’s an elf. Do I make a big stink and ask them to change an annual tradition for the one Jewish kid in the class? Pull her out of an activity she loves? No, of course not. I’ll be in the audience smiling and clapping for my kid and hoping the script is more Santa than baby Jesus. Just like my parents did.
My parents also did a great job of helping us participate in the season in meaningful ways. We wrapped presents at the mall as a Hadassah fundraiser. We answered phones at the police department on Christmas Eve. We served Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter. Delivered food for Meals on Wheels. And one memorable year I played Mrs. Claus on my father’s radio show, fielding questions about Santa’s big night. It was fun, and kept us involved in the traditions that surround the season. Why not participate in something festive, joyful, helpful and non-religious?
We live in a neighborhood full of beautiful holiday lights, and we detour to see a few favorites almost every day in December. Slowing down and appreciating the twinkling decorations together makes us all happy. And this year it hit me:
Hannukah is the Festival of Lights, so why must our house be dark?
I thought about it for a few days. We love lights, and there is nothing intrinsically religious about them. I’ve always assumed that if we decorated the outside of our house it would confuse our neighbors. That lights would feed the misconception that Hannukah is the “Jewish Christmas” and that the two are equivalent. I’m not sure how I took on the burden of religious education for others, but there it is. And it doesn’t make any real sense.
I asked my husband what he thought about a few lights outside, blue and white of course. His eyes lit up. Like every Jewish kid everywhere, he’s wanted to do this his whole life.
So the next day I approached the holiday lights at the craft store like a teenage boy buying a dirty magazine. I looked around furtively, hoping nobody would see me, and grabbed the first boxes of blue and white lights I saw.
And that’s all. I did not buy into the disturbing commercialization of Hannukah with inflatable dreidels or mensches on benches or anything else. We hung our lights on the porch, where they illuminate paper snowflakes Amelia and I made. It was her idea to make eight snowflakes, to represent the eight nights of Hannukah. We’re going for wintery and festive. Jeff looked out the window and grinned. 

And then I added a Happy Hannukah sign, just to make sure nobody gets confused.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

It's About Time

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve meant to. Things have happened that I’ve wanted to write about but never quite figured out the angle, or work got in the way, or I just wasn’t in a blogging mood. I feel like I should post on some kind of schedule, but self-imposed deadlines are always the easiest to break. Why is that? Why do the things we want to do always sink to the bottom of the list?

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and taking it for granted. I put things off because there’s always tomorrow. But what if there isn’t? Two weeks ago, a friend of mine died. Just like that. She was riding her bike with her husband, perfectly healthy and pedaling on a Chicago bike trail when a storm rolled in, and a tree fell on her. It sounds crazy, but it really happened. A perfectly healthy 46-year-old mother of two just died, in the most random and unexpected way. 

I’m not in mourning. Molly wasn’t family, or even a close friend anymore. We lived together for a few years in college, but we lost touch a long time ago and only recently reconnected over Facebook. I can’t stop thinking about her kids, and her husband, and the small things that are big things in the life of a family. Did she leave a load of laundry in the dryer? Who folded it? If a tree fell on me, Jeff would have to do a million tiny, painful, emotional things. How can you throw away the toothbrush of the person you love? 

This sounds morbid, I know. But for Molly’s family, it’s real. She ran out of time. There are so many tomorrows she will not see. She may not have finished the laundry. But I hope she told her kids she loved them when they parted that morning. I hope she was smiling and laughing on her bike ride, sharing private jokes with her husband and not fighting about who left shoes on the stairs and who put them away.

We don’t know how much time we have. Let’s prioritize.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

You and Me in a Car: The Reviews are In

I'’ve visited at least 50 children’s museums over the last 25 years, probably more. And now I have to see them all again. With Amelia.  

If you follow this blog, you know that Amelia and I took a road trip last week. Just two girls in a car with a map. (and let’s be real – there were also snacks, a lot of DVD’s, markers, paper, Kleenex, books, toys in various stages of incomplete and broken - you get the idea.)  

We visited four North Carolina children’s museums. We’ve been visiting museums together since Amelia was a baby, but this time was different. First, she is EXACTLY the right age for a children’s museum. At 6 and ½, she's playful and full of imagination, she has the confidence and coordination to climb and independently explore, she’s unafraid of looking silly, and she can read signs by herself. She also knows what she likes. 

Visiting four museums back to back lends itself to comparison and pattern recognition—so naturally, Amelia wrote some reviews. That thing about kids always telling the truth? It makes them excellent critics. 

So, here are Amelia’s reviews of our Fab Four, followed by my observations. If you’re wondering about the peach ratings, well, it’s summertime in the South!  Five peaches is the best.

Isn't everything better with a water slide?

To be fair, there wasn't a gift shop, and I'm not sure what the bathroom problem was

A museum for all sizes!

The beanstalk climber, complete with surround staircase

My observations: This was my first visit to Winston-Salem, and I’ll definitely return. I loved  Kaleidoscape, an outdoor swinging, climb-through, oversized crocheted art installation. It was gorgeous, and like nothing I’d seen before. Amelia climbed through it a few times and then deemed it too “hot and scratchy” to make her top three list.  I also loved the Enchanted Forest, a neighborhood of dramatic play environments each inspired by a different story. Amelia recognized most of them and played in all of them. These “Story Rooms” got a mention in her review. The exhibits all had a spirit of imagination and creative storytelling to them, and this museum is on the brink of merging with a children’s theatre, so watch for even more of this.
More of Kaleidoscape. Check the museum's website for much better photos.
waiting for the donuts
The Enchanted Forest. We think - or  imagined -  the lighting changed from day to night while we were there.
She's right. This one had a particularly unwelcoming bathroom   
No giftshop, bad bathroom, and oddly I only remember pretend food.  Hmmm.


The garden.

My observations: Amelia got it right. Not the best we’ve seen, but we had fun there. Mostly because of the staff, who built forts out of big blue blocks with Amelia for an unexpectedly long period of time. I’ve seen these blocks in LOTS of museums lately and really never cared much about them until staff brought them to life here. Another standout in Greensboro is the Edible Schoolyard, an onsite farm-to-table cooking program complete with an extensive garden and  demonstration kitchen. Again, Amelia found the garden a little too hot. Did I mention that it’s summer in the South?

There's someone inside there, really earning her paycheck!
Putting on a show
Master of the balance beam
The big big car thing with a slide was actually a plane
Just a fraction of that gorgeous garden

Stop 3: Marbles
still with the big big big slide!

The clear winner! If only the mac and cheese were unseasoned...

Awww. And I love that she abbreviates "children's museum"

This is the undersea room, adjacent to a yellow submarine. And then a pirate ship, excellent for diving.

My observations: In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I know this museum very well. Twenty years ago I worked with the founders to open Exploris, and that experience remains one of my favorite projects. Exploris rebranded itself as Marbles several years ago, but much of Exploris is still there, and visiting is like going to see an old friend who is growing and thriving. The building is beautiful, the exhibits playful, and the spirit of reinvention and experimentation is palpable. I agree with Amelia – the only bad things she could think of were the pepper on her macaroni and cheese, and someone stepped on her foot while she was playing sock hockey. But come on, she was playing sock hockey!
She ran in, not to emerge for FIVE hours!
diving off the plank
under the sea
waiting - literally - for money to fall from the sky
sock hockey
the winning race car

Stop 4: Kidzu
all about the art room

in the temporary space, there isn't a gift shop or food...unless you count the ENTIRE MALL outside!

leave 'em wanting more!

Amelia in the art room

My observations: It’s not done yet. The museum is in a temporary location, raising money and awareness while planning for a permanent home. The exhibits are portable, and they are testing concepts. Amelia and I were both a little bit museum-weary by the time we arrived, but she still stayed happily in the art studio/maker space for over an hour. Maker spaces seem to be the latest rage in the museum world, and Kidzu had a clear explanation of the goal of this kind of experience right on the wall. Best endorsement? There was a coin-drop maze in the lobby, to raise money for the new museum, and Amelia put in her own money. The paper kind!
building a better boat
the maker space
plans for the future
a museum supporter!
There’s a lot more I could say about our road trip – Amelia had as much fun at the Holiday Inn’s swimming pool and buffet breakfast (“It’s better than Publix!”) as she did at any of the museums. It was all one big adventure for her, and a precious opportunity for us to have uninterrupted and unstructured time together. And as for the museums, seeing them through Amelia’s eyes reinforced for me the value of these places we build. She’s the target audience. Spending an hour chasing plastic donuts through the endless cycle of a pretend donut factory, or waiting for balls to drop from a giant piggy bank, or walking the plank of a pirate ship wearing diving gear may not be the behaviors the museum planners intended or expected, but that's the point. These are places that aren't complete without visitors and their imaginations. If the goal is to provide environments that facilitate learning through play, then kudos to all of us who build them – they’re working!
400 miles and 4 museums later, we're still smiling!
Where should we go next?
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Road Tripping

We’re going out of town for a few days, just the two of us. We’re throwing a suitcase in the car, some road music and a map. Two days, maybe three. Depends how much fun we’re having. Are you jealous yet? 
Did I mention that my husband is staying home?
That’s right, Amelia and I are taking Camp Mommy on the road. She’s aptly named this odyssey “You and Me in a Car.” We’re planning to visit four children’s museums in four cities, stay in a hotel with a pool, sing songs that I hope aren’t all from Frozen, and eat a lot of peaches. Beyond that, we’re winging it. 
And we can’t wait. Still jealous? Jeff says he isn’t, but I don’t believe him. 

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Traveling Lighter

I am writing this post on an airplane*, carrying a little less baggage than I had when I left.  

I’m on my way home from an annual conference of children’s museum professionals that I’ve attended most of the last 20 years. I love this conference—it’s always inspiring, informative, and these days it’s an indulgence to travel alone and leave bedtime, school buses and play dates behind. This year we heard from thought leaders in fields of creativity and innovation, studied and played in museums, participated in workshops and panel discussions. But the heart of the conference is after hours—late nights in the hotel bar, dissecting exhibits and careers and life over wine and through the laughter and tears of old friends and colleagues who intersect in various combinations often only once a year. 

This year, the conference theme was “Reimagining Children’s Museums.” And my own imagination almost kept me from participating. Two years ago, colleagues at this conference provided much-needed shoulders to (sometimes literally) cry on, and the confidence to leave a job that was all wrong for me. If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize a recurring theme of recovery from that period. Every few months, I’ve reflected on milestones that tell me I’m incrementally moving on, that the bruises to my ego and professional confidence are healing. But moving on means going back without reverting, and I’ve avoided that test. I haven’t seen many of my former colleagues, haven’t set foot back in that museum, and haven’t talked out loud about it very often.
I knew I’d see them this year, and I worried about how I’d feel. Even though two years have passed and I’ve built a successful consulting business and moved on professionally, I still worried that seeing them again would undo it all. 
My husband told me to live in the present. He also reminded me that sustaining a consulting business means networking, so get on the plane. And like he’s been so many times in our marriage, he was absolutely right.
In my imagination, everyone and everything I left behind stayed exactly where I left them, and through the lens of memory those that hurt the most became even more prominent. But in reality, there have been life changes and leadership changes, and time really does heal. I saw my former colleagues on the first night of the conference. There were a few awkward hugs, some small talk, and that was that. No deep conversations, no rehashing of anything, just updates on our kids and our lives. Even some smiles. Like former coworkers who run into one another do every day. 
Reimagining children’s museums, indeed.

*Full disclosure: I did write the first draft on the plane…and then took a few days to revise and post it. No flying today.

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Monday, April 28, 2014


That’s me.  When I started this blog I said I wanted to slow down, record and reflect on the little steps when they happen before they blur together and get lost over time. Well, time is blurring. Since my last post Amelia has joined the swim team, lost another tooth (bringing the total to 3 with one more about to drop), went on another sleepover, read books to my parents, met an old friend from Spain, and learned to put cologne behind her knees. I blame my friend from Spain for that last one 

But I blame myself for not writing about any of it. Or the many more milestones I’ve already forgotten. Somehow, there are only about 30 days left of kindergarten, and the scared little girl who got on the school bus that sunny day in August just told me all about oviparous animals and why a butterfly’s chrysalis hangs from a branch and I am floored. Increasingly, I’m her ride to a birthday party or a playdate, but no longer her companion. I still get a kiss at drop off and pick up, but even Amelia knows this time is fleeting – she told me last week that when she is a teenager she’s pretty sure I will embarrass her.   

I’m pretty sure I will too. But I will be there, and I will still kiss her at drop off and pick up, and I promise to write about it. And someday I hope she’ll thank me. 

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Saturday, March 8, 2014


When I was single and aspired to be Carrie Bradshaw, I bought shoes anytime I faced life transitions. A breakup, a move, an argument...I had a closet full of stress-induced footwear. 

Now that Parenting in the Suburbs has replaced Sex and the City, there are way more transitions than shoes. And we’re on the brink of a big one.

Amelia just told me to “Shoo!” 

That's right, complete with dismissive hand gestures. She's having a sleepover, and after a day of asking what time it is and how much longer she has to wait, her friend has arrived and my company is no longer needed.

Sometimes she wants to be alone.
This isn’t the first time. Amelia has taken to running to her room after school, closing the door and telling me not to follow her—until she calls me, hungry for a snack. She proudly walks herself to and from neighbors’ houses for playdates, boldly rides her bike beyond our predetermined boundaries, and I’ve noticed lots of whispering and secrets between Amelia and her friends when adults are around. Last week she was playing with our neighbors, and they took their dog for a walk. As they passed our house, Bentley saw his Girl so I took him out to join the walk. Amelia was mortified. She pulled me aside and whispered in my ear “GO HOME.” Ouch.
Reading to themselves
I know she still needs me, and this is all very normal stuff. But it’s happening just as I’ve settled into this mostly-at-home-mama stuff. Now that I’m available, she’d prefer I’m invisible. As I write this, Amelia and her sleepover friend are playing in the next room. I’ve been called to repair a game piece, inflate an air mattress, bring the dog and take the dog away, make dinner, and reach things on high shelves. I’m on call, but I’m not invited.

I’ve got a little time on my hands. It's a good thing, because I’m going to need to buy shoes.

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