Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Today is Erev (or the eve of) Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year—rosh meaning head and shana meaning year. (Super literal, right?) I’ll be heading home for the holiday, but this year is different. It’s the first time I’ll play the role of only child since my siblings are living large—my sister abroad in London and my brother on the national tour of a show.
Knowing that they won’t be in their usual seats beside me in synagogue or next to me at the table makes going home for the holiday a little sad. Sure, it’s home. Love to Mom and Dad. But I feel like a lone wolf without her pack. It’s this reflection that made me realize how lucky I am to feel bound to my siblings—to feel like I’m not quite complete without them. My sister challenges me like no one can. My brother is truly my best friend; no one understands me like he does (or makes me laugh quite as hard).
It’s actually this unbreakable sibling bond, the inexplicable connection, that is the driving force of the movie The Skeleton Twins that just came out September 19. This isn’t a family flick, so plan this one for date night—better yet sibling’s night out. Watching the serious side of comic geniuses Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a pair of fraternal twins whose lives-gone-awry can only be saved by each other evokes that tethered feeling that only siblings know.
This movie and my half-empty feeling reminds me how important it is to make an effort to keep the sibling bond strong. It doesn’t just happen because you’re share genes. My parents sent us the message that family is the most important thing in the world. Growing up, my brother and sister and I clung to that and to each other. We are the secret-keepers (from who stole the cookie from the jar to how a date went). We are the trouble-makers (still not-so-secretly poking fun at our parents). We are the entertainers (making each other laugh when we would rather cry or singing in harmony). Parents are the captains, guiding us through clear skies or rough waters, but siblings are the anchors that keep us strong and feeling safe. Around the new year I typically resolve to appreciate my siblings more and be a bit kinder. While there is always room to improve, I can actually look back on this year and think to myself Good work. Now let’s raise the bar.
Does your parenting style foster a tight family unit?
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Friday, September 5th, 2014
The Queen of Comedy. The Queen of Mean. Joan Rivers certainly earned a few titles in her 81 years before she passed away yesterday after suffering complications from an outpatient procedure in New York City. Despite starring on her own reality show with her daughter “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?“, Queen of Motherhood is not a title usually equated with the woman who uttered more four-letter words in a day than many do in a year. Still, there are (at least) five valuable lessons we can learn from Joan the woman, the comedienne, the mother.
Number 1: How to be honest
Joan was infamous for her brutal and sometimes scathing honesty on E!’s Fashion Police. While I don’t advocate mocking your friends (or even celebrities), I do advocate honesty and open communication. Honesty will solve problems in your life and it’s a value worth promoting in your kids. While lying is a developmental marker for children, it’s also important to teach them the currency of the truth.
Number 2: How to Make the Best of Any Situation
As a comedian, it was Joan’s job to bring light to situations ranging from the annoying to the tragic. As the brash broad once said, “Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everybody and deal with things.” Remember to look on the bright side whenever you can.
Number 3: How to Persevere
You may not know (because I didn’t) that Joan Rivers hosted “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” on Fox in 1986. Yup. A woman in late night! But the show flopped. (It was worse than Conan’s moment.) Yet, she is still regarded as one of the comic geniuses of our time. She worked hard through professional downfalls and personal struggles. Joan always looked forward.
Number 4: How to Love Yourself
At 81 years old, Joan Rivers did NOT look 81 years old. And she wasn’t ashamed of her plastic surgery one iota. But the difference between Joan’s plastic surgery was that she wasn’t using it to hide. Her appearance was a gift to herself. She was often indulgent and she was unapologetic for how she looked and how she spoke. Not only was she loved in spite of this, she was love because of this.
Number 5: How to Heal a Relationship
Joan said that Melissa blamed her for her father’s suicide, creating a boiling tension between the mother-daughter pair. But, Joan made a point to always be in touch with Melissa and they even entered psychotherapy together at the time. Joan fought hard (and so did Melissa) to save their relationship. And sure enough, the two came out of the woods and were as thick as thieves until the end.
Even as a career-woman, Joan was a hands-on parent. What’s your parenting style?
Photograph: S Buckley/Shutterstock.com
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Friday, August 15th, 2014
I was in fifth grade when J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. I didn’t read it until the seventh grade, but I tore through the first few books and became one of those kids who couldn’t wait until the next edition came out. Through seven novels, Harry Potter taught my generation a lot—and does so for millions of kid readers all over the world to this day. Researchers recently revealed that Harry Potter taught us much more than the rules of Quidditch.
As reported in The New York Times, the Journal of Applied Psychology recently published a study revealing that story-reading can affect how kids feel about currently stigmatized groups in our society, from immigrants to homosexuals. Specifically, kids who “read stories about characters from a culture similar to their own cooperating with characters from an unfamiliar culture, they later display fewer stereotypes, and more positive attitudes, about the people belonging to the dissimilar group.”
I remember when Draco Malfoy called Hermione Granger a Mudblood for the first time. It made my
blood boil. I felt triumphant when Harry stood up for his friend. And that’s exactly the point. I had sympathy for Hermione. I felt nasty treatment towards her as an outsider was outrageous. This study shows much the same. Kids who read and discussed passages like these
(about the in-group , like Harry, interacting positively with the out-group, like Hermione) held more positive views about the out-group of their own culture, like immigrants. On the other hand, kids who read and discussed Harry Potter
passages that didn’t address prejudice, showed no change in their attitudes towards ostracized groups. As Harry entertained me, he also taught me.
He teaches the power of our own choices when he chooses Gryffindor under the Sorting Hat. He teaches what it is to fight for a greater cause. He teaches us to treat each other kindly, Muggle or Mudblood or Pure Blood.
This is exciting news not only for readers of Harry Potter, but any book that captures similar situations. Kids can learn to be more compassionate, accepting, and tolerant through reading. If that’s not a reason raise a reader, I don’t know what is.
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Friday, July 25th, 2014
As of late, cyberspace seems to be flooded with “Open Letters.” You know, those very clickable, usually uplifting, sometimes inspiring pieces that start with “Dear So-and-So” while actually published for all the world to see.
Every day this week, I’ve read an open letter, many from parents to their children. Fathers to young daughters. Mothers to teenage sons. I even received a proposal this week: an open letter from a mom to her second-born child. At first, I liked this idea, but I’m starting to feel frustration bubbling.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy reading these notes. I think the content is important and these writers generally have something valuable to say—sometimes ideas I wish I had heard at an earlier age. My question is: Who reads these letters?
Not the children to whom they are written. I’m reading them. I think parents are reading them. But do they inspire action? Do these letters provoke parents to pass the lessons in these letters on to their children, or are we just passively spewing thoughts?
Dr. Kelly Flanagan wrote a letter to his now 4-year-old daughter from the makeup aisle, offering his own definitions for such familiar terms found there as brilliant strength. Dr. Flanagan writes: ”May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.” His words are powerful—I printed the letter to hang on my fridge. While I actually really like makeup and think it’s fun to put on and get dolled up, the messaging of makeup is not conducive to building the confidence necessary to enjoy makeup without needing makeup. Dr. Flanagan specifically states that he plans to read this to his daughter “eventually.” I believe him. A man bold enough to write this is a man strong enough to read this.
But will other fathers? Are other parents going to teach their daughters about being strong and confident and true to themselves because of this letter, or is it just another URL passing in the night?
My fear is that “open letters” pass as communication. Reading an open letter and thinking on the topic for the 3 minutes it takes to read…that’s enough. Nope. It’s not.
Perhaps these writers have these tough conversations with their kids, but the rest of us need to talk, too. It’s not about open letters but open and honest conversation. Letters must serve as guides for parents to talk to their daughters about confidence, their sons about emotional intelligence, their children about acceptance, their teens about drinking and drugs. I urge parents to take an active role in shaping our future generations. Allow these letters to spark a discussion. Make your children know how you feel and what you want them to know because an open letter of untaught principles is like a letter to Santa—full of hope, but really just for the fun of it.
Do you have tough talks with your child? How do you approach them? Sound off in the comments below!
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Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Wednesday night I went to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. The ticket was my big splurge for the year and I was beyond excited. (I mean, it’s Billy Joel. At the Garden.) While most people go to a concert with their friends, I went with my family—my mom and my cousin. We had a blast together and it got me thinking about how important it is to share multi-generational experiences like this.
I first fell in love with Billy and his music when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My parents were watching a concert of his on TV and I wanted to do anything my parents were doing. His talent and the soulfulness of his music was not lost on me and right there—sitting in our den craning my neck while two feet away from the television set—began my fandom.
My mom grew up on Billy Joel. She has his records. She remembers when The Nylon Curtain came out. And because we were going to the concert together, she told me and my cousin about the time that she and her two best friends went to see Billy Joel in New Haven, CT. They were 16-years-old and on their way driving home from the Hartford train station to her best friend’s house post-Billy, singing and laughing in the front seat, they made the (then illegal) right turn on red since the late-night roads were empty. And…the cops pulled them over. “We were shaking,” my mom told me, as she relived that night in her head. It’s stories like these that make me smile—that give me a clue to the girl my mom was growing up and I feel closer to her because of it.
It’s so important to me that I not only trust my mom to give me advice, but I can also have fun with her. Not to mention, when I was younger my cousin was a bit like a big brother to me (and by that I mean I played the tag-along younger sister role very well on family vacation). Since we’ve gotten older, he and I see less of each other, yet our love for music connects us. It’s hugely important to be able to enjoy your family. Family can be there for you at your worst moments, but they should also be there for the everyday fun tidbits.
It was a very cool feeling for a 50-something (shhh!), a thirty-something, and a 25-year-old to stand there in the glow of the Garden just having a grand ole time. As the three of us belted out Pressure and swooned to She’s Always a Woman, I was so happy to know that this night would be something that we share. Someday I can tell my kids about the night I went to Billy Joel with their grandma and their cousin and we had the sickest seats and this lady yelled at me to sit down but I didn’t care because I was having the best time. And so it goes.
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