Thanks to social media, moms everywhere are subjected to images of Pinterest-perfect birthday parties, picturesque bento boxed lunches, and other #momgoals-worthy grandiose exhibits of motherly perfection. Instead of holding ourselves to these unrealistic expectations, let’s celebrate our imperfections and find some meaning in our far-from-perfect parenting.
When we think of gingham, we often conjure up images of the iconic red and white checkered table clothes so commonly associated with summer barbeques. But while gingham may be the quintessential summer fabric, its scope far exceeds summertime table linens. A refreshing departure from traditional florals, gingham has re-emerged this season in bold new hues and show-stopping silhouettes. In fact, the classic print was showcased on the runways of some of the hottest designers, including Carolina Herrera, Altuzarra, Victoria Beckham and Diane Von Furstenberg.
What I love most about gingham is its versatility. I chose to pair this cold-shoulder top in black/white gingham print with white denim and a platform wedge, but it can just as easily be worn with denim cutoffs for a more casual look or a chic pencil skirt and pump for a more sophisticated ensemble.
The unique silhouette differentiates this top from many others of its kind and adds dramatic flair to an otherwise classic print. I just love how the fabric drapes, creating the most perfect billowy sleeves.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a bargain and this shirt is no exception. Marked down to only $20 at Bloomingdales, it will be gone before you can say “Bloomingdeals”!
Some other gingham tops on my summer wishlist:
Romper, jumpsuit, playsuit – call it what you will, but this one-piece wonder is perhaps the most highly sought-after clothing item for summer. Not only are rompers extremely on trend this season, but they’re the ultimate wardrobe MVP’s. Here’s why:
If you’re anything like me, you spend way too much time experimenting with different combinations of wardrobe separates before ultimately choosing an ensemble. The introduction of the romper into your summer wardrobe eliminates hours of tirelessly matching tops with bottoms to compose the perfect outfit. Rompers are fun, flirty and take all of the time and guess work out of looking effortlessly chic.
Easily dressed up or down with the creative use of shoes and accessories, rompers are one of the most versatile pieces in my closet this summer. A romper paired with a classic blazer and pumps can easily be transformed from office-chic to high-class happy hour with the addition of a chunky heel and bold jewelry.
Most often constructed from lightweight material such as linen or delicate gauzy fabrics, rompers are synonymous with comfort. Just ask any baby – they spend a greater part of their first year in this clothing of convenience.
Packing is such a daunting task, especially for this fashion-obsessed mother of 2 who wants to look fabulous even far away from home. This summer our family will be taking several trips, which under normal circumstances would require hours of packing (and unpacking) for both myself and my kiddos. There is no better way to ease the burden of packing than pulling a few rompers from my closet and some corresponding neutral accessories. Voila!
Other striped rompers I am loving this summer:
- We experience no greater happiness than stumbling upon one of the city’s iconic street fairs while strolling outside with our little ones. “No thanks – I don’t like fried dough,” said no child ever.
- Spending a few days in the suburbs arduously loading our babies in and out of car seats gives us a newfound appreciation for the ease of running errands in the city.
- The UES Mommas Facebook group is our holy grail for parenting advice, product recommendations and exploitations of nannies behaving badly. And although we won’t admit it, we love watching the Oscar-worthy drama unfold when moms go head-to-head over the most controversial topics.
- We enter the bus at the rear so that we won’t have to fold our strollers. If the bus driver didn’t see it, did it even happen?
- We get annoyed when we see people leisurely walking down the sidewalk hand in hand. We know you love each other, but please don’t monopolize the only passageway separating me and my midget psychopaths from the tranquility of nap time.
- We are equally agitated by clueless pedestrians who stop suddenly in front of our strollers. People driving cars know such deviant behavior leads to getting rear-ended, but many pedestrians still remain oblivious. Learn some sidewalk etiquette and keep it moving, amateurs!
- Choosing between Uppababy and Bugaboo is a critical decision that requires multiple visits to Giggle or Buy Buy Baby, hours of second-guessing and countless revisions to our baby registries. After all, we need all-terrain vehicles capable of conquering demolished asphalt (thanks, Second Avenue subway construction), maneuvering around potholes and schlepping to Bloomingdales even in inclement weather.
- We’ve all been there – we reach the crosswalk just as the countdown clock arrives at single digits. Enter creepy pedestrian, abruptly violating our bubble of personal space while marveling at our sweet defenseless babies. I’m flattered that you think my baby is adorable, but that doesn’t authorize you to caress her perfectly dimpled hand with your filthy meathooks. Within seconds my baby’s hand (and your germs) will be inside her mouth. Gross!
- We can change a diaper anywhere, including the back seat of a cab, park bench or even on our laps . . . in the dark and with both hands tied behind our backs.
- The effort we put into our friendships with other moms is directly proportional to the child-friendly amenities provided by their apartment buildings.
- There is nothing more exciting than discovering a new restaurant that offers the ultimate brunching bonanza – both bottomless mimosas and high chairs.
- We attend the “Cry Baby Matinee” at the City Cinemas East 86th Street theater, a rite of passage for all East Side moms. Rather than sneaking in candy from Duane Reade, we arrive with an arsenal of sippy cups, Puffs and Cheddar Bunnies, all of which will most likely end up on the floor.
- We can multitask better than any of our suburban mom friends.
- The city sandbox is no replacement for the beach and we loathe this playground Petri dish. Really, what’s in that thing?
- We know the precise locations of every Mister Softee truck within a 2 mile radius.
- Summer marks the beginning of sprinkler season in most of Manhattan’s public playgrounds. In addition to water shoes, we buy several pails, shovels and watering cans even though our kid will most likely just poach water toys from other kids at the sprinklers.
- Our children think that “lobby” is a number between 0 and 1.
- We go to great lengths not to disturb our sleeping children – a note on our doors asking deliverymen to “knock softly,” expensive soundproofing of walls and windows, and then the doorman rings the buzzer to alert us to a food delivery, except we didn’t order food and he buzzed the wrong apartment, and now the kids are awake and screaming. Ahhh!
- We scoff at the ultra-competitive world of New York City nursery schools, but inevitably spend hours making spreadsheets comparing the philosophies of education, tediously filling out elaborate applications, writing extensive entrance essays, and subjecting our children to playgroup interviews.
- On rainy days, our children flock to this Upper East Side hangout, where they abandon their strollers and run like untamed antelopes through unassuming masses of people. In this real-life representation of the Lord of the Flies, children often decimate everything in their paths, leaving behind a scattered trail of toys and books. Barnes and Noble, thank you for your unwavering patience and for graciously hosting even our most mischievous little ones. Love, the Moms of the Upper East Side.
In this fast-paced concrete jungle so many of us call home, we are often scurrying through our lives at a breakneck pace. As the competition to get our kids into the most prestigious schools intensifies, parents go to great lengths to give their children the edge they need to get ahead in this unforgiving metropolis. If you peer closely into the shadows of the soaring skyscrapers down streets snarled with yellow taxis, you will typically observe them in their most natural state – these stroller-striding, sleep-deprived moms hiding behind Chanel sunglasses and relentlessly barreling down the sidewalks en route to the city’s premier infant and toddler enrichment classes. We sacrifice our sleep and sometimes even a blowout, all in the name of educating our children. But while we Manhattan moms put forth unparalleled efforts to give our tots every learning opportunity, we seldom pause to recognize the priceless lessons our babies are unwittingly teaching us.
Last week we joyfully celebrated our daughter’s first birthday with our closest friends and family. Between nibbles of cake and sips of champagne, I found myself immersed in a moment of reverie, reflecting on this whirlwind year and pondering the sheer wonder of it all – the challenges of juggling two-under-two, the poignant memories of my daughter’s first milestones, and the unexpected events that jarred me into reappraising my priorities. It boggles my mind that this ephemeral chapter in my daughter’s life will be one she recalls only through stories and photographs. And although she won’t recollect it, her first year is also one of developmental leaps and absorption through our direct instruction, modeling and environmental osmosis. Little did I know that the lessons my baby girl would teach me would be just as valuable as those I have imparted to her.
There appears to be no impediment on this Earth that will halt my baby girl from obtaining any physical objects she targets. Take wires and electrical outlets, for example. For a reason unbeknownst to me, my daughter, like my son before her, is spellbound by hazardous enticements and drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Although our electrical outlets are equipped with sliding plate covers to prevent the kids from sticking items into the tiny holes, it’s more challenging to baby-proof occupied outlets. After having furnished our apartment with the finest 19th century French antiques (thank you, Charles Cheriff Galleries), we have resorted to reconfiguring our furniture into a makeshift obstacle course in an effort to block off access to electrical outlets. Equally naughty as she is internally driven, this pint-sized apprentice electrician will strategize and exhibit calculated maneuvers to scale any barricade put in place to prevent her from accessing those dangerous corners of our apartment. She perseveres through any challenge and won’t give up until she succeeds, or in this case, seizes a fist-full of wires requiring a prompt intervention to move her back to her playmat. In a blasé smirking manner, looking backwards to make sure I’m watching, she will do it again and again and again. I admire her steadfast tenacity and continue to be impressed by this quality on a daily basis. Despite repeatedly tumbling before somehow climbing over our roadblocks, not once does she think, “maybe this just isn’t for me.” If more of us took a cue from our children and refused to be weighed down by a plethora of perceived limitations and impossibilities, there is no limit to what we might accomplish.
Find Joy in the Little Things
My daughter enjoys showing off her self-evident comprehension of “object permanence,” and what better way to tickle her fancy than engaging in the universal game of peek-a-boo? Her high-pitched squeal of excitement when I vanish and reappear is a reaction so unadulterated, so pure and one filled with joy. This game, though so very simple in nature, transcends all language and cultural barriers; it is based solely on the fundamental concepts of expectation and surprise. It never gets old. In fact, repetition only seems to intensify my daughter’s jubilation. And as it turns out, the laughter is contagious! Regardless of how many times we engage in this infantile amusement, I can’t help but succumb to her giggles as I hide my face and suddenly pop back into her view. I can only hope that she will greet me with the very same enthusiasm years from now when peek-a-boo will have become a distant memory. Her captivating sense of innocence and wonderment at life’s mundane pleasures is a refreshing departure from the ominous uncertainty of today’s world. If we could all see the world through the eyes of a child we might appreciate the small, commonly-overlooked pleasures in our everyday lives.
Live for the Moment
Like most babies, my daughter has the fantastic ability to embrace the present and appreciate each moment as it transpires. She is blissfully unaware of the stressors that plague many adults and has no concept of either the past or future. She knows only now – this very moment, which is essentially the only thing we have for sure. While some adults spend the greater portion of their lives lamenting the past, mourning missed opportunities and worrying about the future, my baby experiences sensations only in the here and now. So long as her needs are gratified immediately, she has no foresight into what needs she may have in the future and isn’t distracted by thoughts of time gone by. Although the complexities of our adult lives have robbed us of this same divine naiveté, we can all by some measure strive to be more present in our daily lives.
No Two Babies Are Alike
Prior to my son’s birth in 2014, I had visions of nibbling on tea sandwiches and petit fours in Central Park while my baby played quietly on a blanket next to me. Boy, did I have a warped perception of motherhood! In addition to assuming the role of new mother after the birth of my son, I also acquired the not-so-glamorous roles of bodyguard, referee, and janitor. As stay-at-home-mom to my incredibly thrill-seeking, rambunctious boy, my days were spent protecting, policing and cleaning up after my son as he mischievously sought opportunities to scale furniture, jump from high surfaces, and turn our apartment walls into crayon-based murals of his own design. When I became pregnant with our second baby while my son was merely 13 months, I was frightened to my innermost core. As much as I love a challenge, I shuddered at the thought of having two of these pint-sized bulldozers leveling our apartment like a tornado. And then I found out we were expecting a girl, and a wave of tranquility washed over me and awakened my inner child who had fantasized about one day having a little girl of her own. As nature would have it, it wasn’t too long after my daughter’s birth that I began noticing unmistakable differences in the personalities of my baby girl and toddler son. My baby girl has always been so mellow, loves cuddling and being held, and cries whenever I leave the room, whereas my son has been an independent free-spirit and risk-taker since day one. The disparities in their personalities could not be any more consistent with gender-specific stereotypes. A few weeks ago my friend, Chelsea, and I took our baby girls to the park for a picnic lunch. As we listened to the birds chirping and airplanes swirling above, our babies sat peacefully by our sides, and in a moment of pure nirvana, we locked eyes and knew this was the rare flash of serenity that we so foolishly thought defined motherhood.
Love knows no bounds
Most second time moms concur – at one point we thought it was inconceivable to love a new baby as much as our first. Our first borns made us mothers and taught us everything we now know about unconditional love. For 20 months my son had my undivided attention and within this time we shared a wealth of unforgettable experiences (for me, at least). Every day was a new adventure. We ate at the latest restaurants, traveled to different neighborhoods in search of the best playgrounds and had play dates or classes virtually daily. I knew him with every fiber of my being and our relationship was one of perfect harmony. When I discovered I was expecting my 2nd child, I experienced both anxiety about the changing dynamic of our relationship and fear of splitting my time and affection with a newborn. How could I even fathom loving another baby as much as my son when I couldn’t possibly share that same connection with a new baby? The answer to this question would soon find its way to me. I discovered soon after my daughter was born that the heart is not subject to limitations as I had once thought, but rather is capable of infinite love. As our family of 3 expanded to 4, my heart so naturally followed in suit. And so began this crazy adventure as a family of 4, my heart practically bursting at the seams with every moment.
The diaper bag is arguably the most essential accessory for every mom on-the-go. As a busy mom of an infant and toddler in New York City’s Upper East Side, I know first-hand the importance of having a fully stocked diaper bag with me during every outing with my kids. Leaving home without a diaper bag is very much like a handyman arriving without his tools – extremely unprepared and amateur. A diaper bag contains all items needed for emergency diaper changes, spills on clothing, sanitizing of toys/dropped pacifiers, or any other unforeseen predicament. But let’s face it, most diaper bags are ugly. Rather than selecting a bag based on style or color, many moms choose diaper bags featuring the same pastel-colored zoo animals that often adorn the walls of their baby’s nursery. While it may momentarily seem like a cute idea, what woman really wants to tote around a bag covered in purple elephants? The diaper bags below are proof that moms’ most important accessory can be both practical and fashionable. At many different price points, there is something for everyone.
1. The Thea Thea Indigo Diaper Bag in Navy – $145 at Thea Thea
The Indigo diaper bag by Thea Thea features a chic quilted design with whimsy bow detailing. With 4 inner pockets and 2 outside pockets, this bag is roomy enough for all of your new-mom essentials. As an urban mom, I appreciate the value of rain-resistant accessories, especially when schlepping little ones to school and classes in the stroller. The denim-like fabric of the Indigo bag is water repellent, which will keep baby’s diapers, clothes and other contents protected from rain and snow. With it’s versatile design and removable stroller straps, this bag can also be used as a tote. And did I mention it’s only $145?
2. Rebecca Minkoff “Marissa” Studded Diaper Bag – $345 at Nordstrom
Exhausted? Scatterbrained? Running on only 4 hours of sleep yet desperately trying to appear sophisticated and fashionable? Enter: Timi & Leslie’s “Marie Antoinette” diaper bag. This bag will keep even the most disorganized mom prepared for the whirlwind of parenthood, and she will even look chic changing diapers! This bag truly has it all. An insulated bottle tote, zippered pouch for wet clothes and changing pad with mesh pockets are just some of the features that differentiate this diaper bag from most others. With interior credit card slots, key ring, matching clutch for Mom’s own small items, and detachable strap for cross-body usage, this bag eliminates the need to carry an additional purse. Is it just me, or does the Marie Antoinette diaper bag bear a striking resemblance to Miu Miu’s signature Matelassé nappa leather bags? See for yourself.
4. Storksak “Bobby” Quilted Diaper Bag – $195 at Storksak
Also available in black, the Storksak “Bobby” diaper bag has a durable wipe-clean quilted exterior adorned with delicate bows that add subtle femininity. With four interior slip pockets, an interior pacifier case and detachable insulated storage bag for bottles and snacks, this bag is equally stylish and practical. The “Bobby” can be worn as a cross-body bag and comes with a luxury changing pad.
5. Gucci “Original GG” Diaper Bag – $1150 at Gucci
The Gucci “Original GG” diaper bag is absolutely fabulous and has been photographed on the shoulders of celebrities like Halle Berry and Nicole Richie. Made of durable GG monogrammed canvas and trimmed in leather, this bag is timeless and built to last. In addition to the tan/pink color, Gucci also offers the bag in a tan/blue combination as well as tan/brown and basic black. Although it comes with a hefty price tag, this diaper bag is a great investment for babies and future siblings to come. I should know – I bought it (in black) when I was pregnant with my son and now I use it for my infant daughter.
6. Kate Spade “Hildy” Baby Bag – $189 (marked down from $378) at Kate Spade
The “Hildy” is a diaper bag masquerading as a chic everyday tote bag. Once a little one outgrows his/her need for a diaper bag, the Hildy easily transitions to an every day bag. Its classic silhouette and 14-karat gold-plated hardware exude understated elegance that make it a perfect choice for the posh mom on-the-go. It’s equally practical as it is polished with its wipe-clean nylon exterior, several interior pockets; two elastic bottle holders and adjustable stroller straps. Unique to this bag are metal feet on the bottom exterior that prevent scuffing on the underside of the bag. Marked down from $378 to $189, this bag is a steal and I anticipate it will sell out quickly.
7. Prada “Vela” Nylon Baby Bag – $1360 at Saks Fifth Avenue
Move over, ladies! This diaper bag indulgence is crafted from Prada’s durable classic nylon and is adorned with the brand’s signature triangle logo plate. With front and back zip pockets, large center pouch and interior zip and slip pockets, there is plenty of room to stash all of your necessities and signature jacquard fabric lines the bag’s interior and envelops your little one’s most shabby chic accessories. Fashion-forward meets functional with a washable changing pad, adjustable shoulder strap, and metal feet to protect the bottom. While this is the most expensive diaper bag on the list, it’s also a versatile option that even Dad would feel comfortable carrying. An instant classic, you’ll keep using it long after your baby is out of diapers.
8. Henri Bendel “West 57th” Baby Bag – $199 (marked down from $398) at Henri Bendel
Henri Bendel is the quintessential playground of Manhattan’s modern woman, but who knew that Bendel’s also designs handbags for trendsetting tots? Meet the luxurious West 57th Baby Bag, Bendel’s tres chic diaper bag creation. The West 57th bag oozes high-fashion appeal and will add instant glam to any ensemble. The sophisticated silhouette is constructed from both Saffiano leather and water-resistant nylon, a combination that distinguishes this bag from most others. The purple sateen interior lining is fit for the most regal little darlings and the bag can also be monogrammed at no additional charge. With all of these lavish features people won’t even believe this is a diaper bag!
9. Mia Bossi “Tabitha” Diaper Bag – $280 at Mia Bossi
Looking for something smaller? This petite diaper bag is perfect for moms of older babies who may not need to carry so many necessities. Its black quilted exterior (made from vegan-friendly faux leather) is embellished with gold chain link hardware reminiscent of vintage Chanel and its design is similarly sophisticated and timeless. A detachable shoulder strap makes this bag a wardrobe staple by allowing for it to be worn messenger style or carried as a satchel, à la the Louis Vuitton Speedy. With this diaper bag in tow, your baby will be only your second best accessory!
10. Nest Designs “Keira” Clutch – $85 at Nest Designs
Who said that diaper bags have to be of mammoth proportions? The “Keira” clutch is a refreshing departure from the cumbersome design of traditional diaper bags. On days when all you need are a few diapers and wipes, this bag’s got you covered. Made from genuine leather, this compact clutch surprisingly unfolds flat to reveal a full-size changing pad, making it possible to change your baby absolutely anywhere. With an enclosed wet wipes pocket and removable diaper pouch, the “Keira” is diaper bag simplicity at its best. Wondering where you will stash your keys and cell phone? Fear not, for there is also a small pocket designed to hold some of Mom’s personal items.
Like most Upper East Side moms and residents alike, I was absolutely ecstatic about the January opening of the mythical Second Avenue Subway project after decades of setbacks and delays. Aside from easing congestion along Manhattan’s East side and providing efficient transportation to other neighborhoods, the unveiling of the long-awaited project also provides unique opportunities for those of us with young children.
New York City weather is as unpredictable as the sale racks at Bloomingdales on Black Friday, and much to my chagrin, my rambunctious 2-year-old doesn’t share my affinity for hibernating indoors in sub-zero temperatures, torrential downpours or the most simmering summer heat waves. The 86th Street subway station has become a frequent fieldtrip destination for my kids, especially on days when either rain or severe temperatures prohibit outdoor play. The subway platform at the 86th Street station is 93 feet below street level and impervious to the city’s most severe weather elements. And unlike most other subway lines, a mechanical cooling system within the station will be activated this summer to maintain a comfortable temperature of approximately 10 degrees cooler than outside at street level.
As my toddler approaches age 3, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep him entertained within the confines of our Manhattan apartment. Always on the hunt for new adventures and opportunities to assert his independence, he thrives in new environments and enjoys being an on-the-go tot. Because of his blossoming curiosity about the world, I present him with frequent hands-on experiences to keep him physically active and nurture his urge to know more. He’s been enamored with the Q Train since its Upper East Side inauguration and we can’t pass by its entrance without him pleading to go for a ride. The first order of business when headed to the subway is perhaps my toddler’s favorite part – descending via escalator deep into the cavernous station. I use this opportunity to teach and reinforce the basic safety measures of facing forward, holding hands, and being cognizant of what’s going on around us at all times. Although we always avoid rush hour, the escalator can be treacherous for toddlers and it’s imperative to take the proper precautions to avoid injuries.
Once on the train platform, we eagerly await the arrival of the train. As it approaches, my toddler beams with excitement and his silky baby strands blow wildly in the breeze of the oncoming train. Years from now, I will remember him as joyful as he is in these tender moments. When the doors open and people file in, he knows to quickly locate an empty seat and sit down. And when the train starts moving, he’s in all his glory, squealing with delight as the train accelerates down the track. It’s not long before my toddler amasses a fan club of passengers who are enchanted by his playful demeanor and irresistibly sweet face. A natural performer, he feeds off this attention and loves making new friends. It doesn’t matter where the train stops or what’s nearby; as soon as we exit the subway car and ride the escalator to street level, he’s ready to turn around and do it all again.
Although he’s barely 2.5 yrs old, my toddler enjoys examining the large New York City Subway map in the train car and pointing out various locations around the city. He understands that the colored lines represent different trains and that straphangers ride different trains to get to different places. We’ve had many conversations about how the subway is a means of connecting people in different neighborhoods city-wide. I point out landmarks he recognizes (such as JFK Airport and his favorite parks) and we discuss which train line we would take to reach those points. Two-years old isn’t too young to be introduced to basic concepts of geography and by allowing him to take an active role in the discovery process, I’m laying the foundation for a lifelong love of learning. Next stop – the New York Transit Museum!
The last time I saw my mother was March 19, when my family congregated for brunch to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. As my mother looked around the table at my husband and me, our two children, and my brother, his wife and their two children, she beamed with pride. “Look at all we’ve created,” she spoke softly to my father, her face luminous with pleasure. Although only 65 when she died suddenly two weeks later, my mother had been living her dream. There she was, looking on, as her babies had grown up, gotten married and started families of their own. In a way, her life’s work was complete.
Nothing could have prepared me for this loss. Facing each new day without my mother is much like waking up to a world without a sky – unimaginable. I’ve been looking for ways to articulate the tsunami of emotions – the heartbreak, despair, anger, sorrow, confusion – engulfing my heart in the days following her passing, but I’ve arrived at the realization that words alone cannot give voice to the depth of these feelings.
In the days immediately following my mother’s death, I gazed out the windows bewildered as people walked in and out of restaurants, their lives seemingly unfettered while my world was imploding, rendering me crippled. As a mom of an infant and toddler, there has never been a time in my life when I’ve felt like I needed my own mother more. Although 80 miles separated us, my mother was the first and last phone call of every day and was at the very heart of everything I do. She was the only person who was truly interested in the most mundane minutiae of my daily life. And in the frequent moments of pandemonium that often define motherhood, my mother was my guiding light and penultimate voice of reason. I long to hear the sound of her voice on the other end of the phone, offering guidance, wisdom, and telling me stories about my own childhood. And when my children reach a new milestone or do something to make me laugh, it feels slightly imperfect because I can’t share it with my mom. It is in these bittersweet moments when I miss her most. You see, it doesn’t matter how old you are. As a woman, you never stop needing your mother, and I will never stop needing mine.
My mother put her entire being into raising me and my brother and ensuring that we had every opportunity to learn, grow and achieve our dreams. And although she was a selfless woman who loved her children unconditionally, she was the quintessential Jewish mother who also made sure to remind us of her sacrifices and hold us to the highest of expectations. These expectations and my fear of failing to meet them served as catalyst for academic success and all aspects of personal achievement. In fact, although I’m now a grown woman with a family of my own, I am still very much guided by an inherent desire to make my mother proud.
If I am to make any sense at all out of her death, it is that life is both fleeting and precious. Seasons change, calendar pages flutter in the breeze, and time rapidly accelerates as we get older. As I continue on this surreal odyssey as a motherless mother, there is only one thing about which I am certain – I will take one day at a time and will instill in my children all of the values my mother worked so tirelessly to instill in me.
Money doesn’t buy happiness.
Those who knew my mother know that her life was marked by neither glitz nor glamour. She wasn’t at all impressed with worldly possessions and turned away from most material things. She was a minimalist who felt most comfortable wearing a paint-splattered grey hooded sweatshirt. I recall the time when I bought my first pair of Louboutins and she eagerly pointed out to me that the bottoms of my shoes were red, as if I hadn’t known. While Mom had very little appreciation for the finer things in life, she was always amused by my love of all things fashion and indulged me with frequent shopping trips as a child. In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories with her are afternoons spent in a mall dressing room as she tirelessly brought in one outfit after another for me to try on. Although she humored me and my affinity for inanimate objects, my mother also taught me that true happiness can be found only in relationships with people and through acts of kindness. As such, her legacy is not one of material things accumulated in her life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.
Give back to the community.
At any given time, much of my mother’s kitchen counter tops would be concealed by heaping piles of calendars, return address labels and other paraphernalia sent by the charities to which she religiously donated. The Humane Society, Paralyzed Veterans, and Jewish National Fund were just a few of the causes to which she felt so very committed. From a very early age she instilled in me that tzedakah – charity – is the most important of mitzvot. Her unshakable moral compass, righteousness, and fervent belief in donating to those less fortunate exemplified her adherence to the fundamental principles of Jewish life.
Always carry a jacket with you.
It could be an August afternoon with sweltering temperatures and stifling humidity, but my mother would never forget to carry a jacket with her and always reminded me to follow in suit. Any failure to do so would be irresponsibly flirting with the risk of catching a cold. You see, my mother was the embodiment of the universal caricature of Jewish mothers. What if it’s cold in the restaurant? What if they have the air conditioning on? These were real possibilities, and you know what? She was usually right!
Be honest and true to yourself in all of your endeavors.
My mother approached life with an unwavering commitment to brutal honesty. Always eager to voice her opinion and expose any injustice, she was truly a force to be reckoned with. Her incredibly quick wit and unfiltered opinions made her the most perfect sounding-board, and I consulted with her before making the majority of my important decisions. My mom was also not at all skittish when it came to offering unsolicited critiques and suggestions on my clothing choices, and although she couldn’t be bothered with her own wardrobe, she had a keen eye for fashion and meticulous attention to detail. Who needs Fashion Police when you have a Jewish mother?
You can do anything if you put your mind to it.
Anyone who had met my mother could attest to her ferocious determination. There was nothing this woman could not do. A jack-of-all-trades, she regularly mowed her 1.5 acres of grass on a sit-down tractor and took on laborious household projects such as once installing kitchen counter tops, wallpapering, scraping away popcorn ceilings and painting a myriad of rooms in addition to arduously power-washing the exterior of her house. Equal parts Herculean and stubborn, my mother refused my father’s pleadings to hire professionals to perform tasks she felt she could execute better herself. My brother and I would win Halloween costume contests at elementary school every year thanks to my mom’s over-the-top homemade costumes (think 6-foot tall giraffe). She even outdid herself constructing a Tudor dollhouse for me furnished with carpet, linoleum floors and wallpaper in every room. My mother loved projects and her creativity knew no bounds. As a knitter extraordinaire, she would make the most exquisite sweaters for my children and even my dog, whose custom threads turn heads on every street corner.
In her absence, I am left with sadness so profound that sometimes it feels like I’m drowning in grief. While the relationship I have with my mother is one that transcends the limitations of the physical world, I can’t help but feel robbed of her at a juncture when I still so heavily relied on her guidance. If there is a silver lining to be found, it is that the principals and values she so deeply ingrained in me read like a transcript to my ever-present inner voice. My greatest wish is that my kids will always know how much she loved them and how they had made her life complete. If I can be half the mother to them that she was to me, I know I will have succeeded. And if she were here right now, she would most certainly be wondering what all this mishegoss is about. I can practically hear her say, “Enough already, Melissa. Go live your life … and put a coat on – it’s chilly out.”