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            Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Ellie’s birthday, all happen around the same time of year, and I’m not sure I’m ready for any of it. I’m not a huge fan of birthdays, especially my own (I keep getting older, even when I’m absolutely sure I pressed the pause button), but also, Ellie will be seven this year and I think that has to be wrong. I think we should count the age of rescue dogs from the date they were rescued, instead of from their actual birth dates. In that case, Ellie would be about two and a half years old, and that sounds much more accurate to me.

“I’m a puppy!”

            And then there’s Thanksgiving. While the idea of a holiday devoted to giving thanks for our good fortune is lovely, it’s hard to look past the origin of the holiday with the Pilgrims taking advantage of the indigenous population of America. As a kid I just drew hand-shaped turkeys and sat through drama-filled family dinners, blissfully unaware of the back story or even the gratitude theme of the holiday. But I’m not sure what to do with it now that I know more.

It’s hard to focus on gratitude when you are busy feeling guilty and ashamed of what your ancestors did to the ancestors of your friends. I much prefer the Jewish holiday of Passover, where we can focus with righteous indignation on the wrongs done to us instead of the wrongs we’ve done to others. Sometimes I try to separate myself out as a more recent immigrant to America (my ancestors started to arrive around the turn of the twentieth century), so maybe I don’t have to own the guilt of those earlier European immigrants to this land. But then I read something like Deborah Fineblum’s article, The attitude of gratitude: Jewish connections to share at the Thanksgiving table published on, and I find out that the Pilgrims actually modeled their autumn thanksgiving holiday after the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, celebrated just a few weeks earlier, and I feel implicated all over again. The fact is, we are all related in one way or another, and we all come from the predators and the victims at some point in our histories.

So the question is, how can we focus on our gratitude for the good things in our lives, without ignoring the things we’ve done wrong, or things that have been done to hurt us? I’ve had to work hard on this one. I was deeply depressed for a large portion of my life, and found it insulting and simplistic when people tried to tell me to focus on my good fortune instead. They seemed to believe that if I could just whitewash my own history and ignore the pain, the way they were doing in their own lives, I would be happy. But it doesn’t work that way. In reality, telling people to smile when they are depressed, or angry, or sad, or frustrated, is DISRESPECTFUL, because you are not offering them kindness, you are bullying them into smiling in order to make you feel better. My smile has to be my choice, my willing gift to you, or else it’s meaningless.


            So, again, given all of the pain of the past, and the pain of this year in particular, with the numbers of Covid deaths rising precipitously in the United States and around the world, is there any healthy way to celebrate Thanksgiving and express gratitude around a table (or a zoom), with our friends and families? Is it healing to talk about gratitude when we’re still hurting so much?

            My answer is: maybe; if we are careful and kind with each other. I wrote about Thank you, but blessings last year, as part of my first blessings writing workshop at my synagogue. The idea is that saying thank you by rote, because it’s what is expected of you, can be not only meaningless but also self-destructive, but if I can acknowledge both my gratitude and my pain, out loud, maybe I can actually feel the gratitude more fully.

            The number one Thank you, but blessing among my students this year was, Thank you God for knowing that I am still a good Jew even thought I eat bacon.


            Ellie’s favorite is, Thank you for giving me chicken, but I want more.

“Did you say chicken?”

            And mine: Thank you for my good fortune in having a Mom who loves and believes in me, and a job I love, but I wish I could have more energy, and more focus, so that I could lose weight, and finish two or three novels over winter break.

            I am grateful that Joe Biden won the election, but I wish that half the country didn’t have to feel so left out after each election. I wish we could all find a way to agree on the facts and then listen to each other’s experience of those facts with more compassion.

            I think that these Thank you, but blessings are a way that I can make gratitude possible, and meaningful, for myself. Because if I just said that I am grateful, it would feel hollow and even untrue, but within the context of the all of it, my gratitude is real and I can celebrate it.

            I hope that Thank you, but blessings are helpful to other people, but if nothing else works, I suggest skipping the turkey on Thanksgiving and going straight to the ice cream/chocolate cake/chocolate frosting part of the meal. That’s bound to make things better, at least for a little while.

“We have room for dessert, Mommy. Stretching helps.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Jigsaw Cake


For my birthday present this year, my brother out did himself. One Amazon box arrived after another, with frosting and cake pans and candy molds and cake mix and pudding mix and sprinkles. When I asked him what it was all for he said that I’d find out on my birthday, and no sooner. On the day of my birthday I received a recipe by email for a six-tiered rainbow cake, covered with icing and sprinkles, and filled with candy.

rainbow explosion cake online

This is not my picture, just so you know.

By the time my brother called, to see if his present had finished arriving, and to receive praise for his great idea, I was sick, both exhausted and nauseated (from Shingles and medication for Shingles), and unable to show the proper amount of enthusiasm for the considerable effort and ingenuity behind his gift. But instead of just saying, I hope you feel better soon, he said, it’s probably better to make the cake when you’re nauseous anyway, so you won’t eat so much.



I felt responsible for triggering his comment, and then annoyed at how easily he could turn on me, but most of all I felt overwhelmed, by the cake itself. The idea of this massive tower of cake, that I shouldn’t eat, and that would probably take two or three days to make, and that wouldn’t fit in my freezer once it was all put together, felt like a symbol for how challenging my life has been feeling lately. I wouldn’t even be able to bring the finished cake to my brother’s house, because anything made in my kitchen wouldn’t be kosher enough for his family. We’d have had to make the cake at their house for it to be kosher, and that wasn’t suggested.

2018 Lila September

“But I like cake too, Auntie Rachel.”

I love puzzles. And I love cake decorating, when I have the energy. And I really, really, really love frosting, but I could not figure out the puzzle of this huge, unmade cake.

I wanted to accomplish this. I wanted my brother to be proud of me for making this six-tiered cake, and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his gift, and that I appreciated that he thought of me on my birthday. And I really wanted to have a birthday cake that was covered with frosting and bursting with candy. But I wanted to share the cake with a room full of people who could eat it and enjoy it with me; I didn’t want to have a cake that size in my house just to remind me that I had no one to share it with. And I was afraid that after going through all of the effort to put the damn thing together, I’d wake up one morning and stuff the whole thing in my face.


“That sounds like fun, Mommy!”

The nausea and the exhaustion from the Shingles, and the guilt and shame for being fat and lonely, and the anxiety and the depression for everything in the world were making any productive action impossible. Which of course left me feeling like a jerk, because I should have already made the cake, if only to take a picture of it to send to my brother. Even after the illness passed, every time I looked at the box-o-cake I felt sick to my stomach.

I kept trying to think of ways to make the project more manageable, like, to make cookies out of the cake mix and slather them with the frosting, to give the kids at synagogue school as a Chanukah present. And to take another box of cake mix, and the food coloring and frosting and cake pans and make an abbreviated rainbow layer cake for Mom to bring to one of her many, many, quilting groups. But none of that would give me a satisfactory picture of a six-tiered rainbow explosion cake to send to my brother.

In the meantime, I noticed that there was a huge bag of peanut M&M’s going to waste in one of the boxes, and I decided that chocolate could help my thought process. I mean, it couldn’t hurt. And the cake ingredients are at no risk of going bad while I come up with a plan. Though there are two little white dogs who keep eyeing that box of ingredients, and it’s possible that they are coming up with their own schemes for how to bring this cake to life.


“Mmm, cake.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?


Ellie’s Progress

Ellie’s Progress


Ellie will be six years old this month and she is basically unrecognizable from when she first arrived as a shy, quiet, skinny little girl a year and a half ago. First of all, she loves to eat. She would eat second breakfast (aka Cricket’s breakfast) every morning if we didn’t keep a close eye on her. Cricket is often blasé about breakfast, but Miss Ellie is teetering on the edge of a weight problem, so we have to be careful. Second, she makes eye contact all the time and has learned to make puppy dog eyes at me to ask for more treats and scratchies whenever she wants them. She barks to go outside, and races across the hall to bark at her friend Oliver on her way out the door. And then she zooms! She does figure eights and spirals and circles out on the lawn out of sheer joy!


“That’s me!”

She even lets me wash her butt in the sink, even though it scares her, so she doesn’t have to walk around with poop on her butt, the way Cricket chooses to do. And Ellie loves her people. At her most recent grooming appointment the groomer said, a little resentfully, that Ellie has really attached to me now (she was rescued by the groomer in the first place and then came to us).

Ellie with Gerry

“Who are you strange people?”

Ellie still pees too much indoors, though, and despite two wee wee pads (next to the front door and in my room), she still ends up peeing in the “wrong” places too often. But she seems to pee a lot more often than Cricket does, so I choose to blame her particular anatomy for this problem instead of blaming her.

Ellie is all love and enthusiasm, even when she’s sleeping, and she’s not self-conscious about her poochy belly (there used to be puppies in there, so she has an excuse!).


I finally started to work on training with Ellie a few weeks ago, because she’s been getting extra barky lately and I wondered if teaching her some basic commands might help her as much as it would help me. Up until now I was reluctant to bother her with obedience lessons, because I was thinking of her as another Butterfly (a puppy mill mama rescued at eight years old), someone in need of freedom more than anything else. But Ellie isn’t Butterfly. She’s younger and healthier and less traumatized by her still-difficult early life as a breeding dog with a local breeder.


“Ellie isn’t me. She’s her own special person.”

And it turns out that Cricket loves to act as role model for our training sessions, gleefully taking treats for every good “sit” and “stay” and “twirl” and “down.” Except that we had to go through an enormous amount of treats just to get a handful of good sits out of Ellie. And the process was exhausting. Ellie seemed to learn “sit,” and then unlearn it, ten times over. Cricket was a very quick learner, way back when (not that it’s done us much good), but while Miss Ellie really tries, training doesn’t seem to be her strength. She actually had solid name recall when we first brought her home (which Cricket has never managed), but that seems to have been the extent of her previous training. I have to use very small treats to train her, because she needs so many repetitions, and I ran out of the special tiny treats very quickly. I’ve been slow to re-order them, because those training sessions exhausted me so much more than they exhausted the dogs.


“Cricket would have liked a few more treats.”

But even without formal training, Ellie has made tons of progress. When she first came home she was kind of stiff and inflexible, and I assumed it was just her body type. Cricket can curl up in a tiny ball and almost disappear, and I assumed that was just not possible for Ellie. But over time Ellie’s back has become looser, and longer, and she can curl up nose to toes just like Cricket, when she wants to, or stretch out across the couch to connect her people. Her back is like an accordion, contracting and stretching with each breath. She’s also stronger, and faster, than before, and she runs and jumps and begs for kisses while standing straight up on her hind legs.


“Hi Mommy!”

I can’t train the sisterly relationship, though, so that’s still up to the girls. Ellie will lean on Cricket, and Cricket will lean on Ellie, but only if Cricket can pretend it’s not happening. They sniff each other for information whenever they’ve been apart for a few minutes, and they work together to demand outings, and to warn of incipient attacks by the mailman, but seconds later Cricket will act as if Ellie is a complete stranger who has wandered into our home by accident. Cricket gets especially riled up when she thinks her food and scratchies are being stolen by the interloper. And she can be quite a bully, intimidating Ellie away from the snacks.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

When I try to intervene, Ellie lowers her eyes, as if to say, No, Mommy, Cricket knows best. I’ve tried to explain to Ellie that, clearly, Cricket does not know best, but Ellie doesn’t believe me and I haven’t figured out a way to train her out of her subservience, or to train Cricket into learning how to share. My hope is that, over time, Cricket will learn to find Ellie’s devotion endearing, and start to bend a little bit in return. There will be plenty of treats in it for her when that happens, and she knows it, but sometimes even treats aren’t enough motivation.


“Wait, when are treats not enough? Cricket, is this one of those unanswerable koans?”


“Do you see what you’ve done?”


If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?



Cricket and Ellie

Cricket and Ellie have been together for almost a year now, and I think it’s been a long year for Cricket. She wasn’t convinced that she needed a new sister, and she will never acknowledge that having Ellie with her has lowered her anxiety level a few decibels (but it has).


“I don’t need no sister!”

It was luck that we got the call about Ellie on Cricket’s 11th birthday, last year, and were able to pick her up the following day. I’d like to believe that Ellie was, in a way, Cricket’s birthday present, but Cricket didn’t see it that way, especially because, in the turmoil, we forgot to have a celebration with Cricket’s favorite foods (peanut butter, red bell peppers, olives, and, of course, chicken). We tried to make up for it with a week full of chicken, for both of them, but Cricket remembered the slight.


“I remember everything.”

I worry that if we celebrate Ellie’s Gotcha Day, right after Cricket’s 12th birthday, Cricket will feel neglected, or resentful. I mean, more than usual. But Ellie deserves to be celebrated too. She’s found her place in the world, through trial and error, and luck, and quite a lot of therapy, just like me.


“What are you looking at?”

From the beginning, Ellie has come to therapy with me once a week. My therapist insisted that Ellie should come, not so much for my sake, or even for Ellie’s really, but because my therapist likes having dog patients. She misses her own dogs during the day, now that she works from an office building instead of from home. But it turns out that I like bringing Ellie with me, because it’s the one time of the week when she sits on my lap. At home she prefers to stretch out nearby, on the floor, on the couch, or on the bed, but in therapy she needs more contact. And if I have to talk about something particularly painful I can cuddle with her for comfort, or talk about her as a break from the tension, just for a little while. And therapy has been good for Ellie too. She’s been gradually learning self-calming techniques, and realizing that she has a safe base to return to (me), which allows her to spend more and more time exploring the office. Recently, she even built up the courage to go over to my therapist directly, which she never did early on (though my therapist clearly cheated by bringing in cheese). It’s Ellie’s one hour per week when she gets to go out alone with Mommy, while Cricket stays home with Grandma, and she seems to look forward to it, and know where we’re going, though, really, it could be all about the cheese.


Ellie in therapy: thinking deeply.

I brought Cricket along with us to therapy one day, when my Mom had her quilting group in the city, and Cricket seemed forlorn at the thought of being left home alone. Cricket used to go to therapy with me herself, when she was a puppy, so she was thrilled to see her therapist again; so thrilled that she peed on the rug three times, and used the furniture, and my therapist, as a jungle gym, and then stole a chocolate-filled candy from the coffee table. All of this while Ellie sat calmly on my lap, bewildered.

Cricket does not believe that she is going to be twelve years old. Yes, she’s had occasional back trouble, and she takes CBD oil each morning to relieve general aches and pains, but she thinks she’s still a puppy, and the fact is, she is still as smart and stubborn as ever. I can see that she has slowed down over time, but that’s only because she used to be a raging speed demon and now she’s not dragging me down the street, as much. In her trip to therapy she forgot her age completely and went back to acting like the puppy she used to be: raging speed demon, excitement peeing, and all. I can’t afford to replace the office carpeting, though, so Cricket will be staying home from now on.



Cricket is still clearly the boss around here. If there’s a plate on the floor, Ellie will run for it, until she sees Cricket out of the corner of her eye, and then she backs off and waits for permission, from Cricket, to lick up the leftovers. Though, Ellie has occasionally ignored her sister’s rules and elbowed for space, when there were scratchies on offer, but not too often.

Ellie generally sleeps in my room, because Cricket won’t allow her up on Grandma’s bed, though Ellie has no problem sharing my bed with Cricket. They often take their afternoon naps with me, each staking out her own territory and stretching out. Ellie has tried to get Cricket to play with her, doing a play bow, or running circles around her out in the yard, but Cricket just gets confused. Cricket can play by herself, or with a human, but she doesn’t understand dog to dog play. It’s just too weird for her.

We will have to find a way to celebrate Cricket’s 12th birthday, and Ellie’s Gotcha day, and their sisterhood, all at once, in a way that Cricket will enjoy. Ideally, I would buy six or seven roasted chickens and hide them strategically around the backyard for the girls to find, but, there are other animals around here, and our yard isn’t fenced in, and, it’s possible that there is such a thing as too much chicken, even for my girls.

I’ll have to keep thinking about this. But in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the fact that Ellie has made her way into our hearts, and made our world a warmer, happier, funnier place. And if Cricket wants to pretend that she’d be better off as an only dog, panting and shaking with separation anxiety each time we leave the apartment, she can certainly hold on to her illusions. But I know the truth.


“Shut up.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?


For My Birthday


This year, for my birthday, I wanted to write up a list of charities and foundations and organizations that I wish I could donate money to, like: Alley Cat Allies, North Shore Animal League America, The Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and on and on. But I feel overwhelmed by all of the rights I want to protect. I’ve been exhausted lately and maybe that’s why the fear hit me so hard after the election. I know how little energy I have left, to fight for my rights and my safety, and I just wanted someone else to take care of it. Some people are out protesting, and others are donating money to good causes, and still others are signing up for newspaper subscriptions online, to support actual journalism over the fake news we’ve gotten used to in our post-factual world. I want to do all of those things, except the protesting. It just looks so exhausting to have to walk through the city like that. Maybe if I had a golf cart…


“I’m good here, Mom. You go without me.”

I’d love to support an organization that helps people of all ages learn how to volunteer in their communities. This has been a lifelong difficulty for me. Where can I volunteer? Who wants my help? How can I find them? More often than not I feel rejected before I even apply, because the brochures are so complicated, and the application process makes me feel unqualified. I know there are groups for kids and teenagers that encourage them to volunteer, I just wish there were more of them, and that they were more sensitive to the less outgoing and confident among us.

I’d love to support an organization that brings pets to home-bound seniors, as well as seniors in nursing homes and rehab centers. Not everyone can take care of a pet full time, but everyone deserves the chance to absorb some of the joy my dogs bring to me.

I’d love to see better education, for everyone, about the services available at the local, state, and federal level, to help people in need – so that you don’t have to be at the end of your rope before you find the supports our society has to offer.

I’d love to see Human Rights and Social Justice classes at the high school and college level instead of just in social work school, so that we can learn the history of oppression in our country, and how we have worked to combat it, and how we can continue to work to move our country forward. Then maybe we could reach a point in our society where we don’t have to deny the history of one group’s suffering in order to take on the suffering of another group as well.

What else do I want for my birthday? I want to lose weight. I want a very long nap. I want to feel hopeful about the future. I want people to stop checking their phones every two minutes while they are talking to me. I want chocolate frosting to be good for my health. I want my dogs to be healthy and happy. I want my Mom to live forever. I want a Harry Potter coloring book. Better yet, I want to go to Hogwarts, or at least get a letter, delivered by an owl, telling me that I have all of the qualifications to go be a witch.


“Mommy’s a witch!”


I’m pretty sure that Cricket and Butterfly have already received their letters. Cricket’s is probably hidden under the couch in the living room, and Butterfly may have eaten hers (she loves the taste of quality card stock). I have to say, I’m flattered that they have chosen to stay with me instead of going off to become mini-witches themselves. It’s just not the choice I would have made myself. I mean, magic wands? Spells? All kinds of new creatures to meet, some of them fluffy? Who could say no to that?



“You can’t come in here, Mommy. Moose will stop you.”


“Did you know that this one tastes different from the TV Guide? Not better, just different.”


“I’m sorry, Mommy. I was desperate.”


Visiting the Boys


Before our most recent visit to my brother’s house in New Jersey, we gave Cricket some doggy Xanax, to see if it could make her a little better behaved. The occasion for this visit was my youngest nephew’s eighth birthday, and my brother insisted that the dogs were invited. He’s terse, but he seemed to be clear. But, Cricket is terrible in the car. Harnesses cannot hold her and she ends up climbing behind my neck, and then trying to insert herself behind her grandma’s shoulder. My job, in the passenger seat, is to make sure that Cricket keeps her paws off the steering wheel.



Butterfly, on the other hand, slept peacefully in the back seat. She was so quiet that I had to aim the camera over my head to catch a picture and make sure she was still alive back there. I couldn’t turn around far enough to see her, what with Cricket balancing on the back of my neck.


If you listen carefully, you can hear her snoring.

By the time we got to a gas station in New Jersey, Cricket was losing her marbles. We always wait until Jersey to fill up the gas tank because they have no gas tax, so it’s significantly cheaper to buy gas there, even if the roads are a bit extra bumpy. Cricket seems to think that gas station attendants are closer to the devil than even Mailmen. She shrieks and throws herself at the car window and scratches the glass in a terrifying fever of activity. Sometimes the guys laugh, but it’s that nervous laugh that means they’re trying very hard not to pee in their pants.

When we were back on the road, I had hopes that Cricket would be calmer, but no. She climbed behind my neck again and then started hyperventilating when she recognized my brother’s neighborhood. When we turned onto their block, she started to whine and dig into my shoulders with her toe nails. We were in the car for two hours, and the Xanax still had not kicked in.

My brother’s driveway was empty, and the only family member in evidence was cousin Lilah – the black lab – standing behind the front door, barking at us. I didn’t have the patience to stand on the stoop and wait with Mom for my brother to appear, so I took the girls on a walk around the block, passing all of us single file through a shovel’s width of clear space in the snow. I’d already done my exercise for the day (ready for birthday cake!), and I was a bit wobbly on my feet, but adrenalin got me through, and as we neared my brother’s house again, the littlest nephew (aka birthday boy) came running to see us, or rather, to see the dogs.

It turned out that they’d been away in the Poconos for five days, and were just returning. Don’t ask me why this did not come up in the planning with my brother. As I said, he’s terse. Lilah had been dropped off by the pet sitter an hour earlier and that was why she was so agitated to be home alone. As soon as my brother opened the front door, to drop off five days’ worth of laundry in the front hall, Lilah raced out to greet the rest of her humans in the street.


Lilah and Cricket

I assumed that this was all preparatory to the whole family going inside, but the minivan was still running, and it turned out that sometime during their drive back from the Poconos, it had been decided that we would be going out for pizza instead of eating at their house. The dogs would have to stay home. My girls would be given the basement, and Lilah would get the rest of the house.


“Are you talking about me?”

I tried not to look into Butterfly’s big brown eyes as we closed the door to the basement. I was angry at the change in plans, and confused about the right thing to do, and feeling guilty because I was actually considering staying behind with the dogs and missing my nephew’s pizza party. Cricket stood on the other side of the basement door and barked her frustration clearly and succinctly, and I had to agree she made a good argument.



When we returned from pizza early (because littlest nephew missed the dogs), Cricket was still standing right at the top of the basement stairs waiting for the door to open (she left drool behind as evidence of her plight). Meanwhile, Lilah had eaten the rabbit food in one human brother’s room, and pooped all over the floor in another brother’s room, to let her family know how she felt about their decision making priorities.

After some screaming and cleanup, we finally ate birthday cake and watched my nephew unwrap his presents. Out of the pile of gifts tottering on the table, partially opened, three boxes contained toy guns, and this inspired the older boys to go and find their own favorite toy guns – bright blue and orange and yellow guns that could not be mistaken for the real thing, but filled with marshmallow sized bullets that actually sting quite a bit when they hit you. My niece was, unsurprisingly, missing from the action, holed up in her bedroom with her iPad.

I held Butterfly on my lap, because she was shivering, and I had to hold Cricket’s leash to keep her from starting a fight with Lilah. I also had to stay alert, because guns kept being aimed at each of our heads.

Cricket finally did calm down, when we returned to the car at the end of the visit. She curled up behind my neck, with her feet shoved behind my back, and fell asleep within minutes. Halfway through the trip, she was snoring into my hair. On an efficacy scale of one to ten, doggy Xanax, zero, house full of boys, ten!


Exhausted puppies.

A Post About Turning Forty


A woman at my synagogue asked me the other day, out of the blue, how old I am, and before I could think I blurted out, “forty.” I had just turned forty three days earlier and it was on the tip of my tongue to say so. And then I got scared. The thing is, I do not look forty. This woman said I looked 20 or 25, and even if she was being nice, I really do look like I could be thirty years old, and I’d rather people think I am younger, because my resume is really short for a forty year old.

We have a lot of expectations about what people will have done by certain ages, and, in an upper middle class, Jewish community on Long Island, these expectations can be unbearably high. Everyone’s kid is successful, and married, and has a nice apartment in the city, or a house in the suburbs. Everyone is very busy, and works out, and has a smart phone glued to their head. I don’t fit in, and I keep thinking, when they realize that I’m not just a ne’er do well thirty year old, but a ne’er do well forty year old, I’ll be kicked out.

In some ways, I feel all forty of those years weighing on me. Everything in my body hurts, and I need naps every day, and some days I feel closer to eighty than to forty. But emotionally, intellectually, I feel like I’m just getting started. There’s so much more that I want to learn and do. There are so many books left to write and left to read. There are so many people to meet and places to go.

I’ve written novels and short stories and essays and poems and drafts and drafts and endless drafts. I’ve taken classes in almost every kind of writing (except journalism, which terrifies me), and earned two masters degrees, and discovered that I will never run out of things to write, or things to learn. I’ve been with the same therapist for twenty years and have been diligent and hard working on every issue. I’m still not done, still not healed, but without all of this work I would be dead, so, thumbs up?

None of this is what I had planned, though. I planned to publish novels. I planned to be on talk shows, and teach writing classes, and meet the president, whoever she happens to be. I planned to drive carpool, and sing my children to sleep, and laugh with my husband every day.

I don’t think Cricket and Butterfly are aware of their ages. Cricket doesn’t look at herself in the mirror and say, Damn, I look good for an eight year old. Butterfly isn’t pacing he floor, worrying that she hasn’t napped enough and time is running out. They don’t judge themselves. They may judge me, but not themselves.

"Hey, skinny dog in the mirror, help me bark for food!"

“Hey, skinny dog in the mirror, help me bark for food!”

Butterfly fits in naps whenever she can.

Butterfly fits in naps whenever she can.

I don’t think Cricket has any concept of getting older. Time passes, sure, but from her point of view, it’s everything outside of herself that’s changing, not something on the inside. She’s the stable center of the world. Just ask her. Butterfly, I think, has a bit more awareness of the changes she’s gone through over time. We celebrate her gotcha day, rather than her birthday, because we don’t know for sure when she was born. She has lumps and bumps on her skin, and diabetes, and a heart murmur to show for her ten years. She gets back spasms when she tries to follow Cricket on her running and jumping sprees. And maybe she can feel in her body how many more years she has left. She’s an intuitive little creature. But actual birthdays? She’s got to be thinking, why would anyone choose to have only one day a year to be celebrated when they could be celebrated every day?

Cricket is always looking for somewhere interesting to go.

Cricket is always looking for somewhere interesting to go.

And Butterfly does her stretches, so that she can keep up with her sister.

And Butterfly does her stretches, so that she can keep up with her sister.

As a child, I felt like I was drowning in failure, even though I did well in school. I couldn’t figure out how to have good friendships, or how to communicate well enough to teachers, or with my parents, to get my needs met. I felt like there was a whole other language that I was supposed to have mastered, but no one was teaching it to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I have to make up that language myself, because most people are in the same boat, unable to articulate the things they most need to say.

Even now, the road forward is anything but clear, and will probably be too slow and take too long and inspire impatience in the people around me. I will hesitate and make mistakes and choose anything but the path they see as being outlined in neon lights, because I can’t see that path at all.

Dogs live much shorter lives than we do, and yet they feel less pressure to achieve great things, or so I assume, because I’ve never seen Cricket at the computer logging on to Kahn Academy. I wonder if, with fewer years to work with, we’d make better choices about how to live them.

For my birthday this year, I want to learn to live more like a dog, to judge myself on who I am first and what my resume says another time, or never. I want to wake up in the morning thinking about what I need, and who I love, and how lovely the snow looks on the pine trees, instead of worrying about all of the milestones I have yet to meet.

I think Cricket and Butterfly are prepared to help me with this.

"What's next?"

“What’s next?”