A Picture Perfect Contract

gckidsMy dearest children,

I am responding to your recent request to cease taking photos of you and posting them on my Facebook page. I have reviewed your arguments thoroughly and taken into account your well-documented complaints regarding the protection of your image and concern over potential parental embarrassment. I am ready to give my ruling on this matter.

As your parent, who is incredibly proud of your inner beauty, outstanding accomplishments and adorable faces, I often feel a strong and innate desire to share your lives with friends and family. While this urge comes on a daily basis, I will do my best not to take photos that may (or may not) be later posted and captioned as “your daily cuteness.”

Let me assure you that I would never intentionally do anything to jeopardize your reputation as the amazing people you are slowly becoming before my very eyes. However, at this time I feel some ground rules should be established when future opportunities of a photographic nature arise. And please do not let the fact that I spent 18 hours of my life in a long and drawn out labor with no epidural with said daughter as well as 6 hours of an incredibly difficult labor (again with no epidural!) with said son…influence you in any way.

Please find my terms below:

  1. Special occasion photos–also known to my generation as “Kodak moments”–will be taken on a regular basis. These include, but are not limited to, the first day of school, the last day of school, all holidays, bar/bat mitzvah, proms, family celebrations and vacations, graduations, etc. You will pose for these photos as directed as long as you live under my roof–and then we can renegotiate.
  2. Purpose- The purpose of these photos are to document your lives in a way that is enjoyable, respectful and representative of your childhood and teenage years. Some photos may be shown to future spouses and grandchildren. The viewing of bar and bat mitzvah videos will not be shown to potential boyfriends and spouses without your permission…but that is a story for another time.
  3. Approval process–I will show you all photos before posting them. Retakes may be required in order to arrive at a mutually-agreed upon picture.
  4. My Promise – I solemnly swear NEVER to take or post a photo or video of you coming out of anesthesia after getting your wisdom teeth pulled. Nor will I take or post photos of you when you are angry or upset in any way, shape or form. You have my word that I will never put you through that kind of torture.

Your compliance of the above guidelines and future cooperation during these photo sessions are greatly appreciated.

With much love,



Deal or No Deal

9th grade JennaOn the first day of school, Jenna came downstairs dressed in an adorable maroon top and jean shorts with her Converse sneakers. It was the perfect outfit for the first day of high school. The next day, she wore another pair of jean shorts and a gray top with a tasteful cut out in the back. I remember thinking about when I was her age and wished I had her great sense of style back then.

The third day, she sat at the breakfast table in a 5K t-shirt and gym shorts. I looked at her and playfully asked, “Do I need to do laundry already?”

Big mistake. Huge!

She rolled her eyes and told me no one else was getting dressed up and she was tired of it already. It was no big deal.

This is her new favorite phrase to say when she thinks I’m overreacting to something. No big deal. She feels I make a big deal about everything when many times I’m just asking a
question– or in this case–trying to be funny.

So, I’ve taken her constructive criticism of my parenting style under advisement and created the Big Deal List. It is a work in progress, but this is what I have so far.

Big Deal

No Big Deal

Her health, happiness & well being Cooking her separate vegetarian meals on a regular basis
Household chores Spilling most of the Starbucks latte I went out of my way to buy for her
Grades Her wardrobe (as long as it is appropriate)
Family time Respecting her need for space after too much family time (ie: family vacations)
Friends Constant requests for money and driving her everywhere
Boys (not there yet, but I see it coming) Minor squabbles with her brother (I know she still loves him)
Kindness & respect to others Occasional teenage eye-rolling


I will try to keep this list in mind and add to it as I pick my battles and navigate our relationship into the next phase. I can’t promise anything, but I will try.

So help me out! What am I forgetting? What is on your list?

Taking A Homework Poll

homeworkIn a recent conversation with my newly minted high school freshman, she informs me that none of her friends’ parents bug them about homework nearly as much as we do. I find that hard to believe, but I could be wrong. When I asked her to elaborate, she proceeded to run down a list of questions we typically pose to her regarding her schoolwork. It was a decent list and she wasn’t wrong. At least I know, she is listening! :)

I certainly don’t want to stress her out, but could this really be true? Don’t we all have (to some degree) a vested interest in our children’s schoolwork? In that spirit, I have put together this quick poll for my readers and fellow parents. I would love to know how much is too much.


Do you:

  • Ask your child (children) how much homework they have that night?
  • Ask your child if they have finished their homework?
  • Ask your child if they need help with their homework?
  • Check their math?
  • Read essays to make sure it (a) makes sense and (b) is in complete and grammatically correct sentences?
  • Help with school projects beyond driving them to Staples or Michael’s for supplies?
  • Visit the teacher wiki-spaces or Google sites on a regular basis?

For the record, we definitely do not DO homework for our kids, but just as my parents did for us – we are involved and interested. I promised my daughter we will loosen the reins regarding her homework this year. Since our son is starting middle school, we will keep a close eye on him for now as he figures out good study habits and manages six teachers instead of one.

So, it is your turn to weigh in. After all, we are in this together! So, how much is too much in the homework checking realm of the parenting world? Inquiring minds want to know. I look forward to your comments.

Bucket Lists & Breaking Points

Me at the Grand Canyon...playing it safe by the guardrail!

Me at the Grand Canyon…playing it safe by the guardrail!

This week, I crossed something off of my bucket list–visiting the Grand Canyon. This spectacular natural wonder of the world did not disappoint. Even on a cloudy day, it was an amazing sight to see. I never felt so alive and so small at the same time. I was excited to take in this beautiful place and it was fun to find the points where the Colorado River flowed through the rocks. I was the first one in my family to spot the bridge that leads to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. I viewed it all from a safe distance behind railings and rock walls.

It was my husband’s idea—God bless him—for all of us to take a mule ride around the rim of the canyon. At the time (in the safety of my home office), I thought it was a wonderful idea. It wouldn’t be my first time. I rode both a mule and a camel in a desert in Israel so I didn’t think twice about doing it again.

I was wrong. So wrong!

Our journey started out with a kind, but fast talking and heavily accented cowboy who explained how to handle the mule. Hold the reins like an ice cream cone with your less dominant hand at the base of the mule’s neck with one hand and hold the saddle knob thingy with your other hand to maintain your balance. Pull the reins left to go left and pull to the right to go right. Pull back to stop. Use the mule motivator (a whip-like strap) on his behind to make him go a little faster.

Easy enough? At least, I think that is what he said. He spoke so quickly and there was no test to take prior to mounting Tin Man–a handsome, milk chocolate colored, 5 foot tall mule. When you add me to the equation, I was over 10 feet off the ground which already made me nervous before we even left the corral. I can’t drive a stick shift, so how am I supposed to handle a mule?

Still, I was game. I went over the safety instructions in my head and again with one of the ranch hands before we ventured forth towards the rim of the canyon. It was a foggy day and I basically let Tin Man do all of the driving. After all, the cowboy said mules have a master’s degree-like training when carrying passengers. I took some comfort that one of us knew what they were doing.

The Tin Man was a mule of all heart–taking great care not to go too fast while keeping up with the rest of the tour. My son and husband were in front of me while my daughter (riding the diva mule named Cher) was lagging behind.

“Are you okay?” my husband yelled out to me. I informed him I wasn’t speaking to him right now as I was concentrating on my balance, my breathing and my fast brewing, impending anxiety attack.

And then we arrived at our first stop at the edge of the canyon. I’m not typically afraid of heights, but there I was two feet away from the Grand Canyon with no guardrail or rock wall between us. I didn’t care if my mule had a master’s degree from Harvard! I couldn’t get it out of my head that one false move and we would both be goners. Once this negative feedback loop was in my brain, I could think of nothing else.

The guide informed me that all stops would be like this and I asked for the nearest taxi cab back to the corral. Does Uber work out here? I had seen enough. Thank you very much. This tour was over for me only a quarter of a mile after it began.

I dismounted the mule and waited for my ride–a Polaris 4×4 to come and pick me up. Before dismounting, I apologized to the guide, my family and fellow tour mates and to Tin Man. I let my mule know it wasn’t him…it was me. I had stepped way too far from my comfort zone and hit my breaking point.

The Grand Canyon was on my bucket list. The mule ride–terrifyingly close to the edge of the mile down depth of the canyon–was not. I realized I didn’t need to have this experience to make my life complete. Funny, I remember having the same inner conversation with myself in Israel as many of my friends rappelled down the side of a mountain. No thanks!

To my chidren’s credit, they stayed on the tour with my husband and had a great time. I waited patiently back at the ranch for their safe return. They came back exhilarated. Several people on the tour, including my husband told me it was a wise decision to go back. If I was having a panic attack seeing the canyon through the fog, imagine what it would have been like when the skies cleared!

I think it is good to know our limits. I would have preferred to know my limits before I got on the mule. But that’s okay, at least I can say I tried.


One More Thing

to doIsn’t there always one more thing that needs to get done before you go to bed. And if you are like me, you always remember what that thing is before you fall asleep. Right?

Last night, I realized I didn’t pack a lunch for Jenna. Normally, this would be no big deal and she is certainly old enough to pack her own lunch. But, today she is leaving on a 3 day bus trip to Virginia and had to leave at 5:30 this morning. And to her credit, she packed her own bag for the trip so the least I could do was make her lunch. Of course, I completely forgot to do it and it was 11:30 pm before it came to mind.

And then, the “oh-shits” began in my head:

Oh shit – Will I remember to pack her lunch in the morning?

Oh shit – Will I get up early enough to make it?

Oh-shit -What do I have for her to eat? As a vegetarian, packing lunches on the go for her can be quite challenging.

Yes, I suppose I could have just jumped out of bed right then and there to make her lunch, but I was exhausted. Before I could will myself awake, I simply conked out. There was no freaking way I could have done one more thing in my already busy day. I managed to get everything else done on my to do list including: sending the kids off to day camp,  going to the dentist and then to work, making a healthy dinner (complete with zucchini fries – yum!), washing, drying, and putting away the dishes, and running 2 loads of laundry. I also managed to remember to go to the ATM for spending money for Jenna’s trip. BONUS POINTS!

Luckily, I woke up in time to make her lunch and there was plenty of food for her to take on the long bus ride. Although she is not a morning person, I was able to coax her out of bed at an ungodly hour, feed her breakfast and pack her last minute pair of shorts that she asked me to wash.

Today, I’m off to a great start and it is only 6 am. I just can’t help but wonder what that “one more thing” is going to be before my head hits the pillow tonight.

What I Didn’t Post On Facebook

Some people tell me I put my entire life on Facebook, but it isn’t really true.

Yes, I do enjoy posting on a daily basis–sometimes even several times a day. I like to “check in” at different locations like a trendy restaurant with friends or while sitting at my son’s baseball game. On occasion, I’ve been known to kvetch about lengthy to-do lists, wishing for a clone to magically appear and save the day.

Here is what I didn’t write about on Facebook this year:

  • My mom’s back surgery and her not-so-smooth recovery;
  • Another close relative’s unexpected open heart surgery that took place two weeks after my mom came home from the hospital. And the surgery took place on Jenna’s 14th birthday;
  • A second surgery for him about a month later – both of which were life-saving procedures;
  • My whirlwind initiation into the sandwich generation–taking care of aging parents and dependent children who understood everything that was going on and had lots of questions I didn’t know how to answer;
  • Dealing with all of the above and working a full time job where I planned, implemented and attended 2 back-to-back holiday programs and 4 major events in the course of 3 months. This would be a challenge for even the most experienced program director under normal circumstances;
  • Trying so hard to be “on” for everyone else in my personal and professional life even though on the inside my light was turned off;
  • My futile attempts to attain perfection as I kept track of a jam-packed calendar of kids’ activities, meetings, and doctors’ appointments. I would spend many early mornings filling out forms, checking homework, cleaning the house and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Needless to say, the first half of 2015 was rough for me. Checking in on Facebook from the surgical waiting room at Jefferson Hospital or from the intensive cardiac care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was not possible. I was so overwhelmed by both experiences and I couldn’t bear to read the comments which would surely follow.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes support is incredibly wonderful and other times it can be suffocating? I wasn’t prepared for either scenario.

So I kept it all inside–which turned out not to be a good idea either. As a result of all of the above and some other underlying factors, I also kept the following aspect of my life off of Facebook – I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. My symptoms included shaking and crying often for no particular reason, total exhaustion, out of the blue panic attacks, stomach issues, and an overall loss of appetite. I would literally stare at a small, plastic container of Greek yogurt willing myself to eat the whole thing—often leaving half of it untouched. And I LOVE Greek yogurt!

What started this? I don’t know the exact cause because there isn’t one thing I can pin it on. However, my fears of not getting everything done and done well may have been what ultimately did me in. Ever since grade school, I’ve been known as the conscientious and dependable one. My teachers even wrote it on my report cards. People rely on those qualities in me every day and I thrive on that. I give 110% to everything I do with passion and determination, but I guess I just ran out of steam.

My grandmother used to say do everything, wear everything, and enjoy everything in the best of health. Boy, she was so right! I am happy to report that everyone is healthy–including me–and we are all enjoying life again. I continue to bounce back thanks to the love and support from my amazing family and closest friends as well as some excellent doctors and a little medication. :)

So why am I sharing this with you now? This blog is called Life Without A Manual for a good reason. Sometimes life throws you curve balls that hit you square in the head. Very often you don’t see it coming. You become so dizzy, confused, and upset that you think you can’t find a way out–until eventually you do find a way out.

THERE IS NO MANUAL. But there are people around you who love you who can pick you back up, be there in your time of need, get you through the hard days, and help you move forward. To those people who were there for me, I am sending you a heartfelt thank you. You all know who you are.

There is always a way out and I hope that sharing some of my story will help others who may be suffering in silence.

Ready Or Not, Here They Come!

kids at camp togetherActually, I am ready. I’m ready for my house to be filled with piles of camp laundry to wash, dry and put away. (Did I really just say that?) I’m ready to wake up to the smiles of my children first thing in the morning.

I’m ready for someone to call me Mom again.

Camp Heisman has been swell. Scott and I have reconnected and spent lots of quality time together. Long summer walks and great conversations have been a key part of our staycation. Day trips, dinners out, working hard at our jobs, and hanging out with good friends was a big part of our “camp” activities. Meanwhile, our children enjoyed a wonderful 3 1/2 weeks at overnight camp connecting with old friends, making new ones, pushing themselves past their comfort zones, solving their own problems, and spreading their wings.

On Sunday, they will come home and the rest of our summer will begin. Jenna will take her place as a CIT at day camp while Andrew joins another bunk of friends. We will put Tube Night back on the calendar on Wednesdays and head over to our local swim club on a regular basis. And an amazing family vacation is only weeks away.

Some of our friends send their kids to overnight camp for both sessions and they encourage us to do the same. I applaud them for continuing to support their children as they spread their wings, but it is not my plan to follow suit. While I love to watch the kids grow as people, I also want them to keep planting some roots at home. Soon enough, college will take them away from us for much longer periods of time. Vacations with their friends will be the priority for them as they continue to fly away from our nest and start their own lives. So, we have decided to send them for one session of camp only (as long as we can afford it!). But then we want them home with us–while they are still legally required to be there. :)

Meanwhile, bring on the laundry, the camp stories, the sleepovers, the smiles, the constant shout outs demanding something from me. I’m ready for them to come home.

I’m A Little Obsessed With My Fitbit

fitbtThe other day, I was on my knees in the middle of DSW in a slightly panicked state of mind. I was searching for my Fitbit Flex which must have fallen off my wrist only 20 minutes ago. I didn’t realize it was missing until I came home from shoe shopping–proudly carrying 3 cute new pairs of sandals. I changed out of my work clothes, looked down and saw my bare wrist. The Fitbit was gone.

I rummaged through my bags and checked the floor of my car thoroughly. It was definitely not there. I didn’t even say goodbye to my family as I grabbed my keys, backed out of the driveway and made my way back to DSW. I retraced my steps through the parking lot praying someone didn’t run it over. I was so mad at myself. I just spent $100 on that damn thing and I lost it. Besides, we were at the start of a beautiful friendship.

I threw open the door to DSW and asked the first 3 people I saw if anyone turned in a Fitbit. The saleswoman didn’t think so and immediately put out an APB on my device to the other workers in the store. Soon, everyone was glancing down to help me look. I said another little prayer that no one already walked away with it.

I held out hope as I walked through the aisles of sandals, shoes, and sneakers. Ten minutes later, I found it right near the black wedged sandals I decided against buying. It must have slipped off my wrist as I was contemplating which pair to buy. The search was called off, people went back to their lives and the salespeople congratulated me. Relieved, I attached it back to my wrist and went home.

This is the life of a woman obsessed with her Fitbit. For some reason, this lightweight, plastic bracelet has really got a hold on me. It motivates me to park my car a little further from the front door of the office. It reminds me to take the stairs instead of the elevator. When I’m a good girl, the Fitbit rewards me with badges I can post on Facebook. It even encourages me to go to bed a little earlier so as to get the right amount of REM sleep. And since it is equipped with a built in alarm, its gentle vibrations against my skin wake me up every morning.

Hmm…maybe I’m getting a little too close to my Fitbit. Is there a support group out there for me? I’ll even walk there if it helps me acquire more steps for the day.


At the end of every day, we check in with each other to see how many steps I took, how many miles I traveled, how many calories I burned off, and how many minutes of exercise I can take credit for. Today, I proudly walked 10,653 steps which equals 4.3 miles, and 1,912 calories burned. I also spent 36 minutes exercising. It was a good day for us.

Losing it forever would have been hard to get over, but I would have managed somehow without it. Right now, I just prefer not to.

Camp Heisman

Eight years ago, Scott & I went on a Royal Caribbean cruise to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We left the kids with their grandparents for the week while we frolicked and played on the high seas. We laid out on the pool deck drinking cocktails, drove jet skis in Haiti, climbed Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, swam with the stingrays in Grand Cayman, and toured Cozumel on segways. Throughout the entire vacation away from the chaos at home, we were reminded how much we really enjoy each other’s company and why we got married in the first place. It was like falling in love all over again.

This summer, we don’t need to go away to have a good time. We are experiencing a “staycation” while both kids attend overnight camp in the Poconos. We are taking nice walks at night, having great conversations during the day, and staying in bed a little longer in the mornings. Our relaxing agenda consists of to do items like hanging out with friends, going out to dinner, and discovering the wonders of Netflix.

By the way, I don’t know why it took us so long to take advantage of this plethora of great TV at our fingertips!

Anyway, we purposely made no big plans for these weeks so we could just “be.” The first six months of this year were rocky to say the least with several family illnesses–including my own battle with anxiety accompanied by some crippling panic attacks. (More on that later.) Thankfully everyone, including myself, is on the mend, but 2015 has been the year of the unexpected.

To kickstart the 2nd half of the year, I am referring to our staycation affectionately as “Camp Heisman.” It is a new beginning. A fun little haven of adult conversation and activities in the comforts of our own home. Hot showers and good food are standard. Clothing is optional. (Sorry Mom & Dad).  And while we miss our kids so much, we know they needed a break too. We all deserve this little hiatus which is probably why I do not feel at all guilty about our current situation.

In a little more than two weeks, we will be one big happy family under one roof again. Things will pick up right where they left off. Jenna and I will watch and analyze episodes of The Bachelorette while Andrew catches up on American Ninja Warriors. Tube Night at the pool will go back on the calendar. Clothes and kid clutter will give the house that “lived in” look again. Conversations about camp, friends, school and life in general will come back to the minivan–where it is frankly a little too quiet for me these days. Soon enough, my life will be exactly like this again (click here).

For now, my plan is to lay low and take it easy while it lasts. Maybe we will go to a movie during the week or out to dinner. Perhaps, we will jump in the car for a day trip or two. And I should probably finish my novel for book club–or actually start it. Most importantly, I am grateful to be able to give our kids some wings, take a break from it all and enjoy this time together as husband and wife.

The Mom & The Mohawk

My son’s mohawk has been a summer staple in our family for the last 5 years. He waits all school year long to make the journey to Great Clips. He knows we don’t allow the mohawk between the months of September and June because don’t want any major distractions to interfere with his studies.

Not that I have any scientific evidence which correlates hairstyles to good grades, but I’m his mom and I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

Summertime is different. We don’t mind him letting loose and expressing himself in this way. He loves the look and quite frankly, I think it is adorable.

Not everyone in the family agrees with me. The grandparents don’t like it one bit which is why I waited until after the annual Father’s Day barbecue this year to get it cut. Mohawks are synonymous with rebels like Mr. T or some of the people who walk down South Street in Philly. Not a look for their grandson. Of course, they love him anyway and take comfort in the knowledge that his hair grows back quickly.

Some supporters of the mohawk suggest I have him dye it red or blue. To them, I say no thank you. He is a boy, not a clown. I appreciate your support, but this is as far as I go.

He started with the mohawk after he joined the swim team. All of the other boys were sporting them and he begged me for one too. I was hesitant at first, but he wanted it so badly and I relented. I reasoned it wasn’t like a piercing or anything permanent.

When he came home for the first time with the shaved sides and landing strip down the middle, it was shocking to see. It was also the first time I saw my youngest look more like a little man. I admit I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but within a day I embraced his new look wholeheartedly. He made it so much easier because he loved it and–let’s face it–he rocked it.

This summer, he is trading in swim meets for overnight camp in the Poconos. A few of his synagogue friends are going to camp with him but for the most part, he will be making a lot of new friends. I thought this might be the end of the Mohawk. But I was wrong.

As June rolled around, he couldn’t stop talking about it and is even more excited to show his choice of summer hairstyles at camp. His sister tried to deter him. As a veteran of the same camp, she gave him the lay of the land and told him no one else had a mohawk. He was not at all phased by this information. In fact, it seemed to make him want it even more.

I pulled him aside one day and quietly asked if he thought it was wise as he was going to a brand new camp with people he didn’t know. I didn’t tell him I feared he would be made fun of and not be accepted by his peers–although this has always been my worry.

His answer shut me up once and for all.

“Mom, I’m a leader. Not a follower.”


How can a parent argue with that?!  And then I realized a few things. This is a kid with a boatload of confidence and I raised him to be that way. What kind of mom would I be if I didn’t respect his choices to be an individual? Within reason…of course.

The mohawk may be a shocker at first, but if I know Andrew (and I think I do…) he will quickly win people over with his huge smile, great sense of humor, athletic skills, and wonderful personality. At 11 years old, he knows exactly who he is and he can’t wait to show it.

They say you are only young once and we all know it to be true. He isn’t sporting a mohawk at school, in an office setting and he certainly will not have one at his bar mitzvah next year. I’ll admit, he did have it for a family funeral. We really had no choice there. It was purely bad timing.

There is no better place than summer camp for him to have a little fun. Fun is what summer is all about! Seriously, there is no harm in it. And as his mom, I look past the mohawk and straight into his beautiful green eyes. He is still my son and he makes me incredibly proud.

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