Compassion For a Military Man

I was sitting at the dining room table with my father when I said it.

We were playing backgammon while Trudy and our relatives were sitting behind me in the living room, watching television. I could see the steam rising from the cup of tea he had just poured himself. My tongue was still tingling from the single-malt Scotch sitting in front of me. I smiled as I took my turn; I was about to beat my father handily for the second straight game. Then, while my father was getting ready to roll the dice, I blurted it out.

“Tell me some Grandpa stories.”

My father stopped shaking the dice and looked at me. The edges of his lips curved upwards in the slightest hint of a smile.

“I can tell you stories or I can focus on the game. I can’t do both.”

I chuckled and said we should finish playing first. In retrospect, I should have quit while I was ahead and had him tell the stories; he ended up winning the best-of-five series.1 When we had finished, he leaned back in his chair, clasped his fingers in front of him and asked, “What kinds of stories are you looking for?”

I thought for a minute before answering.

“I don’t really know who Grandpa was.”

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My grandfather holding my father, who apparently was a cute kid.

I knew a lot about my mother’s parents. I knew about their childhoods living in India, their immigration to the United States and their lives as parents and grandparents. I knew a fair amount about my father’s mother, from being born in Mexico and raised there and in Cuba to living in the United States after she got married. I knew that she and my father moved with my grandfather every two years with each new military station assignment. I knew these stories because my grandparents were all still alive and had been able to tell me themselves.

But it occurred to me recently that I knew very little about my father’s father, who passed away when I was very young. I knew he had been a radio andimg_2754communications operator in the Air Force and that he served in North Africa during World War II. I knew one or two stories about him joining the military and about his interactions with his relatives. I knew that anytime I saw Harry Caray on television when I was little, I pointed to the screen and said, “Grandpa!” because they both had white hair and glasses. (This picture of him and my grandmother was obviously taken long before his hair turned white.) And I knew that I had been named for him.2 But that was about it.

I decided that I wanted to know everything. What kind of a husband had he been? Had he been an involved father? How did he get along with other people? What did he do for fun?

“Maybe just start at the beginning?” I suggested.

My father shrugged and pursed his lips. His eyebrows raised slightly as his face took on the expression that I know I make all too often. It’s the face I make whenever I’m about to start a task and I’m not sure how things are going to turn out. It’s the expression that says, “Okay, here goes nothing.”

He began speaking about my grandfather’s life as a young man, from making a living as an ice delivery man to driving his brother from Philadelphia to Tucson. He told me how my grandfather joined the Air Force, made it through basic training and had begun his introductory flight lessons before someone realized he was wearing glasses. That’s why he ended up as a radio operator; military pilots can’t wear corrective lenses. He spoke about his relationship with my grandfather, his memories of the interactions between his parents and the ways my grandfather’s personality changed as he got older.

I was surprised by the conversation. The bits and pieces I had heard about my grandfather previously had been largely positive. My grandfather was, by most accounts, img_2757.jpgfairly well-liked and treated people well. He made decisions rationally and served his country both in times of war and peace. And yet, there were aspects of his personality that were decidedly less so, like his rigidity in terms of his expectations of others or his limitations as a father and husband. I suppose I should not have been shocked to hear that my grandfather had imperfections; he was human, after all. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed but I certainly found myself with some new perspectives about my father and his parents.

That being said, I also don’t regret asking about my grandfather. I asked the questions because I was looking for a stronger connection to my past and I found what I was looking for. Part of growing up is coming to the realization that our parents aren’t invincible beings who have all the answers.3 We all have to come to grips with the knowledge that our parents and grandparents have strengths and weaknesses and that some of their decisions turned out better than others. Our kids will go through the same process with us as they get older. We just have to try to have compassion for those who came before us so that we can understand where they came from. Hopefully, our children will try to find the same compassion when they think about us.


1. He killed me in those games. The second game was a double game; he got all of his pieces off the board before I got any, which means that his victory counted for two games. The tiebreaker was a single game but it really wasn’t close.

2. My grandfather’s name was Hyman, but my father said he never would have forced that on me. Instead, he and my mother named me Aaron, which, in Hebrew, is Aharon. The Hebrew word, har, means “mountain.” Hyman became “high man,” which became “mountain dweller,” which became Aaron.

3. With all due respect to Dennis Green, they might not be who we thought they were.

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Parents Plan and Kids Laugh

I had it all planned out.

I had a great post in mind for this week. It was about how I use logic whenever I can to make decisions and how usually those decisions work out well for me. They sometimes don’t, obviously, because the world is not always a logical place.1 But, most of the time, logic steers me in the right direction.

I was going to write about how parents of young children don’t always get the opportunity to use logic to make decisions. There are certain areas where logic always applies, like keeping toys with little pieces away from babies so they don’t wind up choking or changing one’s approach to a teen in order to create more positive interactions. But there are so many times in parenting – when you find that your son has taken it upon himself to unlock the front door and take his sister trick or treating without telling anyone, for instance – where logic seems to just fly out the window.

I had a perfect scenario to write about too. Eitan had been misbehaving in the morning when he was supposed to be getting ready for school and he had started doing so somewhat frequently. It was fairly typical behavior for his age; Eitan wanted to watch television or he didn’t want to stop playing or he wanted to tie his pants around his head like a bandanna. It was attention-seeking behavior and Eitan was making sure he got what he was looking for, even if it meant he got negative attention instead of positive.

Here’s a quick lesson about the three kinds of attention. Positive attention is just what it sounds like: showing your child that you love them by complimenting them, spending time with them and being affectionate. Negative attention comes up when parents are angry with their children and have to discipline them. The last kind – the worst kind for children – is no attention. Kids need attention in order to feel valued and to develop their identities, just as adults do. If kids feel ignored or neglected, they’re going to start acting out until someone starts paying attention, which is just what Eitan was doing. He was sending me the message that he wanted me to spend less time emptying the dishwasher and preparing his lunch and more time playing with him.

The logical response, as I had planned to write in the original post, was to start making sure that the tasks I had been completing in the morning were done the night before. I started taking showers at night instead of the morning and Trudy and I began preparing Eitan’s lunch every evening, among other things. They were small tasks, of course, but they added up to a significant chunk of time that I was then able to shift from busywork to reading or playing with Eitan.

I was going to write about how well it had worked. I was going to say how nice it was that implementing a logical solution to a problem had yielded immediate results. It was like a light switch had flipped; Eitan suddenly started getting himself together much more quickly in the morning and the arguments seemed to occur much less frequently. On some mornings when I hadn’t finished everything the night before, we saw Eitan’s behavior start to revert back to his previous antics.

I keep referring to what I would have written because today didn’t fit the pattern. I showered last night and my work bag was all together. Trudy got Eitan’s lunch together last night and we ran the dishwasher in advance so I could empty it before bed instead of in the morning. When the kids and I were up this morning, I sat with Eitan for a half hour. We read some of his books and played with a sticker book. The plan had worked to perfection, as I had plenty of time to sit with Eitan and give him positive attention and still get breakfast together before school.

Except it wasn’t perfect. Eitan started goofing off after breakfast; he threw his pajamas up in the air instead of putting them in the laundry and getting dressed. He started taking out toys instead of putting his backpack in the stroller. A request for Eitan to go to the bathroom before leaving for school sent him into hysterics.  The time that could have been spent relaxing together before it was time to leave was instead spent arguing about the fact that we were now running late.

I’m not really angry, of course;2 most of what Eitan was doing was pretty typical behavior for a five-year-old. Kids goof off and they don’t have the same concepts of time or urgency as adults do. At their cores, kids just want to play and be acknowledged and validated; again, just like adults. The frustrating part was that Trudy and I implemented a plan that had worked in the past and executed it pretty well in this instance and it still didn’t work.

It reminded me of the saying that the day a parent becomes an expert at parenting a five-year-old is the day before the child’s sixth birthday. Kids’ personalities are changing every day; they learn so much so quickly that parents just have to do their best to keep up. Parents can – and should – learn from their mistakes and change their approaches as much as they can but it is still difficult to predict results with any sort of accuracy. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law tends to hold true, especially with young children. If there is any opportunity for children to get into mischief, they are going to find it. Neither Eitan nor Shayna are old enough to pitch yet, but they still manage to throw curveballs at us every day.

 


1. I’m not going to give you examples. You know what I’m talking about.

2. Not anymore, at least. I was pretty annoyed at the time, though.

Sleep Like a Baby? Yeah, Right.

I’ve been sleeping on the couch for almost a week. Not only that, another man has taken my spot in the bed.

I’m not in the proverbial doghouse; I haven’t done anything to make Trudy upset with me, although one of our doormen seems to think I have.1 There’s also nothing wrong with my bed; I’m not on the couch because the mattress has a spring sticking out or anything. The couch is just where I’ve been sleeping recently. It’s actually really comfortable, but, of course, I’d rather be in my bed.

As with so many parenting situations, I have to sleep on the couch because of my children.

Shayna was terribly sick two weeks ago. She was congested, coughed up a storm and had a fever for over a week, which occasionally rose as high as 103 degrees. She saw doctors on four straight days at one point to monitor her temperature, get an x-ray to check for pneumonia and to make sure the rash that suddenly broke out all over her body wasn’t an allergic reaction. The doctors concluded, after ruling out the more serious and terrifying diseases, that she had fallen victim to approximately seventy-five viruses all at once.2

Shayna is fine now. Her fever finally broke (on day eight!) and the rash that made her look like a mutant faded after a couple of days. Her sleep schedule, though, had been thrown completely out of whack because she kept waking up from the coughing. The quickest way to get Shayna back to sleep is usually for Trudy to nurse her, which makes sense when Shayna’s sick and needs the comfort, but is sort of annoying when she’s healthy. Shayna knows how to sleep through the night, so Trudy and I would rather not wake up if we don’t have to. Sometimes Shayna’s sleep patterns get altered, though, so we need to remind her how to go back to sleep without nursing.

That’s where I come in.

I usually get up with Trudy anytime she nurses Shayna at night, in case Eitan starts stirring while we’re in the room or Shayna finishes nursing but doesn’t fall asleep right away. Whenever we’re sleep training her, though, I have to be the only person Shayna sees in the middle of the night. If I come in and close the door behind me then Shayna knows she won’t be nursing. This leads her to start protesting, usually fairly loudly. We would rather not take the chance that Eitan get woken up by her crying so he sleeps on my side of the bed for a few days and I sleep on the couch. That way, Eitan and Trudy don’t get woken up whenever Shayna’s whimpering starts coming through the baby monitor and Trudy saves up a little more energy for dealing with a sick child3 the next day.

The time it takes for Shayna to fall back to sleep varies. It helps that Shayna actually understands instructions now because I can come in to her standing in the crib, tell her to lie down and she usually does it. Or, if I’ve picked her up and she points to the door to say that she wants me to bring her to Mommy, I can say, “No, we’re not going out,” and she leans her head down on my shoulder. Sometimes she puts her head down right away and sometimes she keeps crying for a bit. I was up with Shayna for close to two hours for the first two nights but it was less time after that. She slept straight through last night so we’ll probably give her at least one more night just to make sure. My fingers are crossed.

This is one of those processes that new parents don’t find out about until they’re faced with it. Everyone knows that parents of young children are deprived of sleep, but it usually gets discussed in terms of newborns waking up three or four times each night to eat. Afterward, the discussion becomes all about training the baby to fall asleep (and stay asleep) on his or her own. Countless methods have been developed on the subject, all of which claim to be effective, even though many of them contradict each other. Even with all of that research, however, I don’t remember reading any references to the effects of baby sleep training on the trainers. It seems that the real message here, outside of describing what it’s like to have a sick child and the teamwork needed to survive it, is a tip for expecting parents:

Invest in a comfortable couch. You never know when it’s going to come in handy.


1. I walked in with flowers last Friday and he gave me a wink and a smile. “Flowers for the lady, eh? What’d you do wrong?”

2. Okay, fine, they said it was three or four viruses. But they definitely all came at once and that rash was freaking scary so, for Trudy and me, it might as well have been seventy-five.

3. Or sick children, as things usually work out.

High Stakes

Dear Eitan and Shayna,

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.

It’s a dangerous pastime, I know,1 but it’s one of the reasons I haven’t published a new post in around three months.

I’ve had a couple of posts that I’ve started and then scrapped. There was the one about it taking a village to raise a child that had to do with the grandmother at the beach club who gave me a suggestion that helped Shayna stop screaming so I could get her to take a nap in her stroller. There was the one about watching Eitan grow over the course of the summer and watching the transitions he made during his first year at summer camp. There were a few about the ways you two interact together, some about our community of friends in our neighborhood and more than a few about the different events in our political sphere.

But I haven’t really finished any of them. I actually started to write a couple of times, but nothing ever felt quite right. My hesitations were due in part to my having trouble fleshing out some of my ideas into a fuller post that actually spoke to people and partially due to sheer exhaustion (it was a busy summer in a number of ways).

The biggest reason, though, was that I had been putting too much pressure on myself.

We live in interesting times.2 Our President is an old man who cares more about maintaining his popularity and his coverage in the media than he does about actually helping the citizens of our country. Dictators on the other side of the planet seem bent on bringing our country to an end and, if they don’t manage to succeed, Mother Nature has gotten so angry about people not paying attention to her that she may just finish the job herself. Americans are at odds with each other about topics like healthcare, tax reform and the fate of people who kneel for the national anthem. I was listening to a podcast recently where the guest, an African-American writer who had just published a piece online about Colin Kaepernick, said that he would so much rather be writing about mundane topics than heavy think-pieces. He said that he felt like he had to write the think-pieces, however, because “the stakes are too high.” The heavy think-pieces were too important for him to pass them up.

That’s what I was doing to myself. I was telling myself that there are too many important things happening in the world today for me to write about such small issues like watching Eitan walking to school with a backpack nearly as big as he is or watching Shayna’s face light up when I open the front door when I come home from work. How could I spend my time writing about telling Eitan off-the-cuff stories about the Star Wars movies at bedtime when anti-Semitism, racism and countless other isms literally threaten people’s lives on a daily basis? I may not have the ongoing readership numbers of a major media company – my monthly views are a fraction of even most parenting blogs, for that matter – but I know that I have a solid number of regular subscribers who look forward to reading what I have to say. I have to imagine that those subscribers – including you, as you’re reading this now – are at least somewhat curious about where I stand on some of these issues which, again, are too impactful for me to just leave them to someone else.

And yet, that’s exactly what I was doing. I didn’t end up writing about Kaepernick or Russia or climate change. I wrote one post about health care reform and that was back when the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was still in the House of Representatives. I left the writing to the “professionals” because I felt too uninformed or inexperienced or just plan tired to work at actually figuring out my thoughts on the issues. I kept feeling like I should be writing about something, though, instead of leaving the blog to go dormant for three months.

As you can see, I finally decided to start up again by getting back to my roots. This all started as a parenting blog and evolved into, for all intents and purposes, a journal of my thoughts and experiences. It is a space for me to offer my thoughts on certain subjects, both for my peers to see today and, hopefully, for the two of you to read in the future. I’ll still end up giving my opinions about some of the heavier issues if I feel like I have something to say but I think, in general, I’m going to be working more with what I know. At some point, you may find yourselves wondering who your father was and what kinds of things affected him on a daily basis; I hope I’ve given you some material to answer some of those questions.

As far as moving forward is concerned, I would like to try to get back into the swing of things. September was a busy month, between changes at work, the start of the new school year and the High Holidays (not to mention the fact that I started the month by burning my foot by stepping on a piece of charcoal).3 That being said, the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are designed to help us reflect on our lives and look for ways to improve ourselves. This post may be a few weeks late for a “New Years Resolution” but I guess it’s better late than never to make a decision to start writing more consistently.

There certainly is no shortage of material.

Love,

Daddy


1. If you just heard Lefou and Gaston in your head, give yourself a pat on the back.

2. Now there’s an understatement. Also, apparently that phrase being an ancient Chinese curse is actually a myth.

3. Before you scold me for being barefoot while I was barbecuing, let me just say that I was at the beach. Everyone is barefoot at the beach.

Featured image credit: CC0 Creative Commons

A Portrait of the Artist As an Old(er) Man

I got checked out by a woman when I went out a couple weekends ago.

Hang on, it’s not what you think.

It was around 9:30 on Saturday evening. I wouldn’t say that the streets were packed, but it seemed like a busy evening. There were groups of people milling about outside the restaurants and more making their ways through the streets, plus a few who seemed to just be standing and listening to the music echoing from the concert at the stadium nearby. I had stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change when she walked by.

She looked to be in her early 20s. She had done her hair and was wearing a dark jacket and jeans. I had been watching the oncoming traffic when I heard her heels clacking against the sidewalk. I looked up just in time to see her smile and quickly return her attention to watching herself in her phone as she ran her fingers through her hair.

Actually, it was really more of a smirk than a smile.

The differences between us couldn’t have been clearer. She was talking to someone on the phone as she walked; I was standing alone. She was going “out;” I was going to Target. She was young, I was old (…er). She had clearly put effort into her appearance; I was wearing this:

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I’m fairly certain I’ve had these exact clothes since I was in college.

She wasn’t checking me out because she thought I was attractive; she was laughing at me.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear: I was not insulted. I remember being 20-something and feeling like the world was at my fingertips. That’s how 20-somethings are supposed to feel. They are supposed to think that the world is full of possibilities and that they are at the center of it all. They are supposed to think, at least to a certain degree, that they know everything; at least, certainly more than anyone who is old (…er!) or who doesn’t fit into their social circle.

There I was, standing on a street corner, two days shy of my 34th birthday, with two finally sleeping children and an exhausted wife at home. I looked less like an gainfully employed adult supporting a family than I did like a college student taking out the garbage in the hallway of his dorm.

I found myself asking two questions. The first, obviously, had to do with what other people were thinking as I walked by. My feelings were clear: I was under-dressed to even be making a quick run to CVS, let alone moving among people who were out for a night on the town. I felt conspicuous, as though every person who saw me was immediately thinking of some sort of judgment about me. “Look at that guy,” I could practically hear them saying to their friends. “He’s got the drawstrings hanging out of the front of his shorts, he’s wearing flip-flops in 50-degree weather and he’s probably had that sweatshirt since he was actually in college. That must have been like twenty years ago.”1 My usual impulse to play the contrarian role seemed to have less will behind it on that particular evening.

The second was, “Why should I care what they’re thinking?” By most typical measures of success in life,2 I have it made. As I mentioned, I had two beautiful sleeping children and an unbelievable wife – who was not yet sleeping – at home. I have multiple jobs, including a private therapy practice, a post-graduate education and a savings account. What do I have to feel uncomfortable about? Am I really that insecure or was I just temporarily yearning for the times when I was young(…er)?

I decided that what I was feeling was normal. I imagine that, to a certain extent, everyone longs for a time when they had fewer responsibilities and had the luxury of putting their effort into spending time with their friends or going to parties instead of making late night runs to the drug store. On a more basic level, I imagine that many adults at least think about the difference between first going out at 9:30 at night and having been wearing one’s pajamas for twenty minutes by the time 9:30 comes. It wasn’t about the girl or my clothes or the fact that my glasses and the stubble on my face from not having shaved combined to spell “exhaustion” across my forehead. It was about being reminded of where I am in my life and being happy with what I have.

I’m thankful for the fact that I’m employed, even if it feels like the work never ends. I appreciate the fact that I’m able to support my family financially so that my wife can stay home with our children. I’m lucky to have access to resources and the awareness that I’m significantly privileged so that Trudy and I can impart the same awareness to our kids as they get older. There are some challenges in my life, to be sure, but they’re not nearly as severe as those than many other people face on a daily basis. I wouldn’t change a thing.


1. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2005. It was twelve years ago.

2. Including The Game of Life, where the very object of the game is to get married, raise a family, make a whole bunch of money and retire. This game may end up being the subject of a future blog post.

Eishet Chayil

We don’t get many chances to have meals together as a family during the week. Between home visits and secondary jobs, I often don’t get home before 8:00, which means that Eitan and Shayna have usually been asleep for at least an hour by the time I walk in the door. I can sometimes FaceTime with them to say hi, wish them sweet dreams and get an up close view of Shayna’s tiny teeth when she puts Trudy’s phone in her mouth but that’s about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to walk into a quiet apartment after a long day of work, but nothing beats seeing Eitan and Shayna’s faces light up when I walk through the door.

It’s one of the reasons why Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is so important to us. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from Friday evening through Saturday evening. There are official rules that describe what constitutes “work” which I won’t get into here.(1) The important part is that Friday night is the time that we spend together as a family. We eat dinner together at the same table, have conversations about our days or our plans for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company.

Before we get to the meal, we light candles to signify the start of Shabbat and then sit down at the table. We sing two songs before making kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Then Eitan recites the motzi, the blessing over the challah, and we start eating.

A couple of months ago, Eitan was getting antsy while I was singing Eishet Chayil. He didn’t seem like he was being rude intentionally, but he was clearly bored and tired and wanted attention (as four-year-olds often are). He began making faces at Shayna, tugging at his clothes and playing with his silverware. I stopped singing and asked him to sit quietly until I was finished. He did so, for the most part, though he continued to fidget slightly for the next few minutes.

Once we started eating, I asked him if he knew what the songs we sing before kiddush were about. He said that he knew that the first song, Shalom Aleichem, is special for Shabbat. I agreed and said that it is about bringing people together for Shabbat and wanting peace for the people we love.  I asked if he had never noticed me looking at anyone while I sing the second song and he said that he has seen me look at Trudy. I said that he was right and explained that the second song, Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”), is about all the amazing things that Mommy does for our family every day. It took some slight prodding to keep him focused (he was still trying to make faces at Shayna), but he was able to come up with a number of things that Trudy does for us at home, including cooking delicious dinners, keeping the house clean and taking care of him when he is sick.

Gratitude is a concept that can be somewhat difficult for young children. They understand the idea behind saying “thank you” as an acknowledgment of receiving a gift but it’s hard for them to keep those words in mind regarding other tasks that are not necessarily as tangible. Eitan doesn’t see the effort it takes to keep track of his doctors appointments and school functions, for instance, or the coordination that goes into planning his birthday parties, two tasks that Trudy handles masterfully. He doesn’t understand the organizational skills necessary to keep track of countless Carter’s and Children’s Place receipts or the patience it takes to make three hours with two kids under five – including baths, dinner and bedtime routines – run seamlessly. He certainly doesn’t see the way an emotionally and physically drained parent collapses onto the couch in the evening after a day of whining, nursing and the occasional tantrum.

To be clear, I don’t fully understand those things either. I spend most of my days (and, often, my evenings, as well) at my desk or on the subway or in other people’s homes. People aren’t whining at me, demanding that I do things for them or crying if I don’t do them immediately. The difference is that I understand what I don’t understand (sort of). I don’t understand, for instance, how Trudy can prepare dinner, feed the kids, clean the table and kitchen, bathe the kids and have them in bed in the span of an hour and a half. I don’t understand how she can keep shopping lists and birthday parties and school event plans straight without having a breakdown. I certainly don’t understand how Trudy can look at a set of ingredients in a fridge or freezer and turn them into a meal I’d gladly pay for in a restaurant without a recipe.

The most essential aspect of Trudy’s “valor,” though, has very little to do with logistical household tasks. Trudy’s star has always shone brightly, but it changed once Eitan was born and then again even brighter when Shayna came along. It grew stronger, as though Trudy’s evolution into an amazing mother added new layers of warmth and caring, intensifying her ability to love the people around her. She’s not only the primary reason why our children are consistently fed, clothed and as social as they are; she’s also the reason they’re always so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Trudy. Thanks for being our family’s eishet chayil.

 

Awesome Clouds

My eyes scanned the ground as I walked, mapping out each step so that I could avoid the muddy patches near the walkway and the awkward separations between the sections of concrete. It was somewhat slow going; I kept having to pause so that I could pick the blanket up and re-wrap it around Shayna’s body that was huddled against me. I gave her a little smile but she didn’t respond. Her eyes held my gaze for a moment before turning back to the nearby trees swaying with the breeze.

“I know, Shin, I’m sorry,” I said quietly as I tugged the blanket up again and tucked in the corners.1 “I don’t really want to be here either.”

I stayed back behind the gathering, not wanting to disturb anyone if Shayna started to object to being out in the cold. The people kept shuffling in, squeezing together to make room for everyone. The cold began painting faint roses on their faces, some of which still showed the faint streaks of dried tears. I bounced Shayna slightly to keep her quiet and to keep my legs moving, trying to ignore the biting air and the reason we were all outside in the first place.

The rabbi began singing softly. Her voice was pleasant enough, though I found myself holding a grudge against her for making mistakes in her speech earlier in the day. She could have checked on the dates with any number of people, I thought. Of all days, she should have gotten it right today. The song ended and I let out a resigned sigh. The rabbi began speaking but I was too far away to make out the words.

My mind wandered as she spoke, desperate for distraction. The sky was a spectacular shade of blue, like a crayon that ends up getting blunted from overuse because of its appeal. A handful of white cotton candy clouds hung in the air, looking almost happy in contrast to the melancholy ritual taking place below. As I glanced at the names on the nearby headstones, I wondered who the people had been and why there were more small rocks piled on top of some of the graves as opposed to others.

A sudden gust of wind sent a chill through my legs. I turned to shield Shayna from the breeze and adjusted the blanket. Her head kept turning from side to side, as though there were too many things in the world to see and she couldn’t decide where to focus her attention.

“What are you looking at?” I asked quietly. “Is it the trees? The sky? The awesome clouds?”

Shayna turned her head once or twice more. When she finally settled on one direction, I looked up and saw what had finally caught her.

A large bird had taken flight in the distance. It glided back and forth, tracing circles and figure-eights through the air. “That looks like a hawk,” I whispered to Shayna. “He’s probably looking for–”

I stopped short, remembering where I was and for whom. I began to think of him and the moments we had shared together. I pictured us watching our sons play soccer in the courtyard of his apartment and tearing slices of pizza into little pieces for them at Nick’s. I thought of us drinking beer while we played arcade games at our friend’s birthday party and him making fun of me for leaving the party early. I thought of sitting with him at the bar as we watched the Philadelphia Eagles, his second love after his family. I remembered feeling simultaneously amused by his ongoing complaints about his team’s mistakes and embarrassed by his badgering of the waitress because the television showing the game kept cutting out. I thought of the love he felt for his team, which was why his disappointment in their performance was so intense.

Then I thought of his family again. I thought of his wife, who had been one of the first real mom-friends that Trudy had made after Eitan was born. I thought of his son, who is three weeks younger than Eitan, and his daughter, who is a month older than Shayna. I thought of how much being a husband and a father meant to him and how his children seemed to fill him with purpose. I thought of the connection he felt with his football team and how it paled in comparison with the passion he felt for his family.

I looked up again at the bird, still circling among the clouds.

“I changed my mind, Shin,” I whispered again. “That’s not a hawk; it’s an eagle.”

 


1. Shin is the first letter in Shayna’s Hebrew name.