Picture Perfect, Hold the Card

My friends, I love your holiday cards. When those stacks of beautifully addressed envelopes arrive, nearly daily from November through January, I get excited. I can’t wait to see your family photos, to read about your family’s year.  And, yes, I feel a pang of guilt, because we don’t send cards, ourselves, in spite of the fact that we usually have a good photo to use.  See, every year, for the past four years, we’ve met up with another family, so that Jeff can photograph them for their holiday card portrait. Then, they return the favor so that we have a cute family photo, too. It’s not all in vain—it shows up on Facebook. But, sorry, no cards.

My holiday card policy has a little to do with the fact that it’s not a Jewish tradition.  (Jordana Horn makes a good case, on Kveller.) Still, I love receiving cards, and any excuse to send good wishes to people is a good excuse, so it has crossed my mind to send them. But then, there’s this: I’m primordially disorganized—I would have to muster my entire Getting My Shit Together Department in order to send out cards, and because of the first reason, I can’t make myself do that. Clearly. But having the photos is wonderful—and the out-takes, all the more so

Every year, we’ve gotten a little better at the photo. This year, we were able to complete both family portraits, plus some candids of the kids goofing off together with Lola, the other family’s dog, in under 30 minutes.

Part of this is that it was cold, and we wanted to go indoors. But, really, I think some of the magic is that you don’t have the stress of having hired a professional, which creates pressure that it MUST turn out well, for what it costs. And, there’s a certain amount of ice-breaking that simply doesn’t need to take place between close friends. We know what jokes to tell from behind the camera to make the subjects laugh. (Hint: the less “appropriate,” the better.) Or, you know, Mom can just go in for the tackle…

And we know we’re going to have a fun afternoon or evening together afterward. This year it was a playdate at their house, with some pizza and a great dinner table conversation. Anticipating more fun makes the moment just that much more charged with good photo mojo.

So, here’s where things stand: We get amazing photos because we tripped over a system that works. We like sharing them (three cheers for the Shutterfly photo plaque that I sent to our families for Chanukkah!). But cards? A bridge too far, for this disorganized mama.

And, so, with our heartfelt wishes for a wonderful 2016, and my thanks for your support of this site, I’m sharing our family portrait. What’s your favorite way to capture a fun family moment?

familyshot

Advertisements

Free Gold? It’s a Trap.

The “Leprechaun Trap” assignment sheet came home from school, about ten days ago, with Seth, my second grader. I remember grumbling my way through the experience of building one, four years ago, when Lance was in second grade. Lance, if memory serves, thought the whole exercise was cruel and unusual punishment—for the Leprachaun. “Why are we trying to trap him, Mom? What do we do with him once we have him?” I thought it was cruel and unusual punishment for the parents.

Truly, I was at a loss to answer his questions. Obviously, I don’t have any Irish heritage on which to hang an elaborate story of why the Leprechaun needs trapping. And, by this point, we’d already had the opportunity, shall we say, to make it “our little secret” that Santa isn’t real, and then hang out with him, anyway—did I really want to go this route, again? Was it necessary? I fell back on, well, science. I explained that building the (humane) trap was a good way to figure out how things work. And then I teased my firstborn, non-trouble-maker,  that maybe it would help me figure out a way to build a trap for him, in the event he got up to too much mischief. Talk about cruel and unusual.

We seem to have, in our house, arrived at the juncture where we’ve deemed that Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day, are not Jewish holidays, obviously. For these holidays, we fall into the category of American Jews who sort of hover around the sentiment of certain holidays, making clear to our kids that there are religious roots from another faith, but there are also reasons to participate, in the same way that we might invite non-Jewish friends to a Pesach seder or a Purim Shpiel. Heck, we’ll even go to a Christmas party, but in our home, the sanctity of that holy day in Christianity is observed by not observing it for sport (no “winter tree” or “Hanukkah bush” in our home, no sporting exchange of gifts.) This, from a girl whose mother bought egg-dye kits every year around Easter, because it was fun—and because it made all the egg consumption around Passover just a tad bit more colorful. Whatever.

Still, the whole Leprechaun Trap thing stressed me out, to be honest. My selfish, evil side has been hard at work, wondering whether it would be frowned upon to petition to get a condition called “lack of craftiness” recognized by the ADA.

Yes, the overdrive of Holiday Land—the kinds of Let’s Make Everything a Dress-Up, Interwebs-Worthy Production Number may be driving me to make jokes that could be, conservatively, classified as being firmly planted in the County of Poor Taste.  Yet, I’m not alone in my rallying cry for the overwhelmed and under-enthused. Writer Kristen Howerton summed it up pretty well, over on HuffPo, today. Not that I don’t appreciate the magic of childhood, and the hilarity of some people’s Leprechreativity.

But there’s another layer that gives me pause—not my family’s specific situation, because my kids know who we are, and what we’re about, so navigating Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s Day isn’t, by any stretch, a hardship. Christmas, for instance, may get us a little riled up about the fact that there seems to be no other topic to explore at school, no corner of the curriculum that isn’t touched, in some way, by this holiday. But, actually, I get good and freaked out when I think about families who can’t afford the time and resources to go gangbusters, even if they’d like to do so, and yet are bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the look and feel of the season—whatever the season.

So, my question is, how much of this is fun diversion, and how much is pressure to conform to an ideal that may seem out of reach, for one reason or another?

That pressure seems, in some way, to be avoidable. I’m all for the educational value of learning customs and traditions, of exchanging messages of friendship and good will, of holidays whose celebrations revolve around candy. These are all good things. But it’s the ramped-up, everything-is-a-craft situation that adds a layer of pressure that feels unnecessary. (Some parents aren’t lazy, or un-talented, like me. Some have strong religious convictions that dictate against even causal observance of holidays; others simply have no time, amidst the working of multiple jobs and trying to keep their heads above the water line, to get all crafty.) I’ve gone so far as to write impassioned emails to the teachers and administration at our school, pointing out the insidious trickle-to-tsunami of well-intentioned, all-in-good-fun overblown Spirit of the Season for just these reasons.

Still, during the rest of the year, my protests are, for the most part, perfunctory. I buy store-bought Valentine cards, and if the theme my kid wants to use has an option for including a pencil, then, I’ll go all out and buy the pencils. Under no circumstances do we craft our greetings. St. Patrick’s Day, when I was a kid, was all about wearing green—I don’t remember the pinching-if-you-don’t tradition, but I’m sure it was there. I don’t remember building a trap. When it came up, four years ago, the assignment was a required piece of curricula. Yes, I I felt a twinge of “why do we have to make a big thing about this?” but I, kind of, got behind it on the premise of encouraging creativity and engineering, in a way that captures the imagination of a second grader.

This year, however, when the Leprechaun Trap assignment came home labeled “OPTIONAL,” I swear to you, I almost danced a jig. You know, because I’m so Irish. It felt like a very tiny step toward progress.

Still, when I was on the first of what will be many Marie Kondo-inspired closet-cleaning binges, two weeks ago, I collected some found objects (almost-finished rolls of paper towels, never-used Velcro rollers for my hair, a shoe box) and offered them to Seth. “You want these for your Leprechaun trap?” He accepted them, but said he wasn’t sure what to do with them. I told him I was sure he’d figure it out. He’s an engineering-minded kid, after all. I tried to get myself to suggest we work on it a few times. Then, I tried to suggest that he work on it with one of our friends who was helping with the kids while we were out of town for a long weekend. I tried to remember to do it on Sunday night, the night before it was due, when we got back from the trip. But, of course, I was too tired and blissed-out from looking at scenery like this, all weekend.

View from a spa pool. Not a bad place to start the day.

View from a spa pool, Terranea Resort. Not a bad place to start the day.

Monday morning, I took a final swing: “Do you want to try to make a trap before school? We have time…” Seth demurred. He was okay, skipping it. And, for once, I was okay letting go of something “optional,” thinking of it as another in my line of quiet protests against the overdoing of holidays in general, and a good exercise in giving my Type-A, do-it-all nature, a small respite.

Then, this morning, Seth lingered in his room after getting dressed. This isn’t unusual, and, often as not, he’ll emerge from his messy den of creativity, having created a new Lego structure or art project. Today, he announced, “I built a Leprechaun Trap!” And, sure enough, he’d used the box as a base, and the towel tube as a tunnel/ramp for entry. The rollers were propped up on either side, inside the box, with paper towels sticking out like flames.

Would you turn down free gold? I think not.

Would you turn down free gold? I think not.

And, dear reader, different versions of me had different reactions.

The “Type-A” Me: Crap, you couldn’t have done this, YESTERDAY? What a bummer you won’t get to share this with your class!

The “Proud Mother” Me: My kid is SO creative.

The “Ashamed” Me: Why don’t I do enough to capture his creativity?

The “Don’t Be Silly” Me:  Duh, left to his own devices, he is plenty creative.

The “STEM Fan” Me: Look! My kid is an engineering GENIUS!

The “Facebook Addict” Me: I must post a picture.

The “Trying to DeClutter” Me: If I take a picture, we can recycle it.

Seth, said: “Don’t worry, I’ll just save it to use next year!”

Practical me will have to duke it out with Decluttering me, over that one.

So, what do you think of Leprechaun Traps? What’s your take on holidays in school? Are you gung-ho on all the crafting, or wishing all the craft stores would simply…fade away? Let me know in the comments!

Sad, sad day

I was thinking about scaffolding today. A piece of mine has fallen apart, and I’ve been struggling to make sense of it. If you’re very lucky, as I am, you have a core group of friends, and the community around you as external support–but the strength of that communal support often comes from the friends who aren’t the every-day contacts, but those you see with some regularity, more by happenstance, or by shared circumstance, than by design.

This morning, I learned that Debbie, a woman I’d become friendly with in the years I’ve been a mother, died of cancer. We’d spent many hours together—sitting on the sidelines at toddler soccer, mucking about at mommy-and-me gymnastics, dancing and singing with our kids in music class, chatting in the nursery of the church where the class met, bumping into each other at events and activities. I wasn’t part of her inner circle of friends—though I count many of them as my friends, too. But she and I were part of each other’s scaffolding—serving as part of each other’s extended support network, often acting as sounding boards as we wrestled with school choices, parenting dilemmas, vacation plans, family-of-origin dynamics, childhood stories. You can cover a lot of ground without ever going to the mall together, or attending each other’s birthday dinners.

When I learned she was ill, I offered up some concrete ways in which I might be helpful. “I know you have your close circle to meet a lot of your needs. But know, too, that I go to the supermarket nearly daily, and that if you run out of orange juice, I will pick it up for you,” I wrote in an email. “I’ve been on the receiving end of well-intentioned offers of general help, and couldn’t ever muster to figure out what I needed.” She’d asked me for prayers, and I said, yes, of course. I told her, too, that as much as I enjoyed hearing from her, I didn’t need a reply. Of course, she wrote back, with a matter-of-fact explanation of her treatment options, which had changed. “I’m looking for a doctor who will prescribe chemotherapy that will buy me time—anything more than a year.” Reading that broke my heart, even as I felt inspired by (and understood completely) her fierce determination to spend as much time as possible with her family.

I can promise you, the very least interesting piece of information about Debbie is that she died too young of a horrible, aggressive cancer. What I liked, admired and enjoyed about Debbie was the way she lived—interested in everything, reading, running, thinking. She lived well and fully, immersed herself in her daughters’ world, in the warmth of her church community. She was utterly devoted to her girls, her husband, her family life. There was a glow about her, a warmth that emanated from her heart (and, perhaps, explained the unseasonably warm, golden weather we have had the last couple of afternoons). She mothered with the kind of strength that we all hope for, the kind of faith and belief that we should all strive for.

Debbie amazed me—our conversations revealed a mix of pragmatism and spirit, centeredness, studiousness and spunk. Before she became ill, she and her husband took a trip to Paris. Grandparents flew in from out-of-state to stay with the girls. I remember feeling totally impressed by her plans, and, also, slightly mystified. I remember saying, “You’ll never regret a week in Paris with your husband,” while thinking that I could not even consider trying to pull off such an endeavor. It seemed (to me), that Paris could wait for some season, a long time from now, when my kids are older. Today, I was thinking, maybe, on some level, she felt a sense of urgency. Maybe people who are with us for less time than you’d expect them to be are gifted with the innate understanding that the time for Paris is now.

Today, before I learned that she’d passed away, I was out for a walk with a close friend whose daughter plays soccer with Debbie’s daughter. “I just feel silly getting wrapped up in my own problems,” she said to me. “Look at what Debbie has faced—it makes me feel silly for getting bogged down by daily life.”

I thought for a moment—I’d been wrestling with similar thoughts for weeks, and, yesterday, the inner struggle was so intense, but nameless, so that when someone remarked that I lacked my usual spunk, I couldn’t pinpoint why. I’d tried to chalk it up to being tired. It wasn’t until I heard from a friend that Debbie was struggling, that I understood my uneasiness. Still, I couldn’t settle my mind. Now, I could: “You know, I think it’s disrespectful to Debbie—and the life she has led—to think like that,” I ventured. “Don’t you think she’d give anything to be around for more months or years of fretting over her kids’ well-being, feeling frustrated by school, or messy rooms, or just plain being there for them?” I’d been up late the night before, talking through some fourth-grade angst with my son, even as I had a looming deadline. “I sat there with him and felt so honored that he wanted to talk to me about it all,” I explained. “And I felt so grateful that I could be there, that nothing else mattered.” Even in my frustration that I couldn’t solve the problems for him, that I doubted if I was getting through to him, I understood that what mattered was my being there. It goes further than the urgent entreaties to hug your loved ones, to savor every moment, that I was tempted to post on Facebook last night. They didn’t capture the meaning I was trying to divine from the details.

I can’t know what she would give for another day, how she felt, and what kind of peace she found in preparing herself and her family for the fact that they’ll need to find a new normal, without her.

But, today, it was clear to me that the best way to honor her life is to continue to be part of its scaffolding. I reached out to her closest friends, people who are also my friends, to offer condolences, support, hugs. The calls were equal parts instinct and thought. “I’m calling to check on you,” I said to one friend’s voicemail. “I’m here for you, and I am thinking of you and I will see you later today.” I assumed I would see her—we are usually at school pickup together. I bumped into that friend in the hall at school an hour later, both of us there to have lunch with our kids and take them to the book fair. We exchanged a look. I felt, in that moment, that we were, inadvertently, honoring Debbie by going to lunch at book fair week; it was, perhaps, something she might have liked to do, too. As we walked, my friend mouthed “Thank you,” above her daughter’s head. “I love you,” I mouthed back—which seemed not at all strange under the circumstances. We’re not that kind of friends, but we both understand love and how it lifts you up. I meant that. Love, I knew, might help. She broke away from her daughter’s class for a moment, crossed the hall and grabbed me in a hug. “That was such a surprise,” she said. “It meant a lot to get your message.”

“I had to call,” I explained. “I’m here for you.” Tears welled up for both of us;  she reached for her sunglasses that had been pushed on top of her head. “Time for my glasses again.” I texted another friend, and I asked her to make time soon to share her favorite stories of Debbie. I shared the news with a few others. These connections meant a lot to me today—I’m feeling the loss, and I knew it would mean something to those who loved her best, to know that they were not alone, that her life meant a lot to many people, and that her relationships with them were worthy of condolences from every corner.

It’s part of what makes scaffolding so strong. I’m so grateful Debbie Cheng was part of mine. I hope she knew how many of us were truly grateful for her presence, her friendship. I know her husband and their daughters will be the beneficiaries of all this scaffolding, the support of the families who loved Debbie, and who love them. I hope, too, the girls will grow up to have the kind of central support she had, and the kind of scaffolding their mom shared with so many of us. I wish only peace and comfort to those who knew and loved her best.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are, already, missed.

(P.S. I welcome comments, below, from anyone who knew Debbie and wishes to share memories, here.)

Three Jews in The Room

Today, we attended the blessing of little Jackson, in the home of his grandparents. It was a nice chance to share a tradition with friends of another faith. In this case, our friends are Latter Day Saints–Mormons. I told my older son that these friends had attended his bris, and it was a privilege to be able to witness another tradition.

After the brief, loving ceremony, one of my boys was visibly confused. A church member gently offered to answer questions. My child declined, then beelined for the buffet. (My kids haven’t attended a bris they can remember; I assured them they could expect to feel confused by that someday, too.)

Jackson’s grandfather, our dear friend JP (really, he’s Jeff, but with a Jeff in our family, too, initials help avoid confusion.) joined us at our table. “So many Mormons in this house!” he joked, putting an arm around Lance. “I need to be with my people! You are my people!”
We giggled and then Seth, in his “all-purpose” (outside) voice, remarked: “Jeff! Do you know we are the only three Jews in the room?!” JP, unsure of what he had heard, said, “Come again?”

“I SAID, WE ARE THE ONLY THREE JEWS IN THE ROOM!” Improbably (to everyone but me), he got louder. Then, he shrugged, shook his head, sighed in a worldly way, and looked around as he said, “Look at all these Normans!“. Then he shook his head in utter disbelief.

This friendship knows no bounds. JP assumed the role of the actual Norman in our family–my dad–and trotted this story out to as many of the other friends and family as he could corner. Awesome sauce.

Here is sweet Jackson, his mom, Lindsay, and Grandma Sue. His mother will one day tell him he wailed throughout the blessing…and then was all smiles immediately afterward…

20121007-204238.jpg

If you’re sexy and you know it…

This is not the post you might think it will be. It may, however, be the funniest “multicultural moment” I have experienced in a long time.

First, I will tell you that ever since the Temple Har Shalom Community Seder on the second night of Passover, Seth has been obsessed—obsessed, I tell you—with the song Dayenu. (I think it has something to do with the overall “party-on” tone of the event—truly one of the most fun seders I have ever attended. Each child received a goody bag upon arrival, complete with props for the ten plagues–think finger puppets, toy frogs, and Plague Masks. Check out my guys, below—if there is such thing as a fitting plague costume, it’s Seth in the Wild Animals mask. That’s for sure.)

Anyway, back to Dayenu…If you are not familiar with this #1 Passover hit, it details all the miracles G-d granted the Jews, but argues that just one would have been enough for us.

The refrain of the song is the Hebrew word that means “it would have been enough for us,” and you will have to trust me that the repeated singing of the word Dayenu  is nothing short of catchy.

It goes something like this: Di, di-eynu, di-diyenu, di diyenu, dayenu dayenu.

Click on the link, above, to get the drift.

So, at the seder, we were introduced to a tradition that Rabbi Aaronson told us began with Afghani Jews: As you sing the chorus, you hold a scallion by the bulb and hit your neighbor with the greens. Naturally, the kids in the room (and, yes, the adults) were thrilled with the idea of Rabbinically-endorsed vegetable weaponry. My kids, especially.

And it’s probably why, nearly two weeks after the seder, my son was singing Dayenu all morning, today.

At breakfast, in the shower, and, yep, during carpool. Seth and his carpool buddy get into very animated debates about things like whether Legos are for boys or girls–or both. Come to think of it, they have a pretty decent feel for current events.

But here’s how this morning differed from all other mornings:

On this morning, Seth announced to our little blond, braided friend: I am going to teach you a song…in HEBREW.

He launches into the chorus, and then says, “You get to hit your mom with a scallion when you sing this!” To my ear, it was reported with  just a bit more enthusiasm than made me comfortable. But whatevs.

After they exhausted Dayenu, the little girl said, “Now I’m going to teach you a song!”

A beat.

“If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands!”

That’s right, sexy.

In these moments, I try to play it cool—I don’t want to create a ruckus of shame and self-doubt in a four year-old’s psyche. I don’t want to have some crazy over the top reaction about how four year-olds should not know the word “sexy.” Four year olds hear stuff. They repeat it. Especially if they have older brothers.

I’m sure that people smarter and more PC than I am would have just ignored it.

But I laughed. Hard.

And I couldn’t leave it there. I had to ask how she arrived at this lyric!

Still, I kept my tone light—”Hee hee, sweetie, where did you learn that song?”–Because I knew she was just repeating something innocently, and since I know her mom to be one of the good ones, who keep childhood child-like, I knew that the explanation would be totally innocent. Or would have something to do with her older brothers, ages 6 and 8, who are precocious and hilarious and just as innocent. But not free of mischief.

I was, it turned out, half-right:

And I won’t lie: her matter-of-fact response has had me chuckling aloud all day:

“Oh, I learned ‘sexy’ from my brothers…” which she pronounces, ‘brudders” –“and I learned the clap your hands part in Church school!”

I just want to know if she’s going to turn up to Sunday school with a scallion to accompany her mashup.

Of course, now, when I see her mom, the only acceptable greeting is, “Clap Your Hands!”

Here, by the way, is my new favorite Passover song—punk style!–  with some rocking Dayenus at the end. Oh, and this hilarious Fountainheads song which tells the Passover story—mashup style.

And, now, I will direct you to the top of this post, in order to inspect the mashup of tags I never dreamed I’d create.

Badass Babysitter vs. Mama Bear

This month Park City (and beyond) was rocked by the news of the  suicide of Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. My family didn’t know Speedy, but enough of our friends/favorite babysitters have been his teammate, friend and surrogate family that we felt the loss, too. One of my friends, Candice, who referred to Speedy as a “second brother,” told me his death made her realize that she must tell those close to her what they mean to her at every opportunity. If that is just one of Speedy’s legacies, I hope it brings some comfort to those who loved him. And it’s why I’m dedicating today’s post to Candice’s friend—and mine—Ani Haas.

Speedy’s sudden death is still pretty raw—so when I heard KPCW News Director Leslie Thatcher report this morning that another member of the US Freestyle Ski Team made national news, I began to shake. It got a little more intense when, in the same breath, she said Ani’s name—and explained that she had FENDED OFF A BLACK BEAR THAT ATTACKED HER. Before long, I realized it was national news—and that our Ani had been on the Today Show, sharing her story.

And, so,  the world learned something that some of us are lucky enough to know. In fact, as I type this, Ani’s Facebook page is brimming with “attagirls,” and declarations of her courageous, “badass” nature. But the poised, thoughtful and charming young woman chatting with Ann Curry is all that and more.

And how lucky am I to be able to share my family’s “Ani story,” when she can read it? How lucky are we all? I felt pretty blessed to be able to leave her a message this morning, in which I joshed her, “I don’t exactly know the etiquette for calling a friend to say congratulations on fighting off the bear…” The Jews have a prayer for this kind of moment. It’s called Shehecheyanu, and it allows us to thank G-d for allowing us to arrive at this moment. Sometimes you say it when you see a sunrise. I said it because I was truly grateful she’d survived to tell the tale. But, I must say, if anyone could fend off the bear, it’s our girl.

We met Ani because we lucked into a kind of childcare nirvana—as we tapped into a network of kid-loving  competitive athletes as babysitters. It’s a lucky thing to live in a place where this is a resource in our childcare quiver. Here’s why:

1. Athletes are responsible. They are, by definition, used to things like responsibility and punctuality. Most have been competing in some form from a young age, so they really don’t know how to be any other way. Yes, there are party kids, and yes, there are those who squeak by, but in our experience, we have met young women whose sense of responsibility and determination keeps the other stuff in check.

2. They are team players. They know what it means to be part of a team, they know that a family works like that, and they, instinctively cover their own shift if they can’t work. That’s how we first met Ani—but more on that in a minute.

3. They are awesome (and, yes, BADASS) role models for our kids. Mel, our babysitter/nanny and great friend of many years, was instrumental in teaching our kids to ski. Especially the little guy—she logged hours and hours, holding the straps of the “racer chaser” ski harness behind him. And her love of the sport is both inspiring and contagious. (Her love of my kids, even more so). Each of the women who fall into this category show my kids the real-life value of identifying and working toward a goal. In Ani’s case, she has had two major comebacks from injury in the years we’ve known her—once from a broken back and another from serious knee injury.  My kids have seen her do her homework at our kitchen table in the middle of summer (she attended the Winter Sports School in Park City) and bumped into her between intense training runs at Deer Valley Resort. My kids have watched these big-sister surrogates compete in US National Freestyle Competitions on our home mountain, too.

4. They are kindhearted, kid-loving souls. And here’s where I can tell you about meeting Ani. First, I hired Harlie, an ex-competitive snowboarder, as a nanny for Big Guy, when he was around 18 months old. Within her first week, she apologized for having to tell me that her mom had booked a last-minute mother-daughter vacation for her and she wouldn’t be able to work the following week.  I didn’t have a chance to react before she presented the solution: “I already called Candice (who had recently babysat for us, and turned out to be a friend of Harlie’s from boarding school–yes, for competitive winter athletes–) and she can work next week, no problem.” I grinned. Ear to ear. Cut to the following week—I’m driving down the canyon to Salt Lake City for a meeting, and have pulled off one of those days that has the childcare machine in full-tilt. Big Guy is at morning day camp. Ski Dad will pick him up at midday, and meet Candice at the house, where she’ll take over for the afternoon. Candice, however, is calling me to say she can’t work today—”But don’t worry, I called my friend Ani, and she’s planning to be at your house in 15 minutes. I know it’s a little weird, but she loves kids and you guys will adore her. She’s the most responsible person I know.” Which is saying a lot, considering Candice already held that title from the minute we met her.

I quickly called Ski Dad, explained the situation, and asked him to call me after he met Ani. “I trust this will be fine,” I told him. “But would you mind working from the home office today, just in case?” Of course, there was no need. Moments later, I got a call from Ski Dad. “They hit it off immediately! She has the biggest smile. I think he’s in love,” he said. Ani, it should be noted, immediately became a part of our pack of beloved babysitters. And one day when she couldn’t watch our son, she sent her friend…Mel. As our family expanded, and Harlie moved away to finish college, Candice (and another “friend-of-Candice” Natalia, and her sister Brooke) and Ani and Mel stepped in in various ways. Ani and Candice and Mel were all on our speed dial list as the birth of Little Guy approached. Ani brought Big Guy to the hospital to meet his new brother, and took him for a trip to the zoo to make the day even more special. I have an image of her walking into the hospital room that day, bearing flowers for me (!) and, after letting the Big Brother have his honors, scooping up Baby Little Guy for a snuggle. Somewhere, there is a photo of her beaming as she hold him.

Ani, for as infrequently as we see her, is a permanent part of our village. But I don’t think she can possibly know how much we respect and admire her—for her courage, her intelligence, her kindness, the pure joy she takes in her life, the honor she affords her talent, and the goodness in her soul that cannot be manufactured. It’s that courage that the Mama Bear didn’t count on, but one that this Mama Bear has always known–along with it’s all the other stuff that carried her through the moment of truth with grace.