Dear Mr. A$$hole

When I got dressed this morning I was looking forward to a day of special people. A day of smiles, and some tears. A day of children, friends, hellos and goodbyes.

I did not think of you at all.

When I got dressed in my black skirt and white top under a turquoise jacket the fog was still thick and the air was chilly. But it would burn off. I could feel it. The sun was going to shine from a bay blue sky and the promise of a brightly beautiful day swirled in the still-cool mist.

I did not think of you at all.

Black, white, turquoise. I love the combination of those colors together. Good bar mitzvah colors I mused. Don’t forget to use that new eye concealer. Purple mascara. Where’s that lipstick I just bought? Are the kids ready? I hope I haven’t lost it. Put on your shoes and brush your teeth and get your brother. Oh, here’s the lipstick.

I did not think of you at all.

We have known each other for years, but we are not friends. You are not one of the special people I was hoping to connect with today. We greet each other, wave in recognition as our cars pass, but you know very little about me, and I know even less about you. I do not think of you at all. Ever.

And even though we are not friends – or perhaps it’s because we are not friends – you have something to say about my appearance every time you see me. But not directly to me. To whoever is standing with you at the time – my husband, a mutual friend, even someone I’ve never met.

Something inappropriate. Irrelevant and dangerously close to offensive. Something that elicits uncomfortable laughter. Or a deliberate turn in the conversation.

He thinks he’s being funny, we all think. Even me. Benefit of the doubt. He’s trying to be complimentary. To engage. No harm done. And the conversation continues as before, swirls around me like that gentle mist, cools my flushed red cheeks, slows my suddenly racing heart, squelches the little flare of anger before it bursts into red-hot flames of fury.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” said that goddess of words, Maya Angelou.

No harm done. Until today.

It wasn’t that you said anything any more inappropriate than all those other times. It wasn’t that the setting was changed, or the conversation was different. It wasn’t that the friend between us was someone I hadn’t seen in a while.

It was that I’d had enough.

We are not friends. I do not think of you at all.

And now I am thinking of you.

When I got dressed this morning, it was for me. Just like it is every morning, and for all people everywhere. And unless I invite your opinion – either with actual words, or by the nature of our relationship or circumstance – you may not, not ever, comment on the way I look. Whether in jest or in earnest, to insult or to compliment, to bond with the men you happen to be standing with or for no reason at all, just keep that damn irrelevant opinion of yours to yourself, preferably for always but at least until I am not around to hear it.

Because it’s not dangerously close to offensive – it is offensive. And insulting. Completely inappropriate. Degrading. Dehumanizing. Objectifying. And when I hear it, I feel angry, indignant, insulted, appalled, embarrassed… and then worthless. And how dare you – you who I do not think of at all – have the power to make me feel that way?

I will forget what you said. Maybe not tomorrow. Or even next week. But over time. I will forget exactly what you said. How you said it. I will forget that I was so angry I almost poured hot coffee on your arm. That you actually backed away from me as sharp silver darts flashed from my eyes. I will forget the details.

But I will never forget how you have made me feel, every time those filthy words spilled from the trashcan of your mouth. Humiliated. Worthless. May your own beautiful daughters never feel that way.

And I will never forget how I felt today, after years of politely turning away from your smelly, offensive, recycled garbage: not just angry – FURIOUS! Not embarrassed – OUTRAGED. And definitely not humiliated. You are worthless.

I. Do. Not. Think. Of. You. At. All.

May Her Memory Be a Blessing


Death can be a funny thing.

I don’t mean funny ha-ha. I mean funny strange. Peculiar. Complicated. Sad. Or not. Relief. Indifference.

When we lose someone significant from our lives the rainbow of feelings may span a sky as vast as a lifetime – dark and stormy, light and airy, angry red, bluest blues, nostalgia, memories, regret, peace. Everything at once or nothing at all.

All four of my grandparents passed away when I was old enough to remember them, and their passing. I was eight, then 13, 25, 36. I had a special relationship with each, but was closest to my Granny Mary who died six weeks after my youngest was born. Granny was a real baby whisperer – adored infants, loved to hold them, to feed them, change them, burp them, to rock and sing to them for hours – but she never got to whisper to my littlest guy. He has no tangible memories of her and no photographs with her to trigger any.

Losing all those grandparents was devastating. Some were expected – one grandfather had Parkinson’s and was 81 when he died, both grandmothers were clearly near the end of their lives – but my gruff Grampa Sonny was younger than my parents are now, and his heart attack was as sudden and swift as his legendary temper. He was quick to anger and loud to yell, but that weakened heart of his was as gentle and fuzzy as a puppy’s underbelly.

It’s hard, losing loved ones, no matter the relationship, the circumstances, the distance both geographic and emotional. Grandparents’ passing is sad, but usually expected given their age and their life experience in relation to our own. Sometimes more complicated to deal with is the loss of parents, children, friends, people we haven’t seen in a long time. And often, in that difficulty, are surprising feelings, unexpected reactions, blindsiding memories that bring tears and laughter.

I last saw her about 12 years ago. She hadn’t worked for my family for years, but my mother still kept in contact with her, checked on her wellbeing, knew her whereabouts. She had diabetes and her failing health was evident over the many years she was part of our family, but she was always laughing, always happy to help us kids find what we had misplaced right in front of our noses, always roasted a chicken for lunch every Saturday.

We each had our own relationship with her – she and my brother would joke and tease each other, and even before my boyfriend became my fiancé became my husband he joined in their fun, easy banter. She told my sister and I about her happinesses and disappointments, the pride and difficulties she felt with her children, her parents, the gossip and drama with her friends. My parents took care of her, and she took care of all of us.

She was at my brother’s bar mitzvah, saw the three of us graduate high school and college, knew all our friends and their parents, and all my parents’ friends. She knew how both grandmothers took their tea and that my aunt always had black coffee after a meal. She prepared the candles to light every Friday night, and kept the kitchen more kosher than any of us. She joyously danced with Ryan and me at our wedding, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to my own not-yet-one-year-old twelve years ago.

Pretoria, 2002 - My sister, Sina, me and baby Daniel...  and Granny Mary in the background

Pretoria, 2002 – My sister, Sina, me and baby Daniel… and Granny Mary in the background

That was the last time I saw her. Life happens, and we lost touch.

But all my children know all about her. And Ryan and I often share a “Sina memory.” My sister and I talk about her now and again, and smile thinking about things she said and the way she said them.

And in this strange, very connected world we live in, an email found its way to my father this week, with the news that she passed away a month ago. Her funeral was on my late grandmother’s birthday, which feels significant and I don’t know why.

More emails followed between my mother and her daughter, the last 12 years of her life filled in like a picture quickly and brightly drawn on a blank poster board: a grandmother of five grandchildren, great-grandmother to two. What was clear from that drawing was that she loved us as much as we loved her.

An emotional rainbow of sadness, regret, tenderness, laughter and memories.

Zichrona levracha – may her memory be a blessing,” we say in the Jewish religion, when talking or writing about someone who has passed.

Sina z”l: truly a blessing.

I Am at Home Anywhere in the World When Reading or Writing

ONCE upon a time, 20-something and newlywed, I made my way north and west to begin a life atop a hill swirled in pale gray fog and clanging cable-car bells. Far, far from the early morning hadedas and hot African sun of my home, my future sparkled before me bright as the white sails that dotted the Bay, expansive as the red bridge I crossed to go to work. As strange as those hilly streets and twangy accents were to me, I was cheerily confident this too would become home.

But I was a South African in San Francisco – possibly the furthest in the world I could be from the place where I’d lived most of my life, where I had befriended Anne of Green Gables, and met Moon-Face, Silky the Fairy and Saucepan Man in The Magic Faraway Tree. Where I had fallen in love with Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, and where I took a book with me to almost every family gathering, because I am the eldest cousin and the worlds created by Judy Blume and Mary Higgins Clark were far more exciting to me than playing hide-and-go-seek in the garden.


I was far away from that place and from the parents who taught me to read, from the friends who shared their books with me, and from the aunts who passed on their favourite titles, but I clung to my literary worlds. Armistead Maupin brought the beautiful city I now called home, to life. His delicious descriptions of characters and encounters in his famous Tales of the City series were more colourful on the black and white page than they were in my real life. Those books made San Francisco home to me in a way my job and apartment and going to the gym and buying groceries didn’t.

I wanted to write like that. I wanted to create worlds that eldest cousins could escape to, write words that were cozy and comforting and settled over my own babies like their warmest, fuzziest blanket. I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas and seedlings of creativity on the page.

My adopted, faraway home has indeed become home. I am raising four loud and wonderful children who clamor over each other like wriggly puppies to be the first to read the Sunday comics. I fight against the restlessness of being a stay-at-home-mom and delight in the endless moments of kids and dog and chaos. And I continue to read, and now I write.

I watch my son trip over the dachshund because his nose is buried in his latest sci-fi journey.The words are everywhere. I write them and read them, borrow them from libraries, and share them with my children at bedtime.

The words, read and written, transform my space: my special spot on my grandmother’s couch in Pretoria, my tiny res room at Rhodes or my son’s bedroom in San Francisco, the bench I sit on outside the school library or the parking lot outside the ballet studio. All of time and space, imagined or real, are contained in those words, and no matter where or when in the world I am, when I am reading – or writing – I am home.


This post originally appeared in South Africa’s The Daily Dispatch and The Herald as part of the Nal’ibali literacy campaign. Nal’ibali – it starts with a story. #Just15Minutes



My Son Has a Secret Life on Skype on



A few weeks ago I heard my oldest boy Skyping with his friend at 11pm on a Saturday night. And he pretended he wasn’t. Told me he was talking in his sleep. Lied to me.

“Almost everything you and your brother do – in secret – I’ve done,” I told him. I did not Skype late at night when I was almost 13 – 1987 was not a Skype-year – but I certainly found ways to test the limits, break the rules, keep secrets. I wanted him to find a way to relate to me, so that he didn’t feel the need to lie his way out of a sticky situation. Then or ever. His online communication opened the lines for real life communication between him and me.

I wrote My Son Has a Secret Life on Skype and it’s on today. Would love to hear if you’ve experienced similar – either with your own teens or as a teenager yourself. Just when I think I’ve figured some of this parenting stuff out…

I’ve Been in Preschool for Eleven Years

My littlest one is graduating preschool tomorrow. Big day! He is the baby of our family but definitely not a baby anymore. He is monkey bar strong, too cheeky for my own good, kind and not so kind, teases his friends and begs for sleepovers, busy all the time with his Legos, water balloons, and “fairy dust” (ground up chalk that finds its way into everything). He is five-year-old little and five-year-old big all at once – squirms his small body into our bed most nights and can’t understand why he’s not allowed to stay home by himself like his brothers when he uses words like “hideous” and “actually”, eats teenage bowls of cereal all afternoon, shoots baskets better than they do.

He loves his preschool, the sandbox and slide, his teachers and friends – but he is bursting out of himself, like an uncontainable jack-in-the-box just waiting to spring into kindergarten with his arms up high: I’m here!

Yep. Big Graduation Day tomorrow. For him. And for me.

I’ve been dropping off at, picking up from, volunteering and shopping for, complaining about and loving this preschool for 11 years. In a row. No breaks. Sometimes I had one kid there, sometimes two. Sometimes as one was graduating, another was starting. It’s the only school all four of my children will attend from start to finish. And the divine Morah (Hebrew for teacher) K with the squeeziest hugs and most patient heart is probably the only teacher in their academic history that will teach them all. How lucky they are!

Since 2003, every week day, for ten months of every year, I have driven the route from my house to the preschool and back, at least twice a day if not more. I think that’s about 15,000 miles. We have no less than 12 homemade menorahs to choose from at Chanukah – who knew that bolts stuck on wood made the best Chanukah candle holders? – and almost the same number of Passover seder plates. I have devoured about 400 kid-made challahs (the yummiest challah in the world), and have helped raise thousands of dollars for the scholarship fund, facilitated the construction and dedication of a new classroom, and cooked countless meals for families and teachers with new babies and new homes.

I have watched my children’s two-year-old tears of separation and toddler anxiety transform into confidence, laughter, knowledge, friendship and pure delight in being at their home away from home. I have felt their teachers’ love, warmth and nurturing spirit – not only for each of mine, but also for me, my husband, even for Pretzel the dachshund.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to this haven of creativity and expression that has quietly brought constant calm to the chaos and confusion of daily life. For all of us. For 11 years.

I thought I would be sadder. I thought I would be sad. That it’s over. To say goodbye.

But I’m not.

I’m excited for my bursting jack-in-the-box to be in kindergarten in the fall, at the same school as his siblings. He can count, and form squiggly letters, and say the blessings on Shabbat. He knows about bridges and butterflies and how the world was created and he’s been in a fire truck. He knows how to share and have compassion and to empty the sand from his shoes before he comes into the house.

I’m not sad. My children – all four of them – are the still-growing people I am so proud of today because of that preschool. Those teachers. I am joyful.

And also nostalgic.

Longing – a little bit painfully – for those days when we would collect our three-year-olds and head to the park after school. An intense, necessary, sympathetic, close group of mamas, we would gather at the park with snacks and babies and picnic blankets and a gaggle of kids, and spend every afternoon chatting, gossiping, comforting, helping, friending. There was nowhere else to be but right where we were, with each other.

I miss that.

We are all still friends, but some have moved away, and all have moved on. Those three-year-olds are in middle school. The babies now have younger siblings. There are too many places we have to be after school, and it’s rare to run into each other anywhere.

That’s what I’m sad about.

I know life carries on, we move forward, sometimes slowly and reluctantly and sometimes with all the enthusiasm of an uncontainable jack-in-the-box. But as the sun sets on my years as a preschool mom, I am longing for those simple days of little kids, and bags of Pirates Booty (never thought I’d ever say that!), and long afternoons of more-than-friendship in the park.

JedRainbowTomorrow he will walk through the rainbow, like all the graduates at our preschool do, and like his brothers and sister did before him. My eyes will well with tears of pride and joy – and a little bit of pain and longing.

Want to go to the park after school? I’ll bring snacks.