The Trauma of Trump

One of things, I believe, that has made this year so difficult for many of us in terms of Donald Trump being elected President, is rooted in the fact that many of us have experienced some kind of trauma in our lives.

Maybe we’ve been on the receiving end of racism or discrimination or we’ve been bullied or sexually harassed or assaulted or even abused by those with power over us and there was nothing we could do about it.

Our current administration has been an almost constant trigger of our own traumas, no matter whether it is us or friends or family who feel a lack of safety with what our government is doing. Even worse, it has been a trauma in and of itself, seeing this man, a bully, a harasser, a discriminator and his followers proud of their racism, sexism, anti-semitism, bullying, abusive behavior, become president.

Now, not only did we have old traumas triggered, we feel scared for ourselves and our family. We feel powerless and helpless.

In essence, we feel traumatized once again–especially with his reaction regarding Charlottesville, his equating “many sides” and saying the Confederate flag and statues are a special part of our culture, that Nazis marching through a city is perfectly normal and acceptable and no reason for genuine condemnation.

But here’s the difference. Whether our traumas happened long ago or more recently, we are stronger than we were then and we are not alone now. We are not fighting this alone, defending our families and country all by ourselves.

  • We have each other to turn to for support when we don’t feel strong enough to go on.
  • We have each other to brainstorm ideas of how to fight back, how to make sure our elected leaders know how we feel and how strongly we feel it.
  • We have each other to think about what organizations we should be giving money to so they can help protect those that need protection.
  • We have each other to think about specific actions we can take to make our voices heard, to help those who need help.
  • We have each other and our combined strengths are pretty powerful.

This *has* been traumatic for so many of us and that is *why* we feel this way. We can’t underestimate how profoundly this period of our lives is being affected and how it is affecting us. Not because we are weak, but because we are connected. We feel. We care. We’re invested in ourselves, our families and our future. These are just a few of the things that makes us different and special.

Even though the wounds are still so fresh and continue to reopen, let’s remember we aren’t the little kids who got hurt long ago. We are strong adults able to stand up for what we believe in and to not only protect ourselves (maybe in ways we never could as kids), but also stand up and protect others, too.

Life Can Be Both Hard AND Good!

We were sold a bill of goods when we were kids. Most of us grew up believing that being a child was so hard and that once we became an adult life would become much easier. I think many of us looked at our parents and didn’t see how hard work was, didn’t see how challenging relationships can be, didn’t know how stressful it can be to be an involved parent. As kids we didn’t understand how hard our parents worked to try and deal with all that life threw their way. To us, as children, it seemed pretty easy.

The problem with that is most of us grew up thinking life should be easier as an adult. But alas, life is not at all easy. What makes this all even worse, is many of us then judge ourselves on the fact that our life seems so challenging.

If my life is so hard, then I must be doing something wrong.

Therein lies the rub.

One of the most challenging things for me to remember (and I am still working on it), is that just because we experience the complexities of our adult lives as partners, parents, friends, individuals, employees, etc. doesn’t mean that it is bad.

There’s a great saying, “Happiness is not the absence of problems. It is the ability to deal with those problems.”

We need to try and move away from judging ourselves harshly that we have problems. Of course, we have problems. This life, especially when you are working to make it better, is hard! We’re trying to be better as people, better as partners, better as parents, caring intensely about what we do and who we are. Of course, that is going to be hard! Not to mention work challenges and financial issues, as well. Not to mention the running around we do and the limited time we have to take care of ourselves for whatever comes next.

The fact that we have problems isn’t a sign that something is wrong. The fact that we have problems means we are living this life the best we can.

But are you having any fun?

Do you feel the love of your family and friends?

To help make this transition from thinking “If this life is hard then something is wrong” to “Life can be both hard and still good” we need to make more of (or take better advantage of) the time we have to ourselves.

For instance, do you commute or run errands or take lunch alone? This could be an excellent time to focus on yourself, on the things you want and need, for seeing how you feel and are experiencing the world. Listening to music that makes you feel good. Reading a good book. Drawing or writing about your feelings, giving yourself time to process and express your feelings can do wonders for helping you to realize, yes, this is hard, but there is some good stuff here and I want to enjoy it.

What if we were happy, but didn’t realize it? What if we realized we were both overwhelmed and happy with our lives? I bet you could minimize a little of the sense of being overwhelmed, reduce the judging that life shouldn’t be so hard and increase the awareness of the happiness and love in your life.

It starts with taking a little more time for yourself to connect to the good you already have in your life.

The Opportunities of Dinner Together–Without Screens

While we were out to dinner recently, we saw a couple sit with their two kids, maybe 10 and 12 years old and each child pulled out a device and headphones and put them on. What kind of message does that send about family time and talking together?

I can talk a good game about how much screen time kids should have, but I know our kids play with iTouches, computers and watch TV–more than they should (whatever that means). Screens are a part of our lives and I’m not trying to rid our life of them. But it got me thinking about when they are appropriate.

While talking with Gem about it in the car, I realized what worries me. In the last week, Gem and the kids and I had some fascinating discussions at the breakfast/dinner table. We had a great talk about making sure they let us know about any pain they feel (our daughter had an appendectomy last month). We talked about what to do when someone is sitting Shiva (the wife of someone in my office recently died). In fact, late last Spring, we had a great discussion about school which led us to send them to a different school this year because they were so unhappy at the last one.

The way I think about it is that screens aren’t bad. But screens keep us from interacting with each other. Anytime we watch dinner in front of the TV, we lose the chance at a conversation. Anytime, someone uses their phone or device at the table, they aren’t present with the family. Certainly once in awhile, having dinner in front of a good movie, cuddled on the couch, is lovely.

But I think about what eating together means to our family and what it would mean if we didn’t share that time together. When we sit down at the table we don’t plan the discussion, but we know it is a chance for anyone in our family to share what has been going on with them–good or bad. I can talk about a big project at work. Gem can tell us about a workshop she did that day. The kids can tell us something that happened during their day. But the best part always is the reactions and the questions that come out up and seeing where the conversation goes. Some nights it is just an interesting conversation. And some nights, we find ourselves with the chance to remind our children of something very important based on the new direction of our conversation. Sometimes it is sex or drugs or drinking. Sometimes it is what is a good friend or how to deal with problems. Sometimes it is about my past and how different things are for me now. It is never what we expected, but always of value.

A screen prevents all of this from happening. I like to think that as our kids get older, things might happen to them during the day and they might think, Oh, I can talk about this at dinner. If it works out like that, both Gem and I would be tremendously excited.

But even right now, what happens at dinner is always better than what happens on any screen.

Is There Such A Thing As A Perfect Day?

I think in this crazy world we live in, it is hard enough to be able to truly enjoy the great experiences we have. It is even more rare to know, in that great experience, that we are experiencing something special. My family and I had one of those days over the weekend.

There were no cries of boredom. There were no outbursts. In addition we spent almost no money and watched no screens. But we spent most of the day together and it was lovely.

My wife had to work in the morning and Lucas had his NYSSMA evaluation (Dorit had her’s the night before). The both did great, thankfully, and with NYSSMA behind us and the horrible New York standardized tests, I think we all felt a sense of relief that was as palpable as the warm weather we had that day as well.

We played catch outside for a little, they skated on their ripstiks, and we played some more. Then they started drawing with chalk on the driveway (making a beautiful drawing of a woman with long flowing hair). I pulled up a chair and sat and talked with them while they drew and I knew already it was a special day.

“I’m having such a great day with you guys. I love you.” I’m mushy like that if you didn’t already know.

And the look they gave me is one of the greatest feelings I have as a dad. They looked at me like they felt the same way and it meant the world to them that I also felt this way, that being with them could make me feel good. That look is always a strong reminder of the power we have as parents; they don’t realize the impact and effect they have on us but when they do they feel better and empowered. I think it gives them a better sense of value, that they have an effect on us.

Shortly thereafter my wife came home and I handed her the baton so I could go for a bike ride. When I left they were hanging out in the front yard, basking in the day.

When I returned almost two hours later, it looked as if they hadn’t moved. They were playing Scrabble and had done some more drawing and had a little picnic of fruits and cheese under our cherry blossom trees.

The only negative thing about the day was Gem was not feeling well, so she handed the baton back to me and I took the kids to Rita’s for some delicious water ice and we sat and ate and talked, the three of us catching up together. In the car we were listening to Macklemore and Neon Cathedral came on and they wanted to know what the song meant. I tried to explain to them what would make a man want to drink, how life can sometimes be very hard and have a terrible effect on people.

“Do you understand how he feels, Daddy?” one of them asked me.

“I do and I hope you never truly understand this song. Because that would mean you grew up better than I did and that’s what I want for you.”

We continued talking about the song, them asking questions and me answering them the best I could. My kids and I really connect over music and the meaning of songs sometimes brings up great topics for us to discuss, things I might not have thought or would not know how to bring up without music as inspiration.

On the way back, we stopped off at the supermarket, because I had the idea we could make a fire in our fire pit and roast hot dogs and make s’mores. Normally, our kids are not happy or helpful at the supermarket, but that day they were awesome, each holding a basket, grabbing the stuff we needed and carrying them no matter how heavy they got (maybe we should always go to Rita’s before the supermarket?).

Back at home, Gem was feeling a bit better and she joined us at the fire and we had hot dogs and corn and s’mores and marshmallows and listened to more Macklemore and the warmth of the fire could not match the warmth of our love that night.

I love my family and my family loves me. But when we all feel that love for each other together, in everything we do, in everything we say, knowing this time together is the most special of all that we do, there is no better feeling on this planet.

There may not be such a thing as a perfect day, but to me, that was about as close to perfection as I could ever want in my life.

They Need Me Differently Now

We came home from the City a little late one night last week and our kids were exhausted. For some reason, my son doesn’t want to sleep in the car, can’t seem to let himself slip into slumber. But my daughter, Dorit, when she is ready to fall asleep can do so anywhere, at anytime. That night she fell asleep and snored most of the way home.

Gem and I talked about our day and evening, enjoying the time we had in the City with our family, knowing this felt like one of those days we’ll remember for a long time. Days like that are so special, knowing something so joyful had happened that we will talk about it for some time to come. “Remember when…?”

When we arrived home, I went to help Dorit out of the car, but she woke up and ended up walking to the house.

And my heart sank a little bit.

It’s funny how you can not think of something, but then something happens and you realize it has been percolating in your brain for a long time. I love my children and I love being a Daddy. I love my family and the life Gem and I have created and built together. It is far and away the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine who I would be if I wasn’t part of this experience.

But my children are ten years old and they are growing up, becoming bigger, more independent. I clearly remember coming home from car trips and even though Dorit might have been sleeping in the car on Gem’s side, I would run over because I wanted to be the one to carry her into the house, to carry her into her bedroom. I wanted to be that Daddy and it felt good, being there for her in that way.

I remember when we were trying to help her sleep through the night without a diaper. I would wake her up before I went to sleep, walk her to the bathroom, and then carry her back to her room and gently place her back in her bed, almost as if she had never left it. I remember the way her body would mold to mine, holding me with her whole body, melting into me and feeling that was one of the most spectacular feelings in the history of the universe. If someone had told me being a Daddy felt like that, I would never have been so scared about becoming one.

A couple of days ago, we were once again out a little late and Dorit was exhausted, so exhausted she didn’t even want to leave. I said if we got into the car to go home I would carry her into the house if she wanted (do you see what a selfless Daddy I am?). She nodded her sleepy head and we got into the car.

When we got home, I helped her out of the seatbelt, vowing to savor every moment and I lifted her up and remembered that my little girl is ten years old and I might need to work out more than I do. I can remember when both of my kids could be in my arms on my chest at the same time. Now it is a lot harder to carry my Sweetie Girl out of the car. There was no way I was going to be able to carry her upstairs (unless I threw her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes). I felt heavy, like I had lost something I could never get back.

But when I put her down she didn’t look disappointed. She didn’t look like I had let her down because I can no longer so easily lift her up. She looked at me, like I’m her Daddy and I always will be. That night we sat at her bed and talked about some of the things that have been worrying her. I listened and I gave her some things to think about and even made her smile. We hugged, that delicious feeling of arms wrapping around me and some comment about the level of scruffiness on my face.

And always I love you.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, Sweetie Girl.”

As I closed her door that night I realized the rest of what has been percolating in my brain lately. She may no longer need me to carry her from the car and into bed, but she still needs me. My children still need me. Even though they are getting older and more independent, they still need me to care for them, to love them, to support them, to guide them through this crazy experience we call life.

Yes, they don’t need me like they used to, but they still need me, still need their Daddy.

The way they need me is very different now, but still pretty darn wonderful.

Building A Better Balance

Can I tell you a little secret? I’ve always wanted to be a stay at home Dad (I know, that’s not the secret). But I didn’t really believe I could do it. Yes, I believe men can be stay at home dads and I’m jealous of all of them. I just didn’t think I could hack it, getting our kids up in the morning, getting them ready, making lunch, dropping them off and then picking them up, helping with homework, taking them to activities, getting dinner ready, getting them ready for bed…I always worried that I wouldn’t have the patience for it, like my wife does. I was afraid I would get frustrated when they were too slow or weren’t doing something right, get frustrated and not be able to recover, spending my time with them frustrated and angry.

My wife was recently away on business for a couple of days and it was another chance to really find out what I could actually do, whether or not I could really do it or not, face my own fear.

Fortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

Unfortunately, it went really well and I truly loved the extra time with them.

I was putting my son to bed last night and he asked if I liked my time being home with them.

“I loved it, Sweetie Boy.”

“Why don’t you quit your job and stay home with us?” he asked with his beautiful face looking up at me.

There’s the dream, right there. My kids are getting older so fast and I know the time they would want to be with me is quickly evaporating and I’ve worked away from home the entire time, missing the opportunity to drop them off and pick them up from school, help with homework, hear what the music teacher has to say, etc.

The fact is I’m not one of those guys whose identity is wrapped up in his job. My identity is actually wrapped up in my family, the best part of my life is my wife and children, and the best me is often when I am with them. I know what I do at work doesn’t really matter in the long run (and maybe even in the short run), but my relationship and involvement with my children hopefully is making a big difference in their present and future, building self esteem and a strong foundation that I didn’t have growing up, that will last them a lifetime.

I think what this really raises for me is creating an even better balance between work and family. I already take every day off from work that they have from school and usually take off when they are sick and have snow days. And I certainly need this job in order to be able to pay our bills, etc. But maybe I need to take more unscheduled time off. Maybe I need to call in sick more so I can take my kids to school once a month and pick them up and help with homework.

The challenge is I feel such pressure to keep my job and be a “good employee.” But the reality is I have never regretted taking time off to be with my family and I need to try and do that more often, before they are too old to be happy I am around.

Maybe Our Weekends Are Too Good?

As I was getting ready for woke this morning, my son, now 10, came to me and was upset about not wanting to go to school. Normally, Lucas loves school so it caught me off guard a bit.

“Why don’t you want to go to school?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” was his reply.

“Is it your teacher?”

“No.”

“Are kids at school giving you a hard time?” Always my biggest fear when it comes to why he wouldn’t want to go to school.

“No.”

“Is it the Jewish Exponent?” I got a little smile from that one. He is starting to learn exponents in Math and I keep thinking about the Jewish Exponent, which was a weekly Jewish newspaper we received when I was a kid.

“No.”

Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with school?

“I just want to stay home with you guys.”

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to go to school; it’s that he doesn’t want our special weekends to end.

I know exactly how he feels.

This past Friday we had an absolutely lovely Shabbat dinner at our Rabbi’s house. On Saturday we had a nice day and we went out to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and then had fun shopping at Five Below (which is not, contrary to what I had always thought, a cold weather clothing store, but actually a store where everything costs five dollars or less). On Sunday we delivered water and cleaning supplies to homes and families most affected by Hurricane Sandy on Long Island.

I explained to Lucas that when I was a little younger, before we had kids, I knew it was important for our family to spend time together, but I didn’t understand how wonderful it would feel, being surrounded by love, being with the people I most want to be with. There is no one else I’d rather be with than my wife, Lucas and his twin sister, Dorit.

Growing up, it was not like this in my family. I never particularly felt they liked me all that much and I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend time with them.

But our family feels so different.

“I think you still really like school, Lucas. I think what we need to do is have crappier weekends and that will make it easier to go back to school or work on Monday. And it starts with no Thanksgiving for you!” And we both laughed.

“But seriously, maybe what we need to do is figure out how to carry the joy of our weekends with us through the rest of the week.”

We talked a little bit more and he seemed to feel better.

As I sit here and write this, I think back to myself as a little boy, more miserable than words can accurately depict. It is not possible to imagine a “problem” like this, where my life with my family is so amazing, so fulfilling, so infusing with love and good energy that everything else would pale in comparison.

How lucky are we?

Every House Has A Story

Today, my family and I volunteered to drive to one of the towns not far from us on Long Island most hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and hand out cases of water and cleaning supplies. It was an experience I’m not sure we will ever forget.

Last weekend I had taken a bike ride to some of my favorite places in our community, the places I have loved and enjoyed so much because they are right near the water. The same places that were hardest hit by the storm surge from this powerful storm almost three weeks ago. By looking at many of the homes from the outside I couldn’t see anything wrong, but what I could see was all of the insides, the guts of their homes, lying on the front of their sidewalk, exposed for the world to see; broken sheet rock, splintered wood, ripped up pieces of insulation, rolled up rugs, furniture, and appliances.

What was left inside their houses?

Today, we found out. Almost nothing.

We picked up some water and some cleaning supplies and found our location for which we were responsible. The first person we talked to was Rachel, who had a young daughter. She described that the storm surge came over their five-foot fence and was lapping at their door even though they live on the second floor. They just got power over the weekend, but still, still, do not have heat.

Her sister moved in with them and brought her children as well. All of the children are now not feeling well, spending so long without electricity, without heat. They lost their car and don’t have a way to get to a doctor or to get laundry done or to get food or other supplies.

As we brought her another case of water, she broke down, tears dripping down her face, the overwhelming emotions too much to hold in even in front of strangers. When we got back to our car, I looked at my little girl and saw her looking sad. She’s so sensitive, like both her parents, and she was also overwhelmed, unable to handle the intensity of her emotions.

We got back into the car and all took a breath. We knew we had been lucky, but this was making it more real than we had even imagined.

We knocked on more doors, getting no answers, but also meeting people who were okay, who appreciated our help and supplies and who had things they needed to share and finally someone to share it with.

Then we met Eileen.

She is a mother of two who took me up on my offer of water.

“I’m a little dazed,” she said. Being dazed after almost three weeks struck me as disconcerting and I asked her what had happened.

She had an enormous pile of broken sheet rock and wood littering her entire front sidewalk, spilling over into the street. She went on to explain to me that she had finally gotten help ripping out the sheet rock and walls in her basement and first floor only to find out this morning from an architect that the foundation of her home had been so badly damaged by the storm surge that her house was going to be condemned.

Putting aside the money and effort that was completely wasted, I can’t imagine spending almost three weeks trying to figure out how to recover from this terrible disaster only to then find out that your entire home is going to be condemned.

I listened to her for a few minutes, gave her some water and cleaning supplies and she went to try and clean the things in her children’s rooms before the mold got to them, hoping the foundation would support her until she finished. As we left, she asked me to say a prayer for her.

I remember thinking, “She told me her house is being condemned, and I gave her water.” What we did today didn’t feel like enough, but it was better than nothing, better than showing up empty-handed.

I also hope it helped them to know people haven’t forgotten them, that as the press leaves and the attention moves on to something else, there are still people thinking of them and remembering them in our prayers.

It’s not enough, I know it isn’t, but I also know we can’t help everyone. We just need to try and help who we can and hope that it makes something of a difference in their lives, in their road to recovery.

A Community Without Homes

When Hurricane Sandy arrived, my family, like yours maybe, hunkered down and prayed for the best. We huddled in our basement because we were afraid trees would fall on our house and felt that was the safest place (we were fortunate not to be worried about flooding). When the worst had passed and we were without power, like millions of other people, we did the best we could with candles and flashlights and layers of clothing. After two days we got power back and we started to feel normal again.

I had spent much of the week immediately after the Hurricane when I wasn’t taking care of my family, trying to help my organization communicate as effectively as possible to our constituents about the state of Lower Manhattan.

But on that Friday it became clear my synagogue, Oceanside Jewish Center, had taken a huge hit. Not only was the actual building without power and heat, but so were our Rabbis and our president. In fact, according to some reports we have seen, about 80% of our community had been affected by the storm, many with extensive damage to their homes. We are literally a community without homes.

I’ve heard about this in other places, in other cities, in other countries, but this was right on my doorstep. I recognized many of the places in the photos and videos I saw in the news, places I’ve ridden my bike or taken my kids or walked dozens of times.

The Rabbi and I sent out an email to our members letting them know we were thinking of them and asking if there was anything we can do. The responses were heartbreaking. People had lost their cars, their homes, were living with family/friends or had relocated to other places, were staying in a cold house without power or heat because they had nowhere else to go. It was overwhelming, reading these emails in the warm comfort of my home.

How did we get so lucky?

Finally, the synagogue and our Rabbi got power and we were able to open the building up as a warming center for a few hours every evening for people to get a bite to eat, some coffee, charge up their devices and use our computers.

We sent out an email every day, letting people know we were thinking of them, reminding them of what we were able to offer and asking them to let us know if they needed anything. As things got even colder, people started asking for a place to stay because their home was too cold.

Two nights ago, a family from our synagogue moved in with us. We had never met them before, but knew it was something we needed to do when we found out the two kids were 4-year old boy/girl twins, since we have almost ten-year old boy/girl twins. When they walked into our home on Wednesday, it was clear they had been devastated and I again felt overwhelmed by what they must be experiencing. We helped make the kids feel at home and before long all four of the kids were playing together and laughing. I’m not sure I had ever been prouder of my own children than how they made these strangers feel welcome in their own home.

Can you imagine not having had a warm place to sleep for over a week?

Our main job as parents is to protect our kids, but we can’t protect them from Mother Nature. We spend so much of our lives trying to help our kids succeed in life, to build a career or to become emotionally healthy. We almost never think about where the next meal will come from. We don’t worry about whether they will have a warm place to sleep tonight. These poor kids have lost almost everything; clothes, toys, and maybe, most importantly, a sense of stability. The stress their parents must be feeling, trying to make sure their children have a warm place to sleep, have food to eat, it must be all-consuming, not too mention dealing with the disaster they experienced and trying to figure out how they can move forward. The poor father stayed in their house, without heat or power, afraid that what little possessions they had left would be taken by looters. This is Long Island, folks, not some developing country far, far away.

I know many of you have already donated to an organization like the Red Cross, but if you haven’t and still want to help, would you consider helping my synagogue and, this family specifically, with clothes, toys or money? Please send me an email and we can figure out how you can help.

There are thousands of families still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these families will never forget what they experienced this past week or so. I just hope they will be able to recover from it.

Working Mother Quotes Jeremy On Making Dinner Special

Working Mother Magazine quoted Jeremy in their June/July 2012 issue. The article, entitled Low-Tech Table Tactics, is a brief article on how to take advantage of bonding time during dinner and includes tips from Jeremy.

In our topsy-techie world, it’s easy to succumb to digital distractions—smartphones, TV, gaming devices—at the table. You may permit them to help the kids (and you) make it through dinner, but “they mean lost opportunities to build strong family bonds,” says parenting expert Jeremy G. Schneider.

His tips include

  1. Playing music
  2. Promoting discussions
  3. Creating a topic list in case it is hard fro family members to talk

The article is a good reminder that even in the crazy days of school or summer, make dinner special time for you and your family to come together and connect.