2020: The year of canceled dreams and postponed wishes

Since the world stopped earlier this year, our November trip to Disney World was a beaming light of hope. By then, surely, the pandemic would be under control, or at least manageable enough to allow us to travel without too much worry.

But, as the months went by and the COVID-19 cases went up, our Disney trip seemed like less and less of a possibility. Still, I stayed positive.

Numbers were declining in my state — once an epicenter for the New Coronavirus — and I was encouraged when Disney World opened its doors again this summer. I followed along with the ever-changing protocols, rationalizing the sacrifices we would have to make would be worth it to go.

Sure, I thought, the masks might feel odd, and the characters won’t hug us, but the crowds would be smaller, and the parks will be cleaner than they’ve ever been.

I told myself not too feel bad if this was the first experience the kids had with Disney World. They’ve never been, they wouldn’t know any better. But, I have, and I know better. Yet, I convinced myself all the restrictions and changes would be a minor price to pay to give my children the chance at something magical in an otherwise difficult year.

I held on to the hope as the months, weeks and days drew closer to our planned trip. I sent countless emails back and forth to our agent, making and re-making dining reservations, I spent hours one morning to snag our set of limited park tickets, all the while knowing our trip would likely be postponed.

And, today, was that day.

Today was when I sent the email asking our agent to move our trip to next year.

That dream we had all the way back in the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 was a word in my vocabulary, that dream was now gone. Well, not gone, but delayed.

As, I write this, I hear how incredibly privileged I am to even have entertained the thought of a Disney World vacation. When so many have suffered tremendous loss both in terms of life and livelihood, I know some mom whining about not being able to take a trip to Disney is the least thing the world needs right now.

So, I write this with no intention of anyone to feel sorry for me. I have no right to elicit sympathy, nor comfort. Those are things we should grant to those truly suffering, because there is plenty of suffering and not enough sympathy to go around.

But, I will permit myself to feel just a little bit sad about these now canceled plans. I will take a moment to grieve the loss of what I had hoped would have been a special trip for my family.

I will wallow and bitch about the state of America and how if we could have only gotten our act together fewer people would have died, and I would get to watch my youngest get a hug from Cinderella and my oldest wield a lightsaber against a Sith lord.

So, please, forgive me for being petty and whiny. I am aware of how foolish I sound.

Then again, maybe you are like me, maybe you had a big trip planned, or you were hoping for a huge wedding, or you thought you would be celebrating your kid’s graduation with hundreds of people, or your family has yet to meet your new baby, or you will be alone on Thanksgiving.

I want you to know you are allowed to feel devastated about all of it. Feeling sad over what you lost doesn’t make you any less appreciative of what you have.

I am so grateful for all the incredible people and comforts I have in my life. I thank God, and hope a canceled Disney vacation is the worst thing that happens to our family this year.

Because while we may not get to experience the magic of Disney World, we have had plenty of joy and happiness right in our own home. We have found new ways to connect and appreciate one another, all while managing a challenging year.

And our Disney Dream isn’t over, it’s just on hold until next year.

Sharing an honest perspective on Christopher Columbus with kids

Like most kids who grew up in the United States, I first learned about Christopher Columbus through the popular poem:

In Fourteen Hundred And Ninety Two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Columbus was part of a greater bunch of lessons that put a positive spin on colonization, and downplayed — or outright ommitted — the atrocities commited against the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas in order for these revered Europeans to succeed.

As I grew up, I discovered American history is not as clean and beautiful as I had once thought, and indeed the founding of my country is full of mess and ugliness.

I am happy to see a shift toward more honest retelling of history in our schools, and an effort to uplift the voices of those figures long overlooked in the story of America. However, I am aware that curriculum is slow to change, and the narrative our kids are ingesting still very much has a Euro-centric spin.

So, when my almost eight-year-old son asked me why he was going to be off from school one Monday in October, I took the opportunity to talk with him about Columbus Day, why we celebrate it, and why that is problematic for many people.

We talked about how whole communities were living here before Christopher Columbus and other Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas, and how he did not in fact “discover” this land. We also spoke deeper about colonization and why European nations saw the Americas as an opportunity for expanding their access to materials such as minerals, crops and more to use to build their economies.

We spoke about how Columbus is credited for starting the colonization of the Americas, eventually leading to the country we live in today. We discussed how being Americans has afforded us many privileges and opportunities, and how fortunate we are to have them. We also discussed how Columbus and others, in order to achieve their visions of colonization killed and exploited the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas and later enslaved millions of Africans brought over to bear the brunt of work required to build up our developing country.

We finished with how many Americans feel we should no longer honor Christopher Columbus and instead lose the holiday all together or change it to honor the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas. We ourselves did not come to a “conclusion” on how we feel about the matter, but I am glad we were able to have a thoughtful discussion on U.S. history.

Even if Columbus Day disappears, I hope our schools will continue to teach our students about him in a way that is honest and reflective of the good and bad of American history.

Here’s what I did when my son called Trump a ‘F@#K’

“Donald Trump is a F@$%!”

The words struck me speechless.

My elementary-age child dropping the F-bomb about Donald Trump, the President of The United States.

If you follow me, you know I rarely, if I ever speak about Trump.

Sure I will comment on mistreatment of asylum seekers, racial injustice and more that happens to be occurring under this administration, and I will continue to comment on those things regardless of who is President after the election.

No, this post is not about Trump.

It is about how I and other adults talk about him or other politicians in front of our children.

Maybe you called Trump an asshole or Joe Biden a moron. Maybe you lobbed insults at those who support either one of them.

Maybe you were just joking around with your spouse, laughing at some meme, not realizing your kids were listening.

I know I have.

To be clear, I do not support Donald Trump as President of the United States, and have no problem expressing my views and debating those who disagree. I am also disgusted by his language and mannerism that frequently mocks and insults others. I would like to think most adults, including myself, are above this behavior.

So when my child called him a “F-U-You Know The Rest,” yes I was upset about the language, but I was even more upset that he felt that it was the best way to speak about him.

Although, I can’t recall an incident where I used the word fuck and Donald Trump in the same sentence, I am a person who curses often, and I speak with unfiltered passion about things I care about, often not realizing who’s listening.

I apologized to my son, and said we adults needed to do better.

I said we can discuss Trump and other issues civilly and factually without resorting to name calling. We can be resolute in our stance for wanting leadership we can be proud of.

To be clear, I am not saying adults should be dishonest with their children about their political feelings. Nor is this a request for anyone to censor the truth for our kids benefits. By all means talk to them about the environment, poverty, racism and everything else you are passionate about. Our children are as impacted by this election as much as if not more than we are. They deserve to hear us speak about what matters to us. They deserve to understand why we are voting the way we are and to be included in the process. What they don’t deserve is to be subjected to hateful language and child-like name-calling of others.

We can do better.

As we head into the Presidential debates, I remain hopeful both candidates will rise above petty insults and low-blow jabs, and stick with discussing the issues. Hopeful, but realistic.

In the mean time, even if our leaders can’t behave decently. I know I can. And I pledge to do better.

Yom Kippur and the lesson of sincere remorse

Forced apologies is a common parenting practice I despise.

Let me be clear, I believe we need to encourage our children to think about their actions and be mindful of when they make mistakes. However, there’s a difference between telling a kid to parrot the words “I’m sorry” to another and teaching them genuine remorse.

When a two-year-old shoves another child at the playground, they are not being “bad,” they are engaging in typical “cause and effect” behavior. They want to see what happens when they do stuff, whether it is appropriate or not. Of course, the behavior should be addressed and an apology on behalf of the child is worth offering, as while the toddler may not feel sorry, us parents can definitely feel remorse for our kids’ actions.

Older children, particulary those in early elementary age group, are capable of understanding their mistakes and taking appropriate steps to make amends. With my own kids, if they do something wrong, I take a moment to talk with them and let them come to an understanding about why it is a problem. If the action caused harm to another, I invite them to go with me to check on the harmed party, and make sure they’re OK. Often this will include a formal apology, but not always. And if the apology feels forced or insincere, I know they do not truly understand what they did wrong.

The video below illustrates the Jewish concept of “slicha,” the act of apologizing for wrongdoing. Beyond teaching genuine remorse, I like the idea expressed in the video below of not only apologizing but righting the wrong.

“Teshuvah,” or repentance is the heart of Yom Kippur observance. Not only do those of the Jewish faith seek forgiveness for individual transgressions, but we also atone together for harm we have done as a community.

The ideal of atoning together is agreat for teaching our kids that while we may be individuals, our actions impact others. From throwing garbage on the ground to calling someone a mean name, these actions can have leave a lasting impression.

Yom Kippur never makes the top five or even top ten of favorite Jewish holidays — I mean who loves a day of not eating? — but if you viewed with a deeper perspective, we can see this holy day is full of meaning and personal reflection.

This is a holiday that was focused on mindfulness before it was a trend. Yom Kippur is a wonderful way to teach children self-reflection and self-awareness.

PJ Library,a program that provides free books to Jewish families, offers lots of resources to help kids better understand the concepts of apologizing and forgiveness, as well several ideas to get kids engaged in Yom Kippur.

Of course, children aren’t the only ones who need help understanding how to be sincere in their remorse. How often do we as Jews on Yom Kippur say the words of the atonement prayers without actually reflecting on their meaning? Perhaps this is the year to really think about what we are asking forgiveness for.

For more information and to sign up for PJ Library, click here.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

Sisters “Challah Back” in the name of social justice

The Challah Back Girls are on a mission to fill hearts and tummies with their unique cause-centered business that delivers delicious challah (a traditional Jewish bread used on the Sabbath and holidays) to your doorstep and gives back their profits to a deserving charity each month.

Ahead of the busy Rosh Hashana rush, I was fortunate to connect with this incredible business and learn how this company — run by four sisters — got started and how they became so committed to the mitzvah, or good deed, of giving back.

As part of our Blogging for Better series, I am proud to feature Challah Back Girls as our featured organization for September.

BFB: When you started your business was it always your intention to have a donations element to it?

CBG: Initially, the donations came in challah form, but as this project grew we decided to incorporate a fundraising donation element. When Hannah [one of the Challah Back Girls] was forced home from Binghamton University, during her final semester in March she blessed the family with delicious challot each week. Through family friends,
we learned that our neighboring town’s Volunteer Ambulance Corps (BVAC) had potluck Shabbat dinner and lunch every week, and so we offered to contribute to their meals with challah.

During the peak of the pandemic, we then expanded our efforts and brought challah to healthcare heroes and frontline workers working day and night, and found that while it was the least we could do for those putting their lives on the line. Challah Back Girls grew when we realized there were more cooks in the kitchen (literally). The high demand of challot we were making for frontline workers required all-Loffman-sister-hands on deck, and the four of us figured out where each was able to contribute
something unique while working towards the same goal.

After weeks of preparing challot to give away, we started to wonder how we could contribute to both epidemics plaguing our country: COVID-19 and anti-black racism. As protests erupted around the country, and our own town of Teaneck was challenging how racism still exists in our community, we realized the importance of supporting the movement in the ways we could.

We all attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Teaneck on June 6 to speak out against police brutality and anti-black systemic violence. It was important to us that the community send our money and support to organizations and communities who were leading the charge.

Simultaneously, we were receiving a lot of inquiries through our family’s Instagram account (@WeLoffToTravel) about if our challot were for sale. We didn’t feel right selling our challot just because they tasted like heaven. We wanted to find a way to combine spreading the challah love each week while supporting the work being done right now to address discrimination, poverty, racism, etc.

It was then that we marginally shifted our focus and after much thought and feedback, decided to start selling the challot and donating the profit we made each week to a different organization promoting social justice and supporting at-risk or disenfranchised communities.

9/11, pandemics and missing New York City

On September 11, 2001, I was a college freshman at a University about three hours north and west of New York City. That morning, I walked over to my 10 a.m. class and was greeted by a note on the door informing us that we would not be meeting today. At this point, two planes had already crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and another in Pennsylvania (supposedly headed to the White House).

Perhaps my later class was a blessing, because seeing these events unfold live might have pushed me over the emotional edge. Instead, I caught the continuous replay of the horrifying and unimaginable footage.

Still adjusting to college life, I didn’t allow myself to fully accept what was happening. It took me years before I could properly acknowledge my grieving friends and let myself feel the full weight of the day. Though I didn’t have a strong connection to the buildings that fell, as someone who grew up in the city, my heart will always be there, even if I am away.

But being away came with a good dose of guilt. Guilt I wouldn’t feel again until this year (but more on that later). For years after, I heard the stories from friends and family of how they could see the smoke from across the river in New Jersey, how they ran and ran from the destruction, how they were trapped in subway cars for hours, how they thanked whatever God they worshipped or just plain luck for keeping them alive that day.

And I heard the stories of others who lost their parents, their children, their siblings, their partners and their friends. Every year, I hear a new one. As if to remind me of the magnitude of this loss.

Yet, I wasn’t there. I was away and safe. Still in New York state, but far enough to not be effected. I was in my college bubble. I suppose I could have gone down to Manhattan, gone down to help in the clean up and rebuilding efforts. I thought about it, but I never did. I don’t think I could handle it.

Maybe the universe wanted me away. Maybe I was being protected.

It’s funny how that works.

I felt the same thing this year.

When the Coronavirus started destroying New York City, a large part of me felt ashamed for not being there. While I was away my city-dwelling friends were recounting stories of overrun hospitals, loss of loved ones and constant fear. I felt awful being so far away and not able to share in that discomfort. But, I also missed the comraderie, the sense of community which brought the city together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get life back again. Because just like after 9/11, the city fought hard to rebuild and came back stronger.

New York City may seem a bleak and hopeless cause. As more and more people seek new life in the New York suburbs and beyond, one wonders what will become of this great city.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went out to dinner in Manhattan with some friends. The Midtown streets we dined on were quiet save for a few boisterous twentysomethings attempting to have some semblance of a youth.

It would be easy to say Manhattan was done.

They said the same thing after September 11, 2001. In the aftermath, nobody thought Lower Manhattan, especially the areas surrounding the World Trade Center would ever again be a place of thriving business and tourism. Yet, almost 20 years later, Battery Park has become one of the best neighborhoods to live in, TriBeca grew into the destination for fine dining and business has returned to the World Trade Center.

Of course, the impact of the New Coronavirus is unique. People have adjusted to working from home and cramped apartments seem smaller than ever. People are venturing back to their old lives, but will it ever be normal again?

Probably not. But that’s OK. New York City will be forever changed, but it will always hold a special place in the hearts of all of us who love it despite all its flaws and hardships.

It’s time we give our kids more credit for handling the tough stuff

Kids are terrible about wearing masks.

Kids don’t wash their hands.

Kids won’t keep their fingers out of their mouths and noses.

Kids are gross.

Yes, kids are gross.

As a mom of two boys, I know this well. And, one whiff of my house, you would know this, too.

Yes, kids are tiny germ machines, and I understand why many fear them as little vectors of illness.I also don’t underestimate their potential role in spreading COVID-19. However, I think we also need to show children a bit more respect.

While plenty of adults throw tantrums over having to wear a mask for a 20-minute grocery run, plenty of kids wear their masks when needed with little complaint.

Maybe it is because kids are often more caring than adults?

I am not saying it is easy for a child to wear a mask for extended periods of time, nor that every child puts one on without a fight, but I am tired of these blanket assumptions that children are terrible about protecting themselves and others.

Both of my kids have spent hours outside, in the summer heat, in masks. I have seen other children do the same, even while us adults complain about how uncomfortable we are.

For kids, like my oldest, they see a mask as a safe way to do the things he loves. A mask means getting back to school to see his friends. A mask means a chance at some “normalcy.”

We all worry about how our kids will handle the changes at school, and if they can/will be able to comply with all the new “rules.” And, there is plenty to suggest they won’t.

But, as my own kids have shown me, children are often more capable of much more than we think.As many of us prepare to send our kids back to the classroom, anxious about their safety, I offer up a bit of hope and encouragement that they will be OK.

Celebrate the Jewish New Year with these easy, D.I.Y. honey jars

Rosh Hashanah is almost here, and what better way to celebrate the Jewish New Year than with a customized honey jar?

Honey, with it’s sweet, delicious flavor is synonomous with Rosh Hashanah and our desire for the upcoming year to be full of sweetness and joy.

While any honey will do, creating honey jars with your family is a great way to add a special twist on the tradition, and add some decorative flare to your Rosh Hashanah table. Huge thanks to a special person in my life for sharing this idea.

What You Need

Honey Jars (with or without stirrers, plain mason jar will do)

Decorative Bees

Tacky Glue

(Optional: Paints, glitter glue and other decorative items)

What To Do

Clean and dry honey jars.

Add bees where desired, using tacky glue.

Let dry.

You may customize the jars with your child’s Hebrew Name, L’Shanah Tova or other messages for the New Year.

Fill with honey as desired.

For a fun side project, and a simple way to review the blessings over the apples and honey, you can create Rosh Hashanah “Brachot” sheets using construction paper, marker and glue. Older kids can write out the Hebrew themselves, while younger ones can work with an adult.

Simply layer a white piece of construction paper on top of a colored paper of your choice. Flip over and glue another white piece of paper on the other side. Write out the blessings in Hebrew on one side, English (or preferred language) on the other.

Even more Rosh Hashanah ideas and stories can be found at PJ Library. The renowned philanthropy that brings Jewish-themed books to families all over has lots of fun ways to prepare for the Jewish New Year.

Introduce your children to the Jewish books, music and more from PJ Library by signing up here. Content is geared toward children ages 6 months to about 7 years, depending on your area.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

“The Old Cocoon” offers needed comfort in times of uncertainty

“The Old Cocoon,” by April O’Leary arrived in my mailbox just when I needed the encouragement.

After weeks agonizing over our children’s education, reviewing statistics, reading through our district’s plans, and consulting with our friends and family, my husband and I submitted the forms to enroll them in their respective, modified, in-person learning options.

Though the deed was done, I still felt anxious about my choice. I was scared about the future, frightened by the uncertainty. Did we do the right thing? How will our children handle this “new normal?”

I am comforted by knowledge and being able to control situations. Yet, as we all know, these days, that’s a difficult task.

Reading “The Old Cocoon” reminded me of the beauty of change and how we can embrace the future with hope, knowing we are held by those who love and support us.

Through a beautiful, 34-page tale of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly, O’Leary addresses the hardship and fear of change, while offering a path toward acceptance and positivity.

I believe people of all ages will appreciate this beautiful story. The words are uplifting, genuine and heartfelt. They are truly written with love and a passion for helping others.

I especially feel this is a wonderful story for parents and children to read together as the school year begins (whether virtual or in-person) across the country.

“The Old Cocoon” can serve as a tool for discussing your child’s concerns about school, wearing masks, canceled trips or any other “disruptions” caused by the current pandemic.

Even beyond the uncertainty of the current global environment, “The Old Cocoon” will guide you and your loved ones through such moments as the death of a loved one, moving to a new city, or the ending of a long friendship.

Now available with the limited time offer to “Buy One Get One” via the O’Leary Publishing website, “The Old Cocoon,” which is designed to fit easily inside most standard greeting cards, is a wonderful gift of hope and comfort to deliver to the loved ones in our lives.

And as a special gift to you, I will be giving away four copies of “The Old Cocoon” to the first four people who comment on this post with how they think this book can help them or someone they love.

“The Old Cocoon” is available for purchase through O’Leary Publishing and on Amazon in both soft cover and Kindle format.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All views expressed are my own.

How parents can support our educators in these unprecedented times

Schools across the United States have begun the process of “opening” back up for students. In some areas this means full-time, in-person learning. In others, it means 100% remote learning. In others, it means some combination of the two. Some districts are already well into whatever learning method they chose, while others are still waiting to see what works best for them.

No matter where you live or what you plan on doing with your children this academic year, we can all agree our teachers, principals, special education staff and more are going to need a lot of help make the school experience as safe, effective and emotionally supportive as possible.

Reaching out to educators via my blog page as well as in my local parents group, I learned teachers are dedicated to helping students adapt to this “new normal.” They are working through their own worries to provide parents and students with the comfort they need heading back to school.

For parents sending their kids back into the school building, teachers advise getting those students familiar with new protocols BEFORE school begins. This means practicing mask wearing for extended periods of time, making sure younger children can perform tasks like zippering and opening containers by themselves, and keeping a positive attitude about the changes to the typical classroom experience.

Teachers also hope parents will be mindful of the risks of sending sick kids to school and keep them home if need be. They also asked that families limit travel outside their community/state to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

Families choosing remote options are reminded to give their kids plent of screen breaks and to keep mindfulness in the routine. Taking a few moments to breathe and reset can do wonders.

To help students adapt to virtual learning, Jill Herzberg Morgenstern, an educator with 13 years of classroom experience and current religious school teacher, offers this advice:

“Zoom with friends/family. Have them read stories to your children virtually to practice sitting and listening, taking turns talking, muting/unmuting. Hopefully the novelty of making faces in the camera and touching all the controls will wear off! Also talk to kids about internet safety and best practices. “

Morgenstern, who will be teaching virtually for at least part of the year, also encourages parents to do what she always encourages them to do: read books, have conversations and share meals together.

Parental attitude goes a long way, as several educators noted. Explaining the need for social distancing in a factual and supportive manner can go a long way in helping students, especially younger ones, adapt to new normals in the classroom.

With new health restrictions, teachers have to work even harder this year to create a supportive learning environment for their students. As we all know, many purchase their own classroom supplies and are greatly underfunded. Though it’s not a substitute for necessary reform, you can help ease some of the burden by purchasing teacher-requested items off of Amazon. This website has curated lists from around the country. Just click on the state and class you wish to help and you will be directed to an Amazon Wish List from which to purchase items. 

Whatever any of us decide, let’s keep our educators in our minds and hearts as we navigate these unchartered waters. With a little grace, patience, and understanding, we can get through this.