My Writings

Here is a variety of my previously published columns. Enjoy!

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When the casinos opened, the odds were against my family*

When I was a child, my family often spent Friday evenings with my dad’s relatives. The Spectors were the more jovial, fun-loving half of our clan, and I loved our get-togethers. As I remember it, the adults had two favorite haunts, depending, I suppose, upon the weather: synagogue or the racetrack.

 Temple was OK but I loved Vernon Downs, our local racetrack. My younger sister and I would run around looking at the horses, choosing our favorites by their unusual names or the way they swished their tails. My dad taught us about odds, and my grandparents, aunts and uncles all helped us place bets to win, place or show. Daily doubles, trifectas, superfectas: I had it all down by the time I was 8. Read more…
*Winning column for New England Press Association, best columnist for weekly paper, 2010.

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Letting go of my high school graduate

Ironically – or not – I was first published in the Newton TAB long before I had any thoughts of a career in community journalism. As a high-tech public relations professional who loved to write, I wanted to share my thoughts about an important event that was looming in my family’s life – our oldest child’s first day of kindergarten.

 That same child is graduating tomorrow and, looking back, I’m not sure who has changed more in the past 13 years. He’s not as innocent, but I’m not as naïve. He knows so much more, I have forgotten so much. He’s not as little, but I’m so much smaller in his life. Read more…

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Leaving a job I loved

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 When I quoted those words from anthropologist Margaret Mead in my first column as editor of the Newton TAB in October 2006, I meant them as words of hope. Today, as I write my final column as this paper’s editor, Read more…

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Just shovel!

Driving down Chestnut Street around dusk one day last week, I came upon a scene we’ve written about many times but I’d never before witnessed: children walking in the road because long stretches of sidewalks weren’t shoveled.

 In this particular case the group comprised five or six middle school-aged children, all dressed in dark clothing, running – presumably to get off the street as quickly as they could. Given the huge snow mounds lining the sides of our roads right now, Chestnut Street is even narrower than usual. It was uncomfortably easy to imagine a car barreling into not one, but all of those pre-teens, without even realizing what was happening. Read more…

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Cycling for a cure

It got me again. Just when I thought I’d built up all my resistance and willpower, I got suckered right back in.

I’m talking about the Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride for cancer research.

 Anybody who’s spent any time with me this summer has listened to me moan about it. I don’t have time to train. It’s raining. I’m too tired, stressed, busy or just plain lazy. It’s still raining. I’m in lousy shape. I don’t feel like it. I deserve the day off. Read more…

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A Father’s Day gift to me

Boston Globe, June 18, 2000

While cleaning out my attic last week, I stumbled upon a box of old letters. Most of them were written to me during my 20s from college friends, old boyfriends, and my younger sister. Nearly all were long and filled with detail about busy days, broken hearts or adventurous travels.

In the middle of this box, there was a letter that stuck out, probably because of its small size and the business envelope that contained it. Because I’ve never received another letter with that handwriting, I was uncertain for a moment about its origin. Then I quickly realized this letter was from my father.

The letter was written during my early days of graduate school to acknowledge my 22d birthday. My father, who had never written to me before and has never written again since, told me how proud he was to be my father. He told me – in words that he could never have uttered aloud at the time – that he believed me to be capable of anything I wanted to do. He expressed his complete confidence in my eventual success and happiness in life.

He wrote that he was sorry that he wasn’t the father I would have wanted him to be, and he asked for my forgiveness for his failing to meet my standards. He wished that he had been more successful, because he wanted so badly to give his children more money than he had ever been able to afford.

As I refolded the paper, I remembered the day long ago when I received this letter. I felt happy and proud of his confidence in me, but I also felt overwhelming sadness that he wasn’t proud of himself as a father. How silly to measure success in dollars, I remember thinking. Now, 18 years later, I’m wondering – did I ever tell him that?

Fortunately, it’s not too late.

My father was never a poster child for father of the year.

When I was growing up, he was obsessed with his work. He liked to be at work, he liked to talk about work, he liked to think about work. Most of the time, his four kids took a back seat. As in most families in the ’60s, child-rearing was the woman’s job. By the time I left for college, our relationship was strained, at best. I loved him, but I was afraid of his temper, and I disapproved of what I saw as his chauvinism.

We’ve continued to have good times and bad times over the years. But, while he sometimes exhibits behavior that I could live without, I have never wished for a different father. My father is part of who I am. Just like I wouldn’t change me, I wouldn’t want to change him. There are things that he’s given me and taught me that I wouldn’t replace for anything in the world.

My father will do anything for his children. If I asked, he’d jump in the car and drive 300 miles to see me without a moment’s hesitation. He helped my sisters and me move countless times when we were single, and he successfully negotiated nearly every automotive purchase we made. I’m not sure there’s anything my siblings and I could do to make him stop loving us. I’d like to believe that I’ve inherited this trait, and that my children feel the same from me.

Because my father will also do anything for his grandchildren, he’s been singled out as the grandparent who never says no. He’ll painstakingly lower his not-so-fit 70-year-old body onto the floor to play board games, and he can still be talked into a game of catch. Despite his New York roots, he’s become a Red Sox fan in order to please my son. When my daughter was born, he sent her a dozen red roses with a note that read, “Always remember that your first roses were from Papa.”

Nothing is more important to my father than family, and nothing makes him happier than knowing that his family will be together. He enjoys close relationships with his sisters, and his love of family extends to their children and grandchildren.

I hope that this, too, is a value that has passed to my generation.

I know far too many people who’ve lost a parent in the past few years to not appreciate how lucky I am to have two living parents. When I was a child, I thought that I was the only kid in the world whose father wasn’t perfect. Happily, I’m able to see more clearly now. This year on Father’s Day, I’m giving myself a gift by looking only at my father’s positive traits. They add up to so much more than a monetary figure. And I wouldn’t trade them, or him, for anything.

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Celebrating academically successful students

Newton TAB   Dec. 5, 2005

“The notion that we have to treat all students equally at all times is not only unrealistic, it’s deceitful.”

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Coming home to Newton after losing my father

“As we sang Aleinu, a central prayer praising God, and the collective voices reverberated off the walls, I was moved to tears by what was taking place in my Newton living room. I was no longer isolated by my grief. Rather, I was surrounded by people who were offering their support during a very vulnerable time in my life. None were relatives, yet all were family.”

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Learning to say goodbye

Boston Globe     June 6, 1999

After much internal debate, I exposed my young children to death recently. A dear friend of ours, Dorothy, was dying after a bountiful 95 years of living. She endured a year of health problems caused by old age, and she didn’t want to be kept alive by machines or to die in a nursing home. When she suffered a devastating stroke, she left the hospital without her medications or IV. Her friends and family brought her home to die.

My son, Josh, had known Dorothy his whole 6 1/2 years. We don’t have much family around here, so his exposure to elderly relatives has been pretty infrequent. I’m not sure he ever appreciated how rare it was to see a lucid 90-year-old who knew more about world events than most 50-year-olds. But, he loved her stories and was fascinated by how different her life as a child was from his.

When my husband first mentioned bringing Josh to see Dorothy, I refused. He’d get too scared, I insisted. He’s too young. But, I mulled it over, and decided to consult Josh. Yes, he said, he’d like to see her. He wanted to say goodbye.

Our family of four walked into Dorothy’s living room that evening, where she lay in her hospital bed, unable to do anything except breathe and squeeze hands. It wasn’t clear if she knew who was there, but we were certain that she knew she was home and surrounded by people who loved her.

I confess that I was so nervous about Josh that I hadn’t even thought about his 2 1/2-year-old sister, Abbie. I just assumed we’d keep her in another room, out of the way, protected from her first confrontation with death. Abbie is as strong-willed as a toddler gets, and I should have known that she’d have a different agenda from mine. “I want to say hi to Dorothy,” she announced. , as she released my hand and walked right up to the bed. “See my new shoes, Dorothy,” she said to the woman who bore little resemblance to the Dorothy she’d last visited. Dorothy has a tummy ache, she diagnosed, and she left the room in search of food.

Josh, meanwhile, was timid about approaching Dorothy. He walked into the room and stood next to the bed, but he was afraid to hold her hand. He patted her blanket and told me to tell her that he loved her, but he wasn’t getting any closer than that. He was surprised by how lifeless and unresponsive she seemed, and it was difficult for him to comprehend that she could hear or understand anything going on around her.

When I sat down next to Dorothy, took her hand, and told her I loved her, Abbie came running over to me. “I want to sing Dorothy a song,” she said, as she climbed into my lap. Tears came to my eyes as she regaled Dorothy with her favorite song, “Bingo.” When she finished, triumphant and proud as always, Dorothy picked up her right hand and moved it against her paralyzed left arm. I looked at her in bewilderment and said, I think she’s clapping. Never one to be questioned, Dorothy moved the blanket off her left arm, groped until she found her hand, and then, quite clearly, clapped her right hand against her left hand. Friends surrounded her in amazement. We had wondered if she was aware of what was going on, and she showed us that she was alert enough to clap for a two-year-old. Abbie, of course, took it all in stride. Why wouldn’t Dorothy clap for her? After all, her rendition of “Bingo” is exemplary, and Dorothy always applauds.

By the next day, Dorothy could not squeeze hands, and she was no longer responsive. It took four more days for her to die. Those were among the most intense days of my life, and it’s still difficult for me to imagine how two small children processed the experience. Dorothy’s clapping was a spectacular moment for me, one that I feel lucky to have witnessed. My daughter gave something to Dorothy in her final days, and Dorothy gave something right back. I hear you, she silently told Abbie and the rest of us, and I appreciate you. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye.

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The boys of summer, and Mom*

Boston Globe         June 20, 1999

People always express surprise about my passion for baseball. After all, I’m female, I grew up in a city without a professional baseball team, and despite my distaste for gender-related stereotypes, I’m the first to admit I throw like a girl.

But I am a hard-core baseball fan. As a child, I loved the Cincinnati Reds, and I spent hours trying to locate the Cincinnati frequency on my Syracuse radio dial. I turned down social invitations that conflicted with the playoffs, and my bedroom was plastered with pictures of my idol, Johnny Bench.

When I moved to Boston in 1981, I made an easy transition into a Red Sox fan. Bench was nearing retirement, and I could afford the $3 bleacher seats at Fenway, so I pushed aside my disapproval of the designated-hitter rule and turned my heart over to the Sox.

What I never realized was how much my love for baseball would bond me to my son. Josh, almost 7, started reading the Globe sports section at age 4, although we couldn’t pay him to read “The Cat in the Hat.” He lives for all sports, but baseball triumphs.

From April through October, Josh parades around the house practicing batting stances, swinging his toothbrush, pitching imaginary fastballs, and making diving catches onto the couch for the final out of the game.

His life becomes less about school, computer games, and play dates, and he moves into a baseball-centered reality. He’s a focused kid the rest of the year, but during baseball season, if the conversation isn’t about his favorite game, he’s probably mentally off in left field.

This might drive other mothers crazy, but it makes me both envious and proud. My own childhood was dominated by Chinese jump rope and Nancy Drew books. When I begged my older brother enough, he let me join in his kickball games, but my main function was to chase the home run balls. I would have loved to have the outlets for sports that are available these days.

Watching Josh and his Little League teammates, I feel heartwarmed and proud. They cheer, they coach and they encourage each other. They like to shine, but they pass no judgment on those who don’t. Josh’s PeeWee League teammates track every hit and count every run, although as often as not, both teams think they’ve won. In a recent game, Josh made a great catch, and his team’s reaction was just marginally less emotional than when the Yankees won the World Series. His teammates couldn’t contain their joy; they piled on top of him, hugging and congratulating him. It didn’t matter that they were many runs behind. They exulted in their teammate’s achievement. I suspect that Josh will relive that moment many times.

I, too, will relive these moments over and over. Josh and I watch games together, we read the standings together, we even have our secret cheers.

When we toured the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown recently, Josh was as happy to see Johnny Bench’s commemorative plaque as I was to see Mark McGwire’s shoes. He’s too young to understand the heartache that can accompany sports fanaticism, and he’s making me less cynical. He doesn’t expect the Red Sox to let him down; he still thinks that they can win every remaining game in the season if they try hard enough.

When I cheer with Josh at my side, I forget about the huge salaries and the recent strikes. I fully expect Pedro Martinez to strike out every player and Nomar Garciaparra to hit home runs every time he’s at bat.

Life doesn’t get any better than a grand slam, whether you are hitting it or watching it. Ask Josh. He hits one every day. How else does his toothpaste end up on the ceiling?

*This is one of my favorites!

 

Go here to purchase my book, Legendary Locals of Newton

If you want to see what’s going on in Newton, click here to read the Village14 blog

 

 

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