The Secrets of Happy Families by Judy Bolton-Fasman

With the rise of the digital age, and parents caught between raising children and trying to help their own parents, best-selling author and New York Times columnist on contemporary families Bruce Feiler decided that it was time to write a new playbook for the 21st century family. The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More brings together Feiler’s personal experiences as the father of young twin girls with his skills as an investigative reporter to find new sources and innovative ways to strengthen family ties.

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Feiler has his work cut out for him. A few years ago New York Magazine published a story, which exposed parenting as one of the least happy experiences in life. The reaction was both outrage and empathy. Was bringing up children really making us miserable? Feiler counters that assumption with a 2010 Pew Study that found that three-quarters of adults said that family was the most important part of their lives. That same 75 percent further claimed to be very satisfied with their home life and 80 percent of the respondents said that they were closer to their family today than their family of origin. So what’s going on?

Are we really happier in the midst of parenting wars where tiger moms are duking it out with more lax French mothers? Feiler credits some of our happiness to positive psychology, the basis of the trendy happiness movement. But Feiler is anything but trendy. His research is solid, his findings sensible. And he has forever endeared himself to me by not mentioning Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

According to Feiler, like successful businesses successful families have the ability to adapt. In Silicon Valley, Feiler explored a concept called “agile development.” He describes it as “a system of group dynamics in which workers are organized into small teams, each team huddles briefly every morning to review progress, and the team convenes for a longer gathering at week’s end to critique how it’s functioning and make changes for the future.” Within a family, agile development can translate into a weekly family meeting in which each member discusses what went well that week, what could be improved, and what he would commit to work on for the week to come.

 

The family meeting is not only a natural outlet for communication; it leads to other healthy activities like eating dinner together. I firmly believe in the salutary effects of the family dinner. I’ll risk repeating well-known research about eating together because I think the facts are so critical to reiterate for families with children still at home. Children who eat with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide and develop eating disorders. Yet according to UNICEF, Americans still rank 23 out of 25 when it came to teenagers eating dinner with their parents at least a few times a week. That’s a missed opportunity because dinners create perfect conditions to talk to one another. Dinners are also the ideal setting in which to develop resilience in children of all ages by sharing stories about parents and grandparents. Can’t have dinner together? Then gather for breakfast or dessert.

One of my favorite sections of Feiler’s book, was about “cultivating a strong intergenerational self” in children. Children should know that they are a part of a larger family continuum. If they know they come from somewhere, they are more likely to know where they are heading in life, which brings me to the chapter on grandparents. As Feiler notes, countless studies have shown the extraordinary influence that grandparents, particularly grandmothers, have on their families. Even infrequent visits from grandparents can increase the chances of a child having a healthier relationship with her parents. A grandmother’s support reduces stress and exhaustion in a family.

Finally, just when I thought I had heard everything there was to say about fighting fairly in families, I learned a few new things. It’s a given that how you fight is important to resolving conflict, but I picked up a few pointers such as monitoring pronouns. For example, using “I and we” during an argument suggests togetherness versus the accusatory “you.” Feiler encourages not only listening to someone else’s side of the story, but also being genuinely curious about their version of events. A “he said, she said” argument should segue into a third story created together by the opposing parties.  That’s a precursor to compromise.

There are other takeaways in The Secrets of Happy Families. Feiler looked to Warren Buffet’s banker for advice on allowances, the Green Berets for planning the perfect family reunion and successful coaches for team building. Yet throughout this entertaining and informative book, Feiler’s message is imbedded in three crucial rules that transcend time and place: Adapt all the time, talk a lot, and yes, go out and play.

 

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Recognizing Signs of Abusive Dating Among Teenagers by Judy Bolton-Fasman

I wish February had been Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month when I was growing up. I might have realized that in the era before e-mails or cellphones, my boyfriend’s demand that we speak on the telephone every night was unreasonable. I was in college and my life revolved around those phone calls.

At 18, I thought his behavior demonstrated intense love for me. Young and inexperienced, it never occurred to me that he wanted to control me. In my mind, this was love and love always hurts, doesn’t it? All I had to do was listen to a pop song or watch a soap opera to see that a love worth having was often portrayed as painful, or at the very least, something mostly difficult to endure.

To read the rest of this post please click on : http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/15/recognizing-signs-of-abusive-dating-among-teenagers/#more-43701

Parenting the Ritalin Generation: An Interview with Bronwen Hruska by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Bronwen Hruska gained national prominence last August as a mother and activist when she published an opinion piece in The New York Times called “Raising the Ritalin Generation.”

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The piece was a clarion call to parents to closely assess the accuracy of a child’s Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. Hruska outlined her own son’s tumultuous journey when he was misdiagnosed with ADD at the age of 8. Two years later, Hruska and her son decided that the treatment was not only unnecessary, but had also been unwarranted. Hruska, the publisher of SoHo Press, recently published her first novel, “Accelerated,” through Pegasus Publishers. Part thriller and part social commentary, “Accelerated” is a brilliant, complex story about the consequences of over-diagnosing children with ADD and ADHD.
Q: There have been a number of articles, including your own, written about ADD and ADHD. Why do you think there’s an increase in interest?

A: With diagnoses of ADHD increasing 5.5 percent every year in this country, I believe we’re finally at a tipping point. As of 2010, 5.2 million children had been diagnosed with the neurological disorder. If that’s not an epidemic, I’m not sure what is. And I don’t believe that the increase in diagnoses has anything to do with a decreased attentiveness of children overall. There was an article in The Atlantic earlier this year that cited a study by a team of Penn State psychologists in The Journal of Attention Disorders that stated, “Children are no more or less inattentive and impulsive today than in 1983.” But schools and doctors routinely recommend medication for “Inattentive-type ADHD,” which means simply that in distracting situations, such as school, these children find it more difficult to focus. And with more and more children being medicated to help them succeed academically (as opposed to help manage the symptoms of the disorder), more children are at risk of suffering from the real and often scary side effects of the psychotropic medication that has been downplayed by the medical community as “safe.”

“Accelerated” examines the consequences of over-diagnosing children with ADD and ADHD. As medicating kids becomes more and more common, so does the general sentiment that if your child isn’t on medication, he or she is at a disadvantage. It’s the same mentality that created the phenomenon of “juicing” in athletics. We’re ratcheting up the level of competition in school with performanceenhancing drugs.

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Q: “Accelerated” is told from a dad’s point of view. Would it have been a different book if the protagonist had been a single mother?

A: I wanted Sean Benning to feel very outside of the Manhattan private school community where his son Toby goes to school. Not only did Sean grow up in Troy, N.Y., but he’s also one of the only fathers in the estrogen-heavy circle of mothers that make up the vast majority of parents responsible for drop-off and pickup at The Bradley School. Without a community of parents to share information with, Sean feels even more at sea when the school strongly suggests that “a little bit of medication could turn everything around for Toby.”

Q: Third grade seems to be the time kids (especially boys like fictional Toby and your own son) are diagnosed with ADD. Why the zealousness? Is it warranted?

A: Schools tend to crank up the scrutiny in 3rd grade. As a parent, I was grateful that teachers were paying attention, making sure nothing fell through the cracks. But in their zealousness I worry that teachers are so determined to find something, anything, that they often err on the side of overkill. Don’t forget, 3rd grade is also the time when children are expected to sit still for longer periods of time, transition quietly between classes and cut the silliness. And the truth of the matter is that some children (especially boys) at 8, 9 and 10, who are perfectly within the developmental norm, still find this challenging.

It’s important to understand that Attention Deficit has become the go-to diagnosis. Sanford Newmark wrote in The Wall Street Journal this fall that many doctors making the diagnoses aren’t distinguishing between normal developmental immaturity and ADHD. These misdiagnoses could account for as many as 20 percent of the current ADHD diagnoses in the U.S., or about 900,000 children.

That said, for kids who do suffer from Attention Deficit, medication could truly turn things around for them. One adult, who was diagnosed late in life, told me that as soon as he took that first pill, the white noise in his head (a noise he’d never even noticed) turned off and he was finally able to complete projects he started, including reading books. It changed his whole life, and he wished he’d been diagnosed as a child. My worry is that kids who are simply not ready for the expectations of accelerated curricula are being diagnosed with a disorder. The flipside, of course, is that in poorly funded regions, children are being medicated so they can succeed within a broken school system with too few teachers.

Q: I read that boys are being treated like “defective girls” with regard to diagnosing ADD and ADHD. Do you think this has some validity or is it just an inflammatory statement?

A: Just look at the statistics. Boys are 2.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. If 13.2 percent of all boys have been diagnosed with the disorder (as opposed to 5.6 percent of girls), I’d say that we need to determine what the barometer for “normal” is. In “The War Against Boys,” Christina Hoff Sommers looks at how the education system was overhauled in the wake of Carol Gilligan to accommodate the specific learning styles of girls and as a result has left boys in the dirt. I think that schools now do value traits that are more traditionally female, and leave little room for the very normal (and different) developmental style of boys.

Q: Medication doesn’t carry as much of a stigma as it used to. Are we changing the way children develop with so many ADD and ADHD diagnoses?

A: I want to be careful because, again, I believe that for kids who do suffer from ADD and ADHD, medication can actually help them to develop on a level playing field with kids who don’t suffer from it. But when so many kids are taking medication to enhance their academic performance, it really does send a powerful message to an entire generation. We’re teaching our kids that challenges should be met and problems solved by swallowing a pill.

Too often, due to extreme pressure from an accelerated society that demands everything be better, faster and more impressive, kids aren’t being allowed to do the hard work of growing up, getting organized and learning what’s expected of them. Also, if a young child is put on medication and it’s deemed to be “working,” parents are loathe to take them off of it, and as a result will never know whether their child has “outgrown” the attention issues. Instead, dosages continue to be raised as the child grows, and soon kids are selling their prescription medication as study drugs in college where Ritalin and Adderall and other focus drugs are as commonly used the way No Doze was used when I was in college.

Q: How does your novel help parents grappling with the decision to give their kids Ritalin or even to seek out help?

A: The reason I started the novel was to explore the impossible position in which so many parents find themselves – deciding whether or not to medicate. When my son’s 3rd-grade teacher suggested we get him evaluated, it was a no-brainer. Of course, I wanted to catch anything that might be an issue. Of course, I’d trust the school if they thought there was a problem, and I’d trust the doctor who did the evaluation. But there’s a moment when, as a parent, you’re torn between your gut and the experts. There is both too little information out there and too much (if you’re looking on the Internet). You don’t know who or what to trust, and parents aren’t talking about it. There’s this feeling of being alone at sea – you feel like your child is the only one going through this.

As I started researching the topic for my novel, I realized that there were approximately 10.5 million parents having to make this very same decision. I thought it was crazy that no one was talking about it, sharing information, anecdotes, research. Simply knowing how many kids were getting this diagnosis made me think about my son’s diagnoses differently.

I’m hoping that parents read “Accelerated” and continue the dialogue. Whether they like what it has to say or hate it, I want people to tell each other their stories. Just talk. It’s a powerful thing.

A Letter to Anna: Balancing Work & Life by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Dear Anna,

I watch you carry on with your dream of going to medical school and I’m already worried about the work-life balance issues you will inevitably face. Having a profession will present you with a unique set of challenges that men don’t encounter. We are socialized to be the family’s primary caregiver; men are ingrained to be the breadwinner. It’s changing, but it’s changing too slowly.

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Maybe I’ve come late to the party, but a book by local author Michelle Cove and an article by law professor Anne-Marie Slaughter have me reaching deeply into my own life. Let me start by saying that I want more for you. It’s not that I don’t have enough or I haven’t made a successful go of my writing career. But my earnings don’t reflect the hours and the keen effort that I put into my work. While that’s been a source of frustration for me, on the flipside I have control over my schedule. I can run an errand or stay home with a sick kid. But if I do that, you can be sure that I’m working after dinner to make up the time.

Slaughter was a high government official in the Obama administration who decided to return to her teaching position at Princeton after two years. Her son was in the midst of a rocky adolescence and Slaughter went home to spend more time with her family. She published an article last July in The Atlantic called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. At first glance that title is very provocative. But that’s not why I resisted giving the article a close read. I was scared to hold myself up to this super woman who worked closely with Hillary Clinton and then returned to a tenured position at Princeton University. Until she went to Washington she was Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. Slaughter and I are not in the same league. But I read on and I found some comfort. “There are genuine super women,” Slaughter writes. “These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.”

Let me back up and mention that I read Slaughter’s article after I read Cove’s book, “I Love Mondays.” It’s a unique book for the way it crosses genres as both a handy reference guide and a practical self-help book for working mothers. Subjects range from how a mom should minimize her guilt if she misses a soccer game to moms, like me, who have home offices and must establish strict boundaries. In a recent interview, Cove agrees with Slaughter that having it all is “completely unachievable. It’s not a sustainable state. Power constantly shifts and we need to be much gentler on ourselves.”

Anna, I think the generation between us is dealing more realistically with the work-life balance than my peers or I have. Slaughter quotes a pair of 30 year-old women who realize the importance of linking together every aspect of their lives. I quote them through Slaughter because I want you to hear their bluntness.

If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of the mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12-hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.

This scenario begs a question you’ll have to grapple with someday—“finding the right sequence of family and career.” When do you marry? When do you have a baby? Slaughter and Cove agree that there is no definitive answer.

Cove has been thinking about these issues for a long time and her book was a natural successor to her documentary “Seeking Happily Ever After.” The film was a retort to media representations of 30-something women who were either career obsessed or so desperate to get married that they were driving men away. Cove notes, “As a journalist and a writer I was interested in why the headlines were proclaiming there were more single 30-something women than ever. I picked up a video camera and did street interviews.” The big take away for you, my dear Anna, is to know that women can define their own “happily ever afters.”

I have faith that your generation will finally tease apart the false morality and promises of “family values.” That by speaking up about implementing family-friendly policies in this country and acknowledging the importance of work-life balance, you and other women will close in on the “leadership gap” in the White House, the corridors of multinationals and yes, even the home.

As for me, I’m starting to understand my choices as part of “the new gender gap”—that is, measuring my success by my wellbeing rather than a paycheck. Maybe I’m not too late to take advice myself. In fact, I think I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article and Michelle Cove’s new book just in the nick of time.

Love,

Mama

 

*Cancer: A Big Sister’s Story

I don’t know the name of the flowers that mysteriously bloomed alongside the driveway of our childhood home at 1735 Asylum Avenue. But every spring you and I posed for pictures in front of that small, jungley flowerbed. We grew up together in that house. Back then it was unimaginable that someday we would be middle aged and that you would have breast cancer.

Until recently, I was always dying to know the future. Remember when we had a bit of trastienda with Mom? Trastienda, one of those words that intrigued me.

Trastiendathe back room of a store where secrets are exchanged, fortunes told or blackmail delivered.

Remember that weekend in Miami Mom’s relatives when whispered about her spinster daughters. I was twenty-nine, you were twenty-six. We went to a tarot card reader that had hastily set up shop in the back of a beauty salon. The only beauty in the place was the delicate, exquisite cobweb on one of the hair dryers. Consuelo the Fortune Teller didn’t look too pleased about my cards. She said I would write children’s books or teach. I’d also eventually marry a man who already had a child. “Cuando?” Mom screamed. “I had three children at her age.”

Consuelo told you to throw water out the window and scream “vaya, vaya,” a sure-fire way of sending away any love that lingered for the wrong man. Obsessive loving—it’s in our genes like eye color. Mom still pines away for Manuel, an old boyfriend who may or may not have actually existed. We were told that if you followed Consuelo’s instructions, you’d have a husband in no time. It turns out that Consuelo (did you know her name means consolation in Spanish?) mixed up our fortunes.

Even so, a few months ago I convinced you to go hear a spiritual medium with me in a synagogue on the North Shore. You had just had the biopsy and wanted to avoid the future. But I convinced you that I had questions for our dead father and that you’d want to hear his answers.

Surprise, surprise, it was Grandpa Willy who broke through to this world. We were in a large auditorium and there were a cluster of dead Williams hovering near us. The medium—this time young and runway stylish —wore a headset. “Operators are standing by” ran through my mind like a ticker tape. Is God standing by too?

The pretty medium explained that families whose dead have the same first name tend to sit in close proximity at these kinds of events. She heard one of the Williams whisper something about breast cancer. She turned abruptly away from us. “Cancel that. No breast cancer for you.” She was talking to another family with another dead William seated a couple of rows behind us.

I feel that I’ve learned a lesson at your expense. I don’t want to know anything about tea leaves and tarot cards and mediums anymore.

After all these years, you and I still don’t smile much. The first thing the men that we married noticed about us was our lovely, sad faces. We used to laugh, though, when mail came addressed to 1735 Asglum Avenue instead of 1735 Asylum Avenue.

Like the annual appearance of those floppy, pink-red flowers lining the driveway, somehow we also bloomed. When those odd flowers popped open, they looked like the O of your mouth when I made you cry. I never left a mark on you, and when you cried the cry of a hurt little girl, Dad snapped at you for crying crocodile tears again. In case you’re still wondering, crocodiles have lachrymal glands, but they only cry to clean their eyes. A crocodile feels no remorse. I hope it’s not too late to tell you that your tears were not the same as a crocodile’s.

If you were the crybaby then I was the liar. That moniker still follows me like tails on the kites we loved flying on the fields of Saint Joseph College.  Like Scheherazade, I lied to save my life. I taught you that invaluable skill.

I was Mom’s favorite—her Siamese daughter who shared her heart and mind and language, until I wanted my own memories to shape and impress my life.

You were Dad’s pride and joy—the pint-sized fan that screamed, “Roughing the kicker” at Yale football games. This was in sacred service to Dad’s venerated Elis, so that the team could gain an easy ten yards and a first down. No one at the Yale Bowl was more adorable than you. Dad, a solid man of principle and fairness, could only bring himself to give you a pro forma scolding for bad sportsmanship.

On Saturday nights, Dad showed you off to the guests in the living room.

La mas linda della familia.” You were always the prettier one.

I pretended to be asleep in my twin bed when he carried you downstairs. I was Leah to your Rachel—the older, dowdier sister that the Bible described as having “weak eyes.” My eyes were an ordinary brown. But Dad said that yours were as “black as Spanish olives.” You were part and parcel of Dad’s infatuation with all things Spanish. Yet most everyone thought we were twins. Mom dressed us in fancy matching outfits for those spring pictures, while she refused to change out of her housecoat.

Isn’t it weird that the mystery flowers started dying off when Dad began to forget how to get home from the supermarket? I thought those flowers would last forever. Sometimes I tear up when I remember the lawn guys hacking away at the last remnants of our odd little patch of garden.

Chemotherapy has balded you down to the last root of your thick dark hair. Remember how much we loved the song “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves?” There’s no one who can pull off a headscarf and hoop earrings better than you. The other day I was walking up the stairs in your house and I thought you were sitting in your guest room—your back was to me—and you were wearing the wig. I was surprised because you said the wig was hot and itchy. I was further startled when I called your name and your voice answered me from another direction.

In the 60s Mom’s wearing a wig was as subversive as burning a bra. The wig was her reprieve from constantly teasing and wrapping her long mane of hair that Dad insisted she never cut. I was so scared of Mom’s wig that I couldn’t be alone with it in her bedroom. Turns out, your wig was also displayed on a macabre sculpture—a head with a nose and mouth and eyes as blank as white space.

Mom called her piece of lifeless hair a fall and anchored it to her head with stretchy, colorful headbands. But I liked it best when her hair was pulled up as if she was ready to wear a mantilla. She never had the kind of patience for my knotted hair. Bolones is what she called my clots of hair that she pulled at with a plastic comb.

After your buzz cut you were startled that Dad looked back at you in the mirror. His face was transposed on yours, complete with the same weary and watery eyes. You’re bulldogs the two of you. Dad’s Yale bulldogs that you rooted for too.

When you found the lump lotioning up in the shower, you had no idea this would be the scene of another trastienda. Your fate was sealed when all you wanted was to smell good to meet your favorite and only niece’s boyfriend—my daughter’s first love. I panicked when my baby’s courtship took off. “It’s not the same,” you said. “She has a loving home. If she falls apart she knows you’ll be there to put her back together.” You also said that I would have been as happy as my girl l if I’d had a loving mother. I’d settle for a mother—warts and all—who simply had had good intentions.

Until you had breast cancer, I thought margins only existed on sheets of paper. But margins are also hurdles you had to jump over. As in, your margins needed to be further cleared. After the lumpectomy you had a second surgery to widen what I imagined this time as a protective border of white space. If your numbers were any higher you would have needed a mastectomy.

At your insistence, soon after your diagnosis, I went to an artist’s colony for three weeks. I was 1500 miles away and floating through what I can only describe as a valley shadowed by despair. No treatments were scheduled for you until I returned. The truth is that no course of treatment was decided for a couple of months. The mills of the cancer gods grind slowly. That’s a tagline for a fortune cookie.

In the middle of my writing residency you called to tell me that your lymph nodes were clean. I was struck by how filthy cancer is—a realization as loud as the thunder you were once so frightened of. I almost didn’t hear you say that you also bought the optional chemo insurance policy. “I want this thing destroyed,” you said. “Torpedoed.”

Our readiness for the battle thrills me. And scares me. Scares me as much as the short haircut I vowed to get. I was in sixth grade the last time I had short hair. My hairdresser initially refused to cut my hair as short as I wanted her to. “We’ll do it in two stages,” she said.

“One stage. Like my sister’s cancer.” But she was insistent that it was too much change at once. After the haircut my hair was shoulder length.

The first time I saw you bald I went back to the salon without an appointment and said, “Round two.” People gathered around me and said I was so brave. Hair grows back for goodness sake. But I can’t stop stroking my phantom ponytail.

You cried when you saw me with short hair. You said you were so sorry you changed our family history for the worse. Our health is collective, like our girlhood.

Since your diagnosis we’ve been bargaining with everyone from doctors to employers to a God who acts enthroned and entitled. Here’s the only deal I want to strike: next spring we have a lush, veritable garden of our new lustrous hair.

And then, I imagine, we’ll pose for another picture.

*Please note this is an older piece. Thank God, my sister has come out the other end and among many things has a beautiful head of hair.

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: The Boomer and The Holocaust Survivor

Boom goes my generation with all of the energy and chaos of an atomic blast. Born between 1945 and 1964, there are seventy-six million of us in the United States. Boom goes my generation as we take our places on a historical continuum of social and political revolutions. Boom goes my generation as we take care of aging parents and the children many of us had in our thirties and forties instead of our twenties.

I write this column in my mother’s room at the Hebrew Senior Life Rehabilitation Center. Her house has just been sold. At the moment, her world has shrunk down to one bed as in, “a bed’s come available.” She’s been poked and prodded and operated on while, boom, my siblings and I chase her benefits, balance her checkbook and watch her assets dwindle until Medicare kicks in.

I also write this column after reading Susan Kushner Resnick’s funny, poignant and storied memoir about her relationship with a loveable, difficult Holocaust survivor named Aron Lieb. Boom goes my generation and some of us will blow up before we can appreciate the multi-generational relationships that can so enrich us. Kushner’s memoir is a vital reminder of how important it is to reach across the generational divide, and simply put, love each other.

The title alone—You Saved Me, Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Fighting, Loving and Swearing in Yiddish— maps out Kushner Resnick’s book to some degree. The reader is cued into the fact that it is also a Yizkor book—A Book of Remembrance. Kushner Resnick tracked down the prototype of such a book about Zychlin—Aron’s shtetl in Poland. “This is not your first appearance in a book,” Kushner Resnick writes to her dear friend. “The other one, published when I was eleven years old [in 1974] is called The Memorial Book of Zychlin.” Boom. Most of that generation of Europe’s Jews disappeared in a pestilent cloud of Nazi genocide.

But You Saved Me, Too is a book of life as much as it is a Yizkor book. It begins with the fact that Lieb and Kushner Resnick both liked to talk to strangers. It tells the truth that their friendship rescued Kushner Resnick from a crushing post-partum depression. That was in 1997. Kushner Resnick has a baby that she leaves in babysitting at the JCC so that she can swim off her depression. She meets Aron Lieb on a lark at the same JCC. “[Aron was] my faux father, my son, my crush, and my cause.”

You Saved Me, Too is also a quixotic book. For anyone who has shepherded a parent through the murky health care system, Kushner Resnick’s advocacy for Lieb’s benefits and his dignity will resonate, deeply and painfully. Kushner Resnick is not shy about indicting the Jewish community and its leaders for Lieb’s benign neglect. In her tongue-in-cheek style, she takes on the honchos, the machors, who made empty promises to help a man who bore the ultimate tattoo of Auschwitz.

That tattoo, the number 141324, takes up residence in Kushner Resnick’s imagination. She notes the sloppiness of the letters—the tattooist must have been in a hurry to go down the long cue of people arriving at Auschwitz—the fact that, “for fifty years, every time you’d taken off your shirt at night or reached out to adjust your side-view mirror on a summer day, you saw those numbers, 141324, the brand the Nazis gave you when they thought you were theirs.”

Boom. Kushner Resnick becomes, in essence, a third-generation survivor or a 3G. She’s bent on keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, intent on telling stories that go beyond the blue Yizkor books from Polish shtetls. “Eventually all the tattooed arms will disappear” she writes. “Then the forgetting will truly commence. … How would the numbers look on my arm? I could get the same tattoo in the same place. 141324. Whenever people asked what it meant, I could tell them about you.”

Although Kushner Resnick, is speaking metaphorically, there are 3G grandchildren who have actually tattooed their grandparents’ numbers on their arms. It’s a radical act that has stirred up as much pride as it has consternation among their survivor relatives. Those numbers are also an address of unimaginable tragedy and entrenched optimism. For all of his heartache and kvetching, Lieb survives because he has dealt with unbearable horror as much as he has thrived in the small joys of life like meeting his friends for a daily cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

With no significant family willing to care for him, Kushner Resnick becomes Lieb’s healthcare proxy and has power of attorney over his affairs. She secures his reparations and learns that she has to open a separate account so that the money is not taxed and therefore not counted as an asset. Boom. She learns that the Boston Jewish community pays mostly lip service to the survivors among them and that it’s a problem also prevalent in Israel.

Halfway through the book she questions her involvement in Lieb’s life. “I can’t write anything conclusive until I figure out why we’re together,” she says. “Some writers say they find the answers by writing their way towards them. But I need to know the last line before I type the first word.” I think I know what she means. My mother sleeps as I type these last words about Aron Lieb and Susan Kushner Resnick, the woman who made his life a blessing for the world to read.

 

When Bad Things Happen to Good Kids

A day on which a life changes forever always begins as ordinary – so ordinary that thereafter, daily life is a deliberate celebration.

Carolyn Roy-Bornstein writes about an ordinary day gone awry in her new memoir “Crash: A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude.” In her engrossing narrative, Bornstein divides her life “into two unequal parts. A line, like a crack in the glass, which carves time and events into two: those that occurred before the crash and those that tumble and falter in its wake. There is the one moment after which nothing is the same. It occurs in a heartbeat.”


And so begins Roy-Bornstein’s extraordinary account of the minutes, hours and days following her son Neil’s accident with a teenage drunken driver. On the night of Jan. 7, 2003, 17-year-old Neil and his girlfriend, Trista, set off on foot for the short walk between his house and Trista’s. The driver who ran down the two of them sped away from the scene. Neil survived the accident. Trista did not. Nine years later Roy- Bornstein garnered enough perspective to tell the story of the accident that changed her family’s life with humanity and love.

Roy-Bornstein, a pediatrician practicing on Boston’s North Shore, demonstrates her gifts as a writer as she unfurls one of the illuminating quotes that introduce the book: “We must embrace pain and burn it for fuel for our journey.” In a recent interview with the Jewish Advocate, Roy-Bernstein pointed out that she and her family burned gallons of emotional fuel, particularly during the immediate aftermath when “[t]here was something called temporal lobe agitation,” said Roy-Bornstein, “which occurs in many brain-injured patients where they can become very disinhibited, very irritable and act in ways that are totally not like them.”

Neil, a shy and contemplative young man, uncharacteristically lashes out at his mother as both his parent and a doctor. This brings the reader to a poignant quote that gets to the heart of Roy-Bornstein’s story: “No amount of doctoring can prepare you for being a patient.”

She elaborates that “even though I knew it was [Neil’s] injury talking, that was very painful to go through. Months later I found him reading my diary at the dining room table. Before I could decide whether to ask him to stop or let him continue, he looked up at me and said, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you in the hospital, Mom.’”

Roy-Bornstein’s memoir makes it very clear that first and foremost, she is a mother to Neil and her older son, Dan. And she tilts at windmills during her encounters with the healthcare system. Her frustrations are memorably dramatized in a chapter titled “He’s Gonna Be Just Fine.” Roy-Bornstein recalls, “When we were in the ER at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, we were told by the emergency room physician that Neil was ‘gonna be just fine.’ But that has not been our experience. Almost 10 years later he still sees a therapist, suffers from anxiety and has petitioned the disabilities office at his graduate school program for a distraction free environment for test taking.”

Roy-Bornstein notes that even as a physician she was unaware of the subtle long-term effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). After Neil’s accident, she educated herself about TBI and over the years has become a de facto ambassador for the Traumatic Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts. Her role includes educating other health care professionals as well as the general public about TBI. Roy-Bornstein’s advocacy on behalf of TBI patients and their families also extends to education about concussions: “I’m trying to get the word out about concussion and its long-term effects on kids. In July of 2010, Massachusetts instituted new guidelines for public, middle and high school students that require coaches who suspect a concussion in their student-athlete to sit them out for the rest of the game or practice. We’re trying to change the culture in youth sports and the old mantra of ‘If you can walk, you can play’ to ‘When in doubt, sit them out.’” Roy-Bornstein has shared her expertise on the subject on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” and on the lecture circuit where she educates healthcare professionals and social workers about concussion and traumatic brain injury. “It’s become my passion,” she says.

Roy-Bornstein’s passions also include advocating for victim’s rights and health issues related to teens and drinking.

“When the accident occurred there was a lot of chatter in the media about under-aged drinking and drunk[en] driving,” she notes. “A vocal minority of parents stuck by their practice of letting their teens and their friends drink in their home, believing that they were keeping them safe by taking away their keys. But even if kids aren’t drunk[en] driving they’re still drunk.”

And as Roy-Bernstein knows all too well, “Bad things happen to good kids and drunk[en] kids.”