Big Birthday Report – Better than Great

Birthday card 1 birthday care 2Brithday card glitter

It’s pretty damn weird that after all the build up I haven’t written a thing about my 70th birthday itself! It was so lovely that I just didn’t want to let go of it even enough to tell its stories.  I just kind of hung onto it for a day.  So here it is:

We all went to Santa Cruz, to the beach: sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and Rick and me. The boys found a great house with a big open plan, perfect for people whose ages run from 70 to 19 months with an almost-five-year-old Nate in the middle.

It was just what I wanted. Toddlers Jake and Eli eating blueberries and flirting with their grandparents, grown-ups talking about everything from politics to child rearing to just-executed beach walks (of which there were many.) Goofing around.  Reading stories.  Cuddling on the deck.  Coloring. Being gifted with three home-made birthday cards covered in crayon and glitter-glue.  And with an urgently required lemon zester.

Staying up late talking – and listening to the boys talk with each other.  Catching up while the kids slept.  Hanging around in the early morning with the mommies and the little guys.  Walking from our house to the far end of the promenade, a windy point, and then back past the house to the other end, where there’s a lighthouse. We did it in different combinations, a couple of times in the daylight and one gorgeous time in the dark, watching the lighthouse lazily send out its signal and wondering at the full moon and its bright path of light on the sea.

It was, in short, our family at its best.  They gave me what I wanted most: to wake up and wander out in my PJs and find the little ones sitting on the floor giggling; to watch the sunset bundled up on the deck with Nate in my lap, and to enjoy our sons and their wives.  To all be together in the same place for more than dinner.

From each of them came hugs, and humor and generosity of spirit – and lots of love. Times like these are why we celebrate being born at all.

From Bunny to Brave Leader of Us All. Happy Birthday Gloria!

Gloria in her "underground" Playboy Bunny garb for her 1963 expose in SHOW Magazine.
Gloria in her “underground” Playboy Bunny garb for her 1963 expose in SHOW Magazine.

I was 17 the first time I saw this, a Pittsburgh kid with grand ambitions for worldliness and intellectual heft and the ability to do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink; so many that I actually subscribed to magazines like The Saturday Review, The New Yorker and SHOW: the Magazine of the Arts, where Gloria’s famous Playboy Club expose first appeared.

My reaction: “What a showboat, dumb thing to do!”  My (never-less-than-honest) mother responded “You’re just jealous!”  And she was right.  Gloria had done something I so wanted to do – and so early in her career!  How could I ever get from a Monongahela River mill town to that?

I never dreamed that Gloria, too, came from an industrial town – Toledo – much less that we would both have attended the same college, that I would hear her speak at my sister’s Smith graduation, and that, amazingly,  I would actually come to know this remarkable woman.  And here, on her 80th birthday, is what I learned:

In 1974, I told one of Ms’ spectacular co-founders how much I admired her.  She replied “That’s how I feel about Gloria.” Heroes have heroes too, and hers was Gloria.

In 1982, for Ms. Magazine‘s 10th birthday, I produced an anniversary story called “A Day in the Life of Gloria Steinem” for the Today Show.  The camera crew and I took a train from Penn Station to Philadelphia with her and followed her from event to event, including a couple of large public appearances.  At least once every couple of minutes, a  woman would walk up to her to thank her for something: courage, perspective, “you changed my life.”

Every time, every interruption, every stop on the street or in the hotel lobby or the ball room or the train, she treated each woman as if she were the first one she’d ever met.  She listened intently.  She responded in a very personal way.  Every time.

To Gloria, every woman: each of us, all of us, has mattered to her.  We are not just a formidable, critical cause, we are women who one by one by one have been living the lives women live, unequal, unheralded, amazing lives.

It is this that has made her the most remarkable of leaders, of change agents and of women.  Never, in all the marches and speeches and honors and sadnesses has she forgotten that each one of us is all of us.  She is not just a leader, she is a shining example.  And inside each of us, we know it.

Happy Birthday Gloria – and thanks, from all of us here now and the girls and women yet to come.

Take a look at this MAKERS profile, too.

When Kids Grow Up: Their Landmark Birthdays and Mom’s Heart

Dan kidMy baby turned 30 on Saturday.  He’s a remarkable man and has been independent and away from home (across the country, actually) for a long time.  But he’s still my only youngest child.

It was a landmark for him, and he had a great day, I think, while I spent much of that day in a state of astonishing gratitude.

That face would be enough, right?  The amazing thing is that for every smile, grin, laugh, great story, amazing artwork, funny home-made Halloween costume (How many second-graders dress up as Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, after all?) there are a hundred more.  He’s a wealth of wonders.

I have so many friends who are close to his age, or younger, and I’ve often tried to describe what it feels like to see a beloved boy grow into a fine, honorable, creative, funny, loving and talented man.  But they’re worrying about preschool and OT and nannies and play dates and work-life balance and it sounds so far away – probably frighteningly so.

Cropped toast

So, as I have so often before, I’m telling you instead.
There are few honors more moving than noting a day like this with joy. Look at this photo – a moment of pure eloquence as a young man toasts his big brother at his wedding.  You can see how much they like each other; that’s a gift too.

I could tell many stories about the little boy up there and the man, too, but they are his stories to tell.  I’m here, rather, to tell you, and myself, one more time, about my own sense of the pure honor of being a parent and riding along as our kids find their way.  Through good times and bad, success and … not so much …. their presence is a blessing.

So.  Here I am, in adequately trying to tell people — who already know the wonders of parenthood — about someone they’ve never met.  Because, as he enters his 31st year, I’m just so glad I know him.

Happy birthday Dan.

G-L-O-R-I-A! Happy Birthday Gloria Steinem

Gloria Bunny
I have known Gloria Steinem for a very long time.   March 25th was her birthday and she is an amazing seventy-five years old!   I've admired her since my teens.  There used to be a magazine called SHOW, kind of a cross between Vanity Fair and New York Magazine.  In 1963, when I was a senior in high school, Gloria published a piece there called "I Was a Playboy Bunny."  Describing her three weeks as an "undercover" Bunny, the piece launched her career.  I remember saying something half derogatory about it — remember I was 17 — and my mother saying to me "You're just jealous."  She was right.  What a great job, what an elegant woman, offers from magazines, everything I was determined to have for myself – she'd done it.  If she could get out of Toledo, I could get out of Pittsburgh.  (I did.)

I've had my eye on her ever since and as she helped to lead all of us out of the wilderness I felt a special ownership since we  both attended Smith College.  In those years, as I became more involved in what would be called the Second Wave of Feminism, Gloria was a spearhead for most of it.  In fact, I once told a colleague of hers, a well-respected writer herself, how much I admired her.  Her response "The way you feel about me?  That's how I feel about Gloria."  

On the tenth anniversary of Ms. Magazine, which Gloria had helped to found, I produced a series for  The Today Show .  For one segment, a camera crew and I followed her on a day-long trip to Philadelphia to make a speech.  That was when I realized that her role was larger, and more personal, than I had understood. 

Here's what happened:  We got on the Metroliner in Penn Station and a woman came up to us to tell Gloria how she had changed her life.    We arrived in Philadelphia and, right in the station, another women did the same.  So it was all through the day.  At the evening event, she could barely make her way through the room as an endless stream of women approached to thank her, express admiration, just talk to her.  Through all of it, woman after woman after woman, she was unfailingly courteous and engaged.  Each was the only one she was talking to.  None was made to feel out of place or inappropriate.  I don't know about you, but that's tough for a public person to do; Gloria has done it for years.  In other words, she wasn't leading Feminism, she was being Feminism.

It's been like that ever since.  In the public eye or out, hugely famous or less famous, she's always been there to keep the focus where it belongs and carry us further toward equality, and it's always been about all of us, not her.  It's been an honor to know her, even a little bit, and to see personally that she's not just a fine leader, she's a fine person.  Happy Birthday Gloria (a little bit late). We're lucky to have you.


We leave Jerusalem for the airport in two hours and I don’t even know if it’s worth going to sleep.  It’s almost midnight here and and cab is coming at 2 AM.  So much has happened that I’ve been too tired to write most of it down.  I guess I’d better chronicle it somehow though. 

This was one of my favorite moments of our trip.  It’s almost dawn at the  Kotel (Western Wall of the old Temple) and a young boy and his father prepare for morning prayers.  This day is the first that he will "lay tefillin "– wear the special prayer objects on his arm and forehead to follow the commandments by placing reminders on the arm and "between thine eyes" – on his forehead.  They’ve chosen to celebrate this very significant pre-Bar Mitzvah moment in the early morning – a sunrise service where the Amidah – a critical prayer – is recited just as the dawn arrives.  A loving and very impressive family of four girls, two boys and two remarkable parents, they all joined to offer moral support and presence to someone they love as he takes this first step to what I guess you’d call "religious adulthood." 

I know the photo is blurry but I don’t like to show faces of other people’s families — they deserve their privacy.  I just want you to know how lovely it was.  An animated and intelligent young man, his father at his side – his sisters, mom, cousins, friend – and a couple of us — watching him make his way.  I told his mom, whom I very much admire, that it was a privilege to be there.  Probably sounds like hogwash but it isn’t – watching all this take place as the sun rose to illuminate us all was a true blessing. 

Of course we couldn’t watch everything because much of the ceremony took place on the "men’s side" of the mehitza (divider between men and women) where we weren’t allowed to be.   We peeked through fence dividers though, so we did get to see a bit.  I’ve been living a fairly observant, Orthodox life for a couple of years now, moving forward month by month, holiday by holiday, and I continue to be amazed at the levels of intolerance I manifested before I learned about observant life from the inside.  Days like this one remind me of how much of the world we can’t judge without living it – or at least being willing to come along as others do.  This day was a perfect example of that.   

That same day, a cousin of the family at the Kotel invited me to visit the school her kids attend – K-8 – near the town of Efrat, on the grounds of a kibbutz called Rosh Tzurim.   
Founded by an amazing woman named Noah Mandelbaum, it began as an effort to accommodate a single Downs child by mainstreaming him, along with a special teacher, in a "regular" classroom.  It was so successful that within months she had 4, then 6, then finally, so many  kids that she launched a school where such mainstreaming would be policy.  This photo shows the school in action.  There are many classrooms for Downs, autistic and other developmentally affected kids study alongside the rest of the class.  I didn’t want to take photos there and distract them.  In this nursery class is another phase of the program.  The young woman whose back is to us is fairly seriously compromised but she is permanent staff in the classroom and is learning to be a preschool aide able to get a job and work outside the school.  That smiling girl in the blue sweater is today’s "guest" – another child with serious developmental issues who will work in the classroom for the day.  The program helps these young people find a place of their own in the world – and teach all the kids at Reshit School the value of every human person.

This is Noah, the school’s founder.  Surrounding her is part of the farm where every child – "normal" and otherwise, works each day – together.  You can see the colors, the free-form murals – all the stuff that reminds me of schools we all dreamed of in the 60s.  In many ways the tone of this school is similar – but this is a real "put your money where your mouth is" environment.  Parents have to believe that the things their kids learn here are more important than super-competitive environments where the only standard is how far their children are from the next step on the ladder.  Learning to be moral, caring human beings is an actual mission here.

The kids are pretty free (it’s kind of Summerhillish), across ability spectrum, and the curriculum is designed to allow each to learn in her own style at her own speed.  When I asked Noah about kids like mine, who had needed and appreciated structure, knowing what was going to come next, her reply was startling in its good sense.  Basically – and I’m paraphrasing here – the idea is that "for some kids, especially more intelligent ones, that may be true.  But for kids with less ability it is especially important that they learn to live without an institutional structure every minute because the world doesn’t have that kind of structure – and the world is where they will have to live." By the way, after years of fighting with the educational establishment, Reshit has been designated a model and its efforts to mainstream all kinds of kids will be emulated in schools throughout the country.

I have more to write – about exploring ancient tunnels under old Jerusalem and more – but this is enough for now.  I’ll try to have the rest in a day or two.


Dscn0544_3 Saturday night we went to my friend Rona’s 60th birthday party in LA.  The photo is me, Rona and our Today Show colleague Coby. It was really fun – how often does Famous Amos bake you cookies and Brian Wilson sing to you on a Bel Air tennis court turned party heaven?  How often do you see photos of yourself, your friend and your husband at Today Show shoots and crazy parties?  And how often, in the unexpected chill of an April Los Angeles evening, do you see a pile of blankets for guests that includes the one you made their now 14-year-old son when he was born? 

I’ve written about Rona before but Saturday night was a real reminder of the nature of a gifted friend.  She asked everyone to stand up.  Those who knew her 5 years or less, sit down.  Then ten years.  Then fifteen.  We were feeling pretty cocky since we were in the 20 years or less category – until we saw how many people – from New York, DC, Hawaii, San Francisco, LA and God knows where else – were standing at 30 – and even 40 years!  And Rick and I knew many of them; we’d been to birthday parties or holiday events or just dinner with them over the years. I once heard someone quote Wendy Wasserstein as saying that you could judge someone’s character by how well they kept their friends.  In that as in so many other ways she was a star.

On the tables were CDs for all of us – with a photo of her at Woodstock on the cover (one that I’d used in our 20 year anniversary piece (it was really great) to close it out.  Sunday I was driving around LA while my husband was at his conference so I stuck the CD into the player.  The next thing I knew I was driving down the 10 Freeway in tears — not sweet little showers but huge wracking sobs.  Not really sadness, it was more a recognition of all the treasured time that has passed – of how much I loved so much of it and how real it still feels to me.  I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past but I’m told that the entire epic emerges from memories evoked from the smell of a Madeline (a kind of French cookie – they sell them at Starbucks I think.) 

Well each song – Van Morrison or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon or Marvin Gaye took me someplace.  The thing is – sad as I was, I was also absurdly grateful to have the memories and moments so powerfully evoked by the music.  Not until I hit 60 did I realize you really DO get older – that some things are in the past for good.  When the music is there, though, nothing's really gone.  Memories and senses arise in all their glory and float me back where I came from.  Not for long – and not entirely – but enough to remind me of the privileges of my life and the wonders of life itself.  Corny but oh so true – music brings the gift of memory and joy.  Yet another thing to thank birthday girl Rona for adding to my life.  Happy birthday one more time, my sister.


Today is hard.  I have been working to let bloggers know about the CNN free re-broadcast online of their 9/11/2001 coverage and so it’s been on my mind for weeks.  Even so I can’t get past the awful feelings to anything resembling wisdom. 

I just posted to Mom-101, written by Liz Gumbiner, whose birthday is today.  Can you imagine carrying that around?  I met a kid around 10 with the same birthday and when I asked him his birthday his response was positively apologetic.  He already knew. 

Instead of me writing what everyone else is writing, I’m going to send you to Liz.  Her words say it all.