Dear Mom…

Margie asked us all to share a reflection about you in honor of your 87th birthday. Of course, the only answer was “yes!!”—and that is exactly what I want to share about you.

I was lucky to grow up in a world of “yes,” and I still live in a world of “yes” when it comes to you—not because you were an indulgent parent. Rather your yeses were “appropriate” and created a world of acceptance and exploration.

While I know that we had our power struggles when I was young, my memories of early childhood included being free to explore and test on my own. “Yes, you can go next door to Penny’s” and “Yes, you can go across the street to Mindy’s.” “Yes, you kids can go to the park around the corner”—as I recall, without parental supervision, even though we were all around six years old. “Yes, we can go to Carvel” and “Yes, we can go to the bagel place up the street.” I’m sure there some no’s in there as well, but my recollection is that with guidance and education, you trusted me (and us) to explore the world, building confidence in our choices and our ability to do things on our own. The day after we moved to Short Hills, New Jersey, Sam (my brother), and I went with the other neighborhood kids to a nearby school to go sledding. I was seven, and the school was nearly a mile away from home. I remember being cold and wishing that I could go home…but I didn’t really know where I was, so I had to wait until the others were ready. I made it through the discomfort, learning the lesson of patience and gaining the confidence that comes with overcoming even small challenges.

Through high school and college, friends were always welcome in our home, and you trusted me when I asked to go on some crazy adventures with those friends. You and Dad asked questions to be sure that we had thought things through and had prepared appropriately…and then you supported my flights of fancy.

You created a home that is always a “yes” to friends and family. There is always room for one more at the table, even if we have to squeeze in elbow to elbow. It is that welcoming of loved ones that taught me to nurture the relationships with my husband’s family, always making them welcome in our home. Your inspiration created two of my happiest memories—the week in July 2016 when Ron’s siblings and all the kids and his parents came together at our home…and the New Year’s dinner surrounded by our daughters, Jackie and Callie, and a group of Callie’s college friends.

You always say how happy you are to see your kids each day, and nothing makes me happier than to do the same—to have my table filled with those I love.

At 87, you still are a yes in so many ways. Trip to Morocco? Yes. Riverboat cruise? Yes. Israel? Of course!! Watch our dog, Meeker, for the evening? Sure. You generously volunteer your time at Jewish Family Service and the local hospital. You go to the ballet, the opera…you spend as much time as possible with your great-grandchildren. Yes, you can. And yes, you do.

Yes creates opportunities and opens doors and keeps you young. Yes expanded our worlds and continues to expand yours. Yes is magical…and so are you.

Happiest birthday, Mom. YES, I love you and am so incredibly grateful to be on this journey with you.

With much love

This was the note I gave to my mother last week for her birthday. But as I was writing it, I couldn’t help but think about our country’s birthday today and the similarities between my mom and the generous openness of the United States of America.

Founded by individuals who believed in the power of the human spirit and who had a commitment to the growth and personal responsibility of individuals, the United States was founded on a “Yes.” Yes, we can travel to a foreign world for a better life. Yes, we can build new communities. Yes, we can do this on our own. Yes, we can separate from the mother country and stand on our own, leaving the protective nest when it was time. Yes, we need more people from around the globe to come here to help grow our new country.

And today, in the midst of the immigration crisis and great political divide, ironically “yes” is the center of the battle. Yes, people from around the world still think that America is an amazing place to be, since hundreds of thousands of them try to enter every month. Yes, America is incredibly generous in both opening our country to newcomers and caring for those who are here without having gone through the legal channels.

Of course, at the moment, we have more people wanting to be here than our system is designed or constructed for, and that is creating what some perceive as noes. It’s actually, “Yes, but…”. Yes, as long as you are here, we will process your request. But you will need to follow our procedure…and unfortunately, the system is currently overwhelmed, so you will need to wait a little longer than normal…and the facilities while you wait are not as comfortable as they may have been in the past due to the overcrowding.

America became a country with the affirmation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States—documents that are founded on the principles of personal liberties, defined in the dictionary as, “The freedom of the individual to do as he pleases limited only by the authority of politically organized society to regulate his action to secure the public health, safety, or morals or of other recognized social interests.” In other words, a whole lot of yeses with a whole lot of responsibility for the individual and to the community. Yes, you can be here, but you have responsibilities to the community and the country.  

My mom (and dad) gave me a whole lot of latitude growing up with regard to supporting my independent spirit. There were a lot of yeses, but most of them came with “buts” in the form of responsibilities to our family community. I owed some things back to the family—respect for my parents…a contribution to the family in the form of household chores…good citizenship by behaving properly and getting good grades at school…adhering to curfews…accepting and respecting the rules of the house.

Those rules created the structure and safety net that allowed me to confidently venture forth. Children and families and communities need order and rules. It provides a safety net for all. With that safety net in place, people have the freedom to venture forth and explore. The individual grows. The family grows. The community grows.

My mom has grown a strong and loving community with her can-do and supportive yeses. And the United States has similarly grown a strong and loving community with its can-do attitude and supportive yeses. I celebrate both and wish them a long and happy life.