Posted by: halliesklar | February 15, 2013

When Worlds Collide

Yesterday Jo Jo and I ended up in a major car accident.

It was around 3:15, and I had just picked Jo Jo up from pre-school. She’d resisted letting me buckle her into her car seat, and while I’d managed to fasten her lap belt she kept wiggling out of her shoulder straps, shouting “No No No!” She was so adamant Imageand fighting me so hard that for a moment I debated just letting her ride home with her arms out—it was only a few miles, after all, and maybe not worth all this hassle. But for some reason I had this weird nagging sensation she should be securely strapped in. So I tightened her shoulder straps even more—much to her chagrin—and drove off.

We were driving north down Long Ridge when all of a sudden I saw a Jeep that was driving south start careening straight towards us. This can’t be happening I thought as I instinctively got into the right lane. Then the next few moments happened at lightning speed. The other car hit my back rear driver’s side with an ear splitting thump and then sped away. I felt the Sienna lurch forwards, and watched as we smashed against the guard rail on the right side of the street. Then our van turned and spun right into oncoming traffic.

I was panicking. The smell of smoke was all around me. I hit the brake, and then realized that was absolutely the wrong thing to do. Was I supposed to steer into the spin? Steer away? Cars were coming towards us. I tried moving the steering wheel, which didn’t seem to be working. I saw Jo Jo in the rear view mirror, frantically flapping her arms, wide-eyed. The car was slowing down, but I couldn’t get it to stop.

Then all of a sudden I smelled a scent I’d known from childhood: a combo of Dove soap and Downy fabric softener. It was the smell of my dad in his last couple years of life, when he wasn’t working anymore and had given up his suits for his khakis and wool sweaters. I heard his voice, calm, gentle, reassuring: “put the car in park.”

I did it without thinking, and the car jerked forward and then ground to a complete halt. I blinked. We were right in the middle of the road, facing south. The scent was gone, replaced by the acrid odor of burning metal. Smoke was pouring out of the steering wheel. I stared at a sorry mess of yellowish fabric coming out of it and realized it was my airbag, now deflated.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I know I got out of the car, legs trembling, feeling as battered and drained as when I’d ran my first marathon. A few people stopped their cars to check on us; someone called 911. I checked Jo Jo, who seemed unharmed, “whoa,” she said to me, shaking her head. “Whoa”. The paramedics came. The police came. The other driver—a woman in her 70s—had apparently kept driving on the wrong side of the road until her tire blew out and she was forced to pull over. She insisted I’d swerved into her. The police kept demanding my version. Meanwhile my husband showed up, racing down Long Ridge Road at about 100 miles an hour. I saw him pull up, saw the police freak out and order him to move his car, at which point he jumped out and shouted, “I’m not doing anything until I’ve checked on my wife and daughter!” He ran up to me and hugged me, and when I felt him trembling and the moistness of his shirt I realized yet again what a close call we’d had.

Ultimately, the police agreed that my story checked out—given the location of the damage on both cars, and where the skid marks on the road were, there was no possible explanation other than she’d driven straight into my lane. While we were both shaken up, it was clear that Jo Jo and I had emerged unscathed. The minivan, however, was totaled. A tow truck came to take it away. As we unstrapped car seats and removed registration info from our Sienna, I started shaking again. The paramedic came over. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, then added once again what I’d been repeating over and over for the last hour, “we could have died.”

“You’re lucky,” he said gently, and then, “someone was looking out for you.”

I nodded. “Yes,” I said. “Someone was.”

And that was it. We got in the car and drove home. The other driver, as far as I know, is fine. She also didn’t suffer any injuries. I’m not sure if she ever changed her story, if she was actually fleeing the accident scene, why she swerved into oncoming traffic, right into my lane. We’ll see the police report next week, which hopefully will help sort some of these mysteries out.

I’ve always been agnostic. I’m skeptical what I thought happened in the car during the spin really happened. The rational part of me says that my subconscious mind conjured my father up, as a way to cope during an incredibly stressful, life-threatening situation.  I don’t want to become the almost-40 year old fruitcake obsessed with visitations from her Dear Departed Dad.

But for a moment, I did feel like he was in the car with me, and I felt secure, and I felt his strength.  And I was able to do what I needed to do to stop the Sienna and get my daughter and me to safety.

And I guess ultimately that’s all that matters.

Posted by: halliesklar | February 8, 2013

Moving On

I haven’t blogged in a long, long time.

 After my father passed away, there were weeks of struggling to return to normal. Trying to reconnect with my kids, who were also in their own little ways grappling with Pop Pop’s death. Playing mad catch up at work. Then just when it seemed we were moving gradually back into a routine, the hurricane hit, then the Newtown shooting, and it just seemed like our lives would never return to normal. There would always be a Nor’easter, or an Adam Lanza lurking around the corner, to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiety.

 And through it all, I missed my father so, so much. I tried to keep it together in front of my babies, but every time I got into my car or closed the door to my office my face was bathed with tears.

 We went up to Canada over Christmas, to spend some time with my in-laws. While Jo Jo wasn’t so into the snow, Teddy loved it. My normally introverted, bookwormish son wanted to be outside building snow forts and chasing the dog around. One day, Jamie took him skiing. It was too cold for Geoffrey and Jo Jo, so we three stayed inside the ski hill’s play area. There were big glass windows that looked out on the hill and I could just make out Teddy’s green jacket and little green monster hat as he gingerly slid down the gentle slope right by the chair lift. It was his first time on skis and he was doing so, so amazingly well. Daddy, I thought as I watched my small son maneuver his skis, I wish so badly you could see this. The tears came yet again, and if it weren’t for the fact that another French Canadian toddler began beating up Geoffrey while yapping away like Pepe Le Pew I would have had a total meltdown.

 That night, I lay in bed, listening to the sound of my husband’s snoring, missing my father so much it hurt. I kept thinking about one of the last times I’d visited before he was in the hospital. I’d had a work deadline and spent most of my time on the phone doing back to back interviews. I’d felt guilty, but I’d figured there would be plenty more time for leisurely visits over the next few months. After all, he’d go into remission, which would buy him a couple more years.

 I’d never, ever expected what had happened to happen. And staring up at the ceiling, I just wished I had blown off my assignments for just one afternoon to sit and reminisce with him.

 Then I fell asleep. I don’t often recall dreams, but this one was particularly vivid: Jamie and I were standing in the yard of a large farmhouse. We were surrounded by cherry trees and Virgina bluebells and there were five or six golden retrievers bouncing around. Ivry sat a few feet away, happily chewing on a twig. “Daddy would love this place,” I thought, and then suddenly I was inside the house, in a bedroom, and there was a knock on the door.

 I opened it and there, smiling faintly, was my father. He was wearing his beige Samuelson sport coat and the blue silk tie with anchors on it I’d given him for one of his forty something birthdays. He looked like his old self, before the myeloma returned, thinner and grayer but relaxed.

 “Daddy is that you?” I asked, and he nodded. I reached out to hug him, and he embraced me. He felt solid and strong, like the man I remembered. “I can feel you?” I said in wonderment, and he nodded again. Then he turned and began to walk away.

 I stood there, stunned. I couldn’t believe that my father had appeared to me and was just going to walk away like nothing unusual had happened. “Daddy!” I shrieked, racing down the hallway, and then I noticed I was wearing one of my white cotton nighties from high school. How’d that happen? I wondered, but I continued in hot pursuit of my father, shrieking, “Daddy, come back here now!”

 My father stopped at the front door of the house, turned, and literally blanched at the sight of his overweight middle aged daughter lurching towards him in a lacey little girl nightgown that barely grazed her knees.

 “Hallie,” he said sternly, “stop.”

 I halted, right in front of him.

 “Little one,” he said, and his voice propelled me backwards 30 years, “you have got to let me go.”

 “Well wait a minute,” I said. “I want to know where you are. Are you in heaven? Do you like it? Will we see you again?”

 “Yes,” he said evenly. 

 “Yes to which question?” I challenged him.

 He didn’t answer.

 “Are you going to be reincarnated?” I blurted out.

 He rolled his eyes. “Hallie, I don’t know,” he said, exacerbated and he sounded so exactly like himself I started blubbering.

 “I’m a journalist,” I said. “You had to know that if you came back I’d bombard you with questions.”

 He smiled. “I promise you, we’ll all be together again very soon. But little one,” and his voice was so gentle, “you need to move on. Please.”

 And then he was gone. But before I had time to react the dream changed and I suddenly found myself at a dinner party in the season finale of Gossip Girl. Miraculously, somehow I was 20 pounds thinner and wearing one of my pre-pregnancy Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses.

 When I woke up, my head was throbbing. I felt dazed. I crept downstairs, got my migraine meds, and crawled back into bed. I woke up an hour later to the smell of chocolate chip pancakes and the sound of squealing children. Delicious scents, happy noises…was this really my home? I wondered.

 Jamie walked into the room with a cup of coffee. “How are you feeling?” he asked solicitously.

 I stared at him. My husband bringing me coffee in bed unprompted with no snide comments about sleeping in? I knew my father must have some sort of a role in this.

 I told him about the dream. “He was so vague,” I said. “Why didn’t he want to tell me anything?”

 Jamie snorted. “Because he knows you’d go and write a blog about it,” he said. “I don’t think they can just visit after death and tell you what goes on. There must be rules.”

 He’s probably right about that.

 I don’t know what happened with that dream, if it really was my father reaching out to comfort me, or my mind conjuring him up in an effort to heal. But I do know that since then, the grief has abated. I can look at pictures of my dad with my children without feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the chest. I can watch Teddy concentrating on drawing with his tongue in between his teeth—a quintessential mannerism of my father–and not burst into tears.

 And I feel different. Stronger, more confident. Nothing seems to faze me anymore, whether it was the decision to switch Teddy’s pre school mid year or tackling Jo Jo’s last IEP meeting. I remember always looking at my father and marveling at how stoic he was, how he always seemed to radiate strength and how secure I felt when he was around.

 Now it seems that strength is in me. “He’ll be with you all the time,” one friend who lost her mom about three years ago told me soon after my father’s death. I didn’t believe her, but now I realize she was right.

 And whether he’s really up in Heaven or swirling around some spiritual cyberspace, it’s pretty clear my dad’s moved on. Maybe he’s busy attending Board meetings with the rest of the Machers, or maybe he spends his days doing Civil War re-enactments with General Robert Lee.

 But I know that every so often he’ll also stop what he’s doing to check in. He’ll be there when Jo Jo reads her first word, or when the boys have their bar mitzvahs, and to kvell over them at their weddings.

 I’m glad he’s moved on. I’m glad he’s no longer in pain. And I know now, as trite as it sounds, that part of him lives on, not only in my kids but also in me.  Image


Posted by: halliesklar | October 10, 2012


Tonight, I was sitting in the family room having a cozy moment with all three kids. Geoffrey was intently putting coins into his toy piggy bank, Jo Jo was prancing around the room singing and waving two drum sticks, and I was helping Teddy dress Jo Jo’s magnetic paper dolls.

I was trying to convince my eldest son to outfit the dolls in something other than what he usually insists they wear—a mustard yellow shirt and brown pants—when I heard squealing. I looked up to see Geoffrey wailing as Jo Jo banged him on the head.

“No, Jo Jo, no no!” I said sternly, and put her on the stairs for a time out.

She immediately started sobbing, these gut-wrenching cries that always tug at my heart strings, but I steeled myself. We’ve been really, really strict about correcting her misbehaviors. “Three minutes,” I told her, and walked back into the playroom.

“Here, Geoffrey,” I said, giving him back his pink pig.

He dropped it, completely uninterested. He had stopped bawling and was instead staring intensely at the stairs, his forehead furrowed. “Jo Jo?” he asked curiously, and suddenly he picked up the drumsticks she’d been holding and toddled over to her.

“Here,” he said in his little baby voice, cocking his head. She ignored him, flapping her arms and hysterically mewling, but he persisted. “Jo Jo,” he repeated, more forcefully, and presented the sticks to her again. This time she snuffled and took them, and he chortled with delight. “Mwah,” he said, leaning forward to give her a kiss, and she acquiesced, throwing her arms around him. “Mwah,” he said again, and then toddled away, back to his piggy bank.

I watched him, stunned. It brought back memories of a similar incident that happened with Teddy when he was pretty much the same age as Geoffrey, I’d always assumed the love and compassion my middle child had for his older sister couldn’t be replicated, that my youngest wouldn’t ever be able to match that.

Today, Geoffrey proved me wrong, so wrong.  Sure, he’s taken a protective interest in her before—bringing her her pink glasses when she throws them off, finding one of her shoes and proudly presenting it to her. But today, the fact that he was sensitive enough to pick up on her distress and actively reassure her—that was truly something else. He’d ironically had his annual Birth to Three assessment that morning, where his team went through a whole checklist to make sure he was developmentally where he needed to be. We were going through interpersonal skills, checking off one skill after another that he’d already mastered, when the coordinator asked “tries to comfort others in distress.”

I thought for a moment. “Not really,” I admitted.

She laughed. “That’s totally fine—that’s actually a 24 month skill,” she showed me. “He’s way ahead of the curve as is.”

But watching him, as he fiddled with the coins in his piggy bank while anxiously stealing looks at Jo Jo, I realized I had set my expectations way too low.

“Geoffie, come here,” I said, and he happily ambled over. I buried my face in his little cap of white gold hair and cried. I thought all my tears had dried out after the last few weeks; I thought I was numb, pretty much wiped out of any emotion, but again, another aspect of my life where I was just so wrong.

All I know is that my father would be proud, so proud of his almost 17 month old grandson. And as much as I still miss my father, as much as it hurts to wake up in the morning to realize he’s no longer around, or to want to call him on the phone to tell him something and then realize with a sharp, searing pang that he’s no longer there, I get so much comfort in the fact that part of him will always be with me, in my two little boys.

I am certain that they will both grow up to be as compassionate, as gentle, and as kind as their Pop Pop was. And like him, they will strive to make the world a better place.

Posted by: halliesklar | September 20, 2012


We will sit shiva for my father all day on Monday, Sept. 24th, at the Sklar home, 52 Indian Rock Road, Stamford, CT. A minyan will be held at 7:30 pm.

In honor of my father’s memory, donations may be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Multiple Myeloma Research, at

Thank you everyone, for all the support. I am always in awe of the kindness of others, whether it comes from close childhood friends or strangers I have never met.


Posted by: halliesklar | September 18, 2012


My father passed away early this morning.

My sister was with him. She and I had been taking turns staying with him at night. He went peacefully. He had been mostly unconscious for the last few days, although he seemed to come out of it a bit Friday night. I was with him then and was able to say all that I wanted to say to him then. He was not able to talk but he kept reaching for and squeezing my hand, and I know that he understood.

It was so hard watching him die, but I also know now that he was slowly dying for a long time. We had interpreted his withdrawal, his loss of interest, his fatigue, as a side effect of the chemo and as depression. But now I realize it wasn’t. It was him preparing to say goodbye. At the end, he took things into his own hands. He didn’t want this slow, painful, drawn out process, so he started refusing food and fluids once he got into hospice. I think the one aspect of his illness that frustrated him the most was his lack of control. He’s a former surgeon, after all. He’s used to being in charge. And he had it, at the end, what he wanted. A death with dignity.

It hurts. It hurts so damn much. The grief feels so paralyzing and so overwhelming and the air feels so heavy around me it is a struggle to breathe. I sent the kids home with Jamie on Saturday because I felt it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want them to see my father deteriorating and I didn’t want them to see my constant tears. They will be back tomorrow and we will be back together as a family. I need to be strong for them but today I can grieve so I can get on the path to healing. I know that is what my father would want.

My father’s funeral will be on Thursday, in Amherst, and we will sit shiva for him through the weekend. On Monday, my whole family will be sitting shiva at our home in Connecticut, if any local friends or family will come by. I will post more details on facebook.

In the meantime, donations can be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, They can be made in honor of my father, Frederick Hugh Levine, designated for multiple myeloma research. Donations can also be made to Abilis, This is Jo Jo and Geoffrey’s Birth to Three provider, and I am chairing their annual walk this year. Every year, my father made it to the walk, except for last year, and I had hoped upon hope that this year it would happen.

But I know he will be with us in spirit, as he is with us everywhere now.

In a couple weeks, I will publish a tribute to my father on this blog. But in the meantime, I need to heal, to cry and laugh and otherwise grieve, and to be with my children.

Thank you, everyone, for everything. Thanks to friends who offered to bring meals this week to my family in Connecticut, while I was here. Thanks to those who called or emailed to show support.

Daddy, I miss you.







Posted by: halliesklar | September 13, 2012

Letting Go

My dad went into hospice yesterday morning.

It seems surreal to be writing this, to be facing the fact that he’s dying. Yes, we knew it would happen eventually, but it seemed so far off, so remote, like the idea of the kids going off to college someday. Except, like most things, it sneaks up on you, so even though you’re conscious of the passage of time, and of things changing—children going from elementary school to middle school to high school, or in this case, my father getting weaker and frailer by the day—that when it happens it arrives with such intensity it’s like getting hit in the face with a tidal wave when you expected to dunk your feet in the kiddy pool.

I went to see him on Saturday. I got there at around 11 am, holding my cup of coffee and beaming with false cheer to try to perk my father up. “I’m Dr. Levine’s daughter,” I chirped Stepford wife like to the receptionist at the nurses station, and her face changed. “You need to speak to him,” she said, pointing frantically at the nurse typing away next to her.

“Oh my dear,” he said, stopping to look at me. He was balding, with longish blonde hair, the typical hippyish male nurse you’d expect to see at a hospital in western Massachusetts.  “I’m so sorry.”

It turns out the oncologist had showed up during afternoon rounds the day before and broken the news to my parents that there was really nothing more to do. My father’s myeloma had returned with a vengeance, and even  the newest third generation drugs would only buy him a couple more months. My father had been his typically stoic self while the doctor told him. “I’m done,” he said flatly when the oncologist asked him what he wanted to do. “No more.”

But later that night, when my mother left, he broke. Completely expected, given what he was going through, but now he was under psych watch with a Constant Companion.

“Jesus,” I said, and then, furious, “why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things?” And then I realized that my mother had probably been waiting to tell me in person.

I went into his room. “Daddy,” I said helplessly. He didn’t respond. He was lying on the bed, hands clenched around the white hospital blanket. Over the last few days, he had gotten even more painfully thin. But his face was still unlined and he looked so much younger than his 69 years. He reminded me suddenly of Teddy, sleeping at night with his hands clutched around his blankie in a death grip.

“Has he been like this all morning?” I asked the petite woman sitting on the chair in front of him.

She looked at me nervously. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just covering for his Companion. She went to lunch.”

“Can you leave please?” I asked. I didn’t want some stranger gawking at my father. It violated his dignity.

She looked at me helplessly. “I can’t,” she said.

I gritted my teeth, ready for a standoff but just then my mother arrived and whisked me off to speak to the oncology fellow, an earnest young man who was surprisingly sensitive and compassionate despite my reservations that he looked like he was barely out of medical school.

Apparently the shit had hit the fan at about 3 am, when my father had become agitated and started demanding a knife so he could end it right then, which had prompted the arrival of his Constant Companion. “You know, I really don’t think your father needs all these precautions,” the fellow said cautiously. “I don’t think he’s suicidal. I think he’s just speaking as a former surgeon. He wants to make death quick and decisive, slashing life like a scapel rather than drawing it out.”

My mother and I both nodded. We knew what he was getting at. My father is both brilliant and pragmatic. He knew exactly what was going to happen to him, and, as my father’s daughter, I knew what he was fearing most. The total loss of control.

“What would you do?” I asked the oncologist. “What would you do if it were your father?”

He looked incredibly uncomfortable. “I can’t really answer that,” he said, and then he started rambling about how he tended to be incredibly emotional and thought from emotion rather than reason, and how he’d been in a similar situation and everyone in his family had looked to him for answers, and how he’d really, really wanted to keep the person around. And then he thought about it, and he realized it was for selfish reasons, that he wanted that person in his life, and that he didn’t want this person—whom he loved dearly—to suffer anymore.

So I knew what he was saying. It was time to let my father go.

There are no words to really express what I’m feeling right now, and no words to express what my father is going through. It just hurts, so badly, and the pain is just so raw. My father didn’t really talk the rest of the afternoon. He lay on his bed and answered questions in monosyllabic yeses or nos. I tried talking, making jokes, holding his hand, sometimes just sitting reading the newspaper and editorializing out loud. I told him about the kids. Jo Jo had transitioned to big girl panties. Teddy had learned to ride his new tricycle. Geoffrey was saying “hi mama.” But he had closed himself off. I felt as distant from him as if I were three continents over.

Then we heard on the news that there was a tornado watch in Connecticut. My mother started freaking out and went out of the room to call her dog’s babysitter (yes, her dog has a babysitter) to ask him to turn on the weather channel to find out what was going on.  I listlessly surfed the Internet.

“Hallie.” I turned towards my father.

“Yes, Daddy?” I said eagerly.

“GO HOME.” He said forcefully.

I wasn’t expecting him to say that. “Huh?” I said.

“I SAID GO HOME.” He was dragging the words out with effort, but he sounded exactly like the father I had known for the past 39 years. “I DON’T WANT YOU DRIVING THROUGH A TORNADO.”

“Daddy,” I said helplessly. I wanted him to keep talking, but I didn’t know what to say.


Even weak and helpless in a hospital bed, I knew I was no match for my father. I packed up my laptop and left with my mother.

“She’s staying in Amherst with me tonight,” my mother told him.

“Good,” he said tonelessly.

When we got to my parents’ house my mother started dinner while I went into my father’s office to look at old pictures. It was so strange to be in there, to see his computer and his beloved bookshelves piled high with books and his meticulously arranged files and know he would never be in there again. I pulled a bunch of albums out of the cabinets and began flipping through. One album was filled with photos from a Caribbean vacation from twenty five years ago, picture after picture of me and my sister and my mother on the beach. There were only a handful of my father, and I realized it was because he had always been the one taking the photographs. But I didn’t want these pictures of me and my sister, smiling dorkily at the camera with our huge thick rimmed glasses. I wanted pictures of him.

“Your sister spent all night looking through those albums too,” my mother said matter of factly, coming into the room.

There was a stack of photos pushed a bit further back in the cabinet, wrapped in a rubber band. I pulled them out to find a pile of black and white photos. There was my father as an infant, staring wide eyed at the camera sandwiched in between his parents.  There were photos of my grandparents, my grandmother posed, hip jutted out, in a tankini while my grandfather beamed shirtless beside her. Then there was a picture of my father, age 4, wearing a white shirt with bumblebees emblazoned on it as he pushed his baby brother in the stroller.

I stared at it. My father was the spitting image of Teddy. Everything—the dark hair, the tilt of the ears, the pointed chin with its slight cleft, the smile, even the way he leaned against the stroller. I knew, just taking in the picture, that my father had insisted on pushing his baby brother in the stroller all by “his self.”  I knew, because that’s exactly what my son would have done.

“Mommy, look,” I said, showing her.

She looked hard at the picture for a moment. “Wow,” she said, drawing in her breath.

I took the photo home with me. It’s in my night table drawer, and I pull it out occasionally, just staring at the picture, marveling at the likeness.

We’ve always joked that Teddy is my father’s doppelganger, not just in his looks, but in his behavior. But while I’ve always known that, it takes such new meaning now. I’ll always have some of my father with me, every time I hold my son.

And Teddy is like my father. He has the same sensitivity, the same compassion, the same stubbornness, the same temper. He’s still a baby, and his little feet barely fit into his preschool size Stride Rite sneakers. It will take a while before he’s ready to fill my father’s sturdy brown loafers, to become the man his Pop Pop is.

But I know he’ll get there.

Posted by: halliesklar | September 5, 2012

Bouncing back

I have a mini essay on Geoffrey’s surprise diagnosis of albinism last year in the September issue of Health magazine. You can read it here:

It’s a little strange to read it and think about all I went through when he was first diagnosed, and how amazingly well he is doing now. And I have to chuckle a bit at the irony of the article, which is all about resilience. After everything we’ve gone through the last few years, I’m a master.

Thanks for everyone’s well wishes about my father. Dad is doing better. He is still in the hospital. We still don’t know what will happen or how much time he has left, but we are determined to make the most of it.

In the meantime, I have my beautiful kids to console me. How lucky am I to be their mother?

Last Friday night, we took all three kids to the local St. Leo’s fair. We went last year, but they seemed too young for the rides. This year, Teddy and Jo Jo went on a bunch, and as I watched them, Teddy’s arm protectively encircled around Jo Jo, it hit me how grown up they looked. My two eldest are preschoolers.


Geoffrey wanted to go on all the rides himself. He kept running away from me and darting up to the gates, shaking them and babbling madly. He does this thing now where he races away from me, laughing, and then runs right back to me, rubbing his face against my legs and murmuring mama.

People turn to look at him, wherever he goes. I don’t think it’s necessarily because they realize he has albinism, but more that they marvel at his white-gold hair and creamy skin.


A woman stopped me later that evening, when Geoffrey was so overtired he was running around in circles and then clinging to my legs. “Mama, mwww, mwww,” he said, blowing kisses into my calves, and the woman looked at him and sighed. “He’s the spitting image of my son at that age,” she said wistfully, and then, “I just dropped him off at college.”

We just looked at each other. I could tell she was fighting back tears. “You must miss him,” I said.

“Time goes by so fast,” she said briskly. “Just enjoy every minute of him.”

She’s right. As much as I sit here and cry, and mourn the fact that my father will most likely never be well enough to take my two boys to their first Red Sox game, or be present at any of my kids’ bar mitzvahs, I also know we have to make the most of the time he has left.

And I need to make the most of the time I have with my three little ones.

Posted by: halliesklar | August 27, 2012

Pig Pile on Pop Pop

This last month has been crazy, for a myriad of reasons, the most important being my dad is back in the hospital due to pneumonia and a recently discovered pulmonary embolism. He just finished his last round of chemotherapy and the fact that he’s suffering more in the hospital right now just makes me want to scream. So in an effort to hold it together, I’m first going to talk about what makes me happy. Things like…

A beauty on the beach.


We went to Greenwich Point Park Saturday afternoon and although it was windy and a bit chilly Johanna wasn’t fazed one bit. She’s a little water nymph. Although it was a little too cool and the waves a little too rough for us to take her too deeply into the water, she insisted on sitting by its edge, watching the foam lick at her legs and waving her hands in delight.

Geoffrey and his “night night.”


When Teddy was about 15 months, he got into the habit of calling his blanket “night night” and carting it everywhere. (See and for more details.) Geoffrey’s always loved his plush green blanket, which he slept all swaddled up in when he was a newborn. He won’t go to sleep without it. But at naptime or bedtime, when he’s overtired, he’ll start crying for “night night” and won’t stop until he’s snug in his crib with his blankie in his arms.

For the most part, Geoffrey is fine with night night hanging in the crib all day while he explores the wide world outdoors. But today when we woke Geoffrey up from his nap Teddy insisted Geoffrey carry night night downstairs with him. “I have my bankie and Geoffrey has his bankie,” he told me solemnly, and sure enough, now my youngest won’t go anywhere in the house without it.


I guess it’s the new 15 month milestone in our house.


Teddy’s unique comfort object.


Meanwhile, Teddy’s found a new security item of his very own: his “motorcycle” helmet. We insist he wear it whenever he rides his tricycle or drives Jo Jo around in their little Jeep, and today he was insisting on wearing it everywhere.

To each his own. What can I say?

I have been feeling so depressed about my dad recently, and I have to say my kids are amazing in how they get me through it. The three of them are a more potent drug than any amount of Zoloft (and I’m taking hefty amounts of it right now, thank you). I’ve been trying to keep it together in front of my little guys, but yesterday I just lost it and began sobbing in front of Teddy. The next thing I knew, he was sitting on my lap, caressing my hair and giving me deep, earnest, on the lip kisses.

“Don’t be sad Mommy,” he said earnestly. “I’ll take care of you.”

It was so sweet—and in that moment he reminded me so much of my father comforting me when I was young—it was all I could do to keep myself from bawling even more. So I hugged him and said, “you’re wonderful, Teddy, do you know that?”

And he beamed at me with his lady killer grin and said, matter-of-factly, “I know.”

But Jo Jo…my eldest, ever-so-loving daughter, also blows me away.

Two weeks ago, I took the kids up to Amherst to see my parents. My sister and her family were up there, and it was a special occasion: my dad had just finished his last round of chemo, and it was the first time all five grandkids were together.

While I knew my dad was thrilled to see everyone, he spent most of the time lying on the family room couch, to wiped to do anything. It was raining, so the kids spent a lot of time downstairs in the playroom. Occasionally one would pop up, to go to the bathroom or get a juice box, but it became pretty clear to me they didn’t know how to deal with Pop Pop. While they were too little to grasp the concept that Pop Pop was sick and couldn’t see them, they knew something wasn’t quite right and it made them hesitant, fearful even.

That is, except for Jo Jo.

She kept gravitating towards Pop Pop, wandering into the family room whenever she was upstairs and reaching up towards him to give him a hug. I worried she was exhausting him, so I kept pulling her away. Then, at one point I was in the kitchen, getting a snack ready, when I heard her voice. I was confused—I’d assumed she was still in the playroom—but when I walked into the living room I saw her, lying on top of my father with her arms around his neck, her face snuggled up against his chest.

“Jo Jo,” I said gently and tried to pull her off, but she started to cry and flail against me.

“Leave her,” my father said, and his voice was the lightest I’d heard it in days.

I watched the two of them, cuddled up against each other, and I began to puddle up. The bond between my father and my daughter is so incredible. Jo Jo is not always the most affectionate child—it takes her a while to warm up to people—but whenever she sees my father she loses her inhibitions and heads straight for his arms. I’ve often wondered if she’s instinctively sensed that he’s always accepted her, from the moment of her birth, without any hesitation. Those first few months of her life, while rest of the family—including Jamie and I—grappled with her Down Syndrome, my father showed her nothing but unconditional love. It seemed so fitting that Jo Jo was showing that same unconditional acceptance of my father and his disability.


“My Jo Jo,” he said fondly, and then he said what he always says to her, “You will always be my most special grandchild, because you were my first.”


A few minutes later Teddy and his cousin Tahlia came upstairs in search of a snack, and when they came upstairs and saw Jo Jo snug as a bug on top of their Pop Pop, they wanted in on the action, too. “Pop Pop! Pop Pop!” they clamored, and within seconds all three were climbing all over my father demanding his attention, a veritable pig pile of small arms and legs on their Pop Pop.

And as wiped as he was, and as lousy as he felt, I could tell he loved every minute of it.

So we have those memories now, to keep us going while my father is in the hospital, until his immune system returns to par and his grandchildren can see him again. I drove up to see him this week, and while I plan to keep going up there, there’s no way he can see my kids now. They may even be the reason he got pneumonia in the first place—even though none of them were sick, one or several of them must have unknowingly harbored some cold germ, like a little preschool version of Typhoid Mary.

But at the same time, I keep thinking of the look on his face as three of his five grandchildren cavorted on him, shouting and laughing, and I know it was the right thing to bring everyone to see him.

We love you Pop Pop, and every moment of every day and every night we all pray for you to get well soon.




Posted by: halliesklar | July 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Teddy!

A certain someone in the Sklar household had a birthday today…

Teddy Bear turned three!

We’ve been talking about Teddy’s birthday for weeks. What we’d eat (pizza and birthday cake), what we’d do (play with visiting animals), who was coming (Mommy and Daddy and Jo Jo and Geoffrey and, of course, Ivry). We also talked about some of the things Teddy himself would do once he turned three—go in the toddler pool by himself, sit on the potty, give up his afternoon nap and instead agree to go to bed at 7 pm with Jo Jo.

This morning when he woke up Jamie and I went into his room to sing him Happy Birthday. He smiled and said, simply, “thank you.”

Then we went downstairs to show him a very special present from Pop Pop and Nana.

A new red tricycle!

The tricycle has intense symbolic significance. My father apparently got a similar red tricycle from his grandfather on his third birthday. It was right after the second World War and luxuries like tricycles were few and far between….but somehow my grandfather got one. So Pop Pop wanted to make sure his first born grandson—who is his doppelganger in so many ways—got his very own red tricycle to mark his third birthday.

So my boy did…and he loved it. And although I cried a bit because my father will never be able to actually see Teddy ride it, I take comfort in the fact that Teddy will be able to see Pop Pop in a few weeks, and tell him all about his new riding adventures.

Teddy also had another big milestone recently: he spent four nights away from me when he went with Jamie up to Canada for a long weekend. I’ve never been away from Teddy, other than Geoffrey’s birth and when I was in Boston with my father last November, and I missed him terribly. When he came back, he seemed different. Older, taller, more mature, and I got a glimpse or two into the man he is going to grow into someday.

He reminds me so much of my father sometimes it hurts. It’s not just that he looks like him, with the same hair color and facial structure and coloring. It’s the way he focuses on a project so intensely, his tongue between his teeth in concentration, or the way he protectively grabs Jo Jo’s hand when we’re all walking together and she starts lagging behind, or the way he slowly but methodically puts on his bicycle helmet when he’s riding his tricycle or insists on buckling up his seat belt himself (like my father, he is meticulously safety conscious, much to the chagrin of my adrenaline junky husband).

He is so much the big brother, both to Geoffrey and to Jo Jo. My in-laws wanted to get Teddy some sort of toy car to ride around in for his birthday and he insisted he wanted a truck that both his siblings could ride in to. When we go to the park, his favorite activity is playing on the toy bus, and he makes sure both Jo Jo and Geoffrey are sitting down and have strapped in their imaginary seat belts.

Geoffrey picking his nose at Teddy’s birthday party. Just had to throw it in there.

He’s really something, my middle child. It’s almost as if he was born to be the protector.

Playing in the pool with Jo Jo today.

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that my eldest son is now three. I still remember his birth day like it was yesterday, including the nurse carrying all 21 1/2 inches, nine pounds, ten ounces of  him over to me and exclaiming, “He’s a moose! What a moose!”

Happy birthday, my little moose. I love you very, very much.

Posted by: halliesklar | July 15, 2012

Hound Houdini

I’m without my little Teddy Bear this weekend. We’re selling our cottage in Canada, and Jamie decided to take him up north with him to pack up the house. There are tons of grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles and second cousins to play with, so we figured he’d have a great time. Plus I thought my big boy of almost three could use a few days of one-on-one bonding with his dad.

The boys got a late start in the morning, because Ivry kept Jamie up all night with her whining to go out. There was a big flurry of activity as we got Teddy fed and dressed and packed up to get on the road, and then when the minivan pulled out of the driveway the house suddenly felt so quiet. Too quiet. I didn’t like the sadness that was seeping over me, so I did what every mother does when she’s feeling down: I loaded my two remaining small children into the Civic and headed to Costco.

We returned an hour and a half later, loaded with boxes of paper towels and waffles and Gatorade. I stumbled through the garage door, pulling Jo Jo with one hand and two bags of chicken nuggets with the other while Geoffrey rode comfortably in the Bjorn. Ivry was right at the door to greet us, which wasn’t that unusual, but she seemed agitated. I wondered if something had spooked her while we were gone.

I took a few steps in when I smelled it. The unmistakable scent of poop.

I stood, puzzled for a moment. That couldn’t be right, I thought. No one had done a number two that morning, and even if they had, we always bagged poopy diapers and left them outside. But it was there, unmistakable, and it smelled like a big one.

I checked diapers. Everyone was clean. I put Jo Jo on the potty and unlocked the safety lock on the dining room door, planning to deposit some of the items there temporarily.

When I opened the door I almost gagged. Then I saw it. A big pile of dog poo, on the floor.

“Argh!” I groaned. “Ivry!” At least she had the courtesy to do it on the hardwood floor, I thought. Then I stopped and gaped in horror. We have only one expensive rug in our house, a cream and wine-colored Oriental we bought from Bloomingdale’s when we were first married and assumed we had plenty of cash to blow through for overpriced stuff. I’d always worried one of the kids would somehow end up barfing all over it, but it turns out our dog had gotten to it first.

“Oh no,” I moaned. “No, no, no!” Then I raced into the laundry room for the carpet cleaner. Ivry was lying by the washing machine, looking sheepish.

“How could you do that,” I started to say, and then I stopped and stared at her.

There are two entrances to our dining room. One entrance is a pair of French doors, which now always has a safety lock on it. There’s fine crystal and china in there that Geoffrey would love to get his hands on and bang around. Then there’s another entrance, by our front hall staircase, and that has a baby gate firmly planted across it and another safety lock on that.

It was about as baby-proofed as one could get, and if my kids couldn’t get climb or crawl their way into there, there was no way in hell a middle-aged overweight Labrador retriever could nose her way through.

“Ivry, how did you get in there?” I asked. She lifted her head up and gazed at me innocently.

I called Jamie. “You picked a good weekend to go away,” I told him. “The dog has massive diarrhea.”

But apparently the shit had hit the fan in the minivan, as well. Teddy had fallen asleep and when he’d woken up a couple hours later he’d also pooped all over the place, including the car seat.

“It was awful,” Jamie told me. “I didn’t know what to do. I cleaned him up as best as I could and then I took him into the bathroom at the next service area wearing only his T-shirt and diaper. He was crying and screaming and everyone was staring at me like I was a total idiot who didn’t know how to take care of my child.”

Wisely, I said nothing. “I’m still completely blown away by how Ivry managed to get into the dining room,” I said.

“She must have jumped the gate,” Jamie said.

“Our dog jump a gate?” I asked incredulously. “She’s so fat she can barely heave herself up onto the couch. And I’m expected to believe she just bounded over the gate like some prancing show dog?”

“Didn’t her mom win all sorts of agility competitions?” Jamie asked. “It’s in her genes. She really had to go and no one was around to let her out. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“There’s no way that dog could gracefully scale a gate, especially with diarrhea,” I said. “She would have slammed right into it and brought it crashing down.”

My husband snorted. “One of us must have left the safety lock off the doors and she nosed her way in,” he said. “What, you think our dog can just magically poof! enter a room like she’s some sort of dog Houdini?”

I didn’t say anything. I got off the phone and went into the dining room and scrubbed at the poop with a big sponge. Ivry’s pretty discreet. Even when she’s outside, she’ll go hide in the bushes and do her business where no one can see her. I can’t imagine she would have wanted to poop in the home and have the evidence out for everyone else to see. No, she figured the dining room was the one room that no one in the house ever really went in, and somehow, she’d managed to angle her way in.

I had to admit, the dog was pretty smart. If I hadn’t randomly decided to store some stuff in the dining room I would never have thought of looking in there. I would have just wandered around my house, searching for poopy diapers as the smell got worse and worse, while Ivry lolled on the couch in the family room, laughing at her owner’s stupidity.

I walked back into the laundry room. “You know, I underestimated you,” I told my dog. She thumped her tail.

When we went to the pool that afternoon, I made sure the locks on the dining room were in place and I locked Ivry in the family room with a bowl of water and a rawhide bone. If she can get out of there, I thought, then she’s really a Houdini.

When we came back a couple hours later my canine was still locked in the family room. I opened the door and saw her, lying lazily on “her” green couch, sunning herself. I smelled something and looked down to find two perfectly symetrical piles of poop lying on the carpet.

I sighed and got out the carpet cleaner to scrub it up.

“Did you have diarrhea,” I asked my dog, “or is this some sort of Rover’s revenge?”

Ivry just looked at me and wagged her tail, but I could swear that dog was smiling.

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