The Funny Things They Say

Enjoying the turn of phrase

Language Explosion Header

One of the things that Nomi and I started doing a few years ago was record the funny things that Squeaker and Muffin would say. It began when we started writing down their first words; eventually, that became pointless as their vocabulary developed quite nicely. But then we started to note the kinds of sentences that they were putting together.

Nomi’s background is in linguistics, and so it is fascinating for her to note the “errors” the kids have used in speaking English that actually make sense if you didn’t have irregularities in language. Here’s a simple example: our kids would sometimes say that they “goed” someplace, where we would say they “went” someplace. They knew the logical way to construct the past tense and did it correctly, not knowing that “to go” is an irregular verb in English.

But of course, there are the funny things they say that are just unclassifiable. Here are a few things they have said this year for your amusement. (If people like this enough, maybe we’ll make it a regular feature.)


Squeaker: “It got dirty because someone spilled dirt on it. You know who got it dirty? Someone who is not my sister or someone who is my sister.”


Muffin: “Look what I made!”

Michael: “What is it?”

Muffin (puzzled): “Someone with one foot…and a weird head.”


Squeaker: “You made her sad. Sadder than a chicken if you ate it.”


Muffin: “Can you get me more My Little Pony stuff? I want the house to be filled with My Little Pony. I wish everything was made of My Little Pony.”


Squeaker: “I had a case of the sniffles. Now I have a case of the sneezings.”


Muffin: “There should be a Superman story about Superman saving a duck that is going to be shooted by a hunter.”


Nomi: “You had a busy day!”

Squeaker: “Yes! Busier than a rocket ship!”


Muffin: “Keep reading! Kids like reading, not waiting!”


Squeaker: “Thank you for all the fish sticks in the world! Come on, fish sticks! Get up and wibble your feet! Wibble wibble!”


Muffin: “I don’t know what attitude is, and don’t tell me what it is.”


Finally, I must admit that the girls have taken note that we also take notes:

Michael: “This game says it’s for age seven. They’re not going to understand it. I don’t understand it.”

Squeaker: “That’s because you’re not seven!”

Muffin: “Write that down!”

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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Sukkah To Me!

Sharing the Joy of the Holiday with the Younger Set

Squeaker and Muffin Get Ready for Sukkot

The fall Jewish holidays are upon us. I wrote about preparing to celebrate these holidays with the girls when they were two years old, but as they’ve gotten older, how they interact with the symbols of the holiday has changed. They continue to love the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, and this year they were eager to tell us everything they had learned in school about the process of repentance that is associated with Yom Kippur, such as the biblical story of Yonah (Jonah). But this year, their favorite has definitely been the fall harvest holiday Sukkot.

On the first Sunday of October, while the girls learned about fire safety at the Coolidge Corner fire station, I went to the Israel Book Shop on Harvard St. to purchase the lulav and etrog we use as part of the ritual of the holiday. While Muffin really enjoyed looking (carefully) at the etrog, Squeaker got a great deal of pleasure of carrying the lulav in its protective case. She loved this so much that she carried it part of the way to and from the synagogue on the holiday itself.

After lunch, we went to our synagogue, Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe in Brighton, to build miniature sukkot out of candy and other sweet treats and to help the synagogue decorate the sukkah to be used by the community. Sunday afternoon, in very nice weather for early October, we went to the synagogue to build paper chains, do arts and crafts, and contribute to the making of large murals that were hung in the sukkah. Muffin, Squeaker, and two of their friends had a great deal of fun creating unique decorations for the sukkah, and when we subsequently used the sukkah when the holiday began, they derived great pleasure from pointing out which creations they had made.

The girls have also found other ways to celebrate the holiday. Because many sukkot were constructed in our neighborhood ahead of the beginning of the holiday so that they would be available for use during the holiday, Muffin had a lot of fun spotting neighbors’ sukkot. Some were obvious, as they were built in people’s front yards. However, some were tucked behind houses or placed at the end of driveways, and Muffin really enjoyed seeking those out.

On the holiday itself, the girls have been enjoying celebrating the holiday by eating meals in our friends’ sukkot. We have already had meals in the sukkot of parents of young children with whom the girls are friends or with other families that have kids that are the kids’ age. This has allowed Michael and me to fulfill the obligation to eat in the sukkah without the girls feeling left out of the ritual. At the end of the holiday, we will be having a meal in the sukkah of one of the girls’ former teachers, and both Muffin and Squeaker are looking forward to seeing her.

On the intermediate Sunday of the holiday, there were many community events set up to celebrate. We attended one, the Sukkot Extravaganza on the Brighton Common, organized by one of the local Jewish day schools. Michael especially wanted us to attend this specific celebration over the others for one reason: the event was advertised as having a bouncy house, and our girls love bouncy houses. Muffin has always been a fan, and Squeaker has, more recently, come to find joy in them. So off to Brighton we went. To the girls’ amazement and great pleasure, they had not just one bouncy house but three different types of bouncy apparatus. When they weren’t playing on the bouncy houses, they ate hot dogs, ran around the common with their friends, watched a magic show, and participated in a raffle.

As they get older, the girls are gaining a better appreciation of what the holidays mean for the cycle of their year, and they are becoming more sophisticated in their enjoyment of the holidays. We can’t wait to see what new discoveries they make about the holidays in the year to come.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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The Irrationality of Five-Year-Olds

Still waiting for the magic switch to flip

Squeaker Goes to Market

As Squeaker and Muffin get older, one of the things I’ve been looking forward to is their becoming more rational beings. As I used to say to Nomi, babies are pure id; they want (and need) their desires to be fulfilled right away, whether it is for food or a clean diaper. And children in the toddler range have tantrums over the most ridiculous things. It’s why we have the phrase “the terrible twos” (and, as I discovered later on, “the terrible threes”).

So when the girls turned four I was hoping that a“magic switch” would turn on and they would comport themselves much more rationally. Sadly, of course, I was being irrational about that myself. I don’t suddenly change my behavior when my birthday arrives, and I really shouldn’t have expected it from them. In my defense, I was mostly hoping.

I was hoping the same thing when the girls turned five this past summer. Again, I should have been more prepared. It is true that slowly, over time, they do become more rational. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how they whine and wail less often when they don’t get their way, and start accepting it more. But sometimes they do things that just make me shake my head in frustration.

This week presented two examples. On Monday night, Nomi and I went to The Public Library of Brookline to hear a talk from Professor Carol Tilley in honor of Banned Books Week, and we left the girls with a babysitter, a young woman our family knows very well. The girls know her well too, as she has babysat them many times before. Well, for whatever reason, the girls went ballistic the moment she arrived. They screamed, wailed, cried and whined themselves into coughing fits and hoarse throats. They pulled at Nomi and me and wouldn’t let us leave. In the end, we managed to extricate ourselves, and from what we were told they were quiet within minutes. But of course, we didn’t get to see that.

The other example came from yesterday, courtesy of Squeaker. Nomi and I picked them up at school and began the walk home, which should have taken us twenty minutes, tops. Muffin pretty much walked home with Nomi directly, although she did whine once when she thought Squeaker and I were getting ahead of her. But there was no danger of that, because Squeaker insisted she and I had to go to the supermarket to buy a watermelon. She made me walk with her to the door of the supermarket and then told me her plan. I tried to get her to go home by walking away, and she followed me, shouting and wailing. Eventually, we stopped on a corner and she calmed down, and I thought she was ready to go home. But no, I could not persuade her even to let us go home first and then go back out. So, after calling Nomi to come out and get my heavy bag, Squeaker led me back to the supermarket where she insisted on riding in the cart with the “police car” in front and picked out a watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries to bring home.

I guess I know what fruit Nomi and I will be serving for the Jewish New Year.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein. (This week’s column is being published early due to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. L’shanah tova to all who celebrate. Happy Thursday and Friday to everyone else.)

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.


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Mornings Can Be Quite Alarming

Adjusting Everyone’s Body Clocks to Accommodate New Schedules

IMG_3044Since they were old enough to have an opinion on the subject, Muffin and Squeaker have been very vocal about their bedtime. “We’re not tired,” they’d say. “We want to play this one more game/hear one more chapter/invade this one last country!” (OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating about that last one.)  And when they were younger, the programs they were enrolled in did not have very early start times, so we were perhaps more lenient about enforcing bed time than we might have been. But Kindergarten starts at 8 AM, and they need to be there on time. We have about a 15-20 minute walk to school, so we want to be out the door by 7:30 AM to accommodate for slow walkers or other delays such as construction we have to route around or wild attack turkeys. This means getting the girls up by 6:30, which meant an adjustment not just for the girls but also for Michael and me.

We started discussing the change in schedule with the girls at the beginning of the summer. We explained to them that their schedule over the summer was somewhat flexible, because they were spending their days mostly going on day trips around the area with their babysitter, but that when school started we would have to be strict. We also tried to explain to them that the change of schedule meant that we were going to have to get up earlier and go to bed earlier so that we all get enough sleep.

Squeaker didn’t have much of an opinion on this, but Muffin decided that this meant that she and her sister needed an alarm clock. But not just any alarm clock; Muffin had specific ideas about the alarm clock and what it should be like, but she could not articulate exactly what she wanted. This made it hard for me to buy the girls an alarm clock. All she could tell me specifically is that she wanted a purple alarm clock. I decided that the best place to try to get an alarm clock was the Cambridgeside Galleria, because there were a number of places in the mall that could potentially carry alarm clocks. The plan that Michael and I worked out was that he would take the girls to the Museum of Science on a Sunday while I went over to the mall, and then I would meet up with them. However, since she could not tell me what the clock should look like, Muffin decided that she had to come to the mall with me. Therefore, on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, when Squeaker decided that she needed to go to see the Grossology exhibit at the museum before it closed, Muffin and I headed to the mall.

 We started in one of the larger department stores, figuring they’d have a good chance of providing a selection from which she could find a clock that made her happy. No luck. And no luck either in any of the next seven stores we went to. After trying more department stores, some discount department stores, and some electronics specialty stores, we were tired and hungry. So, while eating a snack and discussing what was wrong with all of the limited number of clocks we *did* see, Muffin asked if we could look online. And ultimately, that is what we did. I found a bunch of possible clocks that would fit Muffin’s criteria, and I let the girls choose which one they wanted from that selection. They finally chose one that made them both happy, and we ordered it. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t arrive until after the first day of school, but it would arrive before the end of the first week.

The night before the first day of school, we had the girls set out their outfits for the first day of school. We put the girls to bed extra early (though since they can’t yet tell time, they didn’t know how early we started the going-to-bed process) so that they would get a good night’s sleep. The next morning, Michael and I woke up at 6:15, giving ourselves a brief window in which to get ourselves ready before we had to get the girls up. When we went to wake the girls, there was some whining and moaning, but in general they got up without much fuss. We helped them get dressed and find something to eat for breakfast, and then we packed up their backpacks and headed out. We arrived at the school before 8 AM and had them into their classroom in plenty of time. I was full of optimism that we would be able to get the girls out of the house every morning with the same level of success.

It wasn’t even 24 hours before I was proven wrong. And since then, it has been a struggle to get the girls out the door on time. We try, every morning. I prepare their lunches the night before, they choose their clothing the night before, and before I go to bed I make sure that the girls’ shoes are set somewhere that they’re easy to find. Yet something always delays us: one of the girls can’t figure out what she wants for breakfast, or the other decides only after we walk out the door that she needs her sweater.

Adjusting to the new schedule demanded of all of us will not be easy, but I do have faith that we will get there eventually. I’m just glad that the teachers are lenient about us being a couple of minutes late.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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Kindergarten: The Journey Begins

Moving from one phase to another

Squeaker and Muffin Getting Ready for Kindergarten

As the readers of The Brookline Parent know, this past summer Muffin and Squeaker turned five years old. Kids go through many developmental changes during their first five years, as we’ve written about almost ever since we began this column. Muffin and Squeaker went from tiny, non-verbal babies to little girls and then bigger girls. We’ve gotten to see them at their most loving and at their most sarcastic.

For the longest time, when they were just babies, most of what the girls needed was to be fed and changed. But as they got older, they became much more interactive, and we gave them the chance to interact with their peers as soon as they could. We set up play dates for them with children of similar ages, and at the age of two the girls went to a morning playgroup. At ages three and four they went to a morning preschool. They got to make new friends and also learn to resolve conflicts with other kids. They learned about the world around them, and brought back home with them knowledge and skills that delighted and surprised us. It’s been an amazing five years for us.

And now, it’s time to send the girls to kindergarten. Like many others in our community, Nomi and I looked at the different options for schooling. One of the reasons we live in Brookline is because we love and support the excellent public school system in the town, but we also wanted to make sure the children had the Jewish education that matches the way we live. After going through the whole process of registering for public schools and applying to Jewish day schools, we finally made our decision. Our kids will be attending the same Jewish day school that Nomi graduated from. The only difference is that Nomi started at that school in fourth grade; our expectation is that Muffin and Squeaker will be there for the entire 13 years of their pre-college education.

(Amusing digression: as many town residents know, Brookline is facing an overcrowding problem in our public schools. The town is looking to expand at least one of the K-8 schools and the high school. When I had to contact our local public K-8 school, I felt a little bad that I was about to tell them that we had chosen to send our kids elsewhere. Their response? Oh, perfectly fine! Go right ahead! I got the feeling that they were relieved by our decision, as in a way we are doing our bit to alleviate the school’s overcrowding problem.)

One other major decision we had to make was whether to separate the girls into two different classes or to keep them together in one class. Most educational institutions strongly advise parents of twins to split them up as soon as they enter Kindergarten, although by law (at least here in Massachusetts) they have to keep the kids together if the parents ask. Nomi and I thought about it for a long time, and in the end we decided to split them up. A few factors made our decision easier. First of all, they already have two close friends going into their class, and the school and their friends’ parents are letting us “assign” our children so that Muffin will be in a class with one of their friends and Squeaker will be in a class with the other. Secondly, although there are two Kindergarten classes, they come together for lunch, recess, and other activities, so our daughters will get to see each other for some of the day.

But the deciding factor, honestly, was that we wanted to give Muffin and Squeaker a chance to start building their own separate identities. Depending on the activity, we’ve noticed that one or the other will often dominate. By simple logistics, up until now almost every play date has been for the both of them, and as I noted, they have been in the same class for three years. It just seems right that now is the time for them to strike out a little bit on their own and not have to worry about being in a sister’s shadow.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.


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Adventuring Through Comic Con

Squeaker and Muffin Take on the Hulk and My Little Pony


Michael has been a comic book fan since 1974, and while my interest in comics is not as long or as deep as his, I have always enjoyed superhero stories. So when we found out that Boston Comic Con was being held on a weekend we were available, we started to make plans to attend. One of the celebrity guests was John Barrowman, of whom we have been fans for many years, and there were going to be photo opportunities available with him. Also, there were going to be a number of comic book creators in attendance that Michael wanted to meet.

We wanted to take the girls with us rather than finding other things for them to do that day. They have been aware of comics-related characters and stories almost since they became aware of the world around them. When Muffin and Squeaker were infants, Michael used to lift them over his head and hum the music from the 1978 Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie, “flying” them as Super Muffin and Super Squeaker. (He even made up words to sing to the theme.) Over the years, we introduced them as well to Spider-Man and Batman. And recently, Squeaker has become interested in The Hulk. We have shown them cartoons starring superheroes and have shared age-appropriate comic book stories with them. So when we told them we wanted to take them to a comic book convention where people would be dressed in costumes like some of their favorite characters, they were interested and somewhat intrigued. Michael had taken them to Boston Comic Con in 2012, but they didn’t remember much of it.

It also turned out that the celebrity photo opportunities could be turned into family events and were not restricted to one person only. And Barrowman has a reputation for being wonderful with kids, so Michael and I decided that we’d do the photo with all of us, provided the girls were in the right mood for it.

During the week leading up to the convention, we talked to them about where we were going to go on Sunday and what we were going to do. I located my action figure of the character from “Torchwood” that Barrowman played, Captain Jack Harkness, within the girls’ toys and told them that we were going to be meeting the man who plays Captain Jack. Muffin immediately decided that I had to bring the action figure on Sunday so that I could show it to him. (In the end, she herself ended up being the one who showed it, and Barrowman seemed amused.) And on Sunday morning, after packing up what we’d need for the day, we were off.


We arrived at the convention center at around 10:45 AM, and almost immediately upon passing through the entrance I noticed a man in full Spider-Man costume. I pointed him out to Squeaker, and he must have overheard me, because he turned and waved at us. She wanted to get a photo with Spidey, and the man in the costume was very accommodating. He was also willing to take a photo with Muffin, but she was feeling too shy. This, in fact, started a trend for the day — Squeaker would find people in costumes of characters she recognized and would ask Michael to ask if she could have a photo taken with them, and Muffin would turn down similar opportunities.



When we got to the area where the artists and writers were, we found that there was a medium-length line to meet the creators that Michael really wanted to meet. We got into the line, and the girls very quickly got restless, since waiting in line is not at all their favorite activity. To ease their boredom, we let them play some games on our phones while we waited. They were very good at giving us back our phones when we got to the head of the line and it was our turn to meet the creators, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.


The girls have become big fans of My Little Pony, and there was at least one artist, Sara Richard, at the convention who drew My Little Pony art, so while I was sent to go get Barrowman’s signature in my copies of his books, the girls and Michael went to meet her.


After we met back up and took some time to eat lunch, it was almost time for our photo op with John Barrowman. Again there was a long line that we and the girls had to wait in, and again we gave them our phones to amuse themselves with. And again they were good at giving us our phones back as needed, both to respond to messages we received from people we were trying to meet up with and when it was our time for the photo.


When we got to the top of the photo line, and Barrowman saw us and the girls, he immediately crouched down to the girls’ level and said hello to them. Muffin showed him the action figure, and he said, “That’s me!” The girls seemed a bit uneasy about this man they didn’t know, but they posed nicely for the photos and then we went back out to the convention floor. We spent a bit more time wandering through the artists’ area and met a couple more creators, Mark Waid and Dan Parent. By then it was approaching 4:15 PM and we were all getting tired. We picked up our printed photos and then headed out, stopping briefly to look one last time at some of the items displayed for sale.

We arrived home tired but satisfied. Our adventure in the Comic Con world had been a success, and all of us had stories to tell. If the scheduling works, perhaps we’ll attend again next year.

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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Let It Go, Let It Be

When I find myself enjoying quiet
Both my children come to me
Singing songs from Frozen, “Let It Go”

No matter day or darkness
They are singing right in front of me
Singing songs from Frozen, “Let It Go”

“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
I am getting sick of
“Let It Go”

And when all the preschool children
Gather in the playground park
That’s what they’ll be singing, “Let It Go”

I cannot help but notice
How much Disney runs our lives
When all I want to do is, let it go

“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
Singing songs from Frozen
“Let It Go”

“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
I am getting sick of
“Let It Go”


“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
I am getting sick of
“Let It Go”

And when my thoughts are forming
Falling crystals from an icy blast
Why can’t this be over, “Let it Go”

I wake up to the sound of music
Thanks to Lopez and Mendel
Just one song from Frozen, “Let It Go”

“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
I am getting sick of
“Let It Go”

“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
“Let It Go,” “Let It Go”
I am getting sick of
“Let It Go”

Here we stand and here we’ll stay
Because we love our kids so much
We’ll let them keep on singing, “Let It Go”

Let the storm range on outside you
Remember that it’s just a song
Take a breath and then just let it go

Yeah, let it go, let it go
Let it go, yeah, let it go
That will be my answer, let it go

Let it go, let it go
Let it go, yeah, let it go
Don’t let it bother you now
Let it go

(with apologies to Sir Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Idina Menzel)

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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Party in the Park

Lots of Planning Turns Into Two Hours of Fun


On July 13th, we celebrated Muffin and Squeaker’s fifth birthday by throwing them a party in a local park. We’ve done park parties every year since they were two years old; this is one of the advantages of summer birthdays. (As someone who has a January birthday, I had to have not only a party date but a party snow date in case of blizzards.) Last year, we had the party at the Waldstein Playground in Brookline, but as Waldstein is undergoing reconstruction, this year’s party was held in a park just over the line in Brighton, near the preschool that the girls recently graduated from.

Birthday party planning got underway almost as soon as we had chosen a date. One of the nice things about holding birthday parties in the park is that the activities are already provided by the existence of park equipment. This year, however, Michael thought it might be a nice idea to add Circus Dynamics to the girls’ party to provide balloon animals and face painting. He got in contact with the performers, and a plan was set. Meanwhile, the details of food and goodie bags and the like were my responsibility. And all would have been simple and straightforward, had I not gotten sick. But my extended stay on bed rest wreaked havoc with the purchasing of items for the party, so all I could do was make lists of the items I needed to acquire.

I was released from bed rest with less than a week to go. Along with my reentry into the world was my return to work, and I was under orders from my doctor to work half-days so that I could continue my recovery. In the end, I found myself with very little time to do any errands or other physical preparation for the party. So by the time I was out and about, I had a plan. Friday morning before work I went down to the Dollar Tree in Brighton and purchased the majority of the paper goods and decorations for the party as well as the items for the goodie bags to be given out at the party. On Saturday night, I baked two cakes (a chocolate cake for Squeaker and a spice cake for Muffin) so that they would be cooled in time to be decorated at the park. (I learned the hard way not to attempt to transport an already frosted cake to a park party. It’s easier to frost than to re-frost). And on Sunday, I did the last of the errands for purchasing the food – including the Burstein-traditional Carvel ice cream cake – for the party and the cake decorations.


For their first through third birthdays, the girls had no set theme for their party. Last year, they decided months before their birthday that they wanted a Hello Kitty theme, so we bought paper goods and goodie bags to match the theme. This year, they kept changing their minds and had not settled on a theme by the deadline I had given them. It appeared that their theme was going to be “balloon sculptures and face painting.”

However, on Saturday night, Muffin was still giving me cake decorating instructions. I told her that the decision had to have been made weeks before, and she was virtually inconsolable, sobbing at the thought that she could not have the cake design that she wanted. Finally, she decided on a dinosaur-themed cake, and that I could do on almost no notice. As I ran the last few errands on Sunday morning, I stopped and picked up some plastic dinosaur figurines to be put on the cake. And when it came time to decorate the cakes, I gave the figurines to the girls and let them arrange them. So the theme became “dinosaurs, balloon sculptures, and face painting.” Everyone ended up happy, and we had a party with no meltdowns.


In fact, the party was a huge success. The folks from Circus Dynamics were wonderful and kept the kids wildly entertained. The food, while simple bagels and snacks, was consumed with great gusto. The weather was better than we could have hoped for given the prediction of possible thunderstorms. Friends from a number of the girls’ social circles, including some of their Kindergarten classmates-to-be, came to celebrate with the girls, and both parents and kids told us they had a good time.

I usually try to end my columns with a final thought, and since this column is running the day before the girls’ actual birthday, I’ll end with a thought for them: Happy birthday, our darling girls. Mommy and Daddy love you!

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.

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Rights and Wrongs

Contemplating local issues gone national

Beacon Street, Brookline

Here at The Brookline Parent we try not to get too political. Most of the columns we write tend to be about our personal experiences, and we only occasionally mention politics when it has some relevance to raising children. In fact, the few times we have mentioned politics in this column is when we’ve discussed the struggle of raising twin children at the same time one of the parents (i.e., me) is involved in local politics as an elected official. And that mostly has to do with how Nomi has to put the kids to bed while I’m still out at meetings.

But last Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in the case of McCullen V. Coakley, in which they declared that the law allowing for a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the first amendment. The ruling hit home for me in a few ways, and I felt compelled to write about it. Because the history of that law, and its relevance to me, is actually based in our town.

On December 30, 1994, I actually happened to be in Brookline. At the time, I was still living and working in New York City, but I was on vacation to visit my friends Andrew & Heather, who lived in Brookline at the time, and to see Nomi, as we weren’t yet married and we were living in two different cities. Andrew was at work that Friday morning, and Heather had gone out to run errands. They lived in an apartment on Monmouth Court, and I was pretty much spending the morning hanging out and relaxing.

So I was shocked when Heather returned to the apartment abruptly and quick-stepped to the television set saying the words, “There’s been a shooting at the abortion clinic.” She turned on the TV, and I had the strange experience of watching a local news story play out on a national stage. A hyperlocal story, actually, as one of the clinics where someone had been murdered was literally four blocks away from the apartment. Had Heather been walking directly in front of the clinic on her errands, she could have been shot.

The next year, Nomi and I got married, and our first apartment was on the adjacent block to where the clinic had been. When you know a murder has taken place in a building that is 500 feet from where you are living, well, it makes you thoughtful.

It made Brookline thoughtful too. In 2006, as a Brookline Town Meeting Member, I sat in the auditorium as we debated the town’s “focused residence picketing” bylaw that we ourselves had put into place in 2003 and then renewed in 2004. Typical for a mostly liberal, progressive town such as Brookline, the issue was divided between the question of protecting women’s reproductive rights and the question of protecting free speech rights. The bylaw had been passed to prevent protesters from setting up in front of people’s homes. It was needed because protesters were standing in front of doctors’ homes and yelling at their families. But it also meant that protesters were not allowed to stand in front of the home of the president of Boston University when they wanted to picket against a proposed Level 4 Biolab. The debate pitted Planned Parenthood against the ACLU, and,  in the end, Town Meeting voted to make the bylaw permanent.

At the time, I was torn on whether or not we should make this bylaw permanent, but now I understand why it was necessary and why it doesn’t violate free speech at all. The way I see it, free speech ends at the point where harassment begins. Many years ago, a national organization that tries to convert Jews sent their representatives out into Brookline, and I found myself being aggressively missionized while I was waiting to cross the street in Coolidge Corner. I kept walking away from the guy who was following me, and I even enlisted a police officer to help keep the guy from bugging me. Did that mean that the government was tramping on this guy’s first amendment rights? No, because the government wasn’t preventing him from saying whatever he wanted. I, as a private citizen, was asking the police officer to help me with my own rights, the right to be left alone as I waited to cross the street.

My kids are girls; one day they will be women. When that day comes, I want to know that they will be free to determine their own reproductive choices and free from being harassed about their choices from strangers who know nothing of their personal situations. From my perspective, the Supreme Court made a dangerous mistake with their ruling. It will affect people like Aaron Gouveia, who wrote in Time magazine about the time in 2010 when he and his wife came to Brookline to terminate a completely non-viable pregnancy. Gouveia writes about how the protesters very easily got their message across, even with the 35-foot buffer zone in place. Imagine how much more of an ordeal he and his wife would have faced without the buffer zone, at a time they were already dealing with emotional turmoil. On second thought, there is no need to imagine, as we are about to find out.

This ruling will affect all of us who live in Brookline, even those of us who never need to set foot in a clinic, because we are all part of this community. Twenty years ago, a man who considered himself “pro-life” murdered two women in our town because he felt justified in doing so. Today, I am now more afraid than ever that something like this will happen again.

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein. 


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An Ill Wind

Health Issues Affect the Whole Family

Muffin and Squeaker with their Doc McStuffins Kits

As I write this column, I am lying in my bed with my feet up. Such an indulgence on a work day, I hear you cry. But, really, it’s not. You see, I’ve contracted an infection in my leg, and my remaining on bed rest is an attempt to stay out of the hospital. (By the time this column goes live, I will know the verdict on that one.)

The girls find this “Mommy is in the bed” thing fascinating. They understand it to some extent, because they experienced something similar last summer when Michael had surgery. But for that whole experience they had forewarning. The girls had witnessed Michael’s symptoms that prompted the surgery, and we spent weeks preparing them for Michael going to the hospital. I even bought them a puzzle of the anatomy of the digestive system so they would understand what part of Michael would be affected by the surgery. This, however, is very different. I was fine on Sunday, playing with them, drawing in sidewalk chalk and blowing bubbles in the beautiful weather, and on Monday my leg hurt. I spent a good chunk of Monday evening resting or asleep as Michael took the girls to Rose Garden Park outside Coolidge Corner. And then yesterday my doctor put me on rather strict bed rest. (I get up to use the bathroom, and while I’m up I do one or two things, but otherwise I’m flat on my back.)

The girls’ reactions to my predicament have been mixed. Squeaker insisted that I put her shoes on yesterday even though — as she helpfully informed me — shoes don’t belong in the bed. I told her an exception could be made this one time, and she was OK with that. In fact, she didn’t ask again this morning. Muffin, on the other hand, seems to be taking this as a weird phenomenon that is a curiosity at best and an annoyance at worst. She doesn’t understand how or why this should affect her life. My illness should not be any sort of disruption to her plans.

Throughout this whole thing, Michael has been a real champion, making sure the girls have everything they need and making sure I have with me in the bed everything I might need. In fact, the only thing I’ve had to do while up was refresh consumables (in this case, actual consumables — snacks and water. And cell phone battery power). He has handled the girls’ issues, large and small, and as far as I know he hasn’t yet stumbled upon anything completely unexpected, things that are totally Mommy-centric.

I also have to give credit to our baby sitter, Maria. She has picked up tasks, such as grocery shopping, that I usually handle, and she has been sure to keep the girls away when I’m trying to rest. Also, since I’m trying to do my day job while laid up (I’m a technical writer; one of the perks of the job is the ability to write anywhere), she has kept the girls occupied, at the park or at home, while I’m dealing with work-related issues.

With luck, this will clear up quickly and I’ll be back to my normal routine soon, chasing the girls around and getting cranky when they climb on the bed with their shoes on. But for now, I am grateful they’re at an age that they can make at least some sense of what is going on.

(And a huge shout out has to go to modern technology. I have kept in touch with the world through phone, e-mail, and various forms of instant messaging. I wrote this column on my iPad on Google Drive and taking full advantage of autocorrect. And thanks also to modern medicine, because of antibiotics and painkillers.)

This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. Copyright 2014 by Michael and Nomi Burstein.


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