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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Adventures in Nosebleeding

Dealing with minor medical emergencies  

Feel free to use this image just link to www.rentvine.com

First Aid Kit (via http://www.learningdslrvideo.com/ and Flickr User dave Dugdale)

Nomi and I have generally been very lucky when it comes to the health of Muffin and Squeaker. We know of some parents who have had their kids operated on for recurring ear infections, and of others who have had to take their children to the hospital for cancer treatments. Compared to that, the kinds of things we’ve had to worry about are extremely minor.

But a minor ailment is still an ailment. And when a child gets an ailment, no matter how minor, it’s still significant to them. Toddler and preschooler children tend to live in the “now,” not understanding as they’re undergoing an experience that it will be over soon. It takes a few incidents of being sick to understand that feeling bad is not for all time and that soon the pain will go away. For example, the first time Muffin got sick enough to throw up, she panicked, as she had no idea what it meant. Since then, she’s had minor stomach issues a few times, but now she knows what it means. It means she ate too much too fast and needs to slow down.

Still, we’ve been lucky. Rare is the incident when we have to drop everything and rush a kid to the doctor. As a result, I’ve become complacent and have assumed that we’re pretty much home free.

But of course, that’s just when the universe decides to throw you a curveball.

A few weeks ago, Nomi and I had a full day. We took the girls to the school they will be attending next year for a Kindergarten welcoming event, and then their babysitter picked them up and took them to their preschool. That evening, I, along with the rest of my colleagues on the Board of Library Trustees, had to interview candidates for the Library Director position in Brookline. I knew would get more work done if I didn’t have to include my usual daily commute, so I decided to work from home that day.

It turned out to be a good thing I did. At 11:12 am, while I was in the middle of a WebEx phone meeting, I got a phone call from the preschool. Squeaker had apparently been bumped into by a friend while dancing, and she had bitten her tongue. She was coughing up and vomiting blood, and I had to pick her up to take her to the doctor. I called her doctor’s office for an emergency appointment and then rushed over there while the babysitter picked Squeaker up to meet me. While I was heading over, I made sure to post about this on Facebook, because nothing is real unless it’s on social media. (Besides, I wanted the support of friends.)

Squeaker’s doctor examined her and found no laceration in the tongue. Her diagnosis: epistaxis, i.e., nosebleed. The bump had caused Squeaker to have a major nosebleed, and from what we could gather, someone had advised her to tilt her head back to stop the bleeding. Instead, the blood got into her throat, leading to the coughing and the vomiting.

Squeaker was so traumatized that she did not want to leave my side and of course she couldn’t go back to school that day. I ended up working on documents and taking meetings with a Squeaker by my side.

The long Memorial Day weekend passed without incident, and then, on Tuesday morning, Squeaker woke up at 4:30 am with another nosebleed. Nomi took care of it and we comforted her, and when Squeaker woke up in the morning her nosebleed was all done. The babysitter took her and her sister to preschool as I went to Town Hall to meet with the Library Director candidate the Board had chosen just before I was to head to the office for work.

And guess what? Nomi and I got another call from the preschool. Once again, Squeaker was coughing up blood and had to be taken to the doctor. And once again, I was glad I was still in Brookline. I met her and the babysitter at the doctor’s office again, and we had to convince Squeaker to pry open her mouth so the doctor could take a look. Squeaker was crying and scared to open her mouth, as she thought it was filled with blood. But, of course, it wasn’t. The bleeding had stopped, and once again, she received a diagnosis of epistaxis. I had not planned to work from home that day, but I ended up doing so, as Squeaker yet again needed her daddy.

Overall, this experience last week has made me grateful for the flexibility my employment affords me and the fact that the kids have had a babysitter available even when they are in preschool just in case. But I’ve also noticed that both of these incidents happened on days when I, in my capacity as the new chair of the Library Trustees, was meeting with the new Director of The Public Library of Brookline. I hope this doesn’t mean it’s going to be a trend….

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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Hail the Bridegroom, Hail the Bride

A Flower Girl Balancing Act


Over the winter, one of Muffin and Squeaker’s favorite adults asked them to participate in her wedding. The girls were unsure what this was going to entail, but once they were told that they were going to wear pretty dresses and get to drop flower petals on the ground, they got on board quickly. It was all very theoretical, but they were excited.

As the date of the wedding drew closer, I started purchasing what they would need for the wedding. The bride had chosen dresses for them to wear that were not identical but that matched each other. She had also chosen shoes and socks for them to wear and had introduced the idea that we would do something special with the girls’ hair. Again, the girls were fine with the ideas in theory.

And then the items started to arrive. When the dresses came, the girls thought they were beautiful; Squeaker was sure she’d look like a princess when wearing it. (Squeaker is in a princess phase right now; Muffin is in an astronaut phase. Of course, when pressed, Squeaker says that the princess in question is an astronaut.) But when we tried the dresses on (because we can’t have princess dresses in the house and not try them on), the girls began to complain.

“The dress is too itchy,” Squeaker whined. “I don’t like it and I won’t wear it.”

“I’m going to be cooooold,” Muffin moaned. “I don’t like it and I won’t wear it.”

“It’s J’s special day,” I said. “She’s the bride, and on this one day she gets to tell people what to wear. When you are brides, you’ll get to tell people what to wear.”

The whining and moaning continued, but I had confidence. On the day itself, I was sure, they’d wear the dresses.

But I’d learned my lesson. When the shoes and socks came, I didn’t even show them to the girls. I took the box and put it aside, only taking it out once to show the bride herself what the shoes looked like. Of course, that meant that I was taking a chance that the shoes wouldn’t fit, but I made sure to buy a size I was pretty confident would still fit by the time the wedding date came.

The dresses chosen by the bride were gorgeous, but they were were vaguely impractical for almost-five-year-olds because they were mostly pure white. The shoes and the socks were also bright white. And I have a general philosophy against pure white clothing for children the girls’ age. (As I remarked at some point during the lead-up to the wedding, it was clear that these dresses were chosen by a bride and not by a mother.) So the dresses stayed hanging in the girls’ closet, wrapped in their protective plastic, and the shoes remained in their boxes, protected by tissue paper.

Muffin and Squeaker were not the only flower girls for this wedding. They were joined in the task by their good friend Proto and Proto’s younger sister Gundo. This was very good because it motivated the girls to want to participate — they wanted to be involved in whatever Proto and Gundo were doing.

The day of the wedding arrived, and we took the dresses and the shoes and put them carefully in the car of Proto and Gundo’s parents, who had offered to drive us to the wedding venue. I also packed a plain white shirt, just in case Squeaker continued to complain about the itchiness of the dress. We decided to have the girls travel in dresses they could wear to the wedding but not for the ceremony. This decision was twofold: first, that way the fancy dresses wouldn’t get all smushed when we put the girls into car seats. Second, this way they had appropriate clothing to change into if they decided during the reception they were tired of wearing the fancy dresses. When we got to the synagogue where the wedding was, we found a ladies’ room in which we could change all four girls. I was quite pleased that Muffin and Squeaker got into their flower girl dresses and socks and shoes without a peep of complaint. And the shoes fit perfectly.

Orthodox Jewish weddings traditionally start with the “kabbalat panim,” a reception at which people come and greet the bride as she sits on her “throne,” as she is the queen of the day. This reception usually is accompanied by food. Since the girls were now all dressed in their wedding finery, I was quite paranoid about them eating or drinking anything that might stain their dresses, but with help from Michael they were able to have all sorts of treats and didn’t get dirty. Muffin even discovered a love for vegetable sushi. And many people commented to us that the girls looked adorable.

Finally, it was time for the ceremony. The girls surprised us by being willing to follow someone they didn’t know (the “traffic controller” who was sending people down the aisle) to a location they were unfamiliar with (the social hall of the synagogue) to do something they’d never done before (drop flower petals on the floor with reckless abandon). And they did their job beautifully and were quite adorable.

After the ceremony ended, Muffin asked me, “Mommy, can we do that again?” And that, I think, is the sign of a successful afternoon.

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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Missing the Firsts

The moving finger and all that

The Red Trouser Show performing at Faneuil Hall last summer

The Red Trouser Show performing at Faneuil Hall last summer

At this very moment, if you’re reading this column just after it was published, Muffin and Squeaker are at their first ever visit to a circus. They’re seeing the Big Apple Circus on City Hall Plaza, Boston, for the last Friday performance before it picks up and goes somewhere else.

And neither Nomi nor I will be there to see them enjoy it.

Instead, their babysitter is taking them to the circus, at our urging. When we saw that there would be a circus in town, we thought this would be a great idea. The girls are now at a good age to go to a circus: old enough to enjoy and remember it, and young enough to not dismiss it  as “lame” or something only little kids go to. And we’re pretty sure they’ll enjoy it, as they’ve seen some juggling and acrobatics over the years, including The Red Trouser Show last Independence Day at Faneuil Hall and The Airborne Comedians at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

But it did open up a question for me. I remember going to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus with my family when I was a kid. As far as I can recall, we only went once, and I seem to remember trying not to laugh at the clowns because I knew they were trying to make me laugh. But more to the point was the fact that it my parents did get to take my brothers and me to our first circus, as opposed to sending us with someone else. Should I regret the fact that I will be missing my kids’ first trip to the circus?

There’s the practical part of my mind, which notes that taking the kids to the circus could be a bit of a balagan (a Hebrew word meaning chaos or fiasco). In many ways, it’s a lot easier for Nomi and me to let someone else deal with the logistics of taking the girls there, finding seats, and hoping that they don’t get scared or declare that the circus is “boring,” which is one of Muffin’s new favorite dismissal words.

But on the other hand, that’s not really the issue here.

A few years ago, their babysitter took them to the Franklin Park Zoo. It was their first trip to a zoo, and they’ve been back a few times since. I had similar thoughts back then. I felt wistful briefly that I wasn’t going to be there, but then let it go. Although I haven’t been to a zoo in years, it’s not on the top of my list of things to do. But I wanted the girls to see in real life many of the animals they have learned about and come to love.

On the one hand, I suppose I could regret missing these trips with the girls. But on the other hand, it’s not like I haven’t had the chance to experience many of their other “firsts” already. and even if I miss a first, it doesn’t mean we can’t go with the kids a later time. I missed their first trip to the Boston Children’s Museum, but I’ve taken them there countless times since and watched them have fun each time. In truth, by now I’d probably have forgotten the details of their first visit had I been there with them.

When it comes right down to it, I’d rather give them the chance to experience as much joy as possible, whether or not I can be there with them. So, as always, I will treasure the firsts I do get to share with them, and do my best not to regret the ones I miss.

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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Scary Movies

Watching the Watchers


I hate Disney movies.

Wait, no. That’s not fair. I don’t hate Disney movies. I just have a problem with them being considered the pinnacle of children’s film fare. Because think about it: Disney movies have certain beats that they all hit: the death of a parent in the beginning minutes, characters you are supposed to think are nice who are not, children without anchor being forced to deal in a cold, cruel world. And songs. Lots of songs. Songs with catchy hooks that get stuck in your head and you can never let it go. No, I don’t want to build a snowman; it’s April, and there’s finally grass visible.

Sorry. I think I digressed there.

Anyway. When the girls were two, we limited their video experience. Now that they are older, we still limit what they watch and when, but Muffin and Squeaker are now veteran video watchers. They started with “Dora the Explorer” and they were mostly okay with the content of the average “Dora” episode. Squeaker was often afraid of Swiper, especially in episodes in which he managed to swipe whatever he was after, but Muffin was able to watch full episodes without issue. From “Dora” and her cousin “Go, Diego, Go!,” they moved on to “Blue’s Clues” and other kids’ shows. Some shows had scary episodes once in a while, but in general the shows were innocuous.

After a while, we decided the girls might be ready for longer videos. We showed them some clips from YouTube of movies we had enjoyed, such as “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” and “Gaston” from “Beauty and the Beast.” When they seemed to like those, we attempted to show them some longer bits of those movies, yet they resisted. They still enjoyed videos they chose, but not the ones that we chose.

They watched the double-length episodes of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” and enjoyed them, so we had some hope that they would appreciate longer movies. Michael started reading them “The Wizard of Oz” because Muffin was interested in an adaptation of the movie done by “The Fresh Beat Band.” But when they got scared by the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” version of “The Wizard of Oz,” I began to worry they would never reach the point at which we could introduce them to the well-known 1939 film.

Over the winter break, a friend of ours with kids that the girls adore invited us to come see “Frozen” in the theater with them. I had to work, but Michael took the girls out to the Fenway theater to see it. Once Elsa lost control of her ice powers, though, the girls freaked out, and Michael had to take them out and bring them home. This led us to decide that perhaps the girls were not quite ready for the full-on big-screen experience.

So back to home video entertainment we turned. At some point since the beginning of this year, Squeaker started to ask us about watching “The Jungle Book.” There’s a new Blu-Ray version of the movie that has recently been released, so the girls have seen ads for it during some of the shows they watch from The Disney Channel. (They watch shows on our TiVo, and we try to cut out the commercials, but they still see them occasionally and — since the ads do what they’re designed to do — the girls ask us about them.) So Michael took the movie out of the Public Library of Brookline and sat down with the girls to watch the film. Michael had not seen the movie himself, so it was new to all three of them. With the exception of a couple of scary scenes featuring the snake, Kaa, the girls did pretty well watching the movie.

And then “Frozen” was released on DVD. Since Michael had only seen about 40 minutes of the movie, and I had not seen any of it, we were eager to watch it. When it came up as the next item on our Netflix queue, we were excited — this would be our chance to finally see it! The girls were hesitant, remembering that they had been scared when they saw it in the theatre.  We told them, though, that they could leave the room for scary parts if they wanted, or they could close their eyes and we’d tell them when the scary parts were over. In the end, Muffin sat through the whole thing, with a bit of nervousness at the most tension-filled parts, and Squeaker, who skipped the beginning, ended up joining us for most of the movie and then asked to go back to the beginning to see how it started. Now they’ve watched it a second time and want us to buy the DVD.

I’m still not showing them “Bambi.”

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 Return of, Well, Us

What we hope will be a welcome return

We’re back!


Well, to be fair, we never really left. I mean, I’m still here, Nomi is still here, and our twin daughters Muffin and Squeaker are also still here (if a little older). What I mean, of course, is that we’re delighted to announce the return of our twice-monthly column, The Brookline Parent, now appearing as a personally-hosted regular blog.

Many of you might have felt as if you were left hanging back in January 2013, when our final column appeared. After sixty columns, The Brookline Parent suddenly stopped appearing, without even so much as a formal goodbye. (Friends of ours saw informal goodbyes on social media.) Our final column, “The Mommy Blogging Question,” even implied that Nomi and I intended to keep writing our column for as long as we could. So what happened?

In short, the Brookline Patch website (along with all other Patch websites) made some decisions regarding their formats, and one of those decisions was to stop publishing our column. Nomi and I spent some time trying to interest a variety of other newspapers, magazines, and websites in running our column, but given everything else we had going on in our lives (remember we have twin children?), we didn’t have much time to put in the effort to find it a new home.

So for a while there, it looked like our brief career as parenting columnists had come to an end. But the idea of restarting The Brookline Parent kept nagging at us. Muffin and Squeaker kept growing, of course, and we kept jotting down ideas and notes for future columns, even though it seemed to be a lost cause. After all, if no one else wanted to publish it, then we’d have to do it ourselves – which, to be perfectly honest, would not help us pay our mortgage or the kids’ tuition.

But then last May, something happened that told us that we had to bring back The Brookline Parent.

We received an email almost a year ago from a couple in Concord with a boy the same age as Muffin and Squeaker. They had been considering moving to either Arlington or Brookline, and a search on phrases such as “Brookline parent” led them to us. We invited them to come visit us in Brookline, thus planting the idea in their heads that Brookline would be a great place to raise their son. To make a long story short, they now live in Brookline and will be contributing to our school system’s overcrowding problem. (I kid! I kid!) Seriously, though, if we hadn’t written our column, then we would never have met our new friends. Nomi and I realized that we wanted to keep writing this column, if for no other reason than to reach out to the greater community with the stories of our experience. And that meant going the self-publishing, blogging route.

However, we knew we couldn’t do it alone.

Socktopus Photo

So joining the The Brookline Parent “team,” as it were, is Grahame Turner, who was the Local Editor of the Brookline Patch during much of the time our columns ran. Grahame has been instrumental in getting all sixty of our previous columns published on our website. All of them have been backdated properly, so it’s as if they appeared here initially. We’re grateful to Brookline Patch for allowing us to reprint all of the columns on our own site. And we’re grateful to Grahame for taking on the role as Lead Editor of The Brookline Parent, along with all the other roles he plays in his own life. Grahame has his own blog, The Unsure Runner, and if you’re interested in running, the Boston area, or really good snark, I urge you to check it out.

We hope those of you who read our column faithfully back in the Brookline Patch days will come back to follow the new adventures of Muffin and Squeaker. If you’re new to The Brookline Parent, feel free to dip into the archives to get a feel for what we’re all about. (I recommend Girls Can Be Astronauts, Too, which was quite possibly our first breakout column.) And thank you all for your continued support.

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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The Mommy Blogging Question

Privacy in the Age of the Internet

Originally published January 18, 2013

Mommy blogging question

When Nomi and I were first approached by Brookline Patch to write a parenting column, it seemed to us an obvious fit. We were new parents, surrounded by many other new parents in town, and we fell into a few demographics that were either already well represented in our world or growing. Our experiences as parents could help illuminate this part of our culture and maybe serve as helpful advice to others, and so we eagerly became members of the Patch team.

The one issue that concerned us, though, was privacy. When Nomi was pregnant, we had made a point of not talking about her pregnancy on our blogs, and it worked. Once our kids were born, friends of ours who didn’t see us regularly were actually surprised to discover that Nomi had been pregnant. Part of the reason we kept our own counsel was the Jewish custom of not tempting the “evil eye” while pregnant, but there was also the fact that the world had changed and the private sphere had become much more public. We didn’t expect to stop communicating with our friends over the Internet after our children were born, but we knew that what we shared publicly about our lives was no longer going to affect just ourselves. How could we balance our desire to share stories about our lives with our kids’ privacy?

In the end, we came up with a solution that all of you are quite familiar with. As far as the Internet is concerned, our twin daughters are named Muffin and Squeaker. Those names are, as Nomi is fond of saying, their noms de blog, and we use them whenever we talk about them. (As an amusing side note, when people meet us for the first time, they almost always ask which one of our kids is Muffin and which one is Squeaker.) We know this isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best one we could think of.

In an earlier time, were we writing this column for a newspaper, privacy concerns would be less of an issue. The point is almost too obvious to belabor, but the Internet has made it much easier to search for and find out about people. Even if the Patch website were associated with a print edition and we wrote our column for the newspaper, it wouldn’t matter, as the columns would still be available for anyone on the planet. Furthermore, the stories we tell are possibly going to be findable in perpetuity. It’s something that Muffin and Squeaker will have to deal with. But then again, the simple fact that we chose to bring them into this world means that there will be things they have to deal with.

I recently began following the blog of writer Jane Roper, author of Double Time: How I Survived—And Mostly Thrived—Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins. Sadly, one of her twin daughters has developed cancer, and Roper has been blogging about it quite frankly. For me, it opens up the question of privacy again and highlights how life-changing the decision to write about one’s kids can be.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a former student of mine about how the Internet was changing the world, and I brought up an example. At the time, many parents I knew were blogging about their kids down to the level of their daily diaper changes and potty training. I asked my former student how we would feel if, when he had been in high school, his friends could have done a search on his childhood toddler habits and teased him with all this information. He was horrified at the prospect. Then I pointed out that he might very well be able to do the same thing to his friends, and suddenly he realized how the dynamic would change. In a way, with so much “mommy blogging” going on, the level playing field continues to exist; it just moves to a different location.

But there’s one advantage to our writing about our kids that I hope Muffin and Squeaker will appreciate in due time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of those “parentless parents”that writer Allison Gilbert discusses in her book. Many times, a question has come up about raising our kids that makes me wish I could go to my father or mother and ask them how they handled the issue when raising my brothers and me. It occurs to me that I would have loved to be able to read a series of columns written by my parents about raising their family, as it would give me the advice and information that they sadly can no longer provide.

Our hope is that in the end, Muffin and Squeaker will be happy with how we’ve chronicled their lives on these pages (as it were). At the very least, I hope they realize that these words are an expression of our love.

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. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2013 by Brookline Patch.

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Dear Muffin and Squeaker

There Are No Words

Originally published December 20, 2012

Dear Muffin Squeaker

A week ago today, twenty children, all just a little older than the two of you, were murdered in their school classrooms. Mass shootings like these often feel remote to us, as in the past they have tended to take place far away. But last week’s shootings, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, happened only one state over.

As we write these words to you, the news is filled with reports of the children’s funerals, debates about the society we live in, questions about gun control and mental illness – all the things that typically happen after a mass shooting. It’s a script that we’ve seen the American people follow again and again.

We made a conscious decision not to tell you anything about what’s going on. We are deliberately hiding the news from you. Although many articles have popped up giving advice to parents on how to discuss this latest school shooting with their children, we knew from the start that there was absolutely no point in telling you about it. We don’t need a professional to tell us to hide this ongoing news story from children who are not yet four years old. And we know your preschool is not about to mention it to you either. You are far too young to comprehend, let alone process, the enormous magnitude of horror that infuses this event.

We know this because we ourselves aren’t able to handle it either. Your mother has had to turn away from the television when your father has had the news broadcasts on. Your father has been fighting tears and doing his best to keep you from seeing how upset he is.

We hope in the future you will understand our decision; truthfully, we can’t imagine that you won’t. As your parents, we make decisions every day about what you see and hear. Last Saturday, your father hid the newspapers from you before you had a chance to see them, and, as always, we never let you watch the television. Not letting you see the news about Newtown is part and parcel of parenting.

One day, you will learn about two earlier national traumas, among many others, that took place before you were born. Both of these incidents have informed our decision. In 1999, a school shooting took place at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 2001, this country experienced the 9/11 attacks, an incident as far removed from you as the Kennedy assassination was from your parents. On both of those days, your father was a teacher at a school. He remembers not just how these incidents affected him but also how they affected the students he taught. He remembers how in both cases some students found out the news before some teachers did. And he remembers how the schools responded, doing what they could to reassure the students that they were safe.

But, of course, the problem is that as much as we would like to think we can, we cannot guarantee your safety one hundred percent. No one can do that. What we can do, however, what we must do, is provide you with as much safety as we can, and with – we hate to say – the illusion of total safety. We want you to be able to grow up and enjoy your childhood as much as possible. Shielding you from the trauma of events such as Newtown is something we plan to do for as long as we can.

Sadly, the parents of the survivors of the Newtown massacre no longer have that luxury. Their children’s innocence has been shattered, probably beyond repair. Their children now must assimilate into their personal narratives the experience of hiding from a killer who hunted them, of running from a school building that once afforded them a sanctuary, of attending the funerals of their friends and siblings, and soon of trying to go back to school and adjust to a new normal, one without the twenty friends they expected to have for the rest of their lives.

We pray every day that you will never have to do the same.

May you only know love and peace. And may you be kept safe.

Burstein 4box

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein and Nomi S. Burstein together.

About this column: The adventures of two Brookline parents and their twin daughters, Muffin and Squeaker. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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Roots in the Future

Preserving the Planet for Posterity

Originally published December 7, 2012

Roots in Future 1

In one of his short stories, writer Spider Robinson, known for his Callahan’s Bar science-fiction stories, has a character make an observation about our connection to our family. “Everybody’s got roots in the past,” Robinson’s character notes, “but they’s all got roots in the future, too.”

I thought about Robinson’s observation last month during Brookline Town Meeting. I’ve been an elected member of Town Meeting for over a decade. Most of what we do is relatively straightforward. For example, we pass the budget every May, after the Selectmen, Advisory Committee, and town departments have spent months planning it out for us to consider. After all, when you get right down to it, governing is mostly about figuring out where you will get money from and what you will spend the money on.

But sometimes Town Meeting passes bylaws or resolutions that generate a little more discussion beyond the confines of our members.

We don’t often get political in this column; after all, it’s called The Brookline Parent, not The Brookline Politician. When we do talk about politics, it’s mostly about how Nomi and I balance my being a local politician with raising Muffin and Squeaker. But last month, Town Meeting considered two warrant articles that will have a direct effect on how we live life in the town. Article 8 was filed to add to the town bylaws a prohibition on polystyrene food or beverage containers. Article 9 was filed to add to the town bylaws the requirement that plastic shopping bags handed out by our stores be either compostable or degradable. In short, the two articles were written to ban the common Styrofoam cup you might get at the coffee shop and the plastic bag you might get at the supermarket check-out, and they are set to go into effect at the end of 2013.

Roots in future 2

Both articles passed with overwhelming support. Town Meeting voted 169-27 to ban polystyrene containers and 142-53 to ban plastic bags. And, as a member of the Town Meeting Green Caucus, which formed to support a sustainable future and improved quality of life for the community, I voted in favor of both articles.

The fact is, I’m worried. Climate change is a real problem for our planet, and it’s getting worse. I asked Jack Hankin, who used to live in Brookline and now writes the Planet Diary website, about the current scientific evidence for climate change. He directed me to NASA’s website on Global Climate Change and noted that nine of the top ten warmest years on record have been since 2000. The greenhouse gases we are pouring into the atmosphere are causing the average global temperature to rise, leading to a melting of the ice at both poles and more intense weather patterns. Just look at the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy two months ago. Those of us living in Brookline dodged a bullet.

Nomi and I try to do our part to fight this trend of global temperature increase. As frequent readers of our column know, we got rid of our car a few years ago and have mostly relied on public transportation ever since. Some people would say that what any one person does would have no impact whatsoever. I’d suggest that those people re-read Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss.

Those of us in the Green Caucus supported the bans for a variety of reasons. For me, though, the main reason to support the ban is that every little bit helps. Some might say that a ban on these products won’t do a lot to combat global warming, but the bans will improve the environment. Plastic bags and polystyrene cups litter our land and oceans and devour natural resources in their production and disposal. The ban will make Brookline a cleaner place to live. And I’m hoping that the ban will inspire other municipalities to follow suit.

The writer J. Michael Straczynski, who created the TV show Bablyon 5, once said that if we do not create the future, others will create it for us. I’m proud that last month I took a step to create a slightly better future for my children.

Because, in the end, I want there to be a planet for them to enjoy.

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. This column originally appeared on the Brookline Patch website. Copyright 2012 by Brookline Patch.

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