Names of the Game



“Mommy, what’s your old name?” Miriam asks.

“My old name is Erica. But now it’s Mommy because you’re my daughter.”

“What’s my old name, then?” she asks, sounding slightly confused.

Our names follow us through all the different versions of ourselves. We may have nicknames. We may choose to be called something else. We may change the spelling of our names just to be different. We may dot our “i’s” with a heart or add a silent “p” just to be funny.

The first nickname I can remember was Skippy. I had a giant stuffed Kangaroo with a joey in its pouch and all. I loved it. It was taller than five year old me. My oldest brother, Barry, would sing this song to me from this Saturday morning TV show we watched.

Skippy, Skippy
She’s Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Skippy, Skippy
Skippy, our friend ever true

I still have my t-shirt with velveteen iron-on letters spelling SKIPPY across the back. The front has a barely there iron-on picture of the cast Welcome Back Kotter. John Travolta before he was John Travolta. Back when bell bottoms were really BELL bottoms. My mother had saved it and my father gave it to me about two years ago. It’s too ratty for Miriam to wear. It’s really just a tangible connection to a little girl called Skippy. She’s still in here somewhere.

My next nickname became simply my last name. My maiden name is Kornspan. It’s Austrian and incredibly unique, isn’t it? At some point in my early 20’s, I simply became Kornspan. I liked it. It fit me. Unique and slightly silly. I smile when I’m still called it by my friends from that time. It makes me feel young and silly.

“Can you spell your last name, please?” was a common question. My mother had a cadence to her voice as she spelled it out. K-O-R-N-S-P-as-in-Peter-A-N. In our juvenile teen years, we replaced “Peter” with “penis” and we’d crack up as all of us kids would shout “P-AS-IN-PENIS!!” in the background of every phone call she’d make that involved spelling our name. She would laugh as she shooed us away.

I remained simply “Kornspan” for over a decade. When I met my husband, he called me Erica, and only Erica. And Erica quickly turned in “hon” and “honey” and that was a first for me. And I loved it. I loved my new name.

Choosing a name for Noah and for Miriam was incredibly easy. Noah was named for Hal’s father Norman so we needed to simply choose an N name. Noah was a no brainer for animal crazy me. Miriam was chosen out of the prayer book in our darkest days when the Cantor started singing an upbeat melody called Miriam’s Song. I pictured Noah dancing to it and thought the name was pretty. I whispered to Hal “If we have a girl, let’s name her Miriam.”  We weren’t even anywhere close to being pregnant yet. Maybe choosing this name gave us something to wish for. Something that had a name. An identity. The sister of Moses, Miriam led the woman and children out of slavery with her tambourine. And I’ve also heard it translates into “sadness of the sea” which is so eerily meaningful, it’s almost too much to think about.

Sometimes my boss calls me “Landis” or “Mrs. Landis” and that cracks me up because it sounds so odd. I’ve been Mrs. Landis for ten years and have been called by that name maybe 20 times tops.

“What’s Daddy’s old name?” she asks.

“Daddy’s old name is Hal. But now he’s Daddy because of you!”

I wonder how old she will be when she realizes how much those names- Daddy and Mommy- mean to us? What it was like to lose them and the fight we fought to be called them again.

Nicknames tell a story of your life.

Nicknames can reveal secret talents and identities.

Nicknames freeze time.








How My Feeble Attempt At a Garden Just Saved a Man’s Life

As I start thinking about this year’s garden, this blog post from last year reminds me how important planting seeds can be. I’m thinking about how I’ve grown in the last year. I require indirect sunlight and a sprinkling of water but sake works too.


I’ve planted a garden. In pots and rectangular planters. We picked out seed packets together at Home Depot a few weeks ago, choosing simply by picture or name. I chose forget-me-nots like choosing a racehorse at the track. I just loved the name. Sweet William and Teddy Bear Sunflowers also made the cut. The herb of the season will be cilantro and just for fun, some catnip. I’ve decorated the planters with small disco balls from a New Year’s champagne display. Funky versions of a classic gazing ball.

This morning, on my day off, I was outside on the deck watering these little pots of soil and seed. Cloudy and cool, I heard a guttural yell. I looked out to the street and saw a man I didn’t know fall on the sidewalk against a rough brick retaining wall. I saw him seizing and shaking. I ran inside to get the…

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Paula Kornspan, RN


I stayed up late a lot as a kid. I was way too young and it was way too late. The four of us kids had little black and white televisions in our rooms. My mother was on survival mode by that time of day. Whatever kept the kids quietly in their rooms so she could finally sleep was okay with her. It was the mid 1970’s. My father worked long hours at my grandfather’s gas station.


The Mary Tyler Moore Hour and Twilight Zone were my teddy bears. The movies from the 1940’s and 50’s were my introduction to grownup life. I was certain my future held silk peignoir sets as a married lady and spotless aprons while cooking for my husband and children.


I was confused by one thing that happened repeatedly in these movies. A gentleman would offer a lady a drink. And the lady would say “No thank you, I don’t drink.” I obsessed on this sentence.


What do you mean you don’t drink?! Drinking is optional??!! Don’t they get thirsty?! I finally asked my mother after weeks of confusion. And she explained alcohol, while trying not to giggle at my 8-year-old innocence.


She explained a lot of things to me while stifling a smile. And now I’m the mommy. And my inquisitive child is named for you in Hebrew.  Peninah Tikvah, our Pearl of Hope. Thank you for the secret talks we had. Thank you for staying strong during my teen years. You prepared me for this life without you, without me even knowing it. I grew up to be the mother I am. Unconventional in so many ways. I wish I could do it all over again with you. You were spectacular Paula Kornspan, RN. And never forget the RN. Because like she always said, “she worked hard for those two letters.”


I Traveled Back in Time Last Night…

Now that I’m in my second year of my blog, the person I was last year visits this year through Facebook Memories. Sometimes she’s very different but sometimes the same. And sometimes somewhere in the middle. I still struggle to be “in the present” sometimes but I try hard every day. We can’t be our “present selves” without being our “past selves” also. They just need to learn to play nice together.



I traveled back in time last night.

Just for a moment.

Where everything flowed freely in my mind and body. No ugly fears or visions jumped out in front of my mind’s train, driving it to a screeching halt.

I just was there. I just was.

I playfully chased Miriam through the apartment with a warm washcloth to wipe her sticky hands and face. This wild blonde blur ran to take refuge with her Daddy in our bed. I attacked with the little blue square of terrycloth and sweet smelling coconut soap. She fought me, with a smile.

She wiped her own face

and hands,

her arms,

her feet,

her knees.

“Daddy, you wipe your face!” Daddy draped the washcloth over his face and Miriam burst into



crystal clear laughter.

She pulled the washcloth off, exposing Daddy’s face. I hadn’t seen this face in a long time.


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For Ten, You Get Tin…


On Our Tenth Anniversary



Sometimes it stops me cold.

A feeling of calm will wash over me.

The “go-go-go” becomes “whoah-whoah-whoah” and I realize what I have.

I have a husband who gets annoyed with me.

I have a husband who disagrees with me.

I have a husband who is proud of me.

I have a husband who fights for me.

I have a husband who still shakes his head at my clothes on the floor and every time he catches me on the toilet with the door open.

I have a husband who isn’t always listening to me but always wants to hear what I have to say.

He brings me eggplant parmesan because I told him about that old boyfriend who wouldn’t.

He brings me roaster chickens because that’s our inside joke symbol of love.

He brings me a book he heard me mention or a CD he knows I’d like.

I hate his TV shows and he hates mine.

But his hugs feel like home.

His face is the most handsome I have ever seen.

His eyes are still the same eyes that locked with mine on our first date…and we just knew.

Ten years together.

Ten years of the lowest lows and the highest highs.

Sometimes it stops me cold.

A feeling of calm will wash over me.

This is love.


I like to say yes…

Yesterday was my one year anniversary of starting my blog. It was also my one year anniversary of really giving my dreams of writing a swift kick in the pants, as my mother would say. A lot has happened in a year and I’m not turning back now. Reposting one of my first stories because it makes me smile. Say YES today.


I say yes a lot. Not in that “pulled in every direction” busy working mom way. Not in the “sure I can cover your shift/bake orange cupcakes for color day at school/bring that 45lb bag of cat litter up the steps for that asshole neighbor” kinda way. I say yes to “let’s garden Mommy” at 10:30pm. Yes to 10 more times down the slide, yes to putting my most expensive glittery makeup all over our arms even after she took a bath. Yes to a bowl of peanut butter on the couch for supper. And I’ll even ask what color bowl she’d like.

I am always 5-10 minutes late to work because I say yes to watching the birdies fly from the trees on our street. I say yes to red licorice in the shopping cart. Yes to hiding under an umbrella outside on a damp rug pretending to be…

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Neighborhood Watching

With a rock in her left hand and a stick in her right, we set out on our walk. At the cherry blossom tree halfway down our street, I pick her up so she can touch the pink blossoms. She’s heavy but super human mother strength makes me think I could lift her to the rooftops. There is nothing in the world like holding my child in my arms. And I will do it for as long as I can.

We say hello to the garden statuettes on the neighbor’s front lawn. The frog, the cat, and the turtle. I met the man who lives here awhile back. His wife had just died he told me. I see his house has fallen into disrepair. Grass overgrown, window shades askew. The statuette animals even looked like they were grieving. Dirty and tilted in the mostly soil garden. I always think of how he’s doing when we make this stop on our walk. I rarely see him.

We walk to the STOP sign at the end of our block.

“Which way do you want to go?” I ask.

“This way to the fishies,” she says.

We make a right and go half a block to the spot that looks down into the stream that runs through town. There is a railing but it’s still possible for a child to get through. When we first moved to this street and started taking our walks, I remember thinking I was going to ask the town for a better railing. I never did. Before she could even string a sentence together herself, we always said to her at each and every sight of water, “Never go near water without Mommy or Daddy.” She recites that sentence to me without even being prompted as we look down at the fish swimming through the muck.

We keep walking through our microcosm. Every walk is different yet the same. And when she puts her rock in my pocket to “hold for later” and drops her stick on purpose, I reach my hand out hoping she’ll grab it for a little while. I realize I need to hold her hand even more than she needs to hold mine.


When a Mug is Not a Mug


About five years ago, my boss brought in a bunch of extra mugs he had at home. We seemed to never have enough at work for all the hardcore coffee drinkers we were at the time. They were all sorts of designs and his wife was probably thrilled to get them out of the house. I know I would be. Mugs seem to multiply like rabbits over the years.

The “My Mom is the Best” mug used to stare me down every day. After Noah had died and we were desperately trying to get pregnant, this mug mocked me for two years from the cabinet above the industrial coffee maker in our break room. If a coworker was drinking out of it, I would watch the words on the mug as they went from desk to lips and back again. I would never ever choose it from the cabinet. Ever. Even if it was the only mug left, which it never was thankfully. I set a little goal for myself. Once I was a mother again, I would be able to drink from this mug. It became a talisman of what needed to happen. It had to happen. I need to be a mother again.

I choose this mug often now. Miriam is four years old. As I pour my coffee in and add my half ‘n half, I still can’t believe I made it through those years. I still can’t believe I have my perfect daughter, Miriam. I still can’t believe Noah is really gone.

Tangible things help us make sense of what is not tangible. The emotions that are too hard to sort through. The fears that are too big to rationalize. This mug stays the same as I change constantly. This mug waited for me. And I drink a lot of coffee.


Starting Forty-Nine



Today I’m starting forty-nine. Forty-eight years came before this one. And each one of those years led me here.

I’m starting forty-nine with scarlet red hair. My sister-in-law, Sharon, seemed to sense what I needed for my jumbled pieces to fall into place. She surprised me with a trip to her hairdresser who brought out a younger version of me. The version that wasn’t afraid to stand out. The version that didn’t listen to naysayers. This scarlet colored hair makes me think it’s not too late. For anything.

I’m starting forty-nine chubby. I’m starting forty-nine putting everything into my writing. I’m starting forty-nine a few weeks shy of ten years of marriage. I’m starting forty-nine with holes in my underwear and socks. I’m starting forty-nine with a son in heaven and a daughter on earth. I’m starting forty-nine always exhausted but ready for everything. I’m starting forty-nine filled with fears and anxieties. I’m starting forty-nine as me.

My new scarlet red hair enters the room loudly while I’m still quietly observing. We work well together.