Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

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This past week, we went “shufflin’ off to Buffalo.” Bet you don’t know where that expression came from. I certainly didn’t know that “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” is a song from Act II of the 1933 movie, “42nd Street,” and that it was a railroad saying even earlier. All I had to say was that I was going to Buffalo, and the response was immediate: “Shufflin’ off?” I was asked.

The second reaction was also the same. “Better bring your long underwear,” I was urged. “And a shovel. Is it snowing there yet?” Well, I’m going to tell you that Buffalo gets a bum rap. First of all, it was 82 degrees in the afternoon when it was only 80 degrees on Long Island. Fortunately I had passed on the suggested long underwear. I did bring a pair of shorts, but I did not wear them because I didn’t see anyone wearing shorts in the city. When I am traveling, I’m a big believer in the “When in Rome” adage.

Actually the city looked quite pleasant to me, larger than I had imagined, clean and with a fair share of tall buildings. The population of more than 250,000 residents makes it the second largest city in the state. I understand that Buffalo, like a number of rust-belt cities, has undergone quite a face-lift.

Admittedly I did not see much of it since I was there for the fall meeting of the New York Press Association, and that meant I was locked into the hotel site where the workshops were held. But we did have a chance to look around a bit when we went out to the Anchor Bar, where Buffalo chicken wings were allegedly invented. It’s a pleasant and good-sized sports bar, and most people at the tables were, sure enough, having chicken wings with blue-cheese dip and cut-up celery sticks on the side, although one lady was eating a good-looking dish of shrimp scampi. She must have been a native.

In the way of cultural attractions, the city has an art museum, a science museum, a theater district, multiple art galleries, and the historic Martin House that was recommended for viewing. Buffalo was once the scene of considerable wealth from the auto industry, where Pierce-Arrow automobiles were manufactured, also the railroads and the Erie Canal. As a result there are a number of urban mansions. It also has a river walk on Lake Erie that houses several eateries. Food, in fact, is big. And people we met, in restaurants, the hotel and on the streets were friendly and unhurried — such a change of pace for a native New Yorker like me or even someone born and bred on Long Island. It always helps when the weather is beautiful, which it was for our entire stay.

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum was enough to make lovers of antique automobiles cry for joy. The museum, which is large and planning to get larger, also has antique bikes and motorcycles, all in seemingly shiny new condition. And it even houses a filling station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a remarkable piece of architecture.

It was an eight-hour drive from Bridgeport, where the ferry docked, to Buffalo, and that does not count the stops. The roads are excellent, the roadside trees just beginning to suggest autumnal colors, and we spent one night on the way up in Canandaigua, about an hour and a half from Buffalo.

In the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes region, the area is deservedly famous for its Riesling wines, which I confess to having tasted. The village, its name derived from the Seneca tribe, was the scene of the Susan B. Anthony trial in which she was accused of voting illegally in 1873, since women were not then allowed to vote. She was found guilty and fined $100 with costs, which she did not pay.

Colleagues were surprised that we drove to Buffalo rather than just flying there, but I remembered from a previous trip many years ago, when I was a high school student, that the Mohawk Valley and upper New York state are truly lovely destinations. This trip confirmed that memory.

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When we went to a Japanese tea ceremony, known as chado, it was an immersion in Japanese culture. We had an enjoyable and instructive time at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University even if it was for only 30 minutes this past Sunday afternoon. By reservation, the center offers an authentic experience in a charming bamboo teahouse on the first floor, hosted by a kimono-clad lady who holds such sessions for a maximum of four people at a time.

We arrived early, signed in and waited until the session before ours ended. The hostess then welcomed us with a bow, which we returned, and she explained that the design of two doors, a low one and a higher one, in the teahouse was deliberate. The guests, by bending to enter through the lower or “crawling in” door, were assured that all were of equal importance. None was to be considered more worthy. She then pointed out that because the sliding door was open slightly, it meant that the guests should enter. Had it been closed, we were to wait.

We left our shoes outside the little house and sat on one of the four low stools placed inside for us on the tatami mats. The hostess then entered through the higher door and began preparations. Her movements were deliberate and scripted into a traditional procedure, called temae. She was following a centuries-old ritual of making and serving the powdered green tea called matcha.

As the tea ceremony developed in Japan and was practiced by the monks, it was influenced by Zen Buddhism and embraced by the samurai or warrior class. The quiet ambience, the spare furnishings inside the teahouse, the unhurried and predictable movements of the hostess, the decorative scrolls emphasizing virtues like harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, helped calm the mind and push away fear before battle. Even the sound of water slowly boiling for the tea was soothing. The little bamboo teahouse was constructed in the midst of the modern Wang Center, yet we could leave behind our busy thoughts and worldly concerns with our shoes and purses as we entered this special space.

Speaking quietly to us, the hostess explained the equipment to make the tea: bowls, the green tea powder that was not artificially colored but naturally bright green, the delicate whisk carved from bamboo to mix the powder with the hot water in the bowls, the tea caddy, the scoops — the smaller one to measure out the powder, the larger to bring the water to the pot.

Each tool was beautifully and simply crafted from the unadorned wood. She gave us a fruit candy first, then handed each of us a bowl with tea, pointing out that the sweet was intended to offset the bitterness of the tea or perhaps emphasize them both.

There was a simple mindfulness to the whole process. We were there with her, in the moment, watching her mix the tea, wipe clean each bowl before we drank, then again afterward, with the hot water and special cloth she kept in the belt of her kimono for that purpose. Nothing else intruded. The effect was almost hypnotic.

And then it was over. We left the bamboo teahouse, put on our shoes, shouldered our purses and re-entered the outside world. It was a quiet interlude in an otherwise busy and hectic day. A nice cup of tea will always call me back.

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If you have had a particularly nasty fight with your spouse or best friend today, consider this. How well did each of you sleep last night?

It may not come as a surprise that a good night’s sleep makes one feel calm and good natured the next morning. But how many of us consider the ramifications of poor or too little sleep one night on our behavior and relationships the next day? We may feel out of sorts, perhaps below our awareness radar, and that can lead to more difficult and even acrimonious interactions with those at work, in our daily routines and especially with our spouses. Even worse, it may affect our health.

A study at Ohio State University of 43 couples and how their bickering could influence their health tracked the subjects spouses most often argue over: managing money, spending family time together or an in-law intruding on their lives. According to an article in The New York Times Science section, “Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep” by Tara Parker-Pope, Sept. 4, the study revealed that some couples argue calmly, even constructively, while others were “hostile and negative.”

The difference? The hostile couples were likely not getting enough sleep, usually less than at least seven hours. So before you give up on a relationship, consider the sleep factor. With enough sleep, you will still have disagreements, but the tone of the conflicts will probably be more patient.

The Ohio State study goes further. It purports to measure how marital discord together with sleep deprivation can negatively affect a person’s health. The way the university measured for this possible toxic effect was by taking blood samples from both members of the couple before and after an argument. The samples measured the level of inflammation in the body because inflammatory proteins have been linked with heart disease, cancer and other health problems. The results showed that “marital discord is more toxic to your body when you haven’t gotten enough sleep.”

Interestingly, when one member of the couple got adequate sleep, it mitigated the negative tone of the conflict, even if the other member was sleep deprived. So that suggests “a half-a-loaf is better than none” conclusion.

The article goes on to reveal that some 25 percent of couples sleep in separate beds, presumably in order to get more undisturbed rest. “And when one relationship partner doesn’t sleep well, his or her partner is more likely to report poor health and well-being.”

In conclusion: “The lesson, say the study authors, is that before concluding a relationship is in trouble, couples who regularly experience conflict should take stock not only of the relationship and how they are managing conflict, but also of their sleep habits.” The study was published in the May edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, hardly most people’s bedtime reading but offering an article to better understand the universal need in a marriage for adequate sleep.

In addition to all the authoritative information above, I can offer another nugget in the advice for marrieds department. Mine is anecdotal, not academic. Disagreements don’t go well if one or both members of a couple are hungry. Hunger starts out as insidious rather than full blown, and so it is often hard to identify the mood change when in the midst of a difficult discussion or even in an idyllic setting. But hunger can forcibly affect one’s outlook and certainly one’s patience.

I found this to be particularly true with my husband. (I’m not making a gender specific allegation here, just sayin’.) We could be having a perfectly lovely time at the zoo or some other outing, and for no apparent reason, he would begin to get cranky. The level of his crankiness would rise as we continued to stroll. Fortunately I eventually figured it out and began to carry protein bars in my pocket. At the right moment, I would pull two out and offer him one. Within merely a couple of minutes, all was again right with the world.

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the enormous energy of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm for a time, could be harnessed to serve later in some practical way, perhaps to light the city of Chicago during one of winter’s darkest weeks?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unending rainfall brought by Harvey, in some places in Texas more than 50 inches already, could be captured, stored and brought to areas that are arid and desperate for water?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the disastrous effects and ruination caused by Harvey could somehow bring Americans back together, red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, forgetting their anger and moving compassionately together to help the tragic victims of our fourth largest city?

Wait, I think destructive Harvey has done just that.

Am I imagining, or did I hear one of our more bellicose representatives, from Long Island no less, promise to bury the hatchet and vote aid for the state of his longtime adversary, despite not having received such aid in our time of terrible need? And wasn’t he bragging about his empathy?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unprecedented flooding caused by Harvey could incredibly make the prospect of nuclear war with Kim Jong-un secondary at the top of the news hour, beneath the fold on the front page of the daily newspaper and in the public consciousness?

Yes, it happened like that. Even President Trump disappeared from the news for a time. Harvey it seems, terrible as it is, can do strange things.

But the cost, in human agony, is catastrophic. Millions of people throughout the Gulf Coast have had their lives smashed, and that certainly is the main story for America this week. We have been glued to the television, watching the families with little more than the clothes on their backs, wading through the waist-high water to meet a rescuer in a rowboat, their homes behind them flooded to the windowsills. Where will they sleep? What will they eat? Will they have enough water? Did they remember to bring their medicines? Are their other loved ones somewhere safe?

So far, the number of wounded and dead has been low, certainly compared to the horrors of Katrina. But there are all sorts of wounds. Most of the people we see on the screen seem remarkably calm but are most likely in shock, trying to make sense of how their lives have violently changed. For some, their houses are totally gone, smashed and washed away in the floodwaters. For others, their homes will have to be razed to the ground because of mold and rebuilt — if there is money to do so. Unlike with Katrina, where some 50 percent of the homes were insured, it seems only around 20 percent in the Houston area have flood insurance. Businesses, restaurants, automobiles, jobs, whole neighborhoods are gone. Addresses mean nothing because streets are buried. Valuables and memorabilia of a lifetime have floated off. But most residents are “lucky”: They have escaped with their lives, their children in their arms.

The victims of Harvey have been grievously wounded. Our entire nation has been wounded.

We have, for now, lost a wide swath of the South, the ordinary, productive lives of the people who lived there and the many resources they gave us, from rice to oil and gas. After concerns for food and shelter are met for those rescued, there is the real threat of infectious disease, pollution and even the possibility of crime. And how will the affected states dispose of all the garbage Harvey will have left in its wake?

In some ways the rescue operation is a mini-Dunkirk. Good Samaritans, using all sorts of recreational vehicles, pickup trucks, fishing boats, motorized rubber dinghies and even Jet Skis, have rushed to help people trapped on roofs, in attics and in trees. The giant volunteer rescue effort, alongside official disaster responders, is a testament to the courage and basic decency of people throughout the country. 

No one was asked whom he or she voted for. America, there is hope.

The eclipse has come and gone, and for me it lived up to its advanced billing. It was awesome. I can’t say I was prepared to be awed. In fact, since most “great” shows tend to be overhyped, especially with all the different platforms we now communicate on, from radio and TV to blogs, websites, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, they are over previewed and inevitably a letdown.

Not so last Monday’s eclipse. I happened to be taking a vacation day, and my family was visiting, so there were a number of us getting ready for the event. We weren’t particularly excited about what was predicted to happen. I think curious was a better description. None of us had secured the appropriate glasses in advance but fortunately a good friend put a pair in my hands at the last minute, and that made all the difference.

Without the glasses, we were told not to look at the sun for fear of damaging our retinas. The day dawned pleasantly enough, with blue sky and bright sun but, as the morning wore on, the light breeze that started the day disappeared altogether. We noted that fact because we have a little Hobie Cat that we use to get out on the water, and there wasn’t even enough wind to move that slender craft. As we sat around the patio, there was an air of expectancy around noon, although maybe I was just projecting. We heard no birdsong, saw no squirrels and thought the yard unusually quiet. By then the bright sun had yielded to what seemed like overhanging clouds, but there weren’t low clouds in the sky. By 1:30 p.m., there was perceptibly less light.

By 2:30, one by one we looked up at the sun through the protective glasses, and each of us emitted an involuntary noise. The moon, essentially a black disc, was moving west to east across the lower three-quarters of the sun. We could see it clearly, with no clouds in the way. The feeling was of watching something happening that was profoundly greater than any human activity. In fact, I had a similar sensation when I stood at the top of a mountain in Alaska and looked out over the hundreds of miles of landscape with not a human or a human structure in sight. I felt the utter insignificance of humans in the cosmos.

Just as predicted for the New York region, around 2:40 we saw the maximum area of sun occluded by the moon, and just around that time there was a fierce gust of wind that came from nowhere and shook the surrounding trees, with their lush summer leaves, into a frenzy. It was almost spooky. After a few minutes, the wind diminished and turned into a summer breeze.

We sat in a circle, passing the cardboard glasses from hand to hand, and continued to marvel at the sight of the moon blocking most of the sun. But the surface of the moon did not seem uniformly dense, rather appearing to let patches of light through parts of the disc — or so it appeared to me. Then, as the minutes ticked by and the moon moved off, it was almost with regret that we saw it leave. For those all-too-brief moments, we had witnessed what only the gods can see: the movement of the inner parts of the universe as some sort of well-regulated Swiss watch. It was a stately dance of the planets, predictable for its steps but thrilling on its cosmic scale.

Then it was over and, as one, we rose to take advantage of the newfound breeze and get in some late afternoon sailing. But somehow we weren’t quite the same. Yes, we know the basics: That the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth, a kind of merry-go-round within a merry-go-round. But to witness a tiny part of that movement, for even the shortest time, can only be described as leaving us in awe. 

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The Word Play Masters Invitational is based on the Washington Post’s Style Invitational column, in which readers are invited to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Past winners include:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an a–hole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

5. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

10. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s, like, a serious bummer.

11. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido: All talk and no action.

13. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

14. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at 3 a.m. and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The winners of another competition seeking alternative meanings for common words are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

The hottest real estate in Japan these days is a bomb shelter, with a starting price from $19,000. When I heard that reported on the radio, I was instantly transported back to my first-grade class where, upon a signal, we covered our heads with our coats and slid under our desks. It was the Cold War: Stalin and the Soviets were the enemy, and we had drills to prepare for an atomic blast. One day, there were moviemakers at the school, before television became popular, and they recorded us taking cover for the newsreel that preceded the feature film in every movie theater. In fact, there were two feature films in those days, usually referred to as A and B movies, but first the viewers were treated to the news of the week. I was in the front row of my class, so I could be clearly seen on the screen crouching beneath my desk. But I never saw myself because my parents usually didn’t go to the movies. Neighbors told us that I was front and center.

Just as the movie seemed unreal to me, so did the Cold War and the atomic bomb from whose blast my raincoat was supposed to protect me. World War II had ended, and I grew up in the subsequent Cold War generation.

I heard people talking about building bomb shelters, but I couldn’t imagine having one since we lived in an apartment in the middle of the city. It did occur to me to wonder where we would find shelter in the event we needed to, and I think I questioned my parents about that once, but they didn’t seem to want to discuss the subject so it never came up again. My schoolmates may have been fearful, but we never talked about the bomb.

Then Stalin died, there was eventually detente with the Soviets, a popular novel appeared by Ian Fleming called “From Russia with Love,” we watched the touring Bolshoi Ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera House, something in my gut unclenched, and no one had atomic bomb drills anymore.

I hate the idea that children in Japan are now growing up under the shadow of a nuclear bomb threat. Those in South Korea are surely afraid and, for that matter, now those in Seattle. In fact, fear seems to be rearing its ugly head in the United States, a country ordinarily known for its optimism and “pursuit of happiness.”

For example, I would not like to be an immigrant here today and certainly not an illegal one. Those in that category must be living in fear day and night. I have no sympathy of course for illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes and are therefore most likely to be deported. But the idea that ICE representatives are patrolling the courthouses, looking for illegals, certainly creates an atmosphere of people being hunted. I would also not like to be an employer whose business depended on the seasonal help of immigrants. Industries like hospitality, restaurants and farming haven’t known if their legal immigrant workers would arrive. Without that extra help, many businesses cannot survive because there are not enough Americans willing to do those low-level jobs. Ditto for those with special needs who require aides at home.

On the other side of the ledger, our economic picture seems rosy. The stock market is setting new records almost every day, as corporations are being rewarded for making profits and the prospect of deregulation encourages investment. The unemployment rate is the lowest in some 20 years. Yet there is a great divide between financial and political happiness. Many of the same people happy with the economy are unhappy with the political picture, bemoaning the chaos in Washington, D.C.

As we have always done, we will soldier on with our domestic problems. We are doing less well reacting to the foreign challenges, fear prompting us to answer threats with threats.

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These days, with the chaos in politics, it is no wonder that many people are showing a renewed interest in our history and the goals of our Founding Fathers some 240 years ago that define who we want to be today. Many residents seem surprised by the significant role our Long Island area played in the Revolutionary War and are delighted to learn about the Culper Spy Ring that was centered in Setauket and led by Benjamin Tallmadge, a resident. “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” the AMC cable series now in its fourth and final year, has done much to popularize the spy story, speaking to our past.

All of which serves to bring history to the fore. This is a good result because history is part of the glue that defines a community and strengthens its roots. Since we at the newspaper believe this, we run regular columns by local historians telling our history, and we have now just finished a full-length film, “One Life to Give,” as I have previously mentioned, about how the Culper Spy Ring started. Its premiere is scheduled for Sept. 17.

Now there is more good news to make us proud of the place in which we live. In a refreshing show of bipartisanship, two of our congressmen, Democrat Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove and Lee Zeldin, Republican of Shirley, have introduced legislation in the House to bestow upon the George Washington Spy Trail national historic status.

The spy trail is essentially Route 25A, the road that was used by the spies during the war to travel behind enemy lines between Long Island and New York City, gaining vital intelligence about the British and their troop movements and strategy. Long Island was an occupied territory, the breadbasket of food and supplies for the British, who were headquartered in New York City. All along the trail’s about 50-mile route was the high-wire danger for the spies of being discovered and hung. Indeed, the British trapped Nathan Hale, whose purported last words were about his one regret being that he had but one life to give for his country.

Washington well knew the enormous debt he owed to the spies, and to honor them he traveled in an elegant coach along the 25A route after the war in slow, celebratory fashion from Great Neck to Port Jefferson — then known as Drowned Meadow — staying at the inn owned by one of the spies, Austin Roe of Setauket.

But at that time the purpose of his trip was known only to the tiny band of spies. Spies were then thought of as lowly deceivers by the people and not at all cloaked in the glamour of James Bond.

So these courageous, remarkable men — and women, like Anna Strong — took their secret to their graves for fear of being ostracized by their countrymen. And Washington kept their secret. Only in the middle of the last century were papers discovered by historians that revealed the bravery of the Culper Spies. Today, there are original letters written by Washington to the spies, with an addition on one by Benjamin Tallmadge, that can be viewed at the library of Stony Brook University. They were bought by Old Field resident Henry Laufer and donated to the university for that purpose.

The spy trail is the result of an intense effort over some 20 years by Gloria Rocchio of Stony Brook and the North Shore Promotion Alliance to bring awareness of this historic road and its role in American history. A total of 26 signs, which they secured and installed, depict Washington’s coach and line his route.

A national historic designation, under the auspices of the National Park Service, would not only honor these heroes but also perhaps bring federal grant money, and not insignificantly promote tourism to help our economy.

So the Culper Spies live on and continue to serve.

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Parents recall forever the acute accidents experienced by their children and with the same emotional turmoil every time the memory surfaces. It’s as if the horror is locked in the mind, frozen in time.

For example, my first born, when he was a toddler, hated to stay in his crib. A tall child, he was intensely curious about the world around him and would wander to explore whenever the opportunity presented itself. Hence his frustration at being limited by a crib. Because of his height, he threatened to vault over the crib’s edge at an early age, and so my husband and I bought an extender fence that attached to the top of the crib’s rail and presented an insurmountable barrier to his escape. Or so we thought.

One night, when my parents were visiting, we had just put our son to bed and retreated to the kitchen for some after-dinner coffee and conversation when we heard a loud splat, followed by a blood curdling scream. When the four of us rushed into his bedroom, we found our 1-year-old splayed out on the cement floor, stopping only to suck in air for the next horrible scream. I don’t have to tell you what thoughts went through our heads.

I can picture the scene perfectly, in all its detail, to this day.

Then there was the time our second son, thrilled that he had just discovered his sea legs, was running at top speed across a green lawn in Texas. We were in front of the Air Force base hospital where my husband worked, and we were to meet him for lunch. Because we were early, we waited on the grass. I was desperate for some shade since the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees, and I was heavily pregnant with our third son. Settling myself beneath the lone tree in the park, I closed my eyes briefly, then looked over to track my toddler just in time to see him running on a perfect trajectory toward a girl swinging high in the distant playground. Struggling to my feet, I began to run after him, frantically calling his name. Either because he couldn’t hear or chose not to, he kept pumping his chubby little legs, with mine clumsily running to catch him. I can still picture the scene in horrifying slow motion and remember that I knew I would be too late.

Just as I put my arms out to grab him, the back arc of the swing smacked him in the mouth, and instantly there was blood everywhere. The poor girl on the swing that had come to an abrupt stop looked over her shoulder in terror at the sight. I scooped up my screaming and bloodied child, and ran with him cradled across my arms to his father’s office in the hospital. Again I can perfectly remember all the minute details as we burst through his door, especially the look of horror on my husband’s face as he took in the sight.

And then, not to be left out and because they have always been equal-opportunity children, there was the time the bloodied face of my 3-year-old third son came into my line of sight as I drove up the driveway from an early morning tennis game. With the babysitter crouched over him on the blacktop beside the kitchen stoop, bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead, was my screaming child. He had somehow fallen sideways off the top step onto his head.

This visit to the hospital involved stitches. Fortunately for him, they have long ago healed and the scar is all but invisible. Too bad the memories don’t likewise fade. Such is the price of being a parent or having responsibility for a child’s life, whether a niece or nephew or grandchild or a babysitting charge. Whatever the accident, one can never forget.

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Here is an interesting idea. We know that sleep patterns change as we age. Older adults seem to have more difficulty getting an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Some maintain they need less sleep as they get older, although there is scientific dispute about that. Now researchers are suggesting that such changes “may be an evolutionary adaptation that helped our ancestors survive the night,” according to a New York Times Science item titled, “Alive One More Day, Thanks to Grandma’s Insomnia” by Aneri Pattani. Younger people tend to stay awake later and sleep later. With different hours for sleeping, at least one generation was awake or lightly dozing at all times through human history to be on guard for the rest, a sort of inadvertent night watch.

That makes me feel a bit better when I wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep. Now I know I am on guard duty and there is a purpose to my tossing and turning. Curiously I can usually fall asleep again with the breaking dawn and always half an hour before the alarm is set to go off. So maybe there is something to the night watch theory. With the coming light, others will awake, it is safer, and sleep can be resumed.

Come to think of it, the whole idea of sleep is compelling. Sleep, for all the studies, is still mysterious. The ancients revered sleep for what was revealed through dreams. That’s also true for some not-so-ancients, right up to Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he persuades his wife to let their daughter marry the poor tailor, not the rich butcher, because of his alleged dream.

We spend about one-third of our lives asleep, or at least we are supposed to according to medical standards, yet there are some who resent that time lost. Sleep refreshes us, reenergizes us, even strengthens our immune systems. Yet some say, “I’ll sleep when I am dead,” and try to plow through the days with just short naps. Sooner or later, that deficit catches up with them. Those are the folks who can be found asleep on the subway, at the opera or during an early morning lecture.

How we go to sleep is as fascinating as the fact that we do. There are those who read themselves to sleep, whose eyes get heavy to the point that they can just drop off. Some have to unwind from their activities for a couple of hours in front of the TV before they can relax sufficiently to put themselves to sleep. I am one of those teapots: Just tip me over and pour me out. When it is time to go to sleep, I get into bed and most of the time, once prone, I almost immediately fall asleep.

Did I learn as a young child to put myself to sleep? Or is it genetic? My husband fell asleep only after a nightly battle with the sleep demon. We had three children. One goes through a routine that he has devised to fall asleep, one struggles with difficulty to fall asleep and one, like me, just lies down and is out. While that last scenario sounds preferable, we who fall asleep easily need sleep urgently. I go from 9 or 10 to zero energy in remarkably short order. Then, if I don’t allow myself sleep, I am almost in pain. I used to sleep eight-and-a-half uninterrupted hours, then wake up ready to sing, but now there are those interruptions.

Biological clocks are also interesting. There are those who need to go to bed at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, and then again there are some who don’t feel sleepy until 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the morning. Those are usually classified as morning people or night owls. It’s usually best if those opposites aren’t married to each other.

But then again, they can take turns feeding the newborn or standing the night watch.

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