| Family Tempo |

Hope So

And hey,” she shrugs, slaps the mirror closed, “it doesn’t hurt to hope, right?”

Ninety percent of startups fail.

Lani, blissfully ensconced in her bubble of enthusiasm, is clearly oblivious to that.

“Sales should reach 300k, easy, by the year’s end.” She beams at me from the passenger seat. “I think I might need to hire soon.”

I exit the FDR, keeping my face neutral. “That’s a very optimistic projection.”

Her eyebrows dance. “It’s going great so far. Two months in, I sold seven hundred bottles. How awesome is that?”

I smile. “Very very.” It is. She is, my daughter the entrepreneur. Her success as a nutritionist, her ambition, her new line of herbal drinks. It’s all awesome.

Her confidence in this venture… less so.

Lani flips her visor mirror down. “Now it’s just my clients and four supermarkets. But I want to branch out, especially in the commercial market. Have restaurants carry the drinks, gyms, hotels. The potential is endless.”

I brake at a red light and lean my head back. I’m bushed. It had been a hectic shift in the NICU; my babies kept me on my toes. But Lani was in the city today, and my husband Ari won’t be home until nine, so I’d agreed to a mother-daughter trip after work to scout out Flower Power — they’re said to be a treasure trove of herbs.

A cacophony of honks erupts from behind. I jerk upright and step on the gas. “So, you’re going to sell to restaurants?”

“I still need to figure it out. Large-scale production is expensive. I’d really need a loan, but I can’t get approved, that mess with Tzippy shot my credit.” She flips her hair. “In three or four months, I should have enough cash flow, especially after the ‘Gotcha’ campaign — the publicity will shoot sales up.” She grins at her reflection. “LiquidLife is going places, fast.”

I bite my lip.

If all goes as planned. Only she doesn’t seem to grasp the “if” factor.

I slow down cautiously as a truck barrels past us. “Hopefully. Assuming the momentum continues. We can’t be sure of that.”

“Well. Fabulous product, reasonable price, catchy marketing. Plus, I’ve had a firecracker launch. I’d expect it’s just gonna take off from here. And hey,” she shrugs, slaps the mirror closed, “it doesn’t hurt to hope, right?”

I turn sharply, sending us lurching.


It does hurt.

And how.

The evidence is there, in a pale green envelope, underneath my jewelry box. Nine slips of paper. Nine times I clambered eagerly up the ladder of hope. Nine times it gave way, hurling me into the abyss. Nine black-and-white images, due dates that should have been, life that wasn’t, nine grainy snapshots of hope and heartbreak.

Lani was the tenth, the miracle I no longer allowed myself to hope for.

Hope hurts, Lani. Badly. So badly, I never want you to know that hurt.

Flower Power comes into view. Lani stretches her legs.

“Lani.” I keep my eyes straight ahead as I scan the street for parking. “I think… um… I want you to know…” I grip the steering wheel. “Lani. Ninety percent of startups fail.”

I study the digital numbers in satisfaction. “1,750 grams! Someone’s getting fat, princess!”

Baby Bracha regards me solemnly, then gives a slow-motion yawn. I melt. You gotta love this beauty. From the moment I’d first met Bracha, a tiny, struggling 31 weeker, I’d known I’d be her primary nurse. Utterly gorgeous, utterly perfect, with a miniscule nose and long black lashes, she’s got a grace about her. Which is a weird thing to say about a preemie, unless you’ve met Bracha. Her delicate cry, her dainty movements, the way her lashes flutter when she looks at you…

She’d been admitted at 1,100 grams, with an NG tube and oxygen support. Now, three weeks and one day later, she’s eating well, breathing independently, and growing bigger and stronger every day.

I reach into the isolette drawer for a diaper. Bracha’s one of the lucky ones.

Earlier today, I’d attended the delivery of a 25-week micro-preemie. It’d been a long and difficult resuscitation before our miniscule 600-gram patient was ready for transfer to the NICU. As we moved to transport him, I’d caught sight of Alyssa, his mother, watching the proceedings in confused horror.

“Is he alive?” she’d pleaded. “Is he okay?”

I’d looked into her eyes — large, brown, terrified — and assured her that yes, her baby was alive. And that we’d do our absolute best to help him be okay.

Then I’d wheeled the warmer, with its fragile cargo, out of the room, knowing that our absolute best might not be good enough.

It happens two days later.

Around the ward monitors beep, ventilators whoosh, and muted conversation sounds.

In cubicle 5, there’s only a heavy cloud of silence as we extubate the baby and disconnect the monitors. I lead Alyssa into a side room. Hunched into a dull gray recliner, she holds her child for the very first time.

Her lifeless child.

One hand cradles the baby. The other strokes his downy hair, touches his miniature toes, runs a finger over his tiny features. Her eyes gaze into the distance, focused somewhere beyond her baby, beyond this room, beyond what I can see. There are no tears.

For 28 minutes she sits frozen, as I flit in and out, doing my best to be there without being there.

Finally, she meets my eyes for the briefest of moments. With her free left hand, she holds out a phone. There are pictures — a dreamy bedroom, pastel blue walls, a fuzzy white rug. A round Lucite crib, mobile hanging reassuringly overhead.  Behind the crib, ‘JUSTIN’ adorns the wall, in a curvy white font. I scroll through bonnets and bibs, a quality stroller, and a hounds-tooth blanket stating ‘bundle of love.’

And then I know what it is Alyssa’s been seeing. What she’s mourning.

Alyssa follows my progress with her eyes. She studies the limp baby in her arms. Her voice, when it emerges, is barely a whisper. “Nobody prepared me for this.”

And then the tears come.

I watch as she weeps, and I think of dreams, their promise and their price. The price of letting them soar, of letting the heart soar with them. Because when they rise high, they fall hard. Hard enough to shatter the heart.

“Good evening. My name is Lani Grossberg, founder and CEO of LiquidLife, and I’m here today seeking a hundred thousand dollars in exchange for fifteen percent equity stake in my business.” Lani pauses to flash me a dazzling smile.

I smile and nod from the comfort of the wicker swing. “Go on.”

She stands at the far end of the deck, auburn bangs shimmery in the morning sun. “My company has developed a unique line of sugar-free herb-infused water…”

I swing gently, warmth on my face and pride in my heart. She’s got flair, my daughter. There’s a reason she’d always played the main part and delivered every speech in school. People marveled at her poise, her eloquence, her complete lack of stage fright.

Now, watching her demonstrate her product, I admire the magic yet again. Her delivery is smooth, her manner passionate, her presentation convincing.

“So, will you take this opportunity to help bring this amazing product to thousands of consumers nationwide?” She winds up her little speech and gazes expectantly at the imaginary panel of investors — me.

“Wow!” I kick off with my foot, letting the swing sway wildly as I applaud. “That was fantastic.”

She grins. “Four days to go.”

“It’s in my calendar,” I assure her. “Cheryl’s taking the night shift on Monday, so I’ll be out of the hospital in time.”

The Strive Group is organizing a mega Labor Day Business Expo, and Lani is one of ten entrepreneurs who’ll pitch at Pro-Pel — a chance to secure investment from a group of tycoons.

Lani hoists herself onto the gate. “It’s really happening. We’re expanding.”

“If you’re awarded the investment, that is.”

“Yeah.” She swings her dangling legs. “I’m not too worried, though. Look, you saw the presentation. If you had the money, wouldn’t you be raring to invest?”

She has a healthy dose of self-assurance.

Maybe too healthy.

“I don’t have the money,” I say stupidly. Like that’s the issue at hand.

Not that Lani hears me. She’s too busy going on about this big break that came just when she needed it, and the best way to use the funds.

“Wanna see something cool?” She hops off her perch and grabs her tablet from the table. “These,” she taps to display a neat Excel Worksheet titled “Commercial Projections 2022,” “are the companies interested in selling my drinks.”

“The companies —” I stop swinging abruptly. “You spoke to potential clients already?”

“Sure. First, the chart is a great selling point for Pro-Pel. Proof there’s a market for the product. Besides, why not build the customer base now, so I can start with a bang when I have the money?” She hands me the device. “Take a look.”

When she has the money. Not If.

I study the chart. There are twelve names. Twelve rows of potential, just waiting to be brought to reality. Lani leans over and enlarges the last column. “Here’s the projected sales. See — four thousand, twelve thousand, thirty-five thousand. Wachs expects to sell a lot. So in total,” she draws her fingers together, bringing all the cells back into view, “it’s a really nice number.”

Garden Gourmet, Rôtisserie, Juice Bazaar. I scroll through the rows. Like I’d scrolled through someone else’s dreams just yesterday. Dreams that never made it to reality.

Lani bounces back to the table. “That’s just the beginning.  Once we grow there’ll be more exposure, more opportunities…” She sighs happily, aglow with rosy visions of the future.

Visions… that might not pan out. What if she doesn’t get the money?

I see a woman sobbing, heaving, crushed by the weight of crumbled possibility. I see my daughter, guileless, clueless, flying dangerously high on the wings of possibility.

Nobody prepared me for this.

Nobody prepared Lani, either.

Somebody must.

I open my mouth. “What makes you so sure you’ll land the investment?”

“What?” She glances up. “You think I won’t?”

I focus on two sparrows fighting for a crumb of yesterday’s pizza. “I don’t know. It’s very likely.” What am I doing? “I mean, I hope you will, I’d be so happy if you got the funds. But I need you to know there’s a strong chance you won’t.”

Lani looks bewildered. “Um, Ma? Is there something wrong with my pitch?”

One bird snags the treasure and makes a run for it. The second follows, squawking angrily. They disappear into a tree. I shift my gaze back to Lani.

“There’s nothing wrong,” I say. “But just because I like it doesn’t mean the magnates will. There’ll be nine other people pitching at the event. Nine other people, Lani. I’m sure they’ve all got great pitches. And I wouldn’t expect more than two, max three, to land investments.”

Lani stares at me, considering. Her left thumb flicks her ring, the way she does when she’s nervous.

“I guess,” she says finally. “I never thought of it that way. I thought my pitch sounded convincing.”

I melt into the red cushion, suddenly weary. “It does. To me. But I’m hearing only your pitch. The magnates will be hearing nine other peoples’. You need to remember that.”

Lani nods slowly. “I hear,” she says. “I hear.”

Monday afternoon, I dash out of the hospital. I need to be in Jersey by six for the event. Despite my best efforts, I find myself behind the slowest drivers in the state, and there’s a 10-minute standstill on the ramp to the GWB.

It’s 6:06 when I present my ticket and fly through the open double doors into a swarm of people, voices, and a welcome blast of air conditioning. The stage is empty, save for four comfy-looking black armchairs. I make my way through rows and rows of chairs, finally locating an empty seat two thirds of the way back. I plop down, shrug my bag off, and fish out my water bottle. Here!  I message Lani, pulling the cover open with my teeth. Good luck!!!!

A prim, lavender-scented woman to my right eyes me disapprovingly, too-glossy lips pursed. I ignore her.

The chatter dies down, and the emcee appears up front, mic in hand.

“For a fabulous end to a fabulous day,” he booms, “we’ve got Pro-Pel propelling entrepreneurs to success!”

There’s thunderous applause, then awed silence as the magnates are introduced. They take their places on stage, in front of the large fuchsia banner imprinted with The Strive Group’s logo. There’s a bald guy with shrewd green eyes, an arrogant-looking youngster, a round fellow with a garish orange tie, and an unremarkable gentleman wearing hexagon-shaped glasses.

I set the water bottle down and straighten up, as the first contestant — a skinny blonde guy named Morris — ascends the stage.

I watch with mild interest and mounting impatience as he demonstrates his product — a shoe with fully integrated remote-controlled wheels that can go 30 miles an hour. It sure looks like fun, and probably would’ve gotten me here a whole lot faster. Orange Tie asks a question, something about the logistics of mass production. He seems surprisingly smart.

I check the messages on my phone, take a sip of water, wonder where Lani is in the lineup.

Glasses offers 80k in exchange for 20% of the profits. Morris hesitates, negotiates. They settle at 17%. The audience cheers wildly as the two beaming men shake hands.

Next up is a woman who presents what looks to me like a typical mop. The magnates seem to agree with my assessment.

And then my chest is doing the hora, and my daughter is standing on stage. She’s wearing her ribbed turquoise set, the one that brings out her eyes, and the Ali necklace with the colored stones. She stands ramrod straight, hands clasped in front of her, hair falling softly around her shoulders.

I cast a sidelong glance at my lip-glossed neighbor. And just so you know, I silently gloat, that’s MY daughter.

I lean forward. Go Lani, blow them out of the water.

Lani looks out at the audience, takes a deep breath, and turns to face the panel of four at her right. “Good evening. My name is Lani Grossberg, founder and CEO of LiquidLife, and I’m here today seeking a hundred thousand dollars in exchange for fifteen percent equity stake in my business.” She sounds breathless. I suck in air.

Lani unclasps her hands, letting them hang loosely at her sides. Her left thumb twists her ring. “My company has developed a unique line of sugar-free herb-infused water, offering a wide variety of benefits.” She gulps another breath. “At LiquidLife, we harness the tremendous power of natural herbs to achieve great things.”

I nod emphatically. I drink her Rhodiola Reboot at the start of every night shift. But she’s talking way too fast, and why are her hands shaking?

I cast a quick glance at the magnates. Bald Guy is nodding, Arrogant’s face is inscrutable, Glasses is listening intently, and Orange Tie seems curious. I loosen my shoulders.

Lani lifts up a pale-yellow cylindrical bottle. “Jasmine Joy, one of our best sellers, packs an antioxidant punch. And this,” she indicates a greenish-gray bottle, “is Sage Sensation, amazing for boosting concentration. Some of our other products include Pandan Power, GingerGestion, Chamomile Calm, and Valerian Vibes, a fantastic sleep enhancer.”

The words sound familiar — I’ve heard her rehearse them. Why, then, does something feel off?

“Since its inception almost three months ago,” she recites, “LiquidLife has —”

That’s what it is. She’s reciting. Her delivery is flat — no pizzazz, no sparkle, none of the contagious enthusiasm she’d displayed back home.

“Some people,” Lip-Gloss mutters, “just aren’t speakers.”

I clench my teeth. Lani isn’t some people. Lani is the main actress, natural public speaker. Lani was born to be on stage. Lani… isn’t acting at all like Lani.

I hunch forward on the corner of my seat, as Lani rattles off the remainder of her speech. By the time she’s done, my jaws have all but compressed into one. She falls silent, twisting her ring as she waits for the inevitable questions.

Bald Guy goes first. “What do you plan on using the money for?”

Lani swallows. “For… uh… for expansion.” She clears her throat. “In the commercial market. Gyms, restaurants….” She trails off.

I wince. What happened to my articulate daughter?

“With so many vitamin waters flooding the market,” Arrogant interjects, “I’d like to know what sets your product apart from your competitors.”

I glower. The boy is young enough to be my son. Probably struck it lucky way too early in the game, and now talks about “vision” and “grit.”

Lani coughs. “So my product…” twist, twist, “My product is unique.” she offers rather lamely.

Arrogant studies her, arms crossed.

I look up at Lani, look down, curl my toes.

Lip-Gloss shakes her head. “Some people didn’t come prepared.”

If only I could eject the woman from the room, pronto, possibly on Morris’s wheels. If anyone came prepared, facts cold and arguments down pat, it’s my daughter.

Lani rallies. “My product is the only herbal water that’s completely sugar-free.”

I exhale. It’s a sufficient response, if not the most comprehensive.

Glasses places an ankle over his knee. “Do you anticipate a significant demand in the commercial market?”

I lean back. The chart, I think smugly. The chart is going to blow them away.

Lani considers the question. Twist, twist. “Uh, I’d say there’s a demand…”

Orange Tie frowns. “Are there any statistics to support that?”

I lean forward urgently. The chart! She needs to demonstrate the chart already.

Lani looks dumbstruck. “Statistics?” she parrots.

“Statistics,” Arrogant confirms. “This is a relatively new business, with no history in the commercial sector. We’d want to see projections.”

There’s an audible silence as the audience waits. The magnates wait.

Lani fumbles for words. I struggle to keep from screaming. The chart, Lani! THE CHART!

But Lani just stands there, twisting her ring helplessly, no chart in sight.

I don’t wait for Lip Gloss’s assessment of “some people.” I get up, grab my bag, and flee.

Ari, at least, seems to be in a good mood.

“So, how’d my businesswoman daughter do?” he asks, flipping a skirt steak on the grill.

I insert a single piece of lettuce into my mouth and say nothing.

Lani doesn’t even bother with her salad. “Disastrous,” she states flatly. “Utterly disastrous.”

I look at my daughter, shoulders slumped in defeat, and my heart twinges. I want to gather her up, massage her shoulders, whisper words of comfort into her ear. Like I did when she was four and her princess costume ripped. When she was nine, and her school trip was cancelled. When she was thirteen and failed the math final.

But she’s twenty-three now, and she’s been avoiding me all evening.

Ari raises an eyebrow. I shrug, attack another leaf. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to make of this.

Lani stabs a splatter of garlic mayo with a fork.

Ari sets his tongs down, and sits facing our daughter. “What happened?” he asks.

Lani blinks.

I wait.

The steak sizzles.

Lani darts a glance in my direction, looks down at her plate, up at Ari. “The magnates asked questions,” she says, “and really, I had answers. Good answers.”

Ari nods. I listen.

She swallows. “But when I stood up there and faced the magnates, I couldn’t think of the answers. Because, because the entire time, all I could think…” she pauses, holds my gaze this time, “…was ‘nine other people, nine other people.’”

Somewhere overhead, an airplane roars by. I think Ari says something. But the only thing I notice is a lone piece of lettuce stuck in my throat, and the acrid smell of burnt meat.

It should be a relatively calm day.

My babies are doing well. Bracha’s maintaining her temperature nicely — she’s almost ready for an open crib. The Kraus Boy’s bilirubin is down.

It should be a relatively calm day. Except that I’m feeling anything but calm.

Lani’s accusation hounds me through the day. It’s there when I weigh Kraus’s diaper, it hovers as I record the results. It stalks me to the milk fridge to prepare Bracha’s bottle, it looks on as I review her orders. It follows me into the cafeteria, where faced with nothing but a salmon wrap and those awful, awful words, I’m finally forced to confront them.

“All I could hear was ‘nine other people, nine other people.’”

Lani thinks it’s my fault. That I ruined her chances.

And I was only trying to protect her.

And I… I don’t know what I think. I see my daughter’s slumped shoulders and downcast eyes, and I wonder if it’s even possible to protect one from disappointment.

I finish eating and make my way back to my charges, forcing the morose thoughts from my mind. There’s no margin of error with these tiny people.

Bracha’s asleep when I enter the ward, so I start with Kraus. He looks good, vitals are fine. I’m about to record his blood pressure when there’s a single bing from Bracha’s direction. I sigh and head over. They should really do something about the incessant alarms, it’s…

Her oxygen saturation shows 92.

I glance up. The cardiac waveform looks nice, her heart’s doing a good 130. Hmm. I adjust the pulse-ox, wait a beat.

SpO2 is 91.

I study my little patient — there’s a slight but definite bluish tinge around her lips. A quick check of her airways reveals no obstruction. I flick her feet, rub her back, will her to breathe.

SpO2 88.

I grab a Neo-Tee, set it, affix the mask to Bracha’s face. Blow, release. Blow, release. I watch her chest. It rises obediently with every breath, her lungs expanding with the influx of oxygen.

SpO2 86.

The cyanosis is more pronounced now. Bracha’s fingers are noticeably blue. Her heart rate has dropped to 104. Something is wrong.

My eyes dart through the ward, scanning for potential backup as I move to adjust the flow meter. Cheryl’s not too far, and I spot Pamela with another nurse. Good. I turn the dial, increasing the oxygen concentration. Blow, release. Blow, release. Breathe, Bracha, breeeeeathe.

I peek up at the monitor. Oxygen saturation is 83. Heart rate is 95 beats per minute.

We need more oxygen. I need  assistance. I dial the flow up to 100%. “Can I get some help here?”

Pamela is over in a flash, the unfamiliar nurse at her heels. “What’s going on?”

“My baby started desaturating, no improvement with PPV, can you get a nurse practitioner?” I try to keep the panic out of my voice, like this isn’t a big deal. Like this isn’t Bracha, coding before my eyes.

The other nurse sprints off. Pamela watches as my finger taps the resuscitator rhythmically. Blow, release, blow, release. “Chest is rising,” she observes. I nod. But the numbers aren’t.

The monitor screams. SpO2 77. Heart rate 80 bpm.

Blow, release. Blow, release. Where is that NP already?

The screen flashes red. Heart rate 58.

I look up at Pamela. We both know what this means. “Compressions,” she says, encircling Bracha’s chest in her palms.

Cheryl lumbers over. “What’s happen… oh no!”

We launch into CPR. Three compressions, one breath. Three compressions, one breath. Focus, count, don’t think.

Dr. Ming strides into the unit. Finally. Cheryl takes over the airway as I move back to brief him. “She’s a 35 weeker born at 31, no history of apnea…”

The room fills with people as I talk. I hear a code white being announced overhead. I see Theresa the respiratory therapist, Diane on the code cart, Marco with the Ipad, people and movement, a hysterical monitor and a blue, blue baby.

Bracha is intubated. Resuscitation continues. I stand rigid, afraid to move.

“One. Two. Three. Breath. One. Two. Three. Breath.”

Marco consults his Ipad. “It’s been one minute.”

Dr. Ming nods. “Pause compressions and check the heart rate.”

Pamela straightens up. Eyes turn to the monitor. The room holds its breath.

Heart rate 56 bpm.

“Continue compressions,” Dr Ming instructs. “And can we get epinephrine, one ML via ETT.”

More people. More movement.

“One. Two. Three. Breath. One. Two. Three. Breath.” Cheryl and Pamela keep at it. I wait for the Epi to work its magic.

“It’s been four minutes.”

The monitor flashes. Heart rate 47 bpm.

More Epi. Switch positions. More compressions. My brain follows the rhythm it knows so well, even as my heart stamps in protest. Not Bracha. Not Bracha.

“It’s been ten minutes.”

My knees wobble. Ten minutes is long. Too long.

Heart rate 39 bpm. “It’s been twelve minutes.”

“We’re losing her.”

My hands are ice. I avert my eyes from the monitor, that stubborn portend of doom. I don’t see Pamela, or Cheryl, I can’t follow their movements anymore. I only see Bracha.

From amid the fog, a voice penetrates. “Heart rate is 63 bpm.”

  1. Wait! 63!

I jerk my head up. Dr. Ming nods. “Stop compressions.”

I’m frozen, barely daring to breathe, eyes glued to the monitor as the numbers climb. 67, 75, 82…

Five minutes later, Bracha’s heart rate is at 141, her oxygen saturation is 99.

I collapse into a chair, shaking.

Slowly, the cart rolls away, the NP leaves, the nurses scatter. And then it’s just me. Me and Bracha.

I watch her chest. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Her eyes are closed, black lashes resting against her cheeks, breathing tube protruding from her mouth. Oblivious.

I reach into the isolette, let my fingers brush hers with the lightest of contact. “Bracha. You have no idea how close you came to not making it.”

Bracha slumbers on.

And I wonder. If maybe, just maybe, that ignorance saved her. Because I’m not sure she’d have made it, had she known what the odds were. Would she have fought like she did, knowing how slim the chances of victory?

I walk over to Kraus to retrieve my work-station.

Maybe, sometimes, it’s okay to be oblivious to the chance of failure. Because sometimes, that oblivion breeds success.

Maybe, if you allow hope to lift you, it can take you high. Above the odds, beyond statistics, into that space where you can realize your dreams.

“A loan?” Lani’s confusion comes through the phone lines. “You know I can’t get a loan. My credit score, remember?”

I roll down the ramp to the lower level of the parking garage.

“You won’t get a loan.” I clear my throat. “I will. On my name.”


“Ma,” she says finally. “Why? I mean, you’d take the responsibility?” There’s a pause. “Um, ninety percent of startups, you said….”

“Yes. Yes, Lani.” I hesitate. I’m giving her a gift, the gift of a hundred thousand dollars. But I want to give her more.

I take a deep breath and plunge in. “Because Lani, there’s also the ten percent. And if anyone can make it, it’s you.”

I emerge from the garage, squinting in the afternoon glare.

And think, I’m giving my daughter the gift of hope.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 764)

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