Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Rosh Hashanah actually went quite well. We both had fun and we even made new friends! I only put him in babysitting for 10 minutes (so that I could daven the silent Amidah) and he did great. Within two days, though, he had gotten a nasty stomach bug I have to assume he picked up there. So we davened together and learned that babysitting can be a fun option--both growth experiences--but also learned that with little-kid fun comes an endless onslaught of little-kid germs.
Yom Kippur was a train wreck. What changed? Well, the synagogue--we went to a different minyan--and also, I guess, the baby. Ten days probably makes a big difference in the life of a young child. After about 5 failed attempts to actually daven--and let other people daven in peace--I retreated to babysitting, which I hadn't signed up for. But it was so chaotic there--children crawling the walls (not to mention the occasional sweet little child sitting alone chanting "mommy's coming soon" over and over)--and I just didn't feel right about adding another child to the mix--for the sake of my son and the sitters.
Finally we went home and took a big delicious nap. I woke up an hour earlier than my son and davened everything I had missed while lying next to him in my big bed, trying to preserve his nap just a little while longer. Neilah I did during his dinner time, pausing now and then to pick up his cup, add food to his tray, etc. When it was all done I made a big pretend shofar sound, and we sang L'shana Ha'baah B'Yerushalayim.
Surprising, after neilah I really felt moved. While there's a lot to be said about davening with the community, I think having my son before me throughout my atonement process really helped me be serious about making changes. For the first time I have someone whose success and happiness and choices in life will be impacted--maybe even determined--by my behavior in the years ahead. His face before me was a constant reminder.
I don't really regret my choices this year. My davening, when I finally got to it, was heartfelt, and my confession sincere. Plus I got to spend a nice day with my son, which certainly made the fast easier.
But next year, when my son is (please God) a feisty almost-two-year-old, I'm getting a sitter.
Mahotma Mama here I come!
Monday, September 24, 2007
Last night, on the way down a friend's front walk, in the dark, I tripped and fell down 4 concrete steps. Yes, ouch. I got booboos on my knees, my palms and my pride. I fell awkwardly because I was carrying my new iphone (purchased before the price went down, I know, I know, but I already got the rebate) and wanted to protect it.
I went down with a loud oof.
My husband and son rushed over, and what did the sweet little boy say?
I'm sorry, Ima. I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry.
I do appreciate the empathy, as much as empathy can register with an almost 3 year old. I do think there was some real empathy there, since he knows what it is like to fall (a lot). He was expressing, deep down, some kind of empathetic ouch.
But most of all what worries me is the use of "I'm sorry." In this penitential season, I wonder, do we say we're sorry too much? Has it lost its meaning?
We say we're sorry when we bump into someone, when we mean excuse me.
We say we're sorry when we interrupt someone, when we shouldn't interrupt at all.
We say we're sorry when we have a question, to preface it, when we should just ask.
We say we're sorry when we don't know the words to say, when we should think for a minute and find the right words.
Maybe we should say we're sorry more when we really do mean it, when we really do empathize. I'm taking a lesson from my son.
I knew my son would not be pleased. He is just starting to want everything she is holding and do everything she is doing. So I tried to be creative and "involve him in the process."
I have a job for you, I chippered. Why don't you push J in the stroller today. He protested at first and then agreed. A tantrum averted!
Two hours later, we were sitting on our living room couch.
"I have a job for you, Mommy," he said.
"Take my shoes off."
Hmmm. I did my best not to laugh and explain that this is not how we speak to Mommy. We ask nicely. And I wondered, who could blame him?
Our little exchange got me thinking, how do you instill in children a sense of honor and respect for their parents? Is it more effective to model respectful language and avoid even such benign expressions as "I have a job for you," or is it better to draw clear distinctions between the way we may speak to children and the way they may speak to us?
Like everything, the answer must lie somewhere in that ever-confusing territory known as "the middle." We'll muddle through together.
Friday, September 21, 2007
That's Didi's big news for the new year. As for the two aforementioned couch potatoes, we mastered walking long ago, but I can't help wondering where we're going in 5768. Rosh Hashanah was nice--we spent it with my family, Didi had a ball with her cousins--but distinctly lacking in spiritual meaning. Ditto for the remainder of this High Holiday season thus far.
At my parents' shul, where it's always a struggle to have a meaningful experience, we were too focused on Didi and whether she was OK--not climbing on anything dangerous, not about to start bawling--to carve out a spiritually meaning davening. And during the days of Elul leading up to and since Rosh Hashanah, the usual factors have gotten in the way of focusing, even briefly, on the meaning of this period: work, parenting, etc., etc., etc.
Last year, we were just weeks away from parenthood when the holidays hit, and today we have a thriving, wonderful 10-month-old who is only beginning to discover the wonders of her world. We have grown into our role as parents and do our best to juggle home life with our careers. But like so many parents today, finding time--to go to the grocery store, to take a moment to catch our breaths, to participate in community events, to focus on our spiritual lives--is our constant struggle.
Hopefully, Yom Kippur will be different from Rosh Hashanah, and as the gates close this neilah, I hope we will have experienced some semblance of meaning to these days. This time next year, Didi will be walking like a pro. I hope Didi's Mom and I can, in the new year, take our own first tentative steps, if not more, toward recovering the balance in our lives--or, rather, creating a new sense of balance--that will allow us to be better parents and better people. Teshuva is not a one-week project.
May we all take our first steps toward discovering, or rediscovering, the wonder in our own worlds. Shanah tova and g'mar chatimah tova.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
But now I have a chance to make some changes. This season inspires me. Real tshuva is not simply saying sorry for what you've done that missed the mark. Real tshuva is doing it right the next time you have the chance, choosing to do right and actually doing it.
My acts of tshuva this year involve my family, but not in the ways you might guess.
You see, my celebrations and observances of holidays and rituals are important to me. And I'm tired of seeing these experiences go to hell in a handbasket. My seders have been meaningless, devoid of any crumb of struggle or anything even appropriate for my son. Reading around the table doesn't do it for me. My break-fast has been perfunctory, not celebratory. My Rosh HaShanah meals were on paper plates and didn't involve hot food. Kashrut has occasionally involved making sacrifices that I don't feel comfortable making. For me, Shabbat actually begins when candles are lit (at the right time), not whenever you feel like it because a trip to the mall was more urgent. For me, Shabbat doesn't involve TV or the Metropolitan Opera on the radio, or driving to shul just to show off the grandchild. And it definitely does not involve making phone calls just because grandma can't be bothered to talk on the phone any other time of the week except for 9pm Friday night.
This year, tshuva means that I will have seder. I will do it right this time instead of waiting for my parents to change. I will craft the rituals that complement each Shabbat and chag so that my family will have the chance to make meaning of them for ourselves. I do not promise to be a balabusta, but I will do it myself. It also means that I will have to be truthful in the kindest way to my parents, my grandmother, my in-laws, and most of all myself.
Al cheit shachatati l'fanecha, for the sin which I have committed before You, God,
by putting others' needs always before mine
for shalom bayit when it does not involve any shalom for me
for pacifying others by squshing my own spiritual needs
for putting kibud av v'em, honoring parents, above every other mitzvah every time
for making excuses
and most of all, for the sins which I have committed before You, God, without even knowing it.
This time, when I do it, I will try to do it right. I will be more exhausted, but certainly I will be satisfied spiritually in a way that will be more inspiring for my son and husband, and less contentious, causing fewer squabbles between me and the people I love the most.
Wish me luck.
Gmar Chatima Tova--may your name be inscribed in the book of life.
It’s freaky how that works. I, and each of my siblings, DO have children just like us, but only in those “interesting” ways our mother cursed/prophesied about.
My daughter makes herself gag and throw up if I try to give her something she has already decided she doesn’t like. But I’ve not yet had to resort to placing newspaper under her chair, as my mother apparently did for me. Can’t she just refuse to open her mouth and turn her head away, like a normal kid?
My oldest little brother had a diabolical mechanical genius. He couldn’t have been more than 3 years old one morning when I watched him select a screwdriver from under the seat of the car and coolly take apart the radio in the 2-minute absence of our dad (this was before seatbelt laws). He also took apart two television sets as calmly if he were unwrapping a popsicle, and, on a regular basis, his toys.
Our mother referred to this as “breaking” or “destroying,” but he honestly did it out of scientific curiosity. (He’s now a nuclear physicist). Mama was convinced that he did it to make her angry, but he actually never thought about her at all.
A phone call to my sister-in-law about three years ago, when they only had three children (now they’re expecting their sixth and we email) went something like this.
Me: so I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the birthday party, I…
She: I’m sorry, just a minute. The children have smeared toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror and now they’re pressing themselves against it…okay. I’m back.
Me: I’ve got my dissertation defense coming up and…
She: Excuse me….kids! Give me those scissors!…Okay, I’m back. I’m sorry. They’ve just starting cutting out all the pictures from their books and sticking them on the mirror.
Me: Anyway, I’d like to make the party but…
She: Oh for crying out loud! Get out of the refrigerator and put that box of baking soda down RIGHT NOW! No, don’t blow it! No, that’s NOT what snow looks like. I’m sorry, what were you saying?
My sister-in- law has three sisters, and their father called them little princesses and brought them coffee in bed. When she complains that it’s not fair that her kids are like my brother, I say she should have been more selective in her choice of mate.
I do admire her calm. She has the poison hotline memorized, and is very casual about it.
My sister and her daughter—Well, here is a conversation I once had with my niece on Super-bowl Sunday in Texas, after remarking to my sister on the courtesy of the people in the grocery store, since the game was about to start. No one was trampling anyone to get home and heat up the chile con queso. I should add my niece was 3 1/2.
Niece: Well, they nice to me because I’m so pwetty.
Me: It’s nice you’re pretty, but it’s far more important to be smart, and also kind.”
Niece: wou just saying that, Aunt M., because I’m a wot pwettier than wou when wou was my age.
Of course, this often means that I treat my nieces and nephews as I used to my siblings.
Me: That may be true, my dear, but I was a lot smarter and articulate than you.
(Yes, my sister was our mother’s favorite. Though she didn’t often try that smug stuff on my brother and me, since we were older and had bigger vocabularies).
Of course, our second little brother was perfect and so are his children. So he deserves all his happiness.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
It all started innocently enough: my daughter’s 2nd birthday was on Sunday and we were all saying how we couldn’t believe she was turning 2 already. I then of course felt the need to tell my Sure-To-Be-World-Famous-One-Day birth story. It’s all very dramatic- water broke 5 weeks early, husband out of town, everyone I knew was either drunk or unreachable….yada yada random neighbor lady takes me to the hospital….yada yada husband counts down pushes on speaker phone as he runs up to the hospital door to make it in the nick of time for her birth. You can get the full story when you come for Shabbos one day-but I digress.
I mentioned that even though the whole day was probably one of the best in my life, I found it awkward that the random neighbor lady always enjoyed being front and center to my hoo ha when the doctors came in to check my progress.
“Well you can’t blame her, surely you wanted to witness your progress.”
“No” I said.
“But didn’t you look at yourself in the mirror as you were pushing?”
“No” I said.
“Witnessing the miracle of life is one of the most beautiful things in this world! Why would you miss that? You are only going to have your first child once! What’s wrong with you? How could you miss out on that? How could you not want to see it?”
“How about those Red Sox?” I said.
I am nothing if not a good hostess and to bitch slap that woman at my table would have been rude.
I saw about 100 videos of a woman giving birth; that was good enough. I’m sure my daughter looked sort of the same as she made her grand entrance-but OBVIOUSLY my cooter was faaaaaaaaaaar more attractive and less yucky. And I’m sure the 32 minutes of pregnant pilates I did in the course of my entire pregnancy ensured my thighs didn’t hang over the edge of the bed like Video Woman’s. Surely not.
Having a baby is giving all of you to another person. You relinquish control of every ounce of yourself for the well being of something you can’t even begin to imagine how much you will love…..how much you will grow to love. THAT is a gift from God. The healthy baby that emerged, THAT is a miracle. I don’t think it’s necessary to see my china stretched to its limits to experience the “miracle of life.” Heck, I experience it every day when I kiss her. When I watch her grow. When I laugh and sing and play with her. When she calls me Mommy.
If you want to see it, wonderful, more power to you. Just don’t feel like you have to because it’s the cool thing to do. I’m sure many people think it’s fantastic, but I’m fine drinking milk without seeing it squirt out of the udder. When you have a baby there are miracles every day you get to enjoy. You can avoid the R rated one if you want.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Tonight (tuesday) out of the blue he asked me those two questions - and then he repeated the second one. "What do you want to work on, Mommy?" I told him I wanted to work on doing good listening - something we talk about quite often, mostly in the context of his behavior.
Reflecting back on the conversation, I am so glad he asked - especially right before Yom Kippur. I do want to work on doing good listening. I often find that I have this pesky tendency to multi-task - to try to get done 10 other things while also playing, singing, being with my children. I want to work on listening more deeply to both my children - listening for what's beneath the surface of their moods, noises, words.
When I asked my son what he wanted to work on, he replied, "I also want to work on doing good listening." We'll work on it together.
Needless to say, his first stomach virus was not easy on any of us.
Stomach viruses can be nothing, a 24 hour bug. But as every parent knows, with every bug comes the looming threat of dehydration--a huge cause of infant mortality in developing countries. So there we were, just as on day 5 of his life, nervously trying to get fluids into him, hoping that we could avoid a trip to the emergency room. And keeping him close throughout the long night just to be sure that nothing horrible happened.
I'm not sure that I have anything insightful to say about this. Maybe this: though I've sometimes wished that he would just stay still for a few minutes--give me time to work/relax/breath--it was scary to have a tired, listless ten month old baby. And I was relieved this morning to have him jumping and smacking at my computer once again.
He's still on the mend, so here's what I have to say:
Refuah shleima little one, and may you be playing in the sandbox before week's end.
Monday, September 17, 2007
I don't say that enough these days. I'm usually exhausted by the time Yeled and Yalda go to sleep. Especially on those days when I've been counting the hours until bedtime (yes, unfortunately, that does happen- and I'm willing to admit it!).
But not today.
Today was one of the best days that I've had as an Ima (not counting yesterday, which B'H, was also great- but DH was there with me). Yeled, Yalda, and I went to the Museum of Natural History together. I've always been afraid to go there alone- I mostly worry that Yalda will run off somewhere without me, and that I won't be able to catch her because of Yeled. Today, I decided we were going to give it a try... and it worked! Yay! Yalda loved the mammal hall, and the dinosaurs too. We were inside for about an hour- the perfect amount of time. Yalda looked at the animals, tried to touch them, described them to me, and compared them to one another. It was educational for both of us, and it was definitely fun! (Yeled went back and forth between looking around and sleeping).
Just goes to show that I shouldn't be so afraid of venturing to indoor public areas with both kids.
This afternoon, after nap-time, we did one of Yalda's favorite activities -"go to see the fire-engines." And, our lucky day- we got to see two engines pull out, and one pull back in! Nothing makes Yalda happier than the sight of a fire-engine with all of its lights and sirens turned on.
Thank G-d for days like this!
Especially since Yalda starts nursery tomorrow - an event we have both looked forward to all summer, but for which I feel, suddenly, completely unprepared.
Since my grandfather’s death, each Rosh Hashanah and the lead-up to it, I’ve always felt such an intense longing for children. It starts with the Haftora Ki Seitzei, one of the haftorahs of consolation, from Isaiah: “Sing out, O barren one…” and ends with the story of Hannah, the woman who couldn't conceive, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
I used to feel such an ache in the place my daughter now occupies. You hear about ghost limbs that bother amputees--this was like a ghost ache for what hadn't yet come, but was missing anyway.
I used to focus on the part that implies the children were given to Sarah and Hannah as rewards for faith and chesed. But, now I understand that this was only the beginning of the story, not the end. Even more faith was required of them once the child was born.
This year during holiday services it hit me for the first time that each parsha calls for parents to be willing to surrender their children to G-d. And not metaphorically, either. When Hannah got Samson, she weaned him and gave him away to G-d’s service. She didn’t just teach him to be righteous; she potty trained him and gave him away. On loan to Hashem.
The comment I like best about the Binding of Isaac is that G-d was establishing the idea that Israel does not engage in human sacrifice, a common ritual in that time and place. By sparing Isaac, G-d was teaching us the sanctity of human life, and that life was sacred because it was dedicated to G-d. It’s of a piece with Parsha Nitzavim: we “choose life” by loving Hashem and observing the commandments.
But I shouldn’t let myself be drawn away from the pile of wood and the child tied down with a knife raised above his throat so quickly. There are lots of ways to “love Hashem.” Why this awful one? The only thing I can think of is that it is a reminder that I shouldn’t sacrifice the welfare of other children in enjoying my own.
I used to volunteer in an after school program in an area in which eleven-year-old public school children couldn’t read or write. I couldn’t read their mimeographed (remember those? hand cranked, purple ink? Well we’re talking mimeograph in the year 2000) sheets either. These capable, loving, good-humored kids didn’t have books or xerox machine; they didn’t even have chairs. Of course they couldn’t read.
My mother suggested that if each baby were placed in a pool at birth, and you were given one at random to raise, then you’d clean up inner city public schools in a heartbeat. You’d also work toward ending the practices of child labor and child soldiers, hunger, AIDS, and all the other threats to children. Because you wouldn’t know where your child was, and you’d want the world to be okay for all children.
All that is overwhelming. There’s a huge world and there’s only one me. But maybe I could act as if I had another child somewhere out there.
One of my talented and generous friends and her husband have a TERRIFIC micro-loan/educational initiative in Madagascar for the poorest of the poor, if anyone is interested in giving. 90% of every dollar goes directly to the people it aims to help Here's the link:
I like the idea of volunteering on an ongoing project, though it seems difficult with such a young child. I am especially interested in micro-loans like the one above, because I like the idea of empowering parents, who, after all, know their world and their talents far better than I. I also like the idea that self-sufficient parents are more likely to raise self-sufficient children.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
It may be wonderful and full of meaning but I am exhausted. In the past 3 days I have prepared enough food to feed 43 people over the course of 6 meals. I had to create excel spread sheets to keep all the various menus and necessary ingredients in check. I have spent approximately 30 hours in the kitchen this week alone. I have spoon blister. My husband came home from work the other day and after I had spent the entire day peeling apples, skinning chicken and kneading dough dared ask me what I had prepared for dinner THAT night. He is lucky I need him in order to reproduce again.
Aside from the spoon blister, the hardest part is having a child. While at most any other time of the year she is a gift and a pleasure, when I am up to my nostrils in potato presents puffs the last thing I have time to deal with is making star shapes out of Play Doh.
I have to say, I am slightly ashamed of my behavior as a mommy this week. I fear that my need to be the Hostess with the mostest has outweighed my desire to be the Mommy with the mostest.
On Sunday night I completely forgot to give her dinner. I made 10 challahs. Marinated the brisket. But feeding my young. Not so much. (No worries. She had a delightful bowl of cheerios and peanut butter crackers.)
On Monday she watched Finding Nemo. Four times.
Today, in an attempt to alleviate my guilt I moved all her toys in the kitchen with me. That worked for a bit…then I tripped over her xylophone and dropped a pan of mandel bread all over the floor. So I called my best buddy Nemo. I love you Nemo, I will find you any day of the week.
Why is it that I am willing to set aside the most important thing in my world to please a bunch of people who will eat some food and then walk out the door? Princess Buttercup is in my life forever. Why should 3 starches 2 mains a salad and a stegtable come before that?
It’s a tough question, but I think for me the answer is Happiness. Making people feel happy in my home is not only wonderful to experience, it’s wonderful to share with my daughter, to teach her that putting forth the extra effort is worth it.
So though I can’t give all my attention to the one I want to make the happiest, it is for a greater good: brainwashing her to cook until the insanity takes over. No no no. Making people feel loved and special and happy is a great way to start off the year. Opening your home and your heart is a great thing. Especially on Rosh Hashanah-when we are all want to feel welcomed and loved and happy in the New Year.
I hope that in between the bouts of Nemo she gets that as she sees me running harried with flour all over my face. If she doesn’t now she will next year, when she’s tall enough to help.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
But I think that many of us also struggle with the name that we are to be called- Ima, Mommy, Mama, Mom, and a host of others. We make a decision, and then foist it upon our children. My DH and I decided that he would be Daddy and I would be Ima. Using one Hebrew name and one English was confusing at first, but we practiced eventually adjusted. (Think about that for a moment- practicing and adjusting to your own "name"- and believe me, I feel like my name is now Ima).
I was devastated when Yalda started calling my Mommy, despite months of us saying Ima. She grew out of it. Now, I'm sometimes Mommy- mostly when she's being silly, sometimes Mama- when she's trying to be sweet, and most of the time, I'm Ima. And I'm happy with that.
Let's not forget that we also carry other names- our real names, our names as Aunts and Uncles, as sisters, friends and members of society at large. Every time we are with my extended family I think about how confusing all of our names must be to the kids. Yalda calls me Ima, my nieces call me Aunt, my siblings and parents call me by my first name. How do the little ones keep track of who we actually are? And how does being called by these names affect our responses? Is it possible that we become different people based on the name that we are called?
On Rosh HaShanah, how do I relate to G-d? Is it as me, the me I was for all the years before I was Ima? Or is it as Ima- the person that I have become? Is it as Aunt- the person that relates to my nieces? Maybe its as all of these names, plus the names by which I am known in the community. Are my requests of G-d and my pleas for forgiveness different as Ima then they would otherwise be? I think so. I hope so - I feel like Yeled and Yalda's relationship with G-d rests on my shoulders (probably a topic for another day).
Shana tova u'metukah to all!
Monday, September 10, 2007
This year, he's out and about, crawling and gooing and la-la-la-ing, and suddenly I feel under immense pressure to do something that I hardly ever do--put him in babysitting.
Now let me explain something about me and babysitting--Abba and I are blessed to be able to flex our time and split the childcare, so my son has only been under the care of a babysitter a handful of times. And always always one-on-one. Not four or five on one.
I know, I know, we're terribly spoiled. But that being said, here I am, considering putting my son into a situation with way more kids than sitters, hoping that he won't do something foolish and hurt himself badly while the sitters are chasing after another child.
I just don't want to. And I probably won't.
I wonder about the "offer" of high holiday babysitting. It's an offer that is noticeably absent all year. But the High Holidays roll around, and suddenly there is a tacit understanding that High Holiday services are no place for a child. Even if that child has attended shacharit more times in his 10 months of life than many adult Jews do ever. Even if he is quiet and watchful and joyful throughout.
Is it selfish of me to bring him in with me? Or, worse, inconsiderate of others? Or, alternatively, is it too self-sacrificing? Am I denying myself the possibility of prayer and renewal by choosing to spend these hours caring for the needs of another, forfeiting my own spritual life in favor of cheerios and sippy cups?
I hope not. But this year, all I can do is follow my instincts and keep my son nearby. Teach him about the Rosh Hashanah services, let him enjoy the shofar blasts, the beautiful music, the crowds of people. And, when it gets to be too much for him, take him over to the babysitting room so he can crawl around and wreak havoc with his little friends, all under my watchful eye.
I know that I need to let him go to babysitting at some point. Eventually, it really will get to be too much to handle.
But not this year.
This year, he's with me.
But here's the catch: It is almost impossible not to spend the entire day there - which makes the whole point of drop-off kind of silly. I mean, how could I tear myself away? Not to mention, I work in the building. It is like having the most fascinating, moving, absorbing TV series on all the time. Positively addictive.
That first day was a heart-breaker. I should have just said good-bye and marched right upstairs to my desk. But no. I had to watch my little boy sit in his cubby for 20 minutes holding his blanket and his bear, who he explains is also "scared of school." It was tear-jerker to say the least.
I am looking forward to future, hopefully happier episodes - to seeing my little boy have fun, try new things, and make friends. And I am looking forward to breaking myself away from the show - and getting back to business.
So I’m trying to get together a mailing list for my publisher that’s due on Saturday, so I have to finish it now. My first book of my own poems is forthcoming, but because of budget cuts, we’ve all got to do a little guerilla marketing. I’ve spent the last two days combing through emails, university websites, and other directories, finding the names of anyone who knows me and might buy the book out of pity/sympathy/support/ curiosity/ enjoyment.
I also keep re-reading the book, since I can’t censor it, to make sure there’s nothing in it that would freak out my family—otherwise, they don’t go on the list. Which would be a pity because that’s about 50 people right there.
It’s humbling and beautiful work, after the tedium wears off. It's a good way to take stock of the year, remembering the people you love and admire. A great way to reconnect to old friends—so many have written and published their own gorgeous books, winning awards on the way.
And it’s challenging. I have to make sure I don’t compare my life to anyone else’s. I have to make sure my joy at others’ achievements isn’t tainted by feelings that I should have done more. Mine, after all, is a chapbook (less than 40 pages), not a full-length. Sometimes I feel supersensitive (well, duh, poet plus academic, plus sleep deprivation, of course I’m supersensitive).
My daughter, in comparison, has a lot to teach me about feeling good about myself and about being gracious. I’m amazed at how she never has a moment of self-doubt. We walk into a room and it’s like she’s telling everyone, “Thank you all so much for gathering together in order to greet me.” So full of joy and life! She smiles, waves, giggles.
She lets bigger kids take her toys and pacifier and poke her eyes (she has no hair, so they can’t pull it), and she doesn’t take offense.
And when she cries in frustration because she’s scooting backwards and she meant to go forwards, she’s so easy to placate. Smile at her and say, “wow! Look what you can do!” and she good-naturedly decides that backwards is where she’s just going to go right now.
I have a lot to learn from her!
I want to work on graceful confidence in the year to come. (And ask forgiveness of anyone my lack of grace has hurt).
Sunday, September 09, 2007
I really can’t complain about holiday preparations because I have none of the food variety to do – we spend the holidays with family friends in a beautiful part of upstate NY, where my husband is the part-time rabbi of a small, very sweet shul (which, thankfully, does not treat me as a rebbetzin). So we’re hosted – warmly and wonderfully – instead of having to be the hosts. While many of my friends are busily crafting menus, buying briskets, and strategically loading the refridgerator, I just need to think about what to pack for me and the babies for the days we’ll be away.
But I’m finding the holiday preparations particularly challenging this year because they are my first as a mother, and I’m realizing how much this will change my usual experience. For example, when asked if I wanted to do any part of the services, I blithely offered to pick up whatever leyning no one else wanted to do. Which is not a problem for me in terms of preparation, but I’m wondering how exactly it will work for me to step away from the babies at various moments to be on the bima. Even though I’ve been to shul several times since the babies were born (which in itself is no small feat given their morning nap time and the effort required to get two babies out of the house), I haven’t actually taken my tallit out of its bag since their naming – just to give you a sense of how active a davenner I’ve managed to be with two small babies.
I’m particularly aware of this limitation on my opportunity for prayer time because Rosh Hashanah was especially significant to me for in the past couple of years. Two years ago, I began the new year in a low place. I had been trying to get pregnant for a year, without success. I was about to begin fertility treatment, so I was hopeful about what the new year might bring, but had suffered enough monthly disappointments to be very hesitant in my optimism. That year, I requested the opportunity to leyn the haftarah on the first day of Rosh Hashana, which tells the story of Hannah and her fervent (and successful) prayer to bear a son. Chanting that haftarah was my way of praying fervently, and I immersed myself in it so deeply that when I reached the final verses, my voice wavered with tears and I was surprised to look up and see the congregation seated before me.
Last year, I was enormously pregnant with the twins – so huge that I needed assistance to get down the hill to the tent where services were held. But despite my discomfort, I felt elated and absolutely in tune with the spirit of the season, bursting with life and possibility. The liturgical phrase “hayom harat olam” – “today is pregnant with eternity” – resonated deeply with my own experience of that moment of great potentiality, so much new about to happen but yet to be known. I felt blessed to be able to share in this Divine act of creation, and awestruck by the solemnity, responsibility, and power of the experience of carrying and bearing new life. I was grateful for the framework that the holidays offer for pausing to reflect on what the new year would bring and how I wanted to greet its gifts and challenges.
As a parent, I need that time for reflection more than ever, but I’m aware that this year, the holidays won’t offer much time that’s really for me. The arrival of Yom Tov will not put on hold the daily constant needs of my babies, and like every other day, their needs will shape my time. So for now, I need to relinquish my usual expectations of Rosh Hashanah and find a way to make it meaningful and rich in my new role as a mother.
Today, I dragged my ever patient son and husband on a very important pre-High Holiday “errand”. Every year this seems to be scheduled on a very inconvenient Sunday just before the Yamim Noraim, when I should be doing a thousand other things.
Our work for the morning was a short walk in the Susan Komen Race for the Cure (only 5K, not much more difficult than a Sunday walk in the park, which it was). I have walked in the Race for six years…and in the last four, pregnant, with a baby strapped to my chest, and with my son in a stroller. So many of our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends are touched by breast cancer, and the Race for the Cure is a big, pink celebration of their fight, and a living memorial to those who did not win their battles.
Every year, I walk in honor of two very important women in my life. My paternal grandmother is 30 year survivor. I remember as a kid wondering what that jelly like thing was in her bathroom (her prosthesis) and why she only had one breast under her pajamas. My only, amazing and strong aunt is currently in treatment, after a double mastectomy and five years cancer-free. In spite of an initial awful prognosis, and due to incredible emotional and physical courage as well as the support of her very loving family, she is stronger every day and looking forward to my cousin’s bar mitzvah on her birthday in two years.
And every year, I look around me and try not to cry. The women in the pink shirts are survivors. How do they have the stamina to walk? Where does the sheer physical strength come from? And then there are those whose shirts and placards are in memory of their loved ones. How do they have the courage to walk and not do it in tears?
This year is a particularly tough year for me to walk. At the end of June, I discovered a lump in my breast. It comes as no surprise that I was terrified. And I had to live with it for a month before I could book an appointment for my very first mammogram (as I’m under 40, my health insurance wouldn’t cover a routine one). Thank God, and I do, I have an unusual lymph node near a vein that is not typical but not abnormal, and not cancerous. Putting yourself in the line of fire, even for a few hours, days or weeks, helps put everything into perspective.
I am always in awe of the children, young and old, who walk in celebration of or in memory of their mothers. To lose a mother is a devastating thing, but to be surrounded by and in the company of other people who know exactly what they’ve experienced seems to me to heighten the sadness. Every year as I walk, I am overwhelmed by the sense of joy mixed with the weight of the memories in the minds of each walker. This year, there were estimates of 25,000 participants, a lot of memories and a lot of women afflicted by breast cancer. And I don’t want my son, or anyone else’s child, to have to lose a mother or someone they love because of this disease.
A special thank you goes to my husband, who should have been home working—this is his busy season—but came with us in spite of the time commitment. Just like he faithfully accompanied me to visit my aunt while she was hospitalized and undergoing treatment, so too he shared this with me, and it was much appreciated.
At the end, I thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures of my son, who wore a number in the walk, to honor his participation. Although he is only 2 and ¾, and has no idea what he is doing, I’m very proud to have done it with him.
There is something profoundly spiritually cleansing about this little ritual that I’ve created for myself. Ostensibly, it is a public declaration of my support for women (and men) who have breast cancer. Inside, it is a call to myself to remember that this time of year, I really do believe God will write us in the book of Life for another year, but that it is important to obliterate disease just in case.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Ima-ma is an attorney turned Ima, with two kids - Yeled (5 months) and Yalda (2 plus years)- trying to make her way through religion, birthday parties, nursery school, torticollis, and dreams of moving to the suburbs.
Look out for posts from Ima-ma in the not-too-distant-future.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
First, the teacher was late (I’ll call her Morah for simplicity’s sake). No problem, but I actually have to go to work and can’t just hang out forever…although believe me, I wished I could. When she came, she was very sweet (and very young) and we had a nice time. But I felt as though I was on guard at every moment.
First, we sat at the dining room table. My son was enjoying a small cup of juice--yes, he does have an occasional treat of juice! Imagine what kind of parent she though I was! He saw that we were talking, and assuming we weren’t paying attention, actively demonstrated his incredible bubble-blowing prowess for his new teacher. No! No! Lucky for us, she laughed.
Morah showed my son how to use an Elmers’ Glue bottle to drop glue on shapes and glue them on a sheet of paper, which was fun to watch, except for when the glue got all over the dining room table (she admitted she should have asked first). He had no clue what to do, and didn't get the suggestion that he "press" the gluey shapes down. Apparently we don't do enough art together.
But then my son decided to use the shapes to play-act, like the characters in Leo Lionni’s Little Blue, Little Yellow, and Morah couldn’t figure out what he was doing. So I told her. With very little humility. Because it seemed like it was quite a smart thing he was doing, and being his mother, I think he is a genius. Of course, I should demonstrate some humility, no? But Morah didn’t understand, so playing the role of Translator Ima, I tried to explain. And while I was talking, he got one of the sticky, glue-y shapes stuck to his hand, and tried to eat it off. Luckily, Elmers’ is non-toxic, but it isn’t exactly a nutritious snack.
He then wanted to go play in his kitchen, and laid out a lovely pretend picnic (already demonstrating hachnasat orchim) for us. But when he was distributing silverware, he laid the pieces in Morah’s lap, and it looked like he was stabbing her with it. No harm done, but it was pretty funny. He then offered a bowl of pretend strawberries and a dinosaur book, two tasty treats, in his friendliest 2.9 year old manner.
I wonder, what kind of parent did I look like? Was my home clean enough? Were the toys educational enough? Was he verbal enough, polite enough, etc.? Did we all wear the right outfits? I could not help but feel judged by the entire (short) experience. Most of all, I wonder if my son’s experience will be somehow colored by the impressions his teachers have of his parents, and if we will do right by him by following all of the directions and protocols that the school has issued. I don’t want to wreck it for my son by forgetting to follow directions!
The anxiety that comes hand in hand with parenthood isn’t just about how your child grows up, or about their personal safety, etc. It can also be about our own performance as parents on the very visible public stage we inhabit by simply living in the world. I know I need to turn it down a notch, but I always feel vaguely judged by other adults, parents and educators included, about how I have chosen to raise my child. Will they catch me allowing him to stay up till 10pm or to dump sand on his head or eat a meal consisting entirely of bread and butter? Will they judge me? Of course they will. But the only way I can cope is by ignoring it.
In this season of introspection and cheshbon hanefesh, I invite us all to put our judgments as parents on the table, examine them closely, and then scoop them up and get rid of them for good. We likely all agree that tshuvah is crucial, that we can improve ourselves and be the best we can be. But harsh self-criticism is not required, especially in huge doses. We judge ourselves enough about silly things, and I dare say sometimes not enough about the things that really matter. Let us push ourselves to improve and change where we can, and forget what everyone else is thinking of us.
According to the chores-based-feminist-upbringing (cbfu), feminism meant taking responsibility for one’s privileges and choices. If you want choice, you have to have knowledge and skill. It also meant not exploiting people by making them do your work for you. It also means not allowing yourself to be exploited. Even if social structures made such exploitation pretty easy, even expected.
My brothers and my sister and I were given the same chores. We all took turns with dishes, vacuuming, dusting, bathroom cleaning, mowing the lawn, gardening, garbage, window cleaning, and everything else.
We were also given the same opportunities. When I learned to drive, my father made sure I understood how a car engine worked. We even took one partially apart and put it back together. It goes without saying I learned to change the oil and the tires. Likewise, we all learned to sew.
Also, cbfa teaches that work is not inherently gendered; consequently gender played no role in our career choices. We understood that there are no inherently “feminist” or “anti-feminist” careers. My mother could be a stay-at-home feminist/seamstress/baker. The problem comes when you aren’t given a choice because of your gender.
According to cbfu, if you call yourself a feminist, but then expect women to serve you because you’re just “not that good at dishes” or cleaning or cooking, etc. and women inherently are, even if they’ve asked you for help, then you are not a feminist. The whole thing assumes that sometimes sensitivity calls for practical knowledge.
Yes, because women bear and breastfeed babies, there is some biological essentialism (one thinks of Monty Python’s trans-gendered Loretta in “The Life of Brian” who didn’t have a womb) but that shouldn’t breed thoughtlessness or insensitivity.
But now I’m in a totally new situation: it’s just me and my daughter. So I guess the concept of gendered work will be less relevant. I’d really love to hear from other parents about their practical strategies for raising confident daughters.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Thank you to Ima Shalom for inviting me to blog here. It's no small challenge to be the voice of all Abbas here, but I will do my best to represent my fellow daddies. I hope to write a broader introductory email soon, but first, I need some advice.
We were in synagogue last Saturday, and Did was doing what she does best--climbing on whatever she could get a hold of, cooing, and making friends with the people sitting around us through sheer cuteness. In particular, a woman sitting directly in front of us seemed particularly enamored with her, which proved to be a good thing for when Did grabbed a handful of this innocent bystander's long blonde hair and yanked. Instead or reacting angrily or shooting us the look of death we've come to know so well, the yank only seemed to deepen their by-now longstanding friendship.
As services ended, Didi's Mommy apologized to the woman, whom we'd never seen before in synagogue and may have been there for the aufruf that took place that morning. In response, the woman offered to babysit for us. Repeatedly. Emphatically. Whipped out a pen and paper and before Didi's Mommy could say Shabbes Kodesh wrote down her name and number. She told us she has multiple kids (I forget how many), the youngest of whom is 22. And repeated her offer even more emphatically.
As it happens, we'd just been talking recently of our need to get out sans Didi now and again, something we'd only done (aside from going to work, of course) a couple of times in the nine months she's been with us. But we have no clue how to find a babysitter for weekend evenings, or how to vet someone who we may hear of, or ensure that they're good with really young kids. (Didi is cared for by a full-time nanny during the week, but the high-schoolers available for weekend duty seem to be a different breed altogether.)
So, what would you do? Contact the mysterious shul woman, or keep looking?
It surprised me not only because it was completely obnoxious, but because Baubie didn’t have good jewelry. Baubie had 1 daughter, 3 grandchildren and a great grandchild. That was her life, she didn’t have a lot of money or possessions. She had mountains of photographs of us. Lots of inappropriate jokes for me to tell at parties. But “good jewelry?” No. Not really.
My husband was very sad to lose Baubie - he even delivered a beautiful eulogy about how much she was loved and how much everyone loved her. But in the days that followed, what troubled him more was how she died with nothing. It worried him that she must have been upset to leave behind nothing to give to her children. My parents helped her wherever they could but she was too proud to take much so she lived a simple life. Now I respect my husband. Love him. He is my moon and stars. But-like he is most of the time when I am right-he is wrong.
Maybe Baubie wasn’t the wisest of spenders but what she had was certainly far from nothing. In fact, I would argue she had more than a lot of people do. People that loved her. How many people die with millions but lost the respect of their families? Or leave an estate to their beloved dog? THAT is sad. She may not have had “things” but she had me. She had the love of a thousand people. This is my first loss since I had my daughter, and it hit me harder than anticipated. Because of all the “things” I can give my daughter with money, I can never give her another Baubie Radine.
A funeral is not an amusement park. Nobody needs a souvenir from your life to give you worth. While I am all about fiscal responsibility, I think it would be nice for more people to focus on their value as a person versus the value of their bank account. I won’t get any fancy diamonds that I can brag about to friends. Or enough money to buy a small island. But I have great memories. I have a smile on my face when I think about her.
I guess if I have to have something tangible to remember my Baubie with I do have the t-shirt my brother gave me when I told him I forgot my pajamas at home. I put it on before I went to kiss my mother good night after the long day of the funeral. When I turned to head out of the room my mother started to laugh and laugh. Apparently the back of my shirt said “Big Black Dick” in large colorful letters. My mother and I both agreed that wherever Baubie was she got a good chuckle off that too, she always enjoyed a dirty t-shirt. My brother claims it is a type of rum. I don’t know if I believe him, but I do know if that shirt, and the heart-helping laugh it provided, is my “souvenir” from Baubie’s funeral, that’s pretty priceless.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
That's why I'm happy to introduce our guest Abba Blogger, Didi's Daddy.
Didi's Daddy is a New York-based editor, freelance writer, and the father of a 9-month-old girl who tempts him everyday to quit his job and become a stay-at-home dad.
Didi's Daddy will be visiting Ima Shalom periodically to give us the view from the other side.
With a little help from him, maybe Ima Shalom will finally begin to understand what makes those Abbas tick.
Welcome Didi's Daddy!
I don’t know how you do it in your family, but here is how we do it in mine. In our house, Abba goes to the library, Ema goes to work, and the mommies and the daddies on the bus say “Hello kids.” Babies, if they appear on the bus, say “goo goo ga”. Sometimes the daddies go to school, and sometimes we sing the Metrocard verse (it goes in and out, fyi).
Unfortunately, this was planned out, something we considered before we really began to put the song into heavy rotation. We received a fabulous set of board books of classic children’s songs from a British publishing house, a gift from my beloved grandmother, and the book used the classic sexist language that both my husband and I were trying to avoid. And I am quite embarrassed by it. I find that I need to assert myself and (when it is appropriate) sing these verses around anyone who cares, on the bus, and loudly. In front of my family, in front of my inlaws, whenever it is called for. In fact, it was one of the first songs my son could sing. Thankfully, this is the only song I have had to struggle with and revise, so far.
I greatly appreciate traditional children’s books, toys and songs. I have worked hard to fill my son’s library with favorites from my childhood, toys that I bought on Ebay and painstakingly cleaned, songs that are on the list of “must-sings” for any decent nursery school. Books include some that I’ve discovered were not just my favorites, but my mother’s, with publishing dates back to the early 1940’s. In general, these items deserve their classic status. They are not just not sexist, they are genderless, accessible by any child. Jack and Jill both fell down and broke their crown, and I don’t know the verse in which Jill gives up her entire career to nurse Jack back to health. Today’s books, toys and songs are mostly, with some exceptions, not this way.
Bottom line, I do not want my son exposed to ridiculous, outdated gender stereotypes. I could make it my fulltime job to protect him from all of this, cutting out pictures, pre-screening every moment of TV he will ever watch, and reading every book he will ever read before he gets his hands on it. I can’t do this forever, but I can do it now. Just like I like to protect him from the rampant commercialism that has overwhelmed kid culture, I want to protect him from overt, mass produced sexism.
One of my greatest teachers and mentors, Tova Hartman, once commented that it is easy to raise a boy to be a feminist, but much more difficult to raise a girl to be a feminist. I want to be conscious of the subtleties that my son picks up when he plays, the language he uses to talk about women, and set the stage for him to develop a strong feminist consciousness, as he follows in the footsteps of his feminist father. I don’t have a daughter, but I know that if I did, I would work doubly as hard, not only to protect her from these stereotypes but to protect her self-esteem.
I want to be aware of how my son understands all of this. What we sing, what toys we buy, what products we allow into our house send a profound message to our children. It is not my business to encourage you to choose one route over another; I still feel a great deal of conflict about this on many levels. However, I cannot help but think that being thoughtful and conscientious about what we expose our children to cannot help but be to their benefit.
Monday, September 03, 2007
He did not get out of bed once. It’s been a week, and still no getting out. I suppose the psychological barrier has been built, and lucky for us, it has worked. But he is lonely. There is much more chatter, and he sings to himself and tells little stories about his day. He has asked to have us come and sleep with him, and asked to come sleep in our bed. Yet he has slept longer in his own bed (and later in the morning) than he ever did in his crib.
My husband and I struggled to find some kind of effective Jewish ritual with which we could together welcome this change, but we could find nothing that seemed appropriate for a toddler. And being the parents of a toddler, we definitely did not have the energy to create new ritual, although in retrospect, it would have been meaningful. We “surprised” him by showing him his “new room,” talked about how exciting it would be, and added shehechiyanu to our bed time ritual. It worked perfectly (so far).
We tried to keep him in the crib for as long as possible, mostly at the behest of our pediatrician, who believes that children under 3 are safer in cribs than in beds. We bought into that rationalization, but always under a watchful eye, because our son is likely to propel himself off the tippy top of the playground equipment, so why not the bed too? But certainly, keeping him in the crib kept him, in our minds, as our little baby. And now I begrudgingly accept that he is not a baby anymore, he is a boy (as he says, in his own words). And I am no longer a person with a baby, but a mother.
Of course, my parents and in-laws then asked when he was going to be potty trained, and did that mean we were thinking about another baby. Does it ever stop?
Children, when was
Napoleon Bonaparte born,
A thousand years ago, the children say.
A hundred years ago, the children say.
Last year, the children say.
No one knows.
Won a war, the children say.
Lost a war, the children say.
No one knows.
Our butcher has a dog
The butcher used to beat him and the dog died
a year ago.
And all the children are now sorry
Myra used the poem to illustrate the point that the world our children inhabit is vastly different from the world in which we grew up, so that the tools they will need for their lives are different than the ones we needed. She was speaking in the context of a university education. She was speaking of the changing geo-political scene and of technology.
Even without technological advances, my daughter’s world and my childhood one are very different. I grew up in a house in Texas with hordes of siblings. My daughter shares my one-bedroom in the city. We walk across the street to the community garden at least once a week and examine other people’s plants while I mention to anyone around that I’m on the waiting list and—isn’t my daughter cute—we’re so anxious to get a plot.
It’s because everything does change that I care so much about the garden. I want my daughter to know what seasons are for, so when we celebrate them in shul she’ll know what they mean. A garden as a way to grasp the intangible, the eternal.
These days what keeps me up in fear at night is the future and quality of our world. I fear that global warming will obliterate the seasons, making them abstract concepts. That the earth will eventually become so poisoned that the air and water will make us increasingly sick. It’s already happening.
I’m also afraid of other abstractions: that the political climate will erase for my daughter the crucial difference between the rhetoric of war (as practiced by those who call upon G-d to condone their high-handed ways, or by those who claim that G-d asks them to destroy) and the real essence of religious practice. Especially now, with the world-wide trend in the increased radicalization of all religions.
Will my daughter be okay? Will other people’s children in countries I’ve never seen survive the wars, the famines, the burden of others’ greed? Isn’t that a terrible way to phrase it?
No matter what new skills she acquires to adapt to a new world, I hope, my daughter can sometimes approach the infinite through all the gorgeous ephemera--the seasons, the fruits that we bless. I hope that the earth as we now know it remains a little longer for her.