Monday, December 29, 2008
I grew up under the shadow of this man I never met. He was the reason that my father wasn't my sister's biological father. And he was the reason that my mother always got sad a certain time of the year. As I child I saw many many pictures of him and, despite the fact that his death was in fact necessary for me to exist, I felt close to him.
Because of him I understood at a very tender age that it was possible to die young--a harsh lesson that I learned several times over as several of my parent's friends, all in their 40s, all with with children, passed away during a few horrible years in the 80s.
Why am I thinking about all this now? I had a great Chanukah with Chamudi--the best ever--and am feeling happy and healthy and excited about the future. But a few recent tragedies are weighing on my mind.
First there's our friend's girlfriend, in her 30s, who had a brain anurism last month and in now convinced that she's in 2001--before she had her children, before she divorced her husband and met our friend.
Then there's the personal history I just read in the New Yorker written from the perspective of a grandfather raising his daughter's three young children after his daughter dropped dead of a rare and undetected heart problem. I wept through the entire thing.
Then there's a co-worker, a father, who died last week in a motorcycle accident.
Finally there's that poor Chabad couple, the Holtzbergs, z"l, so brutally murdered, and their 2-year-old son, just the same age as Chamudi.
All of this amounts to a bit of gratuitious contemplation of my own mortality as we finish the Festival of Lights and bring in the secular New Year, and heightened anxiousness over my time on this earth. What if my recent inability to call up some words is the beginning of some sort of premature mental decline? What if my muscle ache is more than a muscle ache? And the like.
Having children heightens our experience of everything in life, and mortality is no exception--my life matters more because it matters to him. And when I contemplate him living without me I hurt deeply--both for him and for me. What would his life be like? Would he ever be the same?
I'm just about ready to move away from these dark thoughts and embrace my exuberant preschooler at this end of his school day. Because the only bright spot in this kind of maccabre contemplation is that it reminds you--without the mark of tragedy your own life--to live and love as fully as you possibly can.
Happy New Year from Ima Shalom.
Monday, December 08, 2008
We didn’t mean to. People I adore accepted invitations, to my delight, and then asked if they could bring….other people I adore. Plus, I wanted to honor a friend with whom I had a bumpy start.
In fact, she’d asked to join a public pot-luck meal I was hosting last year, and I turned her away. I was already at 10 guests. I had a newborn. Though she’d been new in the community and my rejection had hurt her feelings, her kindness was undiminished. She’d proceeded to babysit the two times I needed it most, and has given me free tickets to a theater where she works.
I've never lived down the shame, and honestly, I wasn’t going to turn away any guests this time.
So we brought out the wood stool I made with my own hands in high school, and a jumbo-sized pampers box, cleverly disguised by a table cloth (until my daughter wanted to play with her “blan-keet” and revealed the ugly truth). Etc. etc.
By some miracle, everything worked out, except the main dish could have been cooked 10 minutes longer.
But what made the whole thing especially miraculous for me what that I had a sprained foot, and couldn’t do most of the prep on Friday. What would I have done without my love, who swept and mopped and cooked and took my daughter to services so I could prop up my foot and let the swelling go down and the advil kick in?
Let’s be honest, I would have managed it. But I would have been a lot less gracious (and a lot less clean). We would definitely have had a buffet. And I might have turned people away again. And I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
Look, it’s embarrassing to have graduate school furniture three and a half years into a real job. Yes, I had a baby alone, finished, published, or had accepted for publication three books of translation and two books of poetry, and am almost done with a book of scholarship while teaching 9 new classes outside my area of specialization. You can’t do everything. Right? But having a home to which you can welcome those new in town, those visiting, and those dear friends you love, should have been near #1 on my priority list.
Lucky for me, I have a partner who is open to my need to feed people and fill the place with more love than it should (probably legally) contain. This, in my opinion, is the reason to be in a relationship—to have a partner that will help you be a nicer person.
So when we move, we are definitely getting a big table and lots of chairs. And not the folding kind, either. Grown-up chairs.
Now I just have to think about the foot injury. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but somehow I’ll have to find a way to stop running to catch the bus in heels. Look, when you’re 5 feet tall and have baby-feeding boobs, you’ve got to wear heels if you don’t want your students looking at your chest instead of pondering the extremely clever things you’ve just said. [When do breasts go back to their pre-baby size?]
And if you’ve got a baby, you’re probably going to be running to catch the bus. That’s just life. Oh well, I figured out how to seat 14 people on 10 chairs, now I’ll figure out the shoes-bus thing.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
My mother and her childhood friend (Don't you love parenting as a spectator sport?) thought it was hilarious. "It's so different," they said, recalling--with what seemed like nostalgia--how their mothers used to yell and yell and how they'd go from one house to another trying to figure out who yelled louder.
Mom's a yeller too--no doubt the product of her own yelling mama. Like Nana before her she's also a loving, caring mother, so I, like Mom, just accepted it as part of the deal.
And then there's me. I've got it in me...I definitely do. When Chamudi gets naughty and super-willful all I want to do is rage at him. I feel so angry and so disrespected and mad...at this cute little two-year-old who I love more than life itself.
But I've got something else in me too. Maybe the memory of what it's like to grow up in a loud household and the knowledge that Abba--who grew up with a mild mama--doesn't see a place for raised voices in a happy home. Or the knowledge that by reasoning with Chamudi I'm both teaching and modeling self-control. Whatever it is I swallow my anger the best I can...and I'm always, without exception, glad that I did.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I am not going to lie and say I am handling this well. No. I have asked my husband for a boob job and Botox several times. I spent an hour and a half searching for gray hairs. I broke down in tears when a normally very thoughtful friend was telling me about a date he had and mentioned she wasn’t going to turn 30 for SO long and how girls “in their 20’s are so hot.”
Yeah, when you are vain and changing decades, it’s not fun. Constantly worrying about what is sagging and what is no longer going to be considered attractive. And when you are vain and love being the center of attention on said birthday, turning THIRTY and sharing the day with a turkey is just awful.
I am in Mahotma Baubie and Zadie’s Land with my wonderful Mommy and Daddy. My amazing husband. Awesome brother. And of course, my perfect children.
But where is the big party? Where are all of my friends? Where are the cakes and presents and over the hill balloons? And seriously, how does anyone expect me to turn 30 without a keg?
Instead of a whole shebang about my glory there is a whole shebang about what we are grateful for. I just do not see how this is fair. Instead of thinking about me everyone will be thinking about themselves! Oh the horror.
I am turning THIRTY yes. But just because I am 30 doesn’t mean I know how to share.
So I guess that means I have to think about me. I will have to have to sing a song to myself about my glory. Think about what I am grateful for me for.
Well I am turning 30. I am grateful I am not turning 40.
No no. That’s not nice.
I am grateful I will never know what it is like to be 9 months pregnant and having to hire the announcer from the Price is Right to ask the baby to “Come on down!”
Oh and I am grateful for my husband. Who is perfect for me and with me.
And you know, I am really grateful I don’t have any unsightly moles. Which reminds me I am happy I don’t have any cancerous moles, which reminds me I am glad I don’t have cancer, which reminds me I am thankful for my health.
I am grateful for my teeth and gums. And the fact that my husband has a rockin job where we can get sweet sweet dental insurance (and helps pay for the special “I’m turning 30 so I get to buy myself the sassy new black nail polish from Chanel” presents).
And of course I am grateful for the awesomeness that my womb produced. And in particular, I am grateful that my daughter is finally potty trained and that my sons sleeps through the night.
I am grateful that we have a beautiful home with a kick ass kitchen. And I am grateful that in it I seemed to found an actual talent that I possess- I can cook. Who knew?
I am grateful that I am turning 30 and am sad that I am not with my friends. Because that means I actually have wonderful, amazing friends who always make me smile (even when they are talking about 20 year fresh meat being hotter than 30 year old rib roast).
Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Look at me! I am 30! OF COURSE I should feel old. I have done more in 30 years then some people do in their whole lives! I am HAPPY and HEALTHY. I have friends! I am accomplished. I have been deemed smart enough to be hired by a Fortune 50 company and was smart enough to know that being a mommy is way more fun. And I have stuff! I have an awesome husband! I can spend long periods of time with my family and not want to jump off a cliff!
DAMN IT! Now I am all happy and feeling grateful. Darn turkeys and Pilgrims and Native Americans stealing my thunder. I wanted to wallow in my oldness for a while. You know how I love the self pity. Oh well. There is still the surprise birthday party that I am having in a couple of weeks. I will bitch and moan in between keg stands.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Apparently, a pastor of an Evangelical church in Texas--at this point, many of you have stopped reading, right?--has put a challenge to his parishioners. Revive the intimacy in your marriage with Seven Days of Sex. Read the article here.
I mean, come on. I get the rationale behind this "sexperiment." I know that sex is an outstanding way to boost the level of intimacy between two people in a committed, loving relationship. And for what it's worth, it doesn't happen that often at my house. And I could give you a whole long list of reasons why, including kids, which the aforementioned pastor says stands for “keeping intimacy at a distance successfully.”
But honestly, I wonder more about what has happened to us as people when I read an article like this of all places in the New York Times. Isn't the NYT the newspaper of record in this country? And why on earth are we talking about married sex HERE??
So on a whim I decided to see if I could find out what folks were reading about way back in 1900. Because it must be way more impressive, about paradigms shifting and the world changing all around...
On November 24, 1900, a whole 108 years ago, the New York Times featured short reviews of plays showing on Broadway. Apparently, a Thanksgiving tradition was to go to the theater, not to gorge on turkey (that was perhaps in another article), and according to this article, it was a truly bad play that didn't do well around Thanksgiving. Probably the same goes for today's holiday season.
And on November 30 (here's a shoutout to all you football wives out there), there was an extensive piece on the football season, describing how Pennsylvania beat Cornell and Columbia beat some team called the Carlisle Indians. I think that school isn't an Ivy anymore...and they'd be the Native Americans, anyway.
And so fine. I am humbled. And perhaps tis the season to renew one's faith in the fact that there are things more significant in the world than the economy, politics, Iraq, Afghanistan, other 3rd world countries that are disintegrating before our eyes, disease and famine. Perhaps it is important, especially in this season of giving thanks, that we turn to our spouses and say thank you, thank you for being our partners and being our intimate companions and lovers.
Thanks for putting up with us and our snarky comments when you want a medal for emptying the dishwasher. We are actually grateful you did it.
Thank you for putting the kids to bed, even though you riled them up and it took an extra hour and three stories.
Thank you for making dinner, even if it meant defrosting something I cooked last week.
No seriously, I'll stop. I think that the way that I will say thank you to my spouse this year is by having Seven Days of Sex and following the guidance of my new friend, Pastor Ed from Grapevine, Tx. That will help me to refrain from any further complaints about the state of the world, the messy kitchen/children/desk/football, and return to the intimacy that was the hallmark of our life pre-children.
Good luck initiating your very own Sexperiment!
Monday, November 24, 2008
I did not feel badly at all, not for one second, for not bringing my 4 year old son. Now, he's a huge Knicks fan (appropriately brainwashed by my husband), and he's been to a few Sunday afternoon games, but I'd never bring him to a Saturday night game. After all, it was date night, and I was paying for a babysitter. Because I foolishly thought that I was going out to where there weren't going to be a lot of kids.
I did say paying for a babysitter. And that meant that I did not want to spend the evening with 10000 other people's children. Alas, I was wrong on that one.
Let's return to the idea of Kids' Night. That meant that the Knicks City Dancers, generally wearing inappropriately skimpy and tight outfits while gyrating all over the floor, were wearing flowy micromini sundresses and go go boots, to "tame down" their look. And dancing to songs from the 80's instead of hiphop from the Naughties, but with lyrics that are just as sexy and misogynistic. That meant that the Star Spangled Banner was sung by a 9 year old from LawnGuyland who was being handled by her stage mommy and who was groomed within an inch of her life. I also had the pleasure of seeing extra action from the Knicks City Kids, a troupe of kid dancers who wear baggy hiphop clothes and dance all over the place, and instead of being too sexy are overly precocious and also being fawned over and spoiled by their stage mommies.
I promise you, I did have a great time with my husband (and the Knicks won). You just have to wonder, aren't there any places adults can go anymore where the kids haven't taken over?
Went home after the game. My son the light sleeper woke up just after the babysitter left, and we had the pleasure of snuggling him back to sleep. He's taken over our house...now that's appropriate. Not Madison Square Garden.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It wasn’t even (when push comes to shove) the fact that she has been waking up at 5 am for her morning feeding and then not going back to bed.
It wasn’t the fact that my love is embarrassed when my daughter reaches her hands into my shirt when we’re in public and casually digs around until I feed her.
Before I actually gave birth, I thought that any single one of these would have been enough to make me wean my daughter. But at the end of the day, I loved the bonding too much. I loved her snuggling against me, her eyes gazing at nothing in particular, her hand around my fingers or on my necks and face.
And I appreciate the extra antibodies that keep my girl from getting sick.
And I loved the “100 elements in breast milk that can’t be found anywhere else”
and the idea that breast milk is perfectly fitted to the needs of my daughter at any age.
We were down to twice a day, so we could breast feed in private. And anyway, I told myself, my daughter refuses to drink cow’s milk, even milk with honey and vanilla. And I HAVE milk, so why not keep going?
But three times in the last week, when we were looking at cows (in Texas), reading about cows, or dancing with our fabulous, battery-operated dancing cow, my daughter stopped in the middle of it all, turned to me, reached into my shirt and said, “milk? milk?”
That did it. I refuse to be identified with a cow!
I mean, I certainly joke about feeling like a milk machine, but I'm allowed. No one else is. Not even my daughter.
She started weaning this weekend at my parents’, and now she’s (mostly) all done.
Not so painful. Though, to be fair, I’d started “trying” half-heartedly to wean a few weeks before, so at least the milk supply wasn’t urgently painful by the time we quit.
Her last gulp was on the plane, taking off in the Houston airport. Now we’re “all done. Bye-bye, mama’s milk” (mostly).
And for the first time in her entire life, she slept through the night last night (after a short crying spell at midnight).
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
She ground our own peanut butter, our own flour (from wheat berries or rice grains), churned our own butter, made our bread, made pizza dough from brown rice, even ground her own poppy-seeds for her homemade poppy-seed rolls and made her own dough for her own strudel (made from our home-grown pears) etc. etc. etc. all during my childhood. Ask her to please step away from that pot? Uh...no.
So how did we do it without driving her absolutely, completely and totally insane? And still manage to eat on porcelain? Well, it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine. For starters, we introduced new food that my mother didn't know how to cook in the first place, then let her help by chopping stuff up. She was happy to learn new, healthy and delicious recipes.
Secondly, my parents live in Texas, where real estate is relatively cheap, so they have space. I had some dishes in the attic I’d never used; Mama had a new paring knife and cutting board; I brought a soup pot from my kitchen, and I bought another soup pot on the way home from the airport, and a second knife and soup ladle.
I told my family that keeping kosher dishes at their place was an investment in our future relationship—a sign that seeing them was a priority. Eventually, I’ll build up enough (maybe I’ll buy a second soup pot and a frying pan next time) so that soon I’ll be able to visit without needing to bring any cookware with me. For now, though, triple-lining a regular baking pan with tinfoil allowed me to bake several lbs of fish (big family).
The second thing I did was to make sure they were included; I shopped for everyone and cooked a simple but delicious and hearty meal for Friday night. My mother lit candles with me. Luckily they like sweet wine. Who doesn’t like challah?
The biggest problem was reserving two kashered burners on the stove top. We’ll need to work on that one. The other problem was keeping my mother from poking in the soup pots with treif silverware.
Finally, be real. No, kashrut doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Kashrut is NOT about logic. Yeah, it’s somewhat about making sure Jews and non-Jews don’t mix, which is hurtful to mention to my family. I just say that, aside from it being a commandment, it’s also a discipline to keep me mindful and attentive to my actions, my thoughts and the way I treat others, the way I treat the environment. That seems to work.
Also I introduced kashrut gradually, when I lived in Texas; at that time I’d cook an entire meal and bring it over. So it was seen as a treat, not as a weird and cultish habit or punishment I was subjecting them to. I started slow—we ate at first on their dishes, so as not to alienate. Or we ate on paper. And we talked about it. I avoided discussions that involved these words: truth, salvation, sin, right, wrong. And I acknowledged that what I was asking them to do for me seemed completely insane, as well as inconvenient, and I knew it, and I was really, really grateful.
I can’t say that it was easy for them. But luckily, they love me (yeah, I know it’s really all about the babygirl) and want to see us all again. Soon. And lots.
Monday, November 10, 2008
What do you call a man who takes your daughter to the pediatrician while you’re at work, who travels to see family out of town and comes back with a doll stroller that your child has been wanting for so long that she’s turned her booster seat into a “croller”? Who asks if he can take your camera to a two-year-old birthday party because this particular two-year-old is your daughter’s best friend? Who calls you to tell you to go ahead and finish that project at work if you need to because he’s free and he’ll pick up the girl from the babysitter?
I don’t know about you, but around here, we would love to call that man abba.
Despite having just come from the new Woody Allen movie last night (my first visit to the cinema in about 16 months), filled with nostalgia for my previous, carefree itinerate existence, I am pretty blissed out. My love has been in the States for three weeks now, and frankly, I can’t imagine life without him. And judging from my daughter’s complete disregard for me whenever he’s around, she can’t imagine it either.
It’s so nice to feel there is someone who can back you up, support you, take turns being the bad cop, and who still thinks you’re pretty even when you’ve not washed your hair all week, and who still thinks you’re smart even when you’re sleep deprived and can’t remember the name of your best friend. It’s nice to have someone who speaks Hebrew to my daughter and who davens.
So now we’re preparing for a second round of negotiations with Babydaddy, trying to get permission to move with baby to Israel. Hopefully the quaint guiding principals of the court system in DC, which favors a woman in a relationship to a woman alone, will add weight to my side (or, as my love puts it, our side) of the table.
This weekend we’ll be in Texas to meet my family. I’ve made my five brothers promise to behave.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Some days life feels so relentlessly...adult. And not in that wonderful "when I grow up I'm gonna..." way. More in that "I've worked till ten two nights this week and today I worked all day and sat through a meeting about layoffs and then came home and battled through traffic to the toy store and the grocery store only to return to dishes to do, Shabbos to help cook and a dire laundry emergency" kind of way.
I guess it's no suprise. After all, I'm over 30...at some point adulthood was bound to creep up on me. But somehow every time I have a week like this I feel kind of betrayed. Sure, I wanted marriage, children, a rewarding career. But I also really wanted to spend a nice amount of time staring into space, watching vapid television, IMing friends near and far. I think I assumed that leisure time was my middle-class entitlement.
I'd love to write more now...I am so bummed that I haven't had the time lately to share with Ima Shalom. But I've got to work, so, Shabbat Shalom for now, and more next week, when my baby starts preschool.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Wonders will never cease. We have decided as a family -- ok, my almost 4 year old didn't get a vote -- that we want to eliminate red meat from our at home diet. We won't buy it or cook it, but will eat it "out". So we're trying to eat more fish.
There is a lovely (and clean) fish shop around the corner from our apartment. I like it, it's a little off the beaten path, and it doesn't stink of old fish. And they keep the kosher fishes separate from those other treif ones. I thought it would be a fun treat for me to take my son over to to our neighborhood fishery to pick out fish for dinner. He adores lox, and knows that salmon is pink, and I hoped that this participation in the shopping might lead to participating in the eating, thereby diversifying his fruit-cheese-yogurt-challah diet.
So we walked in. Not a huge store but he was fascinated...by the lobsters in the tank, of course. We walked by the display case, and he asked all the names of the fish (except for "EMA! That's SALMON!!!"). Loved the idea of a fish called branzini - don't even know if it's kosher - or tilapia, they sound so funny. Each fish seemed more interesting than the next.
Then we got to the whole fish section. Basically, there's a bin, about adult-waist high, filled with ice and dead fish. You don't want me to pull any punches, right? They're dead. Glassy eyed. Ick. And wouldn't you know it, darling boy runs right over, climbs up on a milk crate and starts poking their eyes. Picks one up. Starts swinging it by the tail. I nearly passed out. He picked out his own fish, a whole shiny red snapper, and solemnly handed it to the fish man to be cleaned and gutted. He carried it home, where Abba had frantically spent the last 20 minutes searching for a whole fish recipe that didn't take too long. He even helped prepare it by sprinkling salt and pepper on it and watching while it sat in the pan.
I was expecting that to be IT. But no!
Turns out that he loves red snapper. He ate at least 6-7 bites, which seems like a lot to me. He couldn't stop talking about it and wanted to do it again the next day.
It is apparently true that if you involve your children in the shopping, selection and preparation of food, they'll eat it. I was a complete skeptic, but now I have a kid who eats red snapper. Let's see if it holds for other things; snapping the ends off of asparagus didn't get him to eat that, but it was helpful. I'll keep trying...this made it well worth the effort. It is not just the example of eating it around a table with others who are eating the same thing. I helped to provide my son with a tool (and an appreciation) for enjoying the process of getting food on a plate, and involving him in the process and enabling him to have a voice in the choice empowers him. Participating in the cooking was nice too, although there is still flour on the kitchen floor. It's just as empowering as the choice between the red shirt and the green shirt; it's a false choice (we were having fish for dinner, after all) but he perceived that he had a voice in the decision too.
I wonder what it would be like if we always thought of food preparation for our families like this; how can we involve our children in the process, and how can we ourselves be closer to the process. Maybe all our children will learn to love kale. OK, maybe not, but you might be able to substitute red snapper for a Dr. Prager's Fishy once or twice.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Which means I’m thinking like a two-year-old. I mean, I think parents’ brains must get re-wired, or else they’d go crazy. Now I can go crazy and it feels normal. You know the two second attention span? The sentence that starts “I want” and ends up with a list so contradictory it could be a political promise or a justification for war with Iraq? I want agua!, juice! shoes! socks off! go outside! book! up! walk! babydoll! DC! (that means CD), bubbles! bath! flaffle! (waffle)! poon! (either phone or spoon, depending on the context, which, as you see, isn’t always easy to tell).
Thank G-d for the group They Might Be Giants, and their album “NO!”
Now when my nearly-two tyrant makes multiple demands I can sing “Violin,” a song which, in our version, allows words to be paired with musical notes: violin-lin-lin, hippo, mop mop mop mop. That song has her running all over the house finding objects—luckily we have a stuffed blue hippo. I just wish they didn’t spend so much time on George Washington’s head. We make up our own words. Works well in a stroller, too.
TMBG also helps out with saying no. When I break out into the title song, “no means no, always no…” with its seductive refrain “fingers pointing, eyebrows low, mouth in the shape of the letter o,” denial is transformed into play—you should see my little tyrant’s eyebrows go low and her fingers point!
She's almost two. By the time we finish singing she's forgotten what she was insisting on in the first place (usually milk. I can't seem to get her weaned!)
Nevertheless, there are things that music can’t help with. And that’s what work outside the home is for. or pretending to be deaf (after five minutes of completely rational and entertaining explanation). Or earplugs and bourbon. Depending on the time of day.
Today I fled. I couldn’t take my girl’s clinginess (she wants me to hold her every second I ‘m with her. which is hard to do when you’re also stir frying her tofu or making her tomato sauce). I couldn’t take a tiny apartment full of three children (girlfriends' nannies get sick).
Yep--I left as soon as the nanny appeared. Which means I didn't brush my teeth, my hair or put on makeup. I was the first person in the office--even beat the Dean.
I feel like running for the hills.
There are probably lots of songs about that, too. But “Country Roads” (we’ve got the reggae version about West Jamaica) ain’t one of them.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
My heart is in my throat, and my baby girl keeps saying “I want S_______!” If he’s not serious about us I’m going to have to break both his knees. I tell her, “when you wake up tomorrow, S____ will be sleeping on the sofa!” But I’m not really sure he will be. He might have already left for Hoshana Rabbah services.
Well, she HAS been waking up at 5am every day for weeks now. And I’ll be out the door to work before he gets back. When I return we’ll have an hour to be alone together, we three, before we rush off to services and dinner in a sukkah. I’m deliriously thankful for this whirlwind, for the inconvenience that comes with an observant life.
I must admit that I’ve not got the best track record with relationships. Let's face it: I'm an idiot, and I can use all the help I can get. I used to freak out at the idea of being tied down. Not being able to up and move to Barcelona tomorrow if I wanted, for example. In the first month of this relationship, I seriously thought of breaking it off because of his incorrect use of a punctuation mark (it wouldn't have been so bad if he'd not kept bringing it to my attention). Of course, the baby and the job have done much to settle me down.
And I swore to myself and my child not to get seriously involved in anyone unless it was with the intention of forever.
My love and I have never been together for longer than a Shabbat (with his family). And now he’s moved here. I hope to g-d he’ll think it’s worth it. I guess it’ll be worth it if we make it worth it.
Today I’m simultaneously planning a week’s worth of classes, searching for a youtube video of Sarah Palin meeting Tina Fey on SNL last night, cleaning the apartment and cooking for the final days of chag. And I'm racking my brains to remember all the good advice I ever heard or witnessed about how to keep love and have it grow. Feel free to chime in, dear readers, with your advice!
Babysitter is running errands with my sensitive, teething child on her back. And I can't think.
Of course, the second I washed all the sheets and towels last night, using the last $4.75 in quarters I had plus a French coin the shape of a quarter, my child got sick on my sheets and then on her sheets. So hand-washing it was. I was also baking a cake for the nanny share’s mother’s birthday (my nanny share mama just gave birth this past week), a quiche and soup, and also changing my hair color. I felt like I was in an I Love Lucy sitcom episode.
I don’t know how long he’ll stay, how long it will take him to find a job and an apartment (or to propose), so I cleaned out a closet, a chest of drawers and a bookshelf for him. To think that two years ago all this space in my 600 square foot apartment was nine. A year and a half ago I gave half my space to my baby. Now I’ll give another portion of it to my love.
The more compact my material life gets, the bigger the emotional life. Not a bad trade-off. Though it would be great to have a garden one day (like I had when I was a graduate student in Austin!)
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I called both of my grandmothers who live in two different swing states to convince them to vote the Democratic ticket.
Good grandma, a south Florida voter who swears she accidentally voted--G-d forbid--for Buchanan in 2000, is in. She's been in a long time. She has arthritis, leaves the house only to go to Publix and Costco (now you know what swing state she's in) and she is all for Obama. I've put her on to convince her older brother, who says he can't vote for a black man. Call in Sarah Silverman and the Schleppers.
Bad grandma (and I say this with all due respect, but she has been pissing me off regularly since I was 3) says that she'll vote Democratic, but with hesitation. He doesn't have any executive experience, she says. Oh wait, she realizes, "McClain" doesn't either. I feel comforted that even if she were to vote, she would see that there's no McClain on the ticket and maybe vote for Obama. For her, I hope that the weather is good enough to go vote, and that there is a handicapped spot out front so that she can get in comfortably.
No matter who you support (really, at this point, I don't care), I want to urge you to vote. I hope to hell you've registered and that you'vemade a committment to exercise your right to vote. I'm sure someone will comment here that this isn't a politics blog but a mothering blog, and so I'll say it:
This election will decide your child's future.
Of course, every election will, but this one, more so than anything else. This election can decide whether or not your child will have a future of clean energy, reduced dependence on foreign oil and a cleaner environment, access to affordable health care and improved opportunities in public schooling, not to mention access to affordable higher education. Who would think that this isn't important to mothers?? Of course it is. And by the way, that's on either side of the aisle.
My grandmothers are both parents (obviously). But one is looking backwards, to the way it was back then when it was "better," and one is looking forward, to a way that it can be someday in the future for her children and grandchildren. I'm an optimist. Let's go with the future instead of with the past.
Last: please take your children with you to the polls. I attribute my interest in politics to one thing and one thing only, being taken to the polls with my parents. Going in that booth, with the curtain closed, with a sacred and private space to exercise my right to be a free person in a democratic country is a big deal. Do it with your kids and show them what being free truly is.
I beg you too.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I wasn’t born Jewish. There. I said it. When I was converted, before moving here and joining my present community, I was promised by my rabbi: now you can enter a new community seamlessly, and no one need know you ever converted. Well, that’s true as long as you don’t participate in women’s tefillah, attend a Simchat Torah service in your community, or get married. Then, everyone will know. Which is a pity, since I was told all my life that I looked like (the young) Barbara Streisand.
I know I’m being dramatic. I know there are many converts who are just as good, knowledgeable, and valuable to their communities, if not more so, than people who were born Jewish. Besides, I know there are plenty of born-Jews whose parents just happen to be named Sarah and Abraham.
But I’m touchy about it. My conversion experience was awful. It was worse than undetected placenta previa and an emergency c-section. It was worse than lying in a dark room for three days, screaming and throwing up pain-killers because the nurse in recovery made me wait until the pain killer wore off before I could leave the hospital after surgery on a shattered wrist (She didn’t believe I didn’t have general).
My conversion was, psychologically, worse. The superficial reasons were understandable—I lived 70 miles from the nearest orthodox shul. I begged to be given materials to study, only to be told, “conversion is not a college entrance exam.” I studied anything I could get my hands on--alone. I learned Biblical Hebrew for two years and Aramaic for one. The first time I came before the bet din, the rabbi (who told me I didn’t even need to learn Hebrew) opened the siddur at random and asked me to sight-read. I was able to do so, haltingly. Then he commented: “I thought you were a scholar, but you read like a child.” I was sent home because I couldn’t answer what to do when a fleischig pot was triefed by dairy. I answered, “I’m a vegetarian! This would never happen to me. But if it did I’d get rid of the pot.” Turns out, the correct answer was “ask your rabbi.”
Although I made dear friends for life in that community, and the rabbi was a lovely person, there were other circumstances, rotten luck, general naivte and other problems that made the experience so nightmarish. I’m glad it’s over. But I would be more glad if I didn’t have to announce that I’m a convert once a year.
It’s not that I was raised without religion. I have an MA in theology. I spent a year in a convent. It’s just that I wasn’t raised with THIS religion. And I wasn’t even looking for religion or to convert when I left my birth-religion. (It’s just “not done” if you’re Catholic).
Still, it was all worth it. Even though I went from being an expert in one religion to a baby in another.
And in general, I look forward to the chagim. I never pray as intensely, and am never as honest with myself and with G-d as on Rosh H’shanna and Yom Kippur. It seems that every year, just before this time, I am faced with what seems like the worst challenge of my life—conversion, one year. Getting a job, one year. Having a child (though, to be honest, in my prayers I asked for a husband first). This year it is a custody battle and getting to move to Israel, since Baby Daddy is now unwilling to negotiate my going. I suspect that if I did not have these challenges, I would not pray so intensely and so deeply.
I am looking forward, though, to the year that my biggest challenge is dealing with my feelings about Shimchat Torah. I understand that it’s my problem. It’s a stupid problem. And I suspect one day I’ll even get over it.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Then a man started shouting from the other end of the car. I usually ignore it, as this happens a lot. Sometimes it is a speech, other times it is singing or passing around the hat. But I was in a kind of teary mood for some reason, and so I was listening both to New Order and to the yelling man. The subway car was quietish: the commute to work is usually much quieter than at other times of day. I guess it's because most of us are still asleep.
This is roughly what the man said.
"Sorry to bother you, ladies and gentlemen. But I'm really hungry and I hope you can help me. Do you have any extra food? Some food, a few pennies. I'm sorry to do this, but I made a lot of mistakes, I really messed up in my life, and I don't have anything to eat."
Then, he said loudly, but kind of plaintively: "God, I'm sorry. I really messed up."
By the time he reached me, my eyes were pooling with tears and I had reached into my bag and handed him the container which held my lunch.
I got off the train moments later feeling a deep sense of sadness.
This year, just like every year, I will read the Al Cheit and know that I have committed at least (if not more than) 90% of those sins...the sin of pride, of speaking ill of others, of running to do something wrong, of having haughty eyes, of eating and drinking too much. And all the rest.
God, I am really sorry. I messed up.
Every year, I cry on Yom Kippur. I have messed up in so many ways, I have so many people to beg for forgiveness. I have done so many rude, crude, hurtful things and I have really messed it up so many times. We all have; this is why Al Cheit is in the plural, because as a human collective (and as a Jewish people) we've done all this stuff.
But today I know that although I have a lot to say I'm sorry for and about, in all the ways I messed up, that I have a long way to go before I can make that public, heart pounding confession on Yom Kippur. I need to spend some really meaningful time (between driving matchbox cars around the living room and making applesauce as a project, and oh, working and preparing for the holidays) considering how I've missed the mark and how I'm going to work towards making it in the future.
It was easy to give away my lunch. It will be harder to do real teshuva.
Shana tova u'metukah.
Where we are sure we are focusing on the wrong issues.
I am having one of those moments right now.
I started writing about all these things going on…how it was my daughter’s birthday party, how my son just started smiling, how it makes me so happy that my children have fantastic Uncles and Aunts, while I grew up with none. I could write up something, slap a couple of penis or porn references in there and badda boom badda bing , I will have blogged.
But I can’t. I can’t write about all the things I should write about.
I’m too distracted thinking about what is going to happen with Derek and Meredith tonight.
And then I get all distracted knowing that I won’t be able to find out in tonight’s 2 hour Grey’s Anatomy season premiere.
Nope. I’ll find out in the Stretched Out Over 6 Hours and 2 Days season premiere.
Darn fresh child getting in the way of my vice.
I really have a problem. I am totally and completely addicted to the television. I find it soothing and funny. I don’t have a problem setting up an evening around a favorite program. And while I do tend to get up and out and do things with my life nowadays, it’s really largely due to the advent of Tivo.
And you know what’s worse? I don’t see a problem with it. Not at all. I surround myself with people who suffer the same addiction so I don’t have to feel guilty about my struggling. I try to go a few hours without looking at the screen, but then I will turn it on. Just for a moment. Just for a second. Just to check out that new ridiculous PC commercial. Just to watch the Bonus Round on Wheel of Fortune. Just to watch that movie on Lifetime with the really lonely woman who falls in love with a man who turns out to be her brother’s identity thief. That’s it. And then I’ll turn it off. I swear.
And it stinks because I love my children but sometimes I find myself longing for Sex and the City reruns on TBS (I mean they don’t even show the good stuff!) in the middle of dollhouse play time. I get bitter about having to wash dishes at the end of the day instead of sitting in front of a new Project Runway (which is probably why there is a pile of dishes 6 feet high in the sink right now). And I swear, I think the hardest thing about the new baby isn’t the lack of sleep or the lack of control or the lack of puke free clothes, but the lack of TV face time I get.
That’s not right.
And I can’t even defend myself. I need a support group. There are definitely better things I should be doing in my free time and weekends. But I LOOOOOOOOOONG for television. I need it. If I play too long with my daughter I have to sneak a peak on youtube just to catch a glimpse of something moving on a flat screen. And heaven help me when it is the holidays and all that good Orthodox brainwashing keeps me from turning on the new House on the second night of Rosh Hashannah.
Now let me do what all good addicts do and try and rationalize.
I have 0 me time nowadays. None. Even if I find a moment to sit and say-read a book, in the quiet I remember about the laundry that needs to get done. Or how all the fuzzy animals that are in the purple bin in the toy room got shoved in the plastic animal blue bin in the rushed birthday party clean up. That needs to get fixed. But if I turn on an episode of Friends? I laugh. I get engaged. I don’t have to get up and get dressed and out there. I am far too exhausted and busy to spend my free time expending more energy and being more busy.
And you know, I talk to my husband, he makes me laugh. He is engaging. I talk to my friends. I have play dates and date dates. I am not shut out. But when I need to turn myself off I turn the TV on.
Thankfully my addiction is not illegal. Or cancer causing. Or costly -unless I discover the joy of pay-per-view porn (phew-almost wasn’t able to squeeze one in). I’ll find a non TV related hobby when both the kids are in college….by then they’ll have figured a way to implant TV shows in my corneas and I can take them to go.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Today we head to New Jersey. A new cancer, a new surgery, more hoping and praying that Dad will once again emerge victorious.
I've been here before, more times than I care to count. Most recently when I was pregnant, though, and there our story begins.
My dad was in, I think, for emergency surgery to remove a section of his intestines that had become blocks by a hernia. All was going well and then he aspirated something, didn't get enough oxygen, went unconscious, and before we knew it he was in an ICU on a respirator. We needed to get back to DC for some reason...I can't remember what...so we left that day, unsure of what would come.
Days later I was standing in a grocery story with my husband when I got the call from my mom that my dad was off the respirator. I even got to speak to him, a huge relief.
And that's when it happened.
I had had a panic attack earlier in the pregnancy...the first in my life. I had at that moment felt like I was dying...my heart rate was like 160 and I could hardly breath. They had done some scans and concluded it was hormones, and I had moved on.
But this time was different. The floodgates had opened, and it would take months of pushing against the rushing water to reclaim my life.
It started immediately with lightheadedness and some fierce stomach problems. We got me home and I spent the next few hours hanging on to my husband for dear life...you see I felt like I was falling, even when I was sitting down.
I didn't sleep that night...and the next day was no better...I was exhausted and ill but my mind gave me no rest. I felt worse than I ever had in my life...I was in so much mental anguish that I just wanted it to go away...whatever it took.
By Saturday afternoon I was still lightheaded, still experiencing bouts of rapid heartbeat. Despite the fact that we had a roomful of people in our apartment we headed back to the emergency room. My husband was, by this time, losing a little patience, I think, but off we went. Another 12 hours, more scans, another conclusion that pregnancy was making me a little loony.
A few days and a few doctors appointments later I was on a few medications, trying to balance the guilt I was experiencing exposing my fetus to powerful medications with the knowledge that they were relatively safe and that the state of high-alert my body and mind was stuck in was not a good environment for him either. These were the first mental health meds I'd ever been on--and I've since weaned myself off--but I remember distinctly feeling like Alice in Wonderland when I took that first pill.
The next few months were an uphill battle. I've read that the biggest problem for people with panic attacks is fear of the attacks themselves and I guess that's what happened to me. Supermarkets were pretty much impossible for me, as was driving. My world shrunk down to a square mile. I worked from home, went, with great difficulty, to the corner store. Suffered through large crowds at kiddush. Repeated over and over to myself that my rapid heartbeat was nothing, that my lightheadedness was nothing, that I was not dying, that it would pass. Called my husband home from school, shul, wherever about a million times. And, except for my closest and most trusted friends, tried to keep the nature of my "difficulties" a secret.
Somewhere during the third trimester the fog began to clear and I started to reclaim my life. Supermarkets were still hard, but aside from that my symptoms were less and less and I was venturing farther and farther afield, pushing myself to do more, praising myself for small but important victories.
The doctors are pretty sure that it was really the combination of pregnancy and extreme stress that brought it all on. That I don't actually have these disorders in my non-pregnant life. And indeed, soon after Chamudi was born I weaned myself off the final medication and have been fine very since, thank God.
Until this summer.
It's been a stressful few months, and more than once I felt myself getting lightheaded for no particular reason. I acknowledged it, pushed on and tried to get more water, sleep, time to relax, whatever. I kept it at bay for long enough, and it receded with the stress itself.
But now we're heading back to the hospital. The scene of the crime. And, as I feel the outer edges of my sanity fray ever so slightly, I can't help but wonder if I'll be able to keep it all together.
When Chamudi was born I promised myself I wouldn't cry in front of him...I'd seen my mother cry so many many times and it was a difficult thing to bear. But I've already violated that about a hundred times over. Okay...children need to realize that their parents have emotions. But they also need to know that their parents are a stable safe place...and they don't need the burden of supporting a parent's emotional life or mental health struggles.
And so, with a deep breath, I venture back in. Wish me luck.
Monday, September 22, 2008
But how am I supposed to know what’s going to be best for her in 10 years? In 15? As anyone will tell you (and they frequently do tell me, especially Babydaddy) that it’s best for a child to have two parents that love her and are part of her life. Two weeks ago, when Babydaddy came down to discuss these issues with me, that’s what he said.
But it had been 8 weeks since he’d seen her. He wants to stay where he is and he see her every 6 weeks or so (because that’s all he has time for, he said). Is this being part of a child’s life? He realizes that he’s "not been prioritizing her right now, but it’s because she’s too young to need him yet.” Is this being part of her life?
He’s been thinking of moving here, so he can see her evenings during the week and sometime on weekends. Of course, he wants to find a wife first. I know that theoretically, this would be best for her. But this is the solution that freaks me out the most.
There’s nothing wrong with where I am. I have a great job, a great community and a great daughter. But staying here means I have just that: a job, a community where I can’t daven until my girl’s old enough to sit still during services, and a daughter.
As supportive as my university is, I have to continue my current schedule: up at 6, play with baby, give her to the nanny and work till 5, play, feed, clean, read with her till 7:30. Put her down to bed and work till midnight. Up at 6. At least until I get tenure.
What kind of life is that?
Obviously, if I take her to Israel, she’s really going to be far away from her Abba. But we’ll have travel funds (and the research need) to spend up to four months in the States every year. He says that longer periods of time are no so convenient for him as weekends. Do I stay here so he can see her 8 weekends a year? Or do I let her grow up with the man I want to marry and who wants to raise her as his own? A man who davens three times a day and teaches her what I don’t know.
She loves her Abba, though she hardly sees him. We’ve got photos of him, and when she sees a photo she says “Abba!” When he's here it seems as if he really loves her. It breaks my heart.
If it were just me, I’d go. My Jewish education is minimal. There I could learn for myself and for her; I’d live in a Jewish country; I’d have that support. I’d live in a place where everyone has children, and children are valued and loved by society. I’d have a job with half the teaching load, and a teaching load that was in my area of expertise.
In my current city, dogs are loved more than children. Honestly. I went walking with a friend and her dog, and for every one person who greeted my adorable child, 8 greeted her adorable pooch. And it wasn’t even a puppy!
How do I know what’s best for baby? How much do we have to take into account what’s best for Babydaddy?
The lawyer phoned tonight and said we would have to reschedule next week. Honestly, I’m relieved.
Friday, September 19, 2008
But in the spirit of teshuva (which, after all, means returning), I think it’s time. So here I am.
In June, I found out some news that, while not exactly a surprise, has been monumental: I carry the genetic mutation known as BRCA1 that predisposes me to breast cancer. Both my grandmother and my mother are breast cancer survivors, so I knew already that I was high risk. But knowing that the risk is almost 90% is a whole other story.
So what is an Ima to do? I’ve made the decision to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, which will lower my risk of breast cancer to about 1%. Drastic, to be sure. Probably shocking to many. But for me as a parent, a no-brainer. I want to do whatever I can to make sure I’m around to be an Ima for as long as possible, and to avoid putting my kids through what I went through as a child, watching my mother battle breast cancer. I’ve lived with the threat of cancer hanging over me my entire life, and soon I will banish that threat forever. Amazing. I feel lucky.
And of course, I also feel a lot of other things: angry, weepy, self-pitying, scared, anxious, to name a few emotions that course through me on a daily basis. Right now, I’m dealing by focusing on all the complicated logistics involved in having major surgery when you have two toddlers. I haven’t yet decided exactly which surgery I’m going to have (there are various options for reconstruction), and I’m spending a lot of time talking to other women who have gone through this to learn more about their experiences and their recommendations. Though these days my femaleness sometimes feels like a ticking time bomb – BRCA1 also raises one’s risk of ovarian cancer to about 50%, so I’ll have to remove my ovaries before I’m 40 – I also feel incredibly grateful to be able to draw on the strength and support that most women offer one another so freely.
The last thing that I want to say about all this today is that I don’t at all intend to be preachy about this. Surgery is the right decision for me now, but it’s not right for everyone. Everything about this is so personal, even the decision to get tested. Before I had kids, I didn’t want to be tested because I was already under surveillance as someone high risk and wasn’t ready to consider surgical options. My sister, who is single and childless, has decided not to get tested for now. I would never tell anyone that she should get tested or, if positive, should have bilateral mastectomies. But I do think it’s important for women – especially those of us who are of Ashkenazi background, since we are 5 times more likely to carry the breast cancer genetic mutations – to know about the availability of testing, the risks a positive diagnosis carries, the options for dealing with it, and the support networks (such as FORCE) that are out there. Knowledge is power.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Thanks to my friend who recently moved, I had several cans of salmon on hand. I made this up on the fly, and it was wonderful. Obviously, it would taste better with fresh salmon, but you do what you can under these circumstances, no?
Fancy-schmancy Salmon patties from canned salmon
16 oz canned salmon, which I skinned and deboned
8 oz smoked salmon which I cut into little pieces
12 oz spinach, wilted in olive oil and crushed garlic
8 oz fancy mushrooms (shitake, portabella, etc.) chopped and browned
1 small onion, chopped and sautéed in olive oil till translucent
4 oz water chestnuts, chopped fine
chopped dill to taste
salt & pepper
matzah meal (enough to hold everything together)
put your toddler to “work” washing salad (if they need to feel involved)
mix everything up well, pat into little cakes and fry in olive oil until brown
dressing: mix mayonnaise with wasabi, chili paste and soy sauce, squeeze a lemon into it, and stir till well blended.
It’s nice served over arugula, or, for a more soothing contrast to flavor-packed salmon, romaine lettuce.
Serves about 6
Earlier this week I was so busted by my daughter. My child was playing with Ima-Shalom’s lovely son when chamudi’s Abba made a nice bracha over a banana. This sent my girl shooting into the dining room like a little arrow: “chuice! chuice!” Okay, its now obvious the only time this child hears food brachot is over grape juice, wine and challah. And the only time she gets juice is on Shabbat. So starting this week, I’m making an effort to remember to begin teaching my daughter the blessings over food every day. How embarrassing.
Friday, September 12, 2008
We got an invitation for Shabbat dinner! We are going to our next door neighbor's, but it is an all adults (save my increasingly rambunctious 3.9 yo). And it is at 8pm. Hm. Look on the bright side. It will allow us to go to Kabbalat Shabbat, which we haven't been to in ages, and it's on the roof of the shul, so we're particularly excited!
This is bad news, though, for those of you who wanted a recipe from me for this Shabbat...
Luckily, I was asked to bring dessert and can do that since it is peach season (I don't much like parve desserts, but this one is good. All peaches are good cooked, somehow, and so this works!
Baked Peaches Total time: 45 minutes
2pounds apricots 1/2cup kirsch 4tablespoons sugar or more to taste.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Wash the peaches, cut them in half and pit them. Put them in a baking dish.
3. Sprinkle with the kirsch and sugar and bake them, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(if you are like me and don't know what kirsch is, just dump some sugar over it and call it a day. they will be yummy)
I also made an optional syrup for this: I boiled 2 tbsp dried lavender in one cup of water and one cup of sugar, all mixed together. Strain the lavender out and drizzle it on top. Use left overs on top of plain yogurt (or icecream if you are desperate).
This is an adaptation of a recipe from the NYTimes a few weeks ago for baked apricots. But it isn't apricot season anymore, alas...
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
But the next morning, I woke up really early, got dressed in my gym clothes, and my husband and I went to vote together in the primaries. I looked extremely shleppy, unshowered and ready to work out. The voter volunteer woman, an overweight Dominican woman, looked me up and down as she registered me. And then said, "Mami, you better lose some weight. Fat girls can't keep husbands." Was she talking from experience? Whatever. 7 years later and we are happily married 12 1/2 years, and damn, I am still fat.
We voted. Went to the gym. After the gym, I went to grab a cup of coffee across the street at Starbucks before I went to go home, take a shower and go to work. The barista and the cashier were talking about how a small plane flew into the World Trade Center, but the reports they got was that it was a small plane and that it was certainly an accident. I got my coffee and sat down at a table.
I called my mother. All circuits were busy. The only time I've ever heard about that happening was in Israel, after a suicide bombing. That didn't register till later. Finally, I reached my mom. She told me, from her vantage point near a TV 100 miles south of the Pentagon, was that I better get off the streets and home to the TV. And I did.
But when I got to my building, something in me snapped. I went up to the 12th floor, where not too many months before I had gone with my 5 year old cousin as we were walking up and down the stairs for fun. And I looked out the window. And those towers, stark in their angles, industrial and the epitome of 70's design, were burning. I couldn't see the fire, but I saw the smoke. I could already smell the acrid, burning scent that was to be the perfume of Manhattan for the coming weeks.
I went to the TV. I was one with the TV. For the next 48 hours, I slept in cat naps on the couch, and lived in front of the TV. I was paralyzed.
That day, my husband was already out, and chose not to come home from his relatively safe space on the urban campus of his graduate school. So it fell to me to try to find everyone, to find my father in law, who was on a plane at the time, and who ended up, oddly enough, spending the night with my parents because that town was the only place where there was an airport where the plane could safely land. I called everyone; telling them that we were OK, finding out where they were, if they were OK, if everyone was accounted for. One ear on them, the other on the TV.
Later that day, after reports that banks would be freezing accounts and that there would be food shortages on my island, I went to the grocery store. I never had more compassion than for the parents who stocked up on diapers, not knowing if there would be deliveries (ever again) soon The first grocery store, well, the lines were so long that I went to another one. I bought random things to eat, comfort food, thinking that it might be a while before we had fresh food again, and hell, what if the power went out?? Walking back from the grocery store, I went to the ATM and got out all the cash I could. Didn't know what to expect.
One of my very closest friends, a classmate of my husband, was a chaplain with the fire department. That day, while I was shopping, he rushed down and was a first responder. He went another time as well during that first few days, but when it became apparent that there were not survivors. Still to this day, I worry about his health. And I know that he probably suffers from PTSD in many ways, and I know that the experience changed him forever in ways I'll never understand.
I don't know why I am telling you this story. What I do know is that today was a beautiful, crisp almost fall day, with a bright blue sky with no clouds. Just like that day. And what I can also tell you is that I think about September 11 almost every day. Every time I see a plane flying over my head, and I live in the flight path for LaGuardia (so it's a lot). I think about September 11 whenever I see the Vote Aqui Vote Here signs that direct voters each primary and election day to the polls. I think about it whenever I think about first days of school; the kids whose first days of kindergarten were changed forever. I think about two little boys, born just before September 11, whose brises were smaller and more intimate than their parents had wanted, because no one could get onto the island, or because family couldn't fly in. And today, that weather. It hurts inside, honestly, to feel that kind of beautiful glorious weather, because it's ominous, and feels like violence inflicted on my soul.
Those planes flew practically over my head as they made their mad dashes to death. I was inside. I didn't hear a thing. I can't imagine what it would be like had I seen them. Thank God for sparing me that agony.
I think a lot about that Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, when I learned the real meaning of the words in Unetane Tokef, "who shall die by fire, and who by water." And when I went outside to take a walk on the first night of Rosh HaShanah and saw the fighter jets patrolling the skies. And the Profiles in Grief, the tiny piece in the New York Times about each person killed. I promised myself that the way I would personally mourn for each of those souls lost was to read just that tiny bit of text that illuminated their lives for me. Many years later, I bought the book that was made of the entries, as kind of a memorial to each of the victims.
I am not writing this column as a mother. I wasn't a mother then. But I certainly did think that day, and in the days that followed, that I never wanted to have a child. How could I bring a child into a world that was filled with such evil? So many conversations like that took place in my circles...for some, it was a sign to wait. For others, it was a realization that the only way to effectively stare down Death was to create Life.
I write this column as a proud resident of the Upper West Side, a taxpayer in good standing of the City of New York. Someone who smelled that smell. As one indulgent person wallowing in my own sadness. As someone who thinks that calling it Nine Eleven reduces the heartbreak to a slogan. As someone who still feels teary every time she sees a firefighter or firetruck, and who in her heart thinks the world of people so unselfish. As someone whose heart broke on September 11, 2001 and as someone whose heart breaks every day a little bit and as someone whose heart breaks over and over every September 11.
Yehi zichram l'bracha. May the memories of those who were lost be a blessing to all whose lives they touched.
If I had to do it all again, I would sleep more. I would just sleep. Have nice steady bedtimes. Focus entire weekends on how much sleep I could muster. Follow around a family of bears for a winter to get some tips on the most efficient way to hibernate. I would sleep until the pillow drool suffocated me.
I miss sleep. I get a surprising amount of it considering I have a newborn and an almost 3 year old. But I don’t get bonus sleep. I don’t get to sleep in on weekends. Or national holidays. Or because I stayed up late the night before doing keg stands.
I get the sleep I get and I can’t get upset.
But what I do get upset about is when people don’t appreciate how lucky they are to get all the sleep their bodies want. Seriously people-is watching that third episode of Golden Girls at 12:30am so important??? Or cleaning the house? Or spending time with your significant other? I think not. That is what dreams are for.
I am especially frustrated currently because it seems as though that my daughter has given up the nap. The sweet delicious midday nap. Ohhhhhh, just thinking about it makes my eyelids water.
I knew it would happen. She is the very last from all of her friends to slap on the awake patch and ditch the nap habit. And it’s supposed to be a sign that she is growing up, but I honestly think it’s a sign that she is losing her marbles. I try to explain to her how important her nap is. That one day when she gets older she will wish she had more sleep. But no, all she wants to do is bang on the drums all day.
I loved naptime. Her naptime was my naptime because we all know I like to vicariously live through my young. And I could nap or fold laundry or just sit there staring into space dreaming about when I could nap but chose not to.
Aside from that, her naptime became increasingly important once I had the newest youngling. He naps it up and if I could get her to nap when he napped, well glory be. But to at least have that only one conscious child to deal with feeling was pretty dreamy.
Now no more. No matter how hard I begged or bribed or drugged her, the napping had left the building.
At least I love her and I know that one day I will wish I spent more time with her when she was young…so more conscious hours helps with that. And at least she goes to bed easier at night. And best of all, at least she is still running around half naked. Ah, memories.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Meanwhile, a shameless plus for our upcoming children's event at the DCJCC. Hope to see you and your children (and/or their nanny/babysitter/au pair) there!
Tuesday, September 16
A is for Abraham
Ages: best for 2–5 year olds accompanied by their teachers, parents or caregivers
Join the 16th Street J's Early Childhood Center for a morning of storytelling, creativity and fun all about A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet. Become immersed in the sing-song rhyming language as the author reads from his beautiful book. Act out some of the stories in the book, create your own alphabet illustrations and join our Pre-K classes in asking Richard Michelson about why and how he wrote this wonderful book for children.
A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet gives children the history of Jewish traditions and customs and explains how they are practiced today. This joyful celebration of family and heritage includes the meaning behind celebrations such as Hanukkah, Passover and Sukkot; important names and stories from the Old Testament; and how modern-day families continue to celebrate their heritage. This book is the newest contribution to a popular children's series that also includes B is for Bookworm, D is for Drinking Gourd, and others.
Richard Michelson is an award-winning poet and children's book author. His books for children have received a New Yorker Best Book Award, a Children's Book Committee Book of the Year and a Jewish Book Council Book of the Month. The Detroit Jewish News cited Too Young for Yiddish as "one of the best Jewish children's books published in recent memory, and one of the top 25 ever published." Clemson University named Michelson as the Richard J. Calhoun Distinguished Reader in American Literature for 2008.
Register Buy the Book
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Some of my friends feel inadequate because they had to choose between high-power careers and children. But everyone is a little frightened that if, G-d forbid, something were to happen to McCain—were he to have been elected (the oldest president ever)—congress would expect all women to be as efficient as Sarah Palin. Imagine: “why do women need six weeks maternity leave? Our president gave birth to her eight child while on conference call to Osama Bin Ladin!” (Honestly, the first woman president, if she plans to have a child while in office, should try it. If she was like me, her yells would pretty effectively pair with her threats to kick someone's ass.)
I may have had to go back to work after a C-section when my child was 3 weeks old and no one was with me to help out. But, what with the stitches, blood loss, colic, breastfeeding, and sleep deprivation, I think tax payers would have been better off had I been paid to stay at home for a few months.
Ladies, if it makes you feel better, I offer myself as a humble example of how efficient this woman/mother is when she’s caring for her delicious daughter.
Personal Fitness—I like to think I’ve not cut back on the time I spend working out each week since my child was born. I’ve just made the following adjustment for a one-hour workout.
Before: I ran six miles
Now: I walk 6 blocks with my little future voter. (I’ve not figured out the exact mileage, but if you count retracing steps, climbing up and down neighbor’s steps and paths, it’s gotta be further than it seems).
In 45 minutes I can fold and put away laundry, sweep and mop the apartment if no one else is there.
OR I can choose to devote that time to cleaning the pasta sauce out of my child’s nostrils and ears, hair, belly button and from between her toes.
In 45 minutes I can prepare a 3-course meal for 4 (or, if you count halved grapefruits for appetizers, a 4-course meal).
But unless I’m hosting a Shabbat meal, I don’t use precious babysitting (or baby bed-time)time for cooking, so usually in 45 minutes I can peel 4 carrots and crack and separate 6 eggs with my girl, who pours the egg yolks into a bowl and throws the shells away for me.
In 45 minutes with my daughter’s help I can make the bed—complete with a few games of hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo, and a couple of stories tossed in. But I guess this should be counted as “playing.” And one day, please G-d, my daughter gets a father and a sibling, they can play (and make the beds) together…see, just gained 45 minutes! If that happens, I might look into governing a small state like Wyoming (Just kidding Gov. Freudenthal).
Some things are actually faster with a child. Shopping, for instance. What used to take me an hour now takes me 20 minutes flat. Mostly because I feel guilty about the quantity of grapes my child consumes before we reach the check out. I’ve asked the checkers to add 50 cents or so to each lb of grapes, but they think I’m joking.
Well, for starters, it takes me 15 minutes each morning to find my “tick-tock,” cell phone, and keys, all of which my daughter had requisitioned for toys the night before.
I’m currently calculating how many classes I have to teach until my number of students equals the population of the state of Alaska. Stay tuned.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Not JUST because it is my Mommy’s birthday (Happy Birthday Mommy!).
Not JUST because it is supposed to be my due date (you showed us didn’t you, uterus).
Today is the day I become self sufficient.
Well it’s not to say I wasn’t self sufficient before. This is just the first time I have to be a Mommy to two children, keep on top of the mess that is our house, try and work off those last few pounds of baby weight AND cook dinner.
Billions of women push out babies every day and the most they get from their friends is a nice card.
But those billions of women weren’t smart enough to be born Jewish. And in the land of Jew, food is what we do best. Food is a Jewish person’s Hallmark card.
I am not all that wonderful a person. I sometimes don’t even tell people if they have something stuck in their teeth. I certainly don’t think I deserve an outpouring of kindness just because my body pushed out a living thing.
But that is what happened.
And I don’t know if it’s because of the town I live in or because I am a nicer person now (I have started letting people know when their skirt is stuck in their undies), but I received FOURTEEN times the meals after birthing the boy child than I did after birthing the girl.
My friends created Google documents to organize the meals that people voluntarily made for me. And from very very close friends to people I knew only fleetingly created amazing meals for me. Some of them gave me dinner AND presents!
It was out of control. I felt like some sort of Maternal God with villagers bowing before me with their offerings of ziti, enchiladas, chicken and rice, rice with chicken and chicken stuffed rice in the hopes that I would look favorably upon them and wouldn’t curse them with flawed birth control methods.
But alas, the party is over. Tonight is the night where I have to cook for my new and improved with 25% more mouth to feed family. I am excited. Really. I kind of missed doing the cooking thing. I was getting jealous of whichever woman’s rice coated chicken my husband was raving over. And you should have seen me when somebody else’s roasted chicken with wild rice got my daughter to actually eat.
So in honor of all the amazing chefs that have made my life so much easier over the past few weeks I present to you my favorite recipe to make for new mommies. It’s really yummy, not too hard, and it is such a family favorite that my own Mommy made it for us so frequently that it wasn’t until recently that I realized that the Bubbie the recipe is credited to is not actually one of my own. And of course, it’s comprised of the two best ingredients to have in any meal: chicken and rice.
Bubba Rosa’s Chicken
- 3lbs of Chicken (with bone. Don’t even try to make it with boneless.)
- 1 ¼ cup uncooked rice
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups Coffee Rich or Soy Milk
- 4 tablespoons margarine
- 4 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ package onion soup mix
Sauce: Melt margarine in a pan, blend in flour and salt to create a roux.
Pour in Coffee Rich all at once.
Add in onion soup mix.
Stir over low heat until smooth and thick.
Pour rice on bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan.
Pour chicken broth over rice.
Arrange chicken on rice ( I like to season with a little garlic powder, onion powder and season salt prior).
Pour sauce over chicken.
Bake 45 minutes at 350, uncovered.
Uncover and bake another 45 minutes.
Serves 4-6 newly added to family members.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
I write you this letter today not to congratulate you on the occasion of your acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination (which is super cool), but to inquire about how you handled finding out that Bristol was preggers. I'm so glad you decided to share Bristol's pregnancy with the world. I mean, everyone was spreading rumors about how Trig was her baby...of course you wanted to stop those, so you had to share the one thing that would get our jaws to drop all the way to the floor! Mazal tov, by the way. That means both "congratulations" and "good luck" in Hebrew. And you're going to need it.
I'm guessing you were shocked. Especially since you support abstinence education...you must have thought that Bristol was in school that day. Where did she learn to have sex?? Who taught her how to do that?? Thank goodness they didn't use protection...that is ALL wrong. I mean, it is a huge shock that a 17 year old girl would have sex. And you are totally doing the right thing by forcing her to marry Levi. I am sure that their marriage was meant to be and they will live happily ever after. They're going to have to, because I'm sure you don't do divorce either. Oh, and I think they should name the baby Hensley. That's Cindy McCain's maiden name. She'll appreciate the nod, and I'm sure that it will guarantee you a lifetime supply of beer for the baby to enjoy. Should help Bristol with the breastfeeding, too.
By the way, I love that beehive thing you've got going. You look smokin' hot. And thanks for not wearing pantsuits either. Where do you shop? You definitely got your body back after Trig was born. Oh wait, I'm not allowed to say anything about this, because it would reduce my fan mail to being "all about gender." This totally isn't gender politics! No one is playing that card! Seriously, though. Do you shop at 5-7-9?? That's my personal favorite, although I haven't been a 5 or a 7 or a 9 since junior high.
But seriously, Barracuda, you've got me going. I think I'm going to change my political affiliation just to vote for you and that old dude, McCain. He must have a total crush on you. I mean, a chance to vote for a woman? Not to mention the fact that you are also a hockey mom. I mean, I'm a Jewish mom, and I am sure that means we have TONS in common because we are both moms. And you're such a great mom, too, raising those 5 strong kids with those supercool names. No sense in giving them a boring name like Sarah!! They must respect you a LOT. I mean, when was the last time you sat down with them and talked to them? I am sure they're all behind this "being in the spotlight" thing. Who wouldn't want to be?
I am just pleased as punch that you are the veep nominee. The family values you espouse are just exactly the way I hope to live my life. I have always aspired to be a hunter and know how to use a gun. Not just a rifle, either. Something big that will scare my neighbor next time he trims back the big maple out front just a little too much. Or leaves the roaches from his joints on my sidewalk. I mean, he has cancer, and he says it lessens his pain, but whatever. You know he is some leftie pinko just trying to get a buzz.
Thank goodness, too, you're all for drilling for oil in Alaska. I mean, isn't the whole state kind of like your own personal back yard? Who cares about the environment, anyway? I mean, you're so busy being the governor and worrying about the here and now that you couldn't possibly also be able to think about the future, right? That green stuff is crap anyway. I like driving my huge SUV and I have plenty of money so filling up for $100 a tank is no big deal. Must be the same for you.
OK, I'm signing off for now, but with a special message for Bristol. Please tell her even skinny 17 year olds can get stretch marks. And she can use Vaseline (hey, it's a petroleum based product) to try to get rid of them, but it won't really work. Stay away from that organic baby food (it's all a scam) and make sure she keeps up with her hunting while she's pregnant. And don't bother to do any of that prenatal testing. She's only 17, so I'm sure it will all be fine because she's as wholesome a girl as they come.
I can't wait to have you as my girls' role model. I'm going to hang up your head shot in my living room. I mean, like you said, this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity.
Thanks for being you, Sarah!
Sunday, August 31, 2008
On top of the cart is a plastic bag, tied to the handle, with the overflow of spices and extracts. It’s nearly 9 pm. The woman is walking with a purpose, and fast (or as fast as she can carrying about 200 lbs for 25 minutes across the city).
My dear friend, the center of my social life (let’s face it, my entire social life), the one who’s apartment we often crash at Friday nights when we don’t feel like making the trek home, then returning for morning services next day—she’s moving.
We’re “doing her a favor” by shopping in her kitchen. With all the love in my heart, I must add that, though my kitchen will now be overflowing with her goodness for the next year, and everything we cook or bake will be seasoned with her spices and love, not to mention her impulses, her pulses and her grains, we haven’t made a dent in her kitchen goods.
I know it takes a village and all that, and I don’t have any family near, but I really wish I had something to offer in return to all the kindnesses. So many people have helped me out lately, and I’m still behind in cleaning, laundry, course prep, my own research. I don’t think I brushed my hair today.
My instinct is not to accept this help. But then I’m doing my child a disservice, because I’d be even more frantic than I currently am.
Sure, I’m taking care of everyone when I take care of myself. When I don’t take care of me, I don’t take very good care of her. This week, too tired to function, I let my girl walk with me home from shopping instead of making her ride in the ergo, except for intersections. Then I carried her on my shoulder to minimize her indignant yelps. Half way across the intersection, she threw herself off my shoulders.
If she’d been a football, it would have been a completed pass—she didn’t touch the ground, though she flipped in the air. I caught her with one arm, my foot caught our cart and the fall snapped it in half, and the elbow of my free hand broke the fall.
Luckily, elbow is a funny word, so saying “Ima got a boo boo on her elbow” eventually made her laugh. The strangers who saw the fall helped squeeze the cart into something pullable, collected my purse, steadied me to stand. They were kind and didn’t yell at me for risking anyone’s life.
So I started classes with a nasty, swollen, green and purple elbow, topped off with a big, dark scab. Of course, it was too tender to wear anything to cover the elbows. I guess students intelligently assume there are certain things you don’t really want to know about the people who give you grades.
I am thinking about what kind of volunteer work I can do for an hour or two the days I have off. Something I can take my daughter to, that requires no advanced planning. But maybe I should just bake someone a pie, write a card, bring someone flowers, talk to someone having a hard time. Something to make me feel better about all this kindness I can’t possibly repay
Thursday, August 28, 2008
First and foremost thanks for making all the cute clothes. Seriously, you guys must have a lot of creative minds working there. Bear feet? Genius. Matching puppy hats to puppy shoes? Wow. And who knew dump trucks would make such appealing infant gear themes?
And also, really really appreciate the safety features you have installed in all your clothing. No toxic chemicals? Thanks! Flame retardant? That could come in handy one day.
My biggest issue with your products is not so much the look or the quality, it’s the application method.
You might not realize this because you spend your days thinking of fun and innovative ways to incorporate zebras into sleepwear, but Mommies are busy busy people. All Mommies want are ways to save time. Microwave bottle sterilization? Good. Hands free pumping mechanisms? Great! Soup On The Go? The perfect lunch. Taking 45 minutes just to get your son’s sleeper attached at the crotch? Not cool, dudes.
Also, parents are tired. Nodding off in the middle of your third cup of coffee, tired. Wishing your last name was Van Winkle, sleepy. Accidentally falling asleep while cleaning up toys on the floor because you are too close to horizontal, exhausted. We wake up at weird times of the night and want to get back into sleep mode as quickly as possible. This means that at 2am when you realize you need to change your child’s sleeper because he drenched it as he drooled milk down his chin for 10 minutes straight, (which you failed to realize because you fell asleep the instant the nipple was inserted in his mouth) you don’t want to spend half an hour snapping and unsnapping things attempting to get them lined up.
The snap thing is just not working for me. Half the time he ends up looking less like he’s in jammies and more like he’s in a fuzzy snowflake covered flannel loincloth.
Have you considered color-coding the snaps? Or perhaps simplifying things by creating three large snaps down in the bottom area-one for each leg and a separate specialty crotch snap?
And what about zippers? They glide up and down with such grace and ease. I get why zippers are not always the way to go, but would you consider just producing more of those?
And what about Velcro?
I really do appreciate all you do to help me clothe my child. It really helps all that mommying when your child is dressed head to toe in coordinating polka dots. And if I didn’t have you he would be wearing hand-sewn garments of shame that surely wouldn’t have bear feet. But there has to be a better, less mind numbing, annoying, make me want to rip my hair out just to focus harder, wishing I had a graduate degree in Clothing Afixment solution.
Thank you for your attention,