Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Buddy and Me

Let's just be out with it: I was very socially insecure as a kid. Not socially awkward, per say, but insecure. I never thought that my friends were the real deal.

Case in point: I walked to school with two girls from the neighborhood every day for three years. We played all the time after school and on the weekends.

Best buddies, right? For reasons real and imagined, I wasn't so sure. And so every once in a while on the way to school I'd simply stop walking...just to see how long it would take for them to notice. It always took way too long.

Marriage and adulthood---and a few amazingly loyal friends--have mostly cured me of my insecurities. But they still pop up from time to time--why does everyone else seem to have Shabbat plans but us? Maybe our shul friends don't really like us. Argh...

But then there's Chamudi.

Chamudi is the antidote. No matter where we go or what we do, Chamudi always looks out for me. "Meema?" he asks, if I fall too far behind Abba and him. "Meema!" He just wants me there with them...not for a snack and not for a toy...for me.

There's something about that looking back--so reminiscent of and yet so different from those failed childhood tests--that makes me, age 10 and age 31, finally feel secure.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

On the Road Again

Maybe the only time I jog with my fancy sports utility stroller is when I’m trying to cross the street before the light turns red. But who cares: I get my workouts on the plane. I am starting to view airplanes as my private flying gyms. The last flight, from Tel Aviv to Baltimore, we were airborne for 13 hours. Of which my daughter slept 2. Eleven hours of an awake toddler.

She spent about 5 hours of the flight running up and down the aisles of the plane, from the cockpit to the rear kitchen in economy class. She read the paper over the shoulders of the elite of the flying world in first class, and would have sipped their champagne with them, had any been in reach. She sat on the floor of business class and talked about sports with the patrons there. She boogied in the kitchen area, while trying to open and close all the cabinets. And exchanged toys with all the kids in economy.

She feel asleep while I was waiting in baggage claim. Every person on our flight came up to me at that point and said, “I’ll bet you’re tired.”

Yes, I’m thrilled to be seeing my family again after six months (and, in the case of some of my siblings, a year). They live in a place with open fields and forests nearby, outdoor swimming, kitty cats and puppy dogs—my girl is going to have a terrific time.

But after three long international flights with an 18-month-old over the last month, not to mention two 6-hour bus rides in Israel, I can’t bear the idea of another flight. No matter how many free toys the flight attendants give out. Nevertheless, Amtrack to Texas just isn't an option.

I won’t lie, I was hoping to set my daughter down at Grandma Boot Camp and pick her up 2 days later, weaned, potty trained and able to spell her name (my mother is insanely efficient). But Grandma nixed that plan with a simple: “How fantastic that you are still breast feeding! Oh, don’t stop! Until she’s at least two! It’s sooooo good for you both!!!”

But it's going to be so good for all of us to be together again...and I'm going to be sad it's just a week (especially because that means I'll have to make another flight).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Am I a "Good" [fill in the blank]?

[Pinch hitting for Mahotma Mama this week: Mahotma Daddy!]

Like most people, I retained very little “book knowledge” from my 4 years of undergraduate collegiate learning. I was too busy with more important things like courting the love of my life, learning to appreciate the difference between crappy beer (AKA freshman year) and great beer (AKA senior year), avoiding my pothead frat roommates, and figuring out what to do with my life (9 years, an MBA, and 2 careers later, I’m still working on that last one).

But fortunately, a few things stuck, particularly from some of my senior year psych classes, which was my major. Mostly, it was the courses that covered how to understand other people’s behavior, and how they relate to others themselves. To this day I seem to have a passion for trying to figure people out by dissecting their behaviors and words. I guess it helps me deal with them better the next time I meet them. So here’s the funny thing: While I can break down most people in my mind in the first few minutes of meeting them (A-type; arrogant; sweet; trustworthy; ass; intelligent; dim – you get the point), my parents continue to frustrate me. It’s supposed to be the case that the older you get, the more you can relate to your parents. But not me. The more I go through life – get married, buy a house, have a kid or two – it just gets worse. We just don’t see eye to eye on most things. See other Mahotma Mama posts for the details, but it’s gotten really bad since Mahotma Daughter came along. Clearly different philosophies on parenting – and grandparenting.

And so, while mowing the lawn this past weekend, I found myself yet again trying to crack the nut on my parents and suddenly recalled something I learned in a Family and Divorce Psychology class. The idea is basically this: when it comes to being a husband, wife, father or mother, like it or not, we draw from the role models we had the most exposure to: our own parents. We can’t help it, it happens when you’re not paying attention. If you’re married, think back to right after you got married. Ok, not RIGHT after. Maybe a few weeks after. Maybe the first day you went off to work after coming back from the honeymoon, and then came home. What did you do? Read the paper? Watch TV? Cook dinner? Whatever you did, there’s a fairly good chance you mimicked exactly what you saw your respective parent of the same sex do when they got home from work, way back when you were growing up. I know I did. Think about it: how much are you (*gasp*) just like your parents?

I went through this again when Mahotma Daughter came along. My head was screaming things like: “I go to work. She changes diapers.” But I took a good look around at other daddies and realized that while I wasn’t completely sucking it as a father, I definitely had ample room to improve. With no role models to go by except my own parents, I was subconsciously only following what I observed. To be clear, I had really great parents growing up. They were both loving, took us fun places, indulged most of my reasonable requests, and put me through college. I’m not trying to paint a Mother Dearest picture or anything. But everyone did their thing, good things were rewarded, bad things were punished, and life went on.

So there I was mowing the lawn, contemplating why my parents were so different from me. Present in Mahotma Daughter’s life? Yes and we are thankful for that. But it’s been painful and mostly frustrating. I realized that it goes back to the principal of following the role models they had – my grandparents. Again, good people. Definitely giving (checks arrived on time every Birthday and Chanuka), definitely present (talked to them right about the time the checks arrived, to say thank you), and saw them maybe 1 or 2 times per year for Thanksgiving and some other miscellaneous gathering, but most definitely not emotionally engaged or involved. Not at all.

All this is not to make excuses for my parents for choosing to be less involved in our daughter's life than we would like. It’s more to point out that while it is easy to fall into the patterns of our upbringing, we are not prisoners of our upbringing unless we fail to acknowledge the shortcomings – or, “opportunities,” as we like to say in the corporate world – of how we were raised. I don’t actually believe there is any such thing as a “good” or “bad” person, parent, grandparent, husband, Jew, or whatever. There are only those who continue to strive to do it better, and those who have become complacent with their current behaviors. But the minute you do become complacent, is the minute you begin to disappoint those most important to you. I think my parents just haven’t quite got that figured out yet. But I am optimistic that we can help them figure it out – we just need to do it before Mahotma Daughter’s memories of her grandparents become all too similar to my own.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Will You Catch Me?

Today, my son heard Rock A Bye Baby and paid attention to the lyrics for the first time. At the end, he interrupted and said,

"The ima and abba catch the baby, right?"

He is just like me. Just like my husband. A first child (im yirtza hashem there will be others) who has the complete attention of every single adult in his life. Totally anxious.

He isn't tentative physically, like me and my husband. We were both raised to be couch potatoes, and neither of us excelled in anything physical. So we turned it around and tried hard to encourage him to take appropriate risks and to try new things. That's worked. But he is a worrier. He had a tough time separating in nursery school, and after one full year he still hides behind me when we go to kids' shul, music class or camp. He watches everything, and at only 3.5, has questions about the tiniest details.

How do we change our own patterns of worrisome behavior in our children? I don't want him to be just like me, but yet I want him to be just like me. I can't stop looking at the sprinkling of freckles on his nose, like the ones I had at the same age. I can't stop marveling at how he loves the books I loved as a kid, smiles just like me and has the same silly streak. And I can't stop worrying that he worries just like me.

I can make myself crazy with anxiety...not even the kind that is medicateable, just a general low grade anxiety that I'm going to break my foot in a pothole, miss the subway and be late for work, that I'm going to say the wrong thing or introduce someone with the wrong name. I worry what my mother will think even though I really don't care, I worry what my mother in law will think, even though I know full well she could care less. I worry what someone will think if they find my apartment messy when they drop by, or I worry that I won't be able to find a gift that makes the recipient happy. I got upset on the 4th of July when I thought about how much money was being spent on this ostentatious display of fireworks when it could go to feed starving children in Africa. I worried that he wasn't going to get into the right nursery school or the right on going school and now I'm worried that I made the right choice.

It's not like I worry about global stuff. OK, I do, but not more than anything else. But most of all i am worrying that I worry too much and that my worry will turn my little boy into a wired, high strung ball of anxiety. Something I clearly need to work out....or is it work on? I think it is "work on." Don't judge me. Did I get it right? Oh no...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An Open Book

Reading has always been an escape for me. Once, after a particularly bad break-up, I read The Satanic Verses in two days. I'm one of those people who really gets sucked into a book. I'm often a bit melancholy when I finish a book that I've really loved because...well...it's over.

But with parenthood there is no escape (Chamudi, I mean this is the kindest way). It's impossible for you to shut out the world for two days while you devour a fantastic book. Sure, you can get through a page or two, maybe even a chapter, but sooner or later the world comes a knockin'.

So for the last 20 months or so, I've hardly gotten through a single book. I've subsisted on the New Yorker--an article here, a comic there. Just enough culture to keep myself high-brow.

And now I'm planning a Jewish literary festival. Courtesy of my new job as Director of Literature, Music and Dance I'm a bookworm again, trying to read through all the fantastic books we've included in our festival.

It's the best kind of work to bring home--the books are really interesting and a joy to read. But I find myself constantly wanting to read just one more page, one more chapter. To ditch playing on the floor with Chamudi for the world on the page. Now that my life is more hectic than it's ever been, I'm finding the escape even more delicious.

And more dangerous. Everybody knows you shouldn't turn on the TV and tune your child out, but a book? Somehow it seems more...virtuous.

But it's eating away at those precious few hours that I have with my Chamudi. So from now on, amazing books be damned, I'll be saving my grown-up reading for after-hours and spending some quality board book time with my little boy, hopefully giving him some of my love of great literature.

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?
I see an Ima reading with me!

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Daughter's Secret Life

Last week as I got off the bus from work and walked home down the pleasant boulevard, the trees and the wind miraculously making the air cool, I remembered the babysitter mentioning how nice it was in mid-afternoon to take my girl for a walk there.

I like to imagine the people she meets without me—they are, perhaps, the same ones I meet, as I walk home. But they don’t know I’m her mother. Sometimes when I am walking with her, we run into children and parents who know her name, her age, and who begin talking to her.

Once she and I were coming back from the store, and I stopped in front of two babies and their nanny and said, “Hey, look at the babies!” and the nanny responded in Spanish, “Hi (my daughter’s name), where’s your playmate (playmate’s name)? Has your tooth come it yet?” Wow, it makes me happy to know she’s got such a rich and friendly life.

Obviously, I make sure I trust her babysitter/nanny. I make sure her world is as safe as I can make it. But beyond that, I know I gain nothing by worrying.

Besides, I love to think of her having a small part of the world that is hers without me. (Well, besides the cupboard in the kitchen). I like to see new expressions, hear new words she brings me like little treasures, exactly like when we’re at the beach and she brings me shells the waves drag to the shores.

Maybe it’s just that she’s going through a particularly sensitive period right now—the move back to the States—that makes me happy for her independence. She’s been very clingy recently, and several times a day I think of drastically cutting my hair because she uses it as a handle to pull herself up or as a rope to cling to me.

I like her little shows of independence.

Even if it means I have to strip her before I feed her and spread newspaper beneath her chair--I like to see her grab her spoon out of my hand and feed herself yogurt or tomato sauce, or soup, or whatever we’re eating at the time.

It’s in the independence that I see our closeness. Then I see that she wants to be with me, not just when she needs me, but also when she wants me with her.

When she wants to share with me what is hers, all hers, I want to laugh and cry at once. When I’m with her all the time, what choice does she have? But when she waits for me to come home, laughs, babbles, and shares…that’s amazing.

I just hope I can figure out a way to allow her to always want to share with me, to always feel she can. Even in the times I have to correct her because of it, as when she shows me that she’s put small pebbles in her mouth, and I stick my finger in there and take them out, or when she shows me my wallet that she’s just emptied, and I have to pull the coins from her clenched fists.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shabbat Recipe: Swoon Soup

Swoon Soup

This soup will put the joy of life back into your weary bones. It will make you happy.
Even after a week of dealing with other people’s clerical mistakes that seriously screw up your life and a toddler who is jet-lagged and running a low grade fever (for example). Something about the ginger and garlic put a little kick back and make you feel really happy.

It takes all of 15 or 20 minutes to make. Best of all, you can use just about any old vegetables in your fridge. You can cook it with a pot of rice for a full meal. Or, better yet, serve it over a couple of little butternut squashes that you’ve halved, scooped the seeds out of, and microwaved for 5-10 minutes.

Disclaimer: I’m totally incapable of sticking to a recipe. I make things up as I go along. You, too, can make things up with this one. You can’t mess it up. As long as you have coconut milk, garlic and ginger.


1 can coconut milk
1TBS powdered soup base (I use the chicken flavored one)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced (don’t, for the love of G-d, use the jarred stuff. It doesn’t have the same potency).
about 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced
1 small onion
1 red pepper
1 serrano/jalepeno/habenera pepper, seeded and cut into small pieces
2-3 small potatoes
4-5 dried shitake mushrooms
5-6 fresh mushrooms
a carrot
one of the squashes that’s been in your fridge and is now about to die
olive oil for sauteing

1. cut the onion and pepper into long strips, then cut the strips into thirds
saute in olive oil until soft
2. julienne the rest of the vegetables and add enough water to cook them with a little of the soup base. Add the dried mushrooms, too. When they’re soft, I take them out and cut them up.
3. When the vegetables are done, add the sautéed onions and peppers, add the coconut milk, ginger, and garlic.
4. Do not boil—just cook for a while until the flavors become cozy with one another. The flavors improve upon acquaintance.

As I said, you can eat it as a soup
you can pour it over rice and call it curry
you can spoon the vegetables into the butternut squashes, pour the coconut-milk broth over and around it, and call it fancy. The sweet butternut really complements the spicy soup.

It’s good at room temperature, and even cold.

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Spit or Swallow Debate

It is entirely possible I look like a troll doll. I have a button nose, my hair gets good and frizzy in the humidity and I have an adorable belly button.

But if I was going to have good self esteem about any part of my body it would definitely be the mouth region. I have a nice healthy smile. I take very good care of my teethies. I floss regularly. Brush regularly. I buy fluoride rinse by the jug. And I think my dentist might have a little crush on my “stunningly healthy gums.”

The second my daughter’s little teeth poked through the surface on her 10 month birthday I bought her a cute little Strawberry Shortcake toothbrush.

Gotta teach em young.

So we started with just water on the toothbrush. Two teethies got brushed two times a day. She was very cool with it and even tried to help. Enjoyed the bristles. Tried to brush the dog’s teeth one time…but you know, just passing on the knowledge of the tooth to the other living things in the house. I thought it was a good sign.

After 7 more teeth and 2 molars she was ready for the “training toothpaste.” This is a brilliant invention-yummy flavors, clear to avoid accidental staining, but most importantly it is toothpaste that one can swallow. No fluoride so no worries about tummy aches or white spots on the teethies. Just keeps getting them closer and closer to the real deal.

Well, now my daughter is almost 3. Almost all the teethies that she is going to get for a while are in. Almost ready for her first trip to the real dentist. Almost ready for a steak. And so close to ready for real big girl Strawberry Shortcake toothpaste-WITH FLUORIDE! Woooo.

But you see, in all my training I didn’t cross the “Spitting Bridge.” She has to learn how to spit in order to learn how to brush her teeth. SPIT. Put something in her mouth, make it all foamy, and spit spit spit into the sink.

How can something so healthy and so good for you be so contrary to everything I have taught her so far?

Spitting is disgusting. It is something that should never be done. Joggers spitting on the sidewalk get BIG MEAN EVIL stares of death from me. If anyone that I know even considers chewing tobacco-even once-I will disown them instantly. And my daughter has been taught that spit bubbles are the quickest way to make her mother bad scary angry.

Spitting is not ever cool. Ever. But now here I am actually TRAINING the fruit of my looms HOW to spit.

It’s one thing when I have to do it myself. I feel like it’s a completely separate element from the gross non toothpaste spitting. Somehow I feel anytime there is a minty foam involved it’s not horridly wrong. And the fact that I do it in the privacy of my own bathroom, well that helps too. But teaching her to “poo poo poo” in the sink? I feel like I’m teaching her how to burp the alphabet. Telling her “No Sweet Girl, you need to get MORE out. Spit harder!” ? Might as well be giving her a tutorial on how to scratch herself.

I have never had to go so far past myself to teach her something. I am so scared that she’ll use this knowledge for evil instead of good. But like any dentist will tell you, it is a necessary evil. She needs to learn to spit.

I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Fine. Yes, she needs to learn how to spit so she can get that great healthy smile. She needs to learn how to spit so she can use the big girl toothpaste so she can have her very own “stunningly healthy gums.” In one of the most perverse ironies of life, you have to learn how to spit so you can be more grown up.


On a bright note she has mastered flossing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Captive Audience

When I get home from work on the nanny days and Chamudi's still napping, all I really want to do is sit down and relax, watch a little television, maybe catch up on my email. But invariably the nanny seems to stay on another half-hour or so, taking care of the other little baby in our nanny-share and chatting chatting chatting.

Okay, so I'm a captive audience. But I'm also learning a lot. Mostly I'm learning that I totally underestimated her. She's really smart, funny, and resourceful. And--surprise, surprise--she's not so different from me. She has her own challenges finding the ever-elusive work-life balance, made all the more difficult by the fact that more often than not some family thinks that she belongs more to them than her own husband and children.

Frankly I'm a little ashamed of myself. I think I looked at this woman and put her in a box--working class, or uneducated, or employee, or who knows what---and made a million tiny assumptions based on very little information. And assumed that we lived in different boxes. So much for my so-called liberal feminism.

So here I am to say...there really is more uniting women--especially mothers--than there is dividing us. And I hope in the future I'm more open to reaching out to--and learning from--everyone around me.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

a man, a fish, a bicycle AND a washing machine

In 72 hours I'll be back in the States, reunited with a washing machine, an oven, and a baby bed. These fairly basic items have been missing from my life these 6 months in Tel Aviv. But I'll leave the wonderful man who has been treating my daughter as if she were his own, and who says he wants to spend the rest of his life with me (with us). I don't know how long we'll be apart, or how we'll be back together. It hasn't really sunk in yet. It will in about 70 hours, I guess. But now it all seems surreal and theoretical.

We spent our first Shabbat together, just us. It was beautiful.

It felt like we were a family. And I loved it. I watched myself in amazement--how calm and happy I felt, how secure. I am fine alone with my girl, but this was different. It was like an entire new dimension. It was as if the joy and peace and spirit of Shabbat were magnified and almost tangible among us, and among the friends with whom we davened, and whom we fed. I glowed as my love lifted my daughter during the Torah reading, just as I glow when she wanders in for his davening when he is with us during the week, and he holds her hand without interrupting his prayers.

I do the best I can alone, but in the orthodox world, men and women need each other to make a complete observance. And that's the beauty and pain of it.

Now we both have difficult decisions to make, and they're more difficult because they involve more than ourselves: will Babydaddy let me make aliyah with baby? will my love be able to find work in the USA next year before I can return to Israel (because no matter what happens, I must return for a year)? Will I survive moving to Israel at this stage in my life and career? Will I be able to give this man the children he wants? How will my daughter be affected by all this?

Maybe I'm just in denial, but I feel calm, and I trust. I will move back to the States without any promises--no ring, no dates, no idea when any decisions will be made. I have only the promise that we won't be apart for long.

I am grateful for the year ahead--will we marry and spend the rest of our lives and our shabbatot together? Or will I dig my heels in and make the best life I can for my daughter by myself in the States, with the help of our fantastic community? After these five months of having the possibility of a partner, I'll know what I was missing before. But I also know that I can do this alone, and be happy, if I need to.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

When Life Hands You Throw Up, Make a Throw Rug

That’s what my husband said when he walked on to our freshly cleaned living room carpet….that was covered in a nice layer of cat puke.

Or there is the wonderful mood my mother was in when she got an unfortunate case of rotovirus the last 2 days we were in Israel. “At least my pants will fit when we get home!”

And best of all is my wonderful amazing friend, who has somehow managed to see the upside of slavery, “Thank God for slavery because it got my ass out of Africa.”


I am apparently surrounded by positive people. People who can find the silver lining in even the grayest cloud. Heck, if you can find the happy in slavery, you can find the happy in anything.

These people love me a great deal even though I am not a positive person. I don’t think I would call myself “negative,” but I do like to think of myself as a “realist.” I prepare myself for the worst case scenario…just in case. I just can’t always find the happy happy joy joy in all the aspects of my life.

Last Shabbat we had a meal with 2 of our friends who had both recently had babies. After 2 hours of seeing them rush around trying to figure out feedings and hearing tales of their nighttime woes, the Negative Nelly (or maybe it was Realistic Rose) popped into my brain. I got scared and stressed. I was sure I wasn’t going to remember anything. Sure that this child was going to be so much more challenging than Princess Perfection. Certain I would spend the first few weeks after the birth just wishing I was pregnant again, when everything was less out of control and more in my stomach.

Now, you don’t need to tell me there is plenty of splendor and wonder and happy happy joy joy in a new baby. I know. I get that the rewards outweigh the challenges. I get that after a few days/weeks/months things will calm down and be back to “normal.” I don’t need to be made to see the positive side of things. I am capable, I just choose not to.


Those first few weeks after my daughter was born were quite the shock. I REALLY REALLY missed pregnant me. My husband waited on me hand and foot, I could just sit around and drink gallons of Slurpees, I could leave the house whenever I so desired. If labor was as much fun as the epidural I would have considered seeing if she would have gone back in. Pregnant was a good time.

But the other part of me, Guilty Gloria, is sad that I spent the first few weeks not living in the present. Wallowing in the past is never cool. So for her I will not try and find the positive-no no, that would not be me- but instead write out the negatives of being pregnant. That way when I am bored and exhausted at 2am and wishing I could be sleeping or guzzling Slurpees I will remember why being pregnant is not always all that grand.

I won’t miss….
*Not being able to bend down.
*My jewelry not fittng…especially my wedding band. I feel so scandalous walking around 8 months pregnant with no visible signs of marriage.
*The iron pills I have to take...or the fiber that goes with it.
*The comments from people who can’t believe I have so much pregnant left.
*My swollen cankles
*My daughter completely loving my husband more than me because I run out of gusto after 5 minutes of any sort of play activity
*Constantly being scared the new child isn’t moving enough
*The desire to eat 4 cream cheese on rye sandwiches at any given time.
*Random abdomen molestations
*The kickball games the future child seems to play with my bladder.
*The constant reminder that all human beings begin as parasites.

Ahhh. I feel like that will come in handy. Especially when I am nonswollen-ankle deep in baby throw up and have to find a way to make a throw rug out of it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Beware the Label

Last week I caught myself thinking my son is a wuss. Even when it was an unvoiced thought in my head I was fighting with myself not to label him. He has a lifetime to grow and evolve, change his persona, and try new things. Labels whether voiced or not can only hamper his growth.

We went to Sesame Place last week and had a great time. The wuss thoughts came from the fact that my son did not want to go near the characters, did not want to go on any rides, and freaked out if water squirted at him. These were not new issues. My son is not typically a daredevil and is hesitant with new experiences.

But, as soon as the label started to form in my head, my son once again proved nothing is ever simple and we should all beware of labels.

We went to a July 4 fair and their were pony rides. When my son asked to go (more like jumped up and down with a huge smile saying PONY RIDE! PONY RIDE! PLEASE) my husband and I were both positive we would stand on the very long line and my son would decide not to go at the last minute. But we got up front and the man lifted him up, put him on the horse and off he went with an ear to ear grin. No fear, no hesitation, just a brave little boy.

So maybe right now he is not the kid to run to the front of the line for a new experience. But, I keep discovering every day is new and he can reinvent himself in ways the defy all labels.

He's a He, I'm a She

At some point in Orthodoxy--heck, in all of life--the lines are drawn: men to the left, woman to the right. I just never thought it would happen to us so soon.

All the time that Chamudi was a baby-even when he was a nursing toddler-he belonged more to the world of the feminine than that of the masculine. But all that is rapidly changing, every day he gets to be more of a rough-and-tumble little boy, kicking balls and making messes and trying his very best to emulate every little thing that his Abba does.

And then on Sunday I saw the future: that being a boy in an Orthodox community sometimes means leaving Ima behind. We attended a beautiful wedding with very separate dancing. Chamudi kept wanting to be with Abba (who can blame him, the men's dancing is always better) and so off they went to the other side of the mechitza, dancing up a storm. Abba even danced a rolicking Yiddin with Chamudi on his shoulders!

"It was great," kvelled Abba, "Chamudi was just one of the guys."

I'm thrilled that Chamudi is beginning to be initiated into the community of men. But it's bittersweet. Right now he's as happy to sit with me at shul as with Abba, but pretty soon he'll start realizing that the men's section is where all the action is. Before long they'll be giving him opportunities to do things they don't allow me--an adult woman--to do, and he'll realize the privilege--and power--of being male in Orthodoxy.

Thankfully, we are members of many religious communities, and hopefully the different approaches of these minyanim will give Chamudi a more nuanced and evolved sense of gender in Judaism. But we shall see.

Chamudi is a good boy. But he is also a man in a man's world. Mostly I just pray that he follows in his Abba's footsteps and uses his privilege to help win the same for the women of his community.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Aiming for Average

I don’t care if my child is a genius or not. I don’t care if she goes to an Ivy League University or gets into the best preschool or day school. In fact, I’d be thrilled if she were just average, as long as she were happy and a good person. Sure, she’s going to grow up trilingual, but that’s because of our life circumstances. These days, that’s pretty common.

My girl recently got a shipment of “educational” books from the States. It’s always nice to get books, but surprisingly, these promise to “expand your child’s vocabulary,” and make the child feel supported in the teething process—like she’s not alone in her pain !!!

As distinguished from what? The non-educational books kids are always reading that don’t do a darn thing to improve vocabulary? And looking at pictures of babies is supposed to make my child feel that teething is normal? How excited do you think a teething child gets to turn page after page to discover, “look, this kid has one more tooth than the last!!!” Nothing against the pictures, they’re pretty cute. But teething babies aren’t sophisticated enough to notice the difference between 8 and 9 teeth, so don't advertise like that!

You see, the book’s vocabulary expanding prowess comes exclusively from clever captions such as “horse” or “kitten.” Educational?

In my opinion, the “educational toy” racket sometimes seems like a dodgy lawyer who sends out mass mailings offering to sue on behalf of anyone who is in a traffic accident, or companies who take advantage of families in mourning during funerals. Well, maybe not that bad, but still.

My girl learns when we read because I demand participation: “What does an Arieh say?” I ask, and she whispers “arrrrrrrhhhh.” “Que hace el tigre?” I ask, and she says “baile, baile!” and rocks back and forth and stamps her feet, which is how she dances at this point in her life. It’s also what the tiger in our un-educational book was doing.

Am I worried that she’ll grow up thinking tigers are all qualified salsa instructors? Not really.

And don’t get me started on educational DVDs! If you want your 15-month-old to play the piano, don’t give him a video of other kids playing--someone I know wanted to give me that DVD--and they’re faking playing…yep, kids in diapers are already inflating their resumes).

My baby loves to do whatever I’m doing, as I discovered to my chagrin when I walked into the bathroom to find she’d climbed on the toilet to reach a razor on the shelf, and was happily “shaving” her leg. Thank G-d she was okay. Want him to play the piano? Get one and forbid him to touch it. He’ll be a master in no time, I think.

If my girl is fated to be the next great composer or dancer or rock star or artist, I figure something will happen to make us aware of her talents and then we can do something about it.

I’m lazy. I’d rather that my girl and I hang out in our pajamas when I’m done with work and the baby sitter has gone, and listen to music and dance, or color, or read, or put on pants and go dig in our garden plot, or walk up and down the street patting puppies and smelling flowers. Because it’s fun. Not because it’s “educational.” If she learns something in the process, well, there’s not much I can do about that, is there? :)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

8 Isn’t Even Close to Enough

Today is my 8 year wedding anniversary. Now I know what you are going to say, “Oh Mahotma, you look far too young to have been married 8 whole years!”

To which I would reply, “Why thank you, but it’s easy to do when you married your husband when you were a fetus.”

It is true. When I got married I was young. Very very very young. Not so young that we had to get our marriage license in Kentucky (no offense Kentuckians). Or had to stand on step stools to reach the microphone under the chuppah. We were in fact just barely old enough to drink champagne at our own wedding.

It’s not that 21 is THAT young, but when my wonderful husband brought me breakfast in bed this morning at 4:30 (yay jet lag!) he brought up our wedding video too (yes, back then DVDs weren’t invented and things were done on “video tape”). And it was great and wondrous and fun, but by the time we saw him break the glass we both felt a little on the prune juice side of old.

Eight years is far from an eternity, but 21-29 can be big years in people’s lives. There were the apartment years, the business school years, the years when my husband still had hair. All these little chapters in our lives. And of course there were the child free years. We convinced our daughter (who had been up since 3:15) to come and watch Mommy and Daddy’s special movie (wow, that could sound dirty and wrong). She got to see the wonderful Baubie and Safta that she was name for. She got to see what Mahotma Zadie looked like without a beard. That was fun for like 10 minutes but she lost interest after she asked why she wasn’t there and we told her she wasn’t invented yet. Then she wanted to go watch Dora.

But yeah, a lot of growing up has been done. I guess when you get married at 30 some of the growing up to do has already happened.

Now I am sure you are sick of me blathering on about the wonders of my husband. No, no I won’t be insulted-I am sure we would gross out people when we would make out in Hillel, in the middle of services, in the front row…which is how we ended up moving over to Orthodox services. We still kiss each other in more inappropriate places than most teenagers. He’s just dreamy. I could make a whole blog site about how amazing he is but I couldn’t deal with the hate mail.

But as an anniversary gift to him I would like to declare in this public forum that I was wrong. I know, I know. Shocking.

A million years ago when we were just unfertilized cells dating our friends would want to know how to know whether the person they were dating was going to be “the one.” My standard answer would be “you have to find somebody it feels like you love 183% because every year you love them a little bit of that loving feeling will vanish and you want to be left with a good high loving feeling.”

Hey, it sounded good at the time and it kind of makes sense.

However, my husband-well boyfriend/ fiancé at the time would strongly disagree. He would say that when you love somebody, the love only grows. I thought he sounded trite and had been spending too much time reading all the Hallmark cards he would buy for me.

But I was wrong.

Perhaps the googly mooglies aren’t as spicy, or things aren’t as fresh but looking at that wedding video with our child and our future child I know-without a shadow of a doubt- that I love him MORE than I did 8 years ago. We might look a little more wrinkled, tired and bald but if I was at 183% when we started dating 12 years ago, well then heck, I must be at one billion percent by now. And I can't wait to see what 1 trillion percent feels like. So save your hate mail ‘til tomorrow. Today is my anniversary.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I'm Not Paranoid (You're All Just Out to Get Me)

Today the nanny did our dishes. Not only that, she washed the pad underneath the drying rack--the part of our kitchen so disgusting that we routinely wait months until one of us breaks down and cleans it.

I'm thankful, I really am. Though there are definitely kashrut issues and I'd rather she not do it. But I also feel a little...judged.

We don't have a cleaning lady. I'm not used to someone coming into my home and washing up. And I can't stand the idea that someone went into my kitchen and felt compelled to clean up. It's kind of embarassing.

This whole judgment thing is not entirely in my head. The first day she came to us she regaled me with stories of a former employer who she felt was doing things all wrong. So she really does take note.

But in the end...who cares? So maybe I'll have fewer dirty dishes and have a few fewer fights with my roommate...I mean husband...about how they're still sitting in the sink.