Friday, November 06, 2009

Women's Work

So I've been working on a book chapter about Fordism/Taylorism (as in, the assimilation of immigrants through assembly line labor in America) and labor poets. So I've been thinking a lot about 1. what is "American" about certain systems of production and 2. why gender roles in America create so much grief for working women (that is, women who receive compensation for their labor by working outside of the home, as opposed to women who do not receive compensation because they work in the home).

The two concerns dovetail for me this week with the Publisher Weekly list of top ten books of 2009. Forget that we've still got 1/6 of the year to go before 2009 ends. What caught my eye is that there were no books by women listed among the top ten, and only 29 were listed in the top 100. This is the year when our poet laureate is a woman, the winner of the Man/Booker prize is a woman, the Nobel Prize in literature is a woman, and I could go on, but shabbat comes in early today, so I won't right now.

The reviews editors say they were "disturbed" by the lack of women, but they wanted the "best" books, without regard to gender. Susan Steinberg has an interesting and funny meditation on disturbance here.

But what I've noticed is that in recessions years, The New York Times Best-of list seems to exclude women, too. This was the case in 2001 and 1991. (In 1988 women were also excluded. This was the year of Stephen Hawkings and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so okay, maybe).

I know there was a backlash after WWII, when women had to return home from factories when the men came home from war. And I know that men are disproportionally losing jobs in this year's economy. Especially since health care and education are relatively stable (despite the recent firing of 200 teachers in the DC district. Boo).

But I was surprised at the venom that has been poured on women who are protesting the PW picks. Maybe it has to do with the value we place on women in general. This is a country that has been listed as the second worst placeto raise children in the developed world, better only than Great Britain, according to UNICEF in 2006. It has the shortest maternity leave for women, and men don't have paternity leave unless their companies give it to them. Pregnancy is considered an illness, actually, in terms of maternity leave and health insurance. Ovaries are, in some states, considered "pre-existing conditions" in terms of insurance policies. Which is why women are more expensive to insure in some states.

I'm not sure why all this is true. But it seems to have something to do with our work ethic. This week's post is really just inquiry. I'm still thinking about it all.

I should also note that I do not dislike my America. I am only thinking about how it can be made better for women and children.

Monday, November 02, 2009

This probably isn't legal in America

I love, love this wildly verbal stage my nearly-three-year-old daughter is in.
But it’s sometimes pretty weird. Like the time she asked me, “do you know how much I love you, Ima?” No, how much? “Twenty dollars!”
Uh… okay, then. But let’s not mention it out and about. It sounds like I’m employed in the oldest profession.
[note to the reader: she did not get that from me. Except the “do you know how much I love you part.”]

She did ask me once why I had to go to work and (sob) leave her alone. And I explained we needed money so that we could buy food and clothes.
The next day she asked me if I was going to work to get some money, and when I said yes, she explained, “Ima, we have enough money today. Please don’t go to work.”

So what I’m getting in the verbal torrent is that my daughter is negotiating work and home life. Which isn’t really weird, since that’s what I’m doing now that we have childcare 5 days a week instead of 4.

My daughter’s favorite game is currently “I’m going to the office, I’ll pick you up when you wake up from your nap.” Which is sweet, because I'm an academic, and having "the office" to go to makes me sound like I have a job with lots of power and prestige. She’ll shut the door of whichever room I’m in, take my purse, and disappear. Then she’ll reenter the room and announce, “I’m back!” at which point I’m expected to run into her arms and give her a big hug.
Why is it that a child with such a short attention span can play the same game for, I don’t know, an hour straight?

Sometimes I act like she does when I drop her off from work, and I’ll beg, “don’t leeeeeave me!” and she gets a really concerned look on her face, and, with a tone of voice that mimics mine to a T, she will say, “I don’t want to, baby, but I have to go teach students.”

Of course, this is also the stage at which my daughter considers “why why why why why why why why why, why why why why why why whywhywhywhy” a legitimate conversation. Indeed, I asked her, “Darling, are you trying to drive me crazy?” and she answered “no, Ima, I’m trying to talk to you.”

Thank goodness for the Nobel Book of Answers. If 22 Nobel Prize winners can’t answer the questions my daughter is asking, then I can’t be expected to answer them either. She can answer them herself and get her own Nobel Prize.

Of course, sometimes she is trying to drive me crazy: Ima? Mami? Mima? Ima? Ima!!!!
And I’m like, “what? What? What? What? What? What?”
And she’s “Ima! Mima! Mami!”
So then I go, “light of my eyes, love of my life, my pride and joy, mi vida, mi cielo, mi amor,”
And she laughs and says, I’m not your cielo!”

But if you plan to use humor to derail the mind-boggling repetition, it’s important to get in there before your brain goes numb. Which is always a danger in my house.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

No Halloween Conundrum Here

Last night I took my son trick or treating. I imagine that many of you will rightfully censure me because of my reluctance to take a hard-line against such an open embrace of goyishe culture, and it's not that I don't agree with you. I say no to treif food, to TV on Shabbat, to all kinds of things. For my family, I draw all kinds of lines. But this happens to be one line I am not willing to draw.

I grew up being sent trick or treating with friends while my house remained dark. For some reason, I see this as a compromise that is more stigmatizing than a real choice. To me, it said, "We will let you celebrate this ridiculous holiday, but don't want to be seen as endorsing it ourselves."

But today, I choose to let my son celebrate Halloween because I don't want to live in that divide, and I don't want to raise a child to be doubtful about where he stands. In this world of being able to be both and both, of whatever category that is, a little bit this and a little bit that, I want to make a clear statement that it is excellent to be a model of integrity regardless of what kind of Jew you are, what kind of community you belong to, and what kind of person you are.

So we gave out candy that was all hechshered, we went only after Shabbat was over, and we did not dress up in any way that would glorify death or violence. If I'd have been gutsy, I would have handed out little UNICEF boxes or something to help kids collect for UNICEF (but I'm not sure if that's done anymore?). We also ended the evening at a special Halloween havdallah complete with spooky incantations (brachot) and a flaming kos yayin (wine cup).

I see it as my job as a parent to help my son live a life of integrity. Sure, he's only a few months shy of 5, but if he smells any whiff of hypocrisy, he'll make sure to say it aloud. We make our compromises where we must, and others we embrace. It's this one that makes me feel good that I made it possible for him to be a part of something bigger, something fun, and kept it consistent with my values.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

An exciting thing happened...

...while I was on vacation. I got a phone call for a placement! I was in Miami at the time, and the little girl in question is younger than my license allows, so I had to say no. Nevertheless, excitement.

Perhaps someday soon there will be a little one in my life?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Signs and Wonders & sorrel soup

All during Yom Kippur I prayed for guidance--what should I do this coming year? Should I accept the tenure-track offer at an Israel University, or shall I stay here in the States?
Let me tell you, signs are not for the thin-skinned or the weak of heart. I got my sign, all right. We're moving.

We're moving although my parents just lost their farm and livlihood and are coming out of cancer treatment.
We're moving although our significant other left us the first week of September (I say "us" because really, my daughter and I were a unit to him).
We're moving even though it might mean having to teach at both universities for six weeks, with me flying back and forth in the spring.
We're moving, though I don't know where we'll get the energy because both my girl and I are slammed with a bad cold? a flu? I don't know. Moving my body hurts...just think about how much it will hurt to move all of our effects.

We're going Israel citizenship route.

Let me just say that this has been the worst 6 months of my life (with the exception of the last six months of 2006). Each week there is some new gawd-awful thing to cope with, and for the last month my only goal has been to make it through each day. Honestly, if it's not part of my calendar or daily routine, I simply forget what I promised I'd do. I think it's a kind of shock.

Though it has sucked, at least the results have been okay so far. The custody case in May was awful, but it turned out okay--I mean, it's great to have the clarity and child support and permission to move out of country; the loss of the farm was awful, but it looks like my family be fine after they adjust. Uprooting from a dreamy community, after we finally got a 2-bedroom apartment this month and a garden plot in May and a place in a preschool my daughter loves to pieces is going to be really hard, but we're trusting that we're moving onwards and upwards.

Soon I'll be reporting from Tel Aviv. Anyway, I already feel like I'm in Israel: at my interview with the Jewish agency the interviewee couldn't help herself and started arguing with me about why I want to live in Tel Aviv and not a surburb, where it's cheaper.

Let me end this with a recipe. The sorrel from our garden inspired this, and our colds have made it useful. This is a sorrel soup, hearty, tangy, and wonderful. I adapted it from Claudia' Rodin. It makes you feel alive, in a good, earthy way.

Sorrel Soup:

1 lb potatoes cut into manageable slices
enough vegetable stock (I use bullion) to cover the potatoes and make it soupy
1/2 lb sorrel leaves
black pepper


Cook the potatoes in bullion until they are tender. Then half-mash them.
add sorrel, once it is washed and chopped. Cook for 5 more minutes

I used my hand blender and half-blended everything.

Rodin suggests you beat two eggs in hot soup, then add it to the mixture, cooking until it thickens, not don't let it boil, because then it will curdle. I did't do the eggs yet because my girl keeps asking for scrambled eggs and we don't have enough left. But it tastes great without the eggs.











But you know what, it's a new year.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dreaming

Last night I had a dream-within-a-dream.

For a reason that I don't recall but that was unrelated to foster parenting (hey, cut me some slack, do you remember all the details of your dreams?), I was at the local child welfare agency. Because I was there anyway, I stopped by my licensing worker's desk to get an update on my licensing process.

In that inscrutable way that dreams have of making complete sense while being completely illogical, I found myself with my licensing worker, her supervisor, and a few other social workers, being told about a little girl, 5 years old and very short (this was the first thing they told me). Apparently, in my dream, I was licensed already, but they just hadn't told me. So I showed up to ask, and it turned out that they had been about to call me with a placement.

That was the inner dream.

The outer dream was me trying to process the fact that they were telling me about a placement when I'm not actually yet licensed. (Update on that--maybe in about a week? Or maybe I'm just being naive. Probably the latter.) I wouldn't have thought that it was a dream except that I wasn't awake yet.

I learned something very important about myself from this dream: I have a hard time saying "no." Okay, I knew that already. But with all of the actual reasons in my life why today of all days I should NOT come home with a kid--Rosh Hashanah being in two days which wouldn't be a great situation for a kid I don't know, my apartment being a disaster area (I am not exaggerating...I have to climb over things to get in and out of the apartment), not having some of the necessities like a booster seat yet (the plan is to buy/find these after licensing but before kid)--I still was having a difficult time saying no. File that lesson away for the first time I get a call!

May the coming year bring you wisdom to know yourself and to say "no" when you need to.

Shana tova.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

So close and yet so far... A brief introduction

At this moment, I have both hands free for the first time in three months. Our new nanny is watching our precious little girl in the next room while I sit in our bedroom preparing to go back to work on Friday. She's not so far away from me, and yet I miss her already. I keep peeking in to see how she's doing (I hope I'm not annoying the nanny!).

I'm a new contributor to this blog, and to be honest, I'm not sure what my precise perspective will be. I had my first child in mid-June, and every day I am blown away by how fast she is growing up, how sweet she is, and how big her personality is already. Similarly, I feel oddly relieved to finally feel like a grown- up again and to try to reclaim my previous identity as a working professional. I certainly know I take a minority view when I say that I don't think I am cut out to stay at home-- the last three months have been some of the most trying and exhausting times in my life.

I'll break it down to three primary lessons learned:
1) Babies are born needy. After giving birth, I was also needy. It is extremely difficult to give when you need, but somehow you just have to power through and trust nature to sustain you both.
2) When she cries, she is not crying at me. I did nothing wrong. It is not my fault. She did not know how to express pleasure yet, she only knew how to express displeasure. And it was my job to learn how to figure out what she needed when.
3) It is okay to cry. Uncontrollably. Multiple times a day. With her, next to her, over her, because of her. Bonding takes a very long time sometimes, and even when you feel so close, sometimes there is just nothing else you can do that moment but cry.

And now, the three things I love most about my daughter:
1) The way she flings her arms and legs around and grins at me when I find her after a nap. I live for that smile now, and I look forward to it. Even at 4am.
2) I love how she is soothed by resting on me, how she leans in for a kiss, and how she has learned to have a conversation with me. I will tell her for the rest of her life that her first word was "How," and that she takes after her Daddy.
3) At least for now, I can solve her greatest troubles in life. I pray that I'll be able to at least help a little bit, no matter what's wrong, for the rest of my life.

Of course that list could go on and on and on. And perhaps at my first day back at work on Friday I will post again with more when I am truly away from her for longer than 2 hours for the first time in her life.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

First Day of School

Cross-posted to The Blog at 16th and Q

Today is a very special day at the JCC—the first day of school. For so many parents and their toddlers coming in with their new backpacks and nervous faces, it’s truly the first day of the rest of their lives.

My son started at the Washington DCJCC when he turned two last year. For us it was a BIG DEAL, and I’m pretty sure we were more scared than our son was. We’d put so much care and love into raising him and here we were, we thought, making him cog in a machine, just another child in a room full of children, getting 1/12 of his teacher’s attention. What if he hated it? What if he thought we weren’t coming back?

For the first week or two I spied on him to make sure he was doing well. A few days into the year I passed his door and he was in full, inconsolable meltdown mode. His cries gutted me, and I wanted so badly to rush in and save him. But I knew that I’d do more harm than good, and so I forced myself to walk past. And then I somehow made my way upstairs, called my husband and cried.

Fast forward 10 months. Today our son began his second year at the Washington DCJCC preschool. Instead of being one of the babies, he’s got three younger classes below his. He’s got more friends than I can count, has made connections with loving adults who care for him almost as much as I do, and has learned an immense amount—from the ABCs and Baby Beluga to kindness and empathy and the things we do and don’t eat (FYI: we don’t eat bugs). I have no doubt that he’s going to have a great year.

While it’s never easy to watch your children grow up and need you a little less, that difficulty is balanced by the joy of watching them flourish. I made the decision to send my son to the Washington DCJCC preschool for purely logistical reasons, and barely had a sense of what I was getting us into. But today, on the first day of my no-longer-baby’s Tzavim year, consider me a Washington DCJCC Preschool Parent by Choice.

Thinking in the Box

Yesterday, my son was reading signs. We were making our way through Manhattan and he saw one of his favorite buses. The BoxM100. For those of you familiar with NYC public transit, that would be the cute way of saying BxM100, which would be a bus with the number 100 that starts in the Bronx and goes into Manhattan. But it got me thinking.

I recently had the pleasure of learning how to think creatively with a team of facilitators from a group called SIT, Systematic Inventive Thinking, located in Tel Aviv. Wow. They work with Fortune 500 companies all over the world, and with little people like me who don't do any work whatsoever with companies, let alone in the Fortune 500.

One of their basic principles is thinking inside the box (yep, reference back to that Box Bus above). We go too far out when we reach for innovation. Instead, we should think within the boundaries of what is familiar to us and most accessible, and think about how to use what is closest to us to solve problems and do things differently. You might not fully get this: it took me three full days to understand it and by the end I thought my brain was gonna explode.

And you're wondering now how this has anything to do with a Jewish parenting blog. Well, lucky for you, SIT has some pretty amazing applications of their work to parenting.


How do you soothe and distract a hurt child?
http://www.sitsite.com/blog/2009/09/innovative-aunt-ing/

How do you get your child to tell you how his day at school went?
http://www.sitsite.com/blog/2009/08/dad-you-wont-believe-what-happened-to-me-at-school-today-a-tale-of-father-son-and-sit/


Now that I've learned a few of their handy tools, I'm trying to apply them myself too.
Back on the bus...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to Foster

Since I don't have a kiddo living with me yet, I don't have adorable stories like Maya's. But in the interest of trying to make blogging here a more-or-less regular occurrence, I thought I would take some time to explain why it is that I don't yet have a kiddo living with me.

I began the process of being licensed as a foster parent in either June or September of 2008, depending on when you consider the process begun. In September I began the required training course, during which we were told that the average length of the process is four months from the beginning of the course. Um, it's been a few more months than that.

In the beginning, I was hopeful that the process would go smoothly. I didn't have the same trouble as others in the course in scheduling the fire inspector to come to my apartment (though by May? June? the licensing worker had lost the inspector's report). I filled out and returned all of the paperwork in basically the order that it was suggested and in the time frame that was suggested. But then the lead inspector came, my apartment failed, and thus began the saga.

The report from the lead inspector said (essentially) "next step: have a more detailed risk assessment to say what needs to be fixed." I went to Israel for a week and came back to a voice message from the the inspector: "Please call me so we can schedule a time for me to come and do the risk assessment." My conclusion from this was that the inspector would come, do the risk assessment, and then provide a report of some sort that I would then be able to give my landlord to give direction in what needed to be done.

Three weeks after the second inspection, I phoned the lead worker at the agency (I'll call her Priscilla, just to be fun) to ask about the report. (The inspector told me that his contract with the agency requires him to complete reports in three weeks.) We're now into February, though the initial inspection was in November. Priscilla tells me that the report will be mailed to me. I call a week or so later, am told that the report has been mailed to me. I call two or more weeks later, am told that my apartment had passed, and what was the problem, and they don't send the reports to the foster parent. (Actually, there were more calls and emails, and more back and forth, but I'm not referring back to my records to write this post.) Eventually I get clear direction that my landlord is supposed to make the repairs without any additional information. My landlord is fantastic and very graciously arranged to make the repairs as promptly as possible, even arranging for me to stay in an empty apartment for the length of the work. (Yes, the landlord is obligated to make the repairs, but the law gives the landlord 45 days--I think--and doesn't mandate any sort of positive attitude about it.)

I get the clearance report from the contractor and email it to my licensing worker. We're in early June now, six and a half months after the initial lead inspection. She forwards it to Priscilla, who loses it in her email inbox. I follow up with Priscilla who doesn't understand why I am the one making the calls to her; it is the licensing worker's job, yada yada yada. They can't accept the landlord's contractor's report; they need their inspector to come back; she'll have him call me to schedule. By a half hour later, under the influence of some sort of miracle, she has called me back twice and done a complete 180. The report is fine, my apartment is fine, and now I just need the home study. Because of course, while all this was going on, they couldn't do more than one step at a time.

Home study involves two visits to my apartment by the licensing worker; she is an hour late for the first visit because she got lost, but otherwise the visits are uneventful. At the end of the second visit, which was about a week and a half before the end of July, she tells me that the next step is for her to write the home study report, which she'll get to "this month" and then it goes to a supervisor for approval. (There was another issue introduced regarding back-up child care providers and background checks, but the saga is probably pretty boring to you all at this point.)

Well, just over a week ago, now towards the end of August, I get a phone call from the licensing worker. She doesn't introduce herself, which itself is a little odd, and I have to do some quick thinking to translate the caller ID's "Kimberly Williams"--not the licensing worker's name--to the worker. Anyway, the point of the call? She's writing my report (yes, a month later than she said she was going to), and, wait for it, they've lost my background check.

And here we are. I've gone in for a new set of fingerprints, because it's not like the whole system is electronic and it's not like fingerprints stay the same. (Ha.) But it needs to be done every year anyway (see sarcasm above--really, can't they just submit the same fingerprints to the FBI to get an updated report?) and it had already been 11 months (see: started process in September and did everything on their recommended schedule).

So now just waiting for the homestudy report to be written and approved. I'm taking bets for when that will be. Leave your guess in the comments.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pre-School Open Night: How (not) to make an impression

I used to wonder why I am so bad at putting names to faces. People always remember who I am, but I’m not so good at remembering them. Am I egocentric? self-absorbed? What’s wrong with me? Now I realize that I am usually dying of mortification when I meet anyone, and so people remember me more than I remember them.

Take last night. We’re walking past my girl’s new preschool on open house night. Carrying a clear plastic bag full of child poopoo because my girl just HAD to go RIGHT NOW and there's no garbage in sight. "Hi, I'm Maya, A’s mother. Oooh, don't shake this hand. And for godssake, don't look down or breath, okay?

Dog owners can carry little plastic bags with no shame. Parents should be able to do the same. And I should have them on my person at all times these days. It happens more than I’d like to admit, heeding the call of nature in nature. We’ve not been arrested yet. I’m sure it’s only because we live in DC and we’ve never yet held up the presidential cavalcade in the process.

Coincidentally, I really thought long and hard about putting my daughter in a Jewish dayschool. When your kid refers to every African American male she sees as Obama, you know you are spending too much time in the exclusive company of Jews.

Anyway, we left the open house 45 minutes before the poo incident because I was cranky. With my usual foresight, I had forgotten to eat that day, so when I noticed myself snarling at the poor membership office administrator because there was a queue, I realized we should go. Right NOW. Did I really want to be seen as “that Mom”? No, I did not.

To be fair, my daughter and I arrived early, and we were alone in our new classroom, with our new teachers, for approximately 78 minutes before that. (To my credit, I refrained from commenting on the teachers’ rhyming names). Just as we were leaving, others began to arrive. So we stayed. Then I had to carry a screaming child out. You know the back-arch, stiff-body sequence?

What were we doing between open house and poo bag? Grocery shopping. Always an iffy thing to do during low-blood-sugar, pms, end-of-teaching-week fatigue. But necessary for Shabbat. So I’m carrying my book bag, groceries, kid’s backpack, and then my child heeds the call of nature in nature. And it’s an unnatural amount. Then she wants to be carried.

Well, those parents will ALWAYS recognize my face.

I wouldn’t recommend this method for making an impression. Bringing cupcakes is probably safer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Give me some advice, please...

My marvelous 4.5 year old son is a real winner socially (yes, I know, it's not nice to brag...and it's likely to get worse as he approaches adolescence). He is friendly with kids of all ages and is a good and fun friend to his closest buddies. He is unfailingly polite to adults (even sometimes to his parents). I love him oodles and I think he's perfect and I just could go on and on.

And yet, there's one kid who treats him consistently like crap. She's mean. And we don't seem to be able to avoid her.

Here's the story, in short.

Shabbat morning kids' shul. Regulars include my son, Shmuley and Shmutzie. EVERY Shabbat.

Shmuley is the charming and funny but ever so slightly rebellious son of friends. He is a full year older than my son but they play together very well and enjoy each other's company. A nice Jewish boy. We like the parents. What more could I say?

Shmutzie is a girl 6 months older than my son. She was in the same nursery school class as Shmuley and they are inseparable when they are together at shul. They will be attending kindergarten together (not at my son's school), play together outside of shul frequently and their parents spend quite a bit of time together.

Shmutzie will not allow my son to play with Shmuley and with her when they are all together. There is a lot of "you aren't allowed to play" and "Shmuley doesn't want to play with you." There's even been some "we don't like you"s and some complete ignoring. She whines to her father when my son comes around to play during kiddush lunch or after shul, and makes herself positively obnoxious. We have tried to do afternoons in the park with the kids playing together, or rainy Shabbat afternoon playdates at our house so that my kiddo can have at least home court advantage. But it doesn't seem to work. It is clear that she is jealously guarding Shmuley's attention and doesn't want competition. I get it, but it is hurting my son.

My cutie now is afraid of her, doesn't want to be with them, and is feeling very sad and left out. He is not feeling happy about going to shul...I'm not so worried about this because tons of kids will be back to play with beginning after Labor Day, but still.

Worst to me is that none of the parents are willing to get involved. I engaged Shmuley's parents in conversation about it, enlisted their help in trying to remind the kids that "you can't say you can't play," and they were on board. For a week. Shmutzie's parents are clueless. Mom is never around and Dad is a big clown. No help there.

Please offer me some advice. Do I leave this situation, walk away and encourage my boy to make new friends? Do I continue to try? What would you do?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walnut-almond cookies & a fear of the cookie monster

I don't know why my daughter has become afraid of Sesame Street's inarticulate blue fuzzy cookie monster. C is for Cookie was a seminal song for us--it taught her the alphabet. We went through all the letters, like "I is for Ima, that's good enough for me" with the names of our friends.

Suddenly, she asks me to skip the cookie monster song on her Sesame Street CD. Unexpectedly during the day she races into my arms, whispering that the "cookie monstern" is hiding in her bed.

It's not even all monsterns, just the cookie monstern. For example, she can't get enough of Oscar the Grouch, and it's a hoot to hear her sweet husky toddler voice sing I Love Trash. Her favorite song these days.

So I'm making her cookies. She may be freaked out by the cookie"monstern," but she still likes cookies. But healthy ones. They're actually not really "cookies"--they're nuts stuck together with egg and a tiny bit of sugar. From Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food:

1 cup walnuts
1 cup almonds
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk

grind the nuts finely. Mix in sugar and egg, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 2 hours.

roll into the size of small walnuts, coat in confectioners sugar. You're supposed to place them in tiny paper thingies, but I don't have any, so I put them on parchment paper and bake for 14 minutes or so at 375. The cookies are ready when they crack on top and are golden brown (though I can't see the color through the sugar, so I just wait till they crack a little). They'll look soft, but they're ready. Leave them in the oven, open the oven door, and let them cool in the cooling oven.

These are supposed to be for Pesakh. But you know, since I've been eating whatever I find in the fridge, freezer, cabinet and garden, and only shopping on days I haven't spent anything else (still sticking to only-spend-money-once-a-day thing), I was happy to make these outside of Pesakh.

Also, walnuts are good for you. They make you smarter, especially in the aging process, which seems to be accelerated when you get a kid.


Basically, I consider Claudia Roden a goddess. All it takes is a tiny peek at The Book of Jewish Food and I am immediately inspired (and freakishly gifted at the moment). In this way, Claudia Roden is lot like Ima-Shalom. I am a total klutz with babywearing. Give me a wrap, and I can make it look like macrame with baby limbs woven awkwardly in and out in strange places. But put Ima Shalom in the room, and I suddenly have opposable thumbs. Luckily (though too late for me) Ima Shalom is now a babywearing consultant and is open for business. Meanwhile, Clauda Roden keeps cranking out cookbooks.

Most of all, I love Roden's stories. They're not overly-sentimental; they're informative, sweet, and smart. So it's a pleasure to read.

And I have a little extra time to read this week. When I ask my daughter why she's been staying awake for hours at night and waking up early early, she says her "eyes just keep opening like that." Which means there are a few more hours in our day these days. We ad-lib stories to go with the photos that illustrate the recipes, so we can both enjoy the book.

In two weeks she starts preschool (yikes), and next week I start teaching. So we'll see how we do.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why Foster?

Everyone who fosters has a different reason. Some were foster kids themselves, some know a specific kid who is entering care, some just want to save the world one kid at a time. I probably fall into that last category.

When I was in high school, I had a Huge Crush on a friend who I learned was in care. (It turns out he's gay.) He was perfectly normal, smart, and a few years older than me so I worried about what was going to happen when he turned 18. (He was normal, but his foster brother who I also had a bit of a crush on, I think only because another friend had a crush on him, was a little less so.) I've heard from other friends that he went to college and hasn't had any crash-and-burn moments, but can't find him via Google.

For a while, I was telling people that my experience with Foster Friend was why I was interested in being a foster parent. I did suggest to my about-to-be-empty-nesting parents at the time that they should be foster parents.

But then I remembered the real, and much more meaningful reason. I have no idea where in my memory it was hiding.

When I was in college, I volunteered at a home for young kids--early elementary--who had been removed from their homes but didn't have foster families. It was a clean but institutional place. After school, the eight 6-year-olds all sat on the tiled floor and watched TV. I would take two or three aside and read to them. They were heartbreakingly adorable. And it killed me that they didn't have families to live with. I even thought about how I could manage to move off campus to become a foster parent right then and there.

Obviously that didn't happen. But I've always since then known that I would someday be a foster parent. And now that's finally about to happen.*



*The licensing process--and the ridiculously long time it is taking for me in particular--is another story all to itself. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My summer of frugal living (1 week of recipes and ideas)

Long story short: Me + Budget = big mess. So here’s my new tactic: I spend money no more than once a day, and if I spend more than a certain amount at one time, then I don’t spend for two days in a row.

That’s it. If I pay a bill, I spend no more money that day.
For example, yesterday I got my haircut. I’m sure it’s gorgeous. I went with my girl, who was climbing the walls (literally) by the time we were done, so I couldn’t get it styled and last night I slept in wet hair. Next month, when I get around to styling it, I’ll love it.

Day before yesterday I put money on the metro card. Day before that, I bought a book from a friend whose press is in danger of going bankrupt.

Groceries? So far, not this week. I’ve been using all the food in the cupboard and fridge (and garden)—you know, that stuff you have but never eat? You don’t realize how much stuff you have in your cupboard from one Pesach to the next (and by “you” I mean “me.”)

Thursday night I went shopping.
Friday: I made vegetarian fajitas for a family with a new baby.
*pan fry slices of portabella mushroom/carrots/zucchini/onions (you can do the mushrooms in your leftover wine).
*Puree black beans with garlic, cumin, cilantro, salt and pepper
*cook brown rice
*use whole wheat wraps

from the leftover vegetables, I made Pizza for the weekend at the beach:
dough: 3 ½ cups flour, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 cup warm water, I package yeast, dash of salt, teaspoon honey or molasses.
Knead, let rise twice, roll out.

I made one pizza with goat cheese, mushrooms, onions,
other pizzas I used garden tomatoes & broccoli. Also garden basil.

Weekend at the beach: CAMP outside. Just make sure you bring bug spray. (it’s way cheaper than therapy AND lodging. I don’t feel cranky anymore, and it’s nice to sleep to the sound of frogs).

Monday Eggplant/Tomato stir fry
Garden swap with a friend: Onions, tomatoes, baby eggplant, peppers. Stirfry well, puree, serve over brown rice.

Tue. Tofu, broccoli and garden tomatoes.

Evening snack: white bean dip & vegetables
white beans, pureed with garlic, lemon or lime juice, olive oil, salt.
I served it with celery and carrots and garden tomatoes.

That night I had girlfriends over for a
clothing swap
I’d also done a clothing swap at work the week before.
Now I’ve got chagim clothes, new work clothes, and the satisfaction of knowing people I love are wearing the fabulous things I bought but never wore, or will never be able to wear again. It’s great for accessories and shoes, too.

Wednesday—I was going to make oatmeal and espresso for breakfast. But since my espresso pot exploded this morning (you really should never forget to put in that little screen. Did you know that two servings of coffee can cover two rooms, floor, ceiling, walls, with a fine spray of grinds? Oh well, I can toss the sodden calendar. There’s only one more month on it anyway) my girlfriend who is spending the rest of the week with us, apartment hunting, bought some pastries and coffee. I’m not sure if I’ll count that as my having spent.

Tonight I’m doing salmon croquettes from those cans of salmon I never want to see darken my cabinets again, with celery, egg, shallots and matzoh meal.
remoulade—mix a little wasabi and chili paste in mayonnaise with lemon juice.

When I’m tired of water, coffee and tea I make Ginger-aide
cut fresh ginger into little pieces and pour boiling water over it. Steep for a couple of hours with honey (to taste). Serve cold.

Bon courage!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Introducing...me!

Welcome to Ima Shalom readers! I'm a new contributor, so please allow me to take a few minutes of your time to introduce myself. I'm Foster Ima, a 30-something, single, hesitantly-modern-Orthodox soon-to-be foster mom in a Big City.

Before I say any more, because I'm constitutionally incapable of beginning anything I say or write without a number of disclaimers (including, as with this, a disclaimer about my disclaimers):

1. I confess to using the name "Foster Ima" despite knowing that "FosterEema" already blogs. FosterEema and FosterAbba are a same-sex couple in an unnamed state who recently adopted their daughter from foster care. They have some posts on religion (they have gone to different Reform synagogues over the years) but their blog is very much about parenting and not very much about Jewish parenting.

2. Because of confidentiality laws protecting kids in foster care, I ask that if you are able to discern my identity, please keep it private. I also ask that you let me know that you are reading, just because, well, I'm curious.

Now, back to me.

I started reading foster and foster-adopt blogs about a year ago. I was looking for blogs about foster parenting from a Jewish perspective, but with the exception of FosterAbba's, which at the time was private, I wasn't able to locate any. (I still haven't, in fact, so if you know of one, please let me know!) After reading for a number of months, I started blogging myself. My original intent was to be a resource for other relatively observant Jews who are fostering or who are thinking about it. I recognize now that along with that purpose, my blog may also serve as a bit of a way to seek feedback on my parenting, and to help me clarify issues that I face with my kiddos.

Here, however, I will try to be more focused. On what, I haven't decided yet. As I'm not yet licensed (after nearly--or over, depending on when you start counting--a year), I don't know what my experiences will be and what is worth blogging about. I may start with a post or three about the licensing process and about fostering while Jewish.

I welcome feedback, so please comment freely!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

All in the family

I always feel like I should be beginning a blog post with "Dear Diary." Ha.

What is it like to be a part of a dysfunctional family? (See Gluckel raising hand wildly and shrieking "Call on ME! Call on ME!").

I think I am a part of one, and also married into one. No, I'm certain of it.

This month, my father lost his job. It was expected for quite some time, and he and my also unemployed (but purposefully) mother don't seem to be too upset about it. They have a cushion, she is over retirement age and he is nearing it, and they have good health insurance. Woot.

But wait, you say, where's the dysfunction? My parents told me not to discuss it with my grandmothers. Fine, I can do that. a 90 year old and a 94 year old don't need to hear about it from their granddaughter. But when my grandmother and I speak and she goes ON and ON about how glad she is that my dad is doing well at work, that things are going smoothly, that she spoke to him just yesterday and he sounded so good....well, that seems pretty unacceptable. What would you have said?

Parenthetically, this is from the parental set who have always kept secrets... like when my sister was hit by a UPS truck on her bike, when my father had triple bypass, when my mother had a stent put in and it burst and she was hospitalized for a week (yes, heart disease, I get it). I didn't find out about any of this stuff till after it was a done deal.

Then, just in case you thought my family was disfunctional all alone, same thing happens on the inlaws' side. Grandma is hospitalized less than a mile from my house? Don't tell us till it's been more than 24 hours, because who would want to visit? More o' the same.

I wonder what purpose this all serves. For me, it's caused me to worry. Which is kind of funny because my parents have always said to me, "well, it'll all be fine, we didn't want you to worry, which is why we didn't tell you in the first place." I know that's why they're not sharing their bad news with my grandmothers...no need to worry them about something that might upset them.

But isn't it the responsibility of the people we love the most to be there for us when we need them? Isn't that why we surround ourselves with family and friends who can be there, comfort us emotionally and physically, give us a lasagne or invite us over for dinner, or just call us to offer words of support?

I know that many of you secret keepers out there might disagree with me. But I see it as my job in life to be a supportive person; it is my responsibility to every other human being with whom I have a relationship, even a tiny one. I fail regularly but that doesn't mean I don't try. And I resent not being given the chance to be the supportive, loving and concerned child, sister or friend that I can be.

So an open plea to all my relatives/inlaws, and all of you for that matter...
please, don't keep any secrets from me. I can handle the truth. Moreover, so can you. We're all tougher than we realize.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

$5 Dinner, Kosher-Style

When you come down to the financials of it, I'm poor.

Now, I feel kind of uncomfortable saying that, since when you come down to it I:

-have a 2-bedroom apartment in a posh section of town (thank you, rent control)
-have about a year's-worth of "just-in-case" savings in the bank
-can afford to feed myself and my family 3 square meals a day
-have cable tv, a car, a computer and lots of other "luxury" items
-have an expensive and high-quality education

So really...to call myself "poor" is kind of an insult to actual poor people, and I apologize for that.

But then again...there are those financials. I just make ends meet. Technically speaking, when your income and your expenses match exactly...when you are waiting for a paycheck to clear in order to pay your rent, isn't that technically "hand-to-mouth"?

There's also the business of the Joneses, whom for this forum I'll call the Schwartzes. The Schwartzes have at least one lawyer in the family, or maybe a lawyer and a consultant. The Schwartzes can afford a house. The Schwartzes go out to eat on a weekly, not quarterly, basis. The Schwartzes don't mull over small luxury purchases for ages...they go for it, knowing that it won't cut into their grocery money.

Ah, the Schwartzes. I envy them, it's true. But I'm also a little smug...after all, our small paychecks are mostly due to our choices to work in the non-profit-world and academia, respectively. We are a glamorous, bohemian kind of poor. We were recessionistas before it was stylish.

The good news is that besides being poor, I'm also pretty cheap. Even when I have money, I don't part with it easily. Which is why I am rather in love with this website, 5dollardinners.com. Of course, their recipes--while inspiring--can often be kind of traify.

So, in the spirit of $5 dinners, I submit to you our delicious dinner from last night, cooked by our very own Frugal Chef, Abba.

$5 Curry
1 onion, chopped, sauteed
3 sweet potatoes
2 cans of chick peas
1 can diced tomatoes
a bit more liquid and spices to taste (salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, curry powder)
Cook in covered sautee pan until sweet potatoes are soft and delicious, stirring occasionally.
Serve with brown rice.

Cranky

Dear friend,

I’m sorry I missed your birthday/engagement /welcome home /farewell/celebrate the new job party. I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you to the movie/the beach/cocktail hour/hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. I think I was washing toddler training pants in the sink at the time.

In fact, I’ve not gone out motzi Shabbat since 2006. Don’t take it personally. But if you stop inviting me I’m going to be really p.o.ed and I’ll blog about you.

Maybe it’s the heat and humidity that makes my hair go all crazy and I don’t have time to straighten it so I feel like the wicked witch of the west.

Or maybe it’s the stupid face-book news feeds in which my so-called friends casually note that “life is so tedious without the wine and cheese literati, so I went to the race tracks and bid on a horse called The Plot Thickens.” Or “I’m hopping on a plane to Sweden in ten minutes.” Or “5-hour work out, salsa dancing, and now I’m having dinner on the beach.”

Okay, so I’m window-shopping at the borders of tenure. Academic tenure is going to change my life and make me thinner, wittier, 5 years younger; it’ll make my hair straighter, my wardrobe stylish and my life much more exciting.

Until then, I’ve got to put up with news of friends who just bought 5 bedroom turn-of-the-century house in places where there is a social life for the price of my yearly rent of my tiny apartment.

Here’s what I think. If you don’t have a house and you’re not a wife, you shouldn’t have to be a housewife. I know there are lots of wonderful, exciting, happy and fulfilled housewives out there. Good for you. I’m just saying, housewife = house + wife. Those are the rules. I didn’t make them up. Who am I going to complain about being the maid if there’s no one for me to complain to? I can say “why do I feel like a maid” to my daughter, and she looks at me with an expression like, “duh.”

Here’s what else I think: I shouldn’t have to smell pickled herring and raw onions on anyone’s breath at 7 am. That’s 7 in the morning. Especially not on the breath of a 30-month-old. And G-d forbid, you shouldn’t have to smell it at lunch again, too.

Look, I never complained when my daughter had fallen into the 3rd percentile in weight last year. Did anyone hear me complain? No, they didn’t. Someone’s got to be in the 3rd percentile, right? Or the whole math system would be messed up.

Honestly, I didn’t mind. The grocery bills were cheaper. She was lighter to carry around. She fit into last year’s clothes, so I didn’t have to shop. I knew she’d eat when she needed to. She was still 3 lbs heavier than I was when I was her age. So why is it that when she eats like crazy now, she has to eat crazy food? How many other people make their two and a half year olds brush their teeth three times in the morning?

All I want to know is what a screwdriver is doing in my make-up case. I wouldn’t mind a liquid one, but this one’s made of metal. Where the rare, import CD that I thought about for 3 years before I splurged on it is. The cover was spread all over the living room floor when I got home. Why are my pearls are in the back of my daughter’s baby stroller. Was she going to barter them for stickers?

Today my colleague caught me in the hall and told me, Maya, this is all there is in life. Today. That’s it.

That’s easy for him to say. He’d just come back from a summer writer’s colony in Denmark followed by a vacation in Eastern Europe. He was tanned, relaxed, and his biceps were nicely defined from lifting steins of beer.

I know, life is precious. I'm so lucky to have my sweet, loving, adorable genius child. Whatever. I need a vacation.
I’m going to time-out now.

Love,
Maya

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Things I Can Manage

I've been a little pre-occupied with freak tragedy lately. It may have started early in the year, when my half-sister and her husband, may their memories be a blessing, suddenly died in a massive car-crash. They had no children, but they had a life together which was wiped out in one blow.
A month or so ago a friend called me to share news of a young mother with a brain tumor. I'm not friends with the woman--there were times in my life (long past) that I might even have considered her my nemesis--but MAN that news hit me hard. Cut me deeper, I am ashamed to admit, than even the loss of my own half-sister. I cried, on and off for days thinking of what must be going on in her mind as she watches her young daughters play happily, unaware that the ground beneath their feet has shifted.

At a simchat bat today, running after my crazy toddler, I was taken aback when I was reminded just how many of the mother's aunts and uncles perished in the Holocaust. As she described how her grandmother managed to save her one aunt, recently deceased, I thought briefly about the torment of trying to raise a child in such a freakishly horrific time.

Accidents happen, illness happens, even Nazi Germany could happen again. Save a helmet and some good advice, I can't protect my son from something terrible happening to one--or both--of us. When I think too much about this, things feel very dark. Which is why, perhaps, I channel my worrying into "did he eat enough does he need another diaper don't let him run down the stairs." These things, I can manage.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What's Wrong with Being Sexy?

I’m sure all you hip and savvy folks recognize the “Spinal Tap” mocumentary quote that is my title. It’s the question posed by one of the members of heavy metal band when his PR person tells him that the album cover, a woman on all fours wearing lots of leather and a leash, is “sexist.”

Well I bring this up because I just took the Facebook Quiz, “What Kind of Mother Are You,” and got…… the “Sexy Mom.”

The description is pretty cool:

“You have a keen intuition when it comes to your kids, and often you know what they're thinking before they even say it. You know how to take control of situations in a cool and calm manner, which only adds to your alluring and sexy character. Your children find you hip and up-to-date, and it's quite easy for them to relate to you.”

What I couldn’t quite understand though is the photo representing the “SEXY MOM” that accompanied the description: a long, lean blonde wearing a bikini top, cowboy boots and hat, and a denim skirt that was apparently mauled by bears because it shows almost all of her long, tan thighs. Also, she’s arched over the back of a sexy little car (or a truck?) I guess they photo shopped the beer can out.

I’m pretty sure that sexy means you have decided that “life is what you make it,” (question #8, “what life lesson would you like your child to take away from you”), and you make of it something beautiful because you are strong and you persevere (question #7). You don’t wait for someone else to make your life for you.

Sexist is objectifying, dehumanizing.

At first the only explanation I can think of for the photo was terribly unflattering to the creators of this particular facebook quiz. That they lacked imagination. That the only image of female power they could come up with is expressed in terms of its erotic affect on men. This would mean the designers of the “what kind of mom are you” quiz were sexist. Or adolescent boys who were raised by Barbie Dolls (happy 50th birthday, Barbie).

Although I am bummed--I wanted a Rosie the Riveter picture for "sexy mom"--I soon put my "keenly intuitive" mind to work to figure out how this photo representative of someone who “knows how to take control of situations in a cool and calm manner.” And sure enough, I figured it out.

The woman in the photo must have taken her kids camping, and while they were all swimming, a bear comes up and eats her blouse, then starts to eat her long denim skirt. Obviously, that won’t do. How can you chop wood in just a bikini? And what if the bear goes after the children? So you obviously, calmly, step in, give the bear a pie that you baked (because baking pie is way sexier and more alluring than making casserole, goulash and lasagna (question #6, what dish do you most enjoy preparing). And besides, you’re a vegetarian and don’t eat half that stuff in the list anyway). Eventually, the bear calmly leaves. You assume a yoga pose to rid yourself of the bad energy (though, it has been noted earlier, I do NOT endorse yoga myself).


Now don't get me wrong. I don’t regret wasting time on the facebook quiz, since it’s apparently the price I pay for being “hip and up-to-date,” and it will allow my child to relate to me more easily.
Also, now I feel better knowing that reading to your child (question #3, “favorite activity”) is intimate, a “warm” home (question #5, “your home can best be described as”) is alluring. Potty training a child “when they are ready” (question #2) is certainly intuitive.

All these things are sexy, of course.

But I have to admit, if my kid ever EVER dresses like the woman in the photo, she’s totally grounded for life.

Unless, of course, a bear just ate her clothes while she was swimming. Or unless she’s a high profile model who’s got a bikini photo shoot. Or she’s acting in a mocumentary.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Having Fun when you're no fun at all

My daughter's Abba came in for the weekend last week, took my girl to the zoo, picked her up after shul next day and let her play all afternoon in the sandbox. Oh, she loved it. She loves hanging out with him. And I'm very glad it all seems to be working out. He might not be very into the nitty gritty, but he's a very loving playmate to her.

On the other hand, what has she done with me this last month? I've not been fun at all. After work we're in the garden. Then I'm cooking and feeding her, reading, going to bed. In the morning we snuggle and read, then back to the chores of getting us both ready and with food for the day.

You know what? She's the best. She has her own watering can, her own little shovel. She wears herself out pouring water (mainly on the footpath and not on the tomatoes, but who cares), carrying the can back and forth from the faucet to the garden. She digs until she's so dirty we have to strip her before we go inside.

At home she makes a game of playing cooking while I cook. We've got Ikea toy cookware, and I taped her hand-drawn oven knobs to the top of an empty shelf. That's her oven. I give her a couple of potatoes, a little water, and she's good to go. Then she stands at the sink and plays washing dishes. Should I feel bad that she loves her tiny broom? That she spends hours pushing around her babydoll stroller, even outside?

When I'm done, we paint pictures and read, dance and talk.

But I'm sorry that, even though I do everything around the home, the "everything" I do is so stereotypically gendered. Sure, I nail things, repair things. But on a day-to-day basis, it's the housework she sees and mimics. Well, everyone should know how to cook and clean for himself or herself, I guess.

We do talk about going to work. "I don't want you to go to work today, Ima," she says. Well, I explain, when I go to work I can get money so we can buy food and clothes. You will go to work one day, too, I tell her. What do you want to do when you go to work? "I want to do fun work when I go to work," she says. She's right.
The other day she asked me if I was going to work that day to get some money. Yes, I said. She told me not to go to work that day. We have enough money, she said.

In today's economy, I know I can't afford anything less than all I've got at work. But I know that my dearest girl is only going to be 2 1/2 once.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

DC Tourism for Toddlers

I had been planning to write this post about Touring DC with children for months, but after the sad and senseless, horrible shooting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 9, I wasn't sure now was the time for it.

In the end, I'd like to help keep the Ima Shalom blog going, and this post is what I have. I will only add that I am very glad my very pregnant friend who works at the museum is okay, and that this city is a good place to be a Jew, despite what happened two days ago.

For the past year or so we've been poorer than dirt. We couldn't afford any big trips. Heck, I could only do nearly-full time child care. So we pretended to be tourists in our own city twice a week. Here are some of our favorites, and all are fun for toddlers, too.

1. The U.S. Botanic Gardens and Conservatory: I have never in my life smelled anything as good as the Conservatory. Don't know if it was the complete rain forest inside or the cinnamon and allspice trees, the orchid room, or what. And if that's not enough for you, its blue tile fountains inside, and the sand box, fountains, play house and other objects of childhood desire, in the very center atrium, kept my girl occupied until she fell over with fatigue. At which point we put her in the stroller and strolled through the botanic gardens outside.

2. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museumwill also keep a girl entertained for hours. We could hardly pull her out of the cockpits of all the cool planes. It's very hands on, considering how expensive all that stuff is. To be honest, the escalators are also entertaining for kids. But big people could fall for the homemade planes--complete with instructions. You could probably build one yourself if you had enough plastic wrap and a spare lawnmower engine.

3. The great thing about the American History Museum is that the Spark! lab (for older toddlers) and the Invention at Play lab (for kids, with play area for babies and young toddlers) are right next to Julia Child's kitchen. So when you're done looking at Dorothy's ruby slippers and Jerry Seinfeld's puffy pirate shirt upstairs, the fun can continue for everyone downstairs.

4. The Natural History Museum is such a no-brainer, I can't believe I'm writing it. So's the Zoo.

5. But if you get to the stunning Sackler and Freer Galleries which house Asian art, and if there are two of you, one of you can enjoy the art while the other douses herself and the kid in one of the two outdoor fountain/gardens. But seriously, my girl loved the Islamic art--lots of animals on pottery, even elephants. And the Sackler gift shop is incredible for kids stuff. Think about it, all the cool toys are made in Japan anyway.

Then we scoot over to the Carousel on the Mall. There may be better carousels, though this one is terrific. But what I like about it is that when the ride is over and the girl is crying that she doesn't want to get off, they give you a STICKER as you exit! How brilliant is that?

6. We also loved the Aquatic Gardensin Kenilworth. It was an easy metro ride, though people do drive. The Kenilworth Park is next to the gardens, but we ran out of time. Imagine DC before civil engineers--yep, virgin swamp, folks. But we got to see a real live beaver in the wild building his dam. (Beavers chew very loudly.) My girl loved running up and down the boardwalk and looking at the pretty flowers and chasing ducks. I wouldn't recommend it on a hot day, though. It is a swamp, and is pretty humid.

7. The only item on this list that is not free is Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It's $8 for adults and $5 for kids, and by "kids," they mean ages 2 and up (though it's free in the winter; very limited hours). But it's worth it. These are among my favorite gardens in the USA. The terraces are dreamy, the first orangerie in the USA (which, incidentally, smells almost as good as the conservatory) is adorable, the swimming pool is like something out of The Great Gatsby, but with less depression and booze. There is an amphitheater that makes clever use of a reflecting pool, a rose garden. Something is always in bloom. The daughter took off running in sheer bliss and didn't stop for two hours.

8. I'm not going to mention the Building Museum. You can find it yourself. But it's my secret. So don't go. I mean, it's got a free playroom with every fabulous toy connected to construction and building in it (The building zone). The interior is stunning, and the indoor fountain is tantalizing to the kids, but so far no one has fallen in. It's got the best gift shop for adults in the city, if you like architecture themed houseware, which I do.

We also did the Cherry Blossom Festival and Tidal basin, which the girl slept through.

The National Sculpture garden, which we got in trouble for because the girl broke free and tried to play tea party in the Lichtenstein house. Also, it frustrated her that the birds she tried to feed kept running away from her.

The Hirschorn fountain, in my opinion, looks like the blow hole of a whale, and is, therefore, really cool. I like the design of the museum itself, but never quite got into any of the exhibits there. Stay with the fountain.

What are your favorites?

Friday, June 05, 2009

May it Please the Court

I've spent a lot of time in court this past week. Erev Shavuot was the custody trial for my daughter, and this week I had jury duty. There are certainly things more terrifying for a parent than going to trial for custody, visitation, and (for me less important) child support. But I'd humbly suggest that trial be ranked right up there.

The idea of strangers (judge) and near-strangers (babydaddy) having any say in the matter of the child I raised alone from birth is, to say the least, anxiety inducing. I had hoped to avoid this scenario by hiring the best and most ethical attorney in the area eight months ago. But after we had to resort to suing for custody, it was out of my hands to some extent. This is what we had to do to enable us to move to Israel and marry our guy.

It's not that I don't want Babydaddy in my daughter's life. It's obviously important for her to know that her biological father loves her and wants to be with her. It's important for her to know him. I am just concerned that 1. it be as positive (and un-traumatic) an experience as possible and 2. it not allow anyone to micromanage my life as I had good reason to fear, given the kinds of details Babydaddy wanted control over.

After nearly two months of mediation with mediators and attorneys, which cost me at least my entire month's salary each month, Babydaddy and his attorney sat on our agreement for a month. We got a response from them a day before the trial. Their response (a counter offer), I was surprised to see, contained bits that were actually unconstitutional (violations of free speech), as well as radically unworkable visitation schedules. While I was obligated to return to the States with my daughter for periods of time that were at least twice as many days a year as he had seen her in the 2 1/2 years of her life so far combined, he did not obligate himself to visit us at all.

I had to think long and hard--what was my motivation here? First, I wanted to avoid the split-custody things that children of divorced parents must, unfortunately, endure. I did not want my daughter to have a winter home and a summer home. She's had only one home so far, and I didn't see why this had to change. Especially given the amount of child support Babydaddy decided he wanted to pay once we went to Israel. It was financially unfeasible for me. Especially given he's never spent more than 8 hours at a time with her, and that was always on shabbat, while he stayed with others, as a guest.

But was I acting from anger? From hurt that all this time I've done all the work alone, and now he likes coming in and spending shabbat and vacation with my girl, when neither of us can work anyway? Did I think he was skipping the meal and just coming by for dessert? Yes, I did. And it's something that we had to work through.

So the night before the trial, after I put my girl to bed, I phoned Babydaddy and we worked till 1:30 am, focusing on the points of greatest contention. We got through the first page--visitation. That, for me, was the biggie anyway. Now I would accompany my daughter to the States for 21 days a year, including travel time. And Babydaddy wanted this in two trips. He could come see us in Israel for as long as he wanted, but in the town in which we lived.

Then I woke earlier, typed up our new agreement , brought it to my attorney who looked it over. Then I called Babydaddy as he was en route and we worked out one more issue. We typed that up. Whatever we didn't agree on, I wrote as it had been in our original offer.

My attorney and I met him and his attorney in the courtroom, and they agreed to everything but custody. Since Babydaddy had not paid child support until that week, I was losing the arrears leverage that I'd wanted to use to avoid going to trial for custody. But I signed an agreement on visitation and child support, just to keep visitation as easy on my daughter and me as I could.

We went to trial for custody. Our district is one of the few who privilege father's rights; our judge is known for an extreme reluctance to grant anything but joint custody. But here's where the attorney comes in. My attorney has a reputation for being guided by ideals and ethics, rather than cash (He's older and got a reputation. He can afford it). He simply won't take you on if he doesn't think you're acting with the best intentions, and he doesn't take you to court unless he thinks you can win.

In the end, we didn't need to go to trial. The judge told us how she was going to rule before we began to speak. I got full physical custody and joint legal custody with final decision making power, which is, in practice, the exact same thing as full legal custody. I just have to take his arguments into consideration when making an important decision. Something I'd want to do anyway.

After a week in court, I can say this--it's a crazy system. I don't understand how it works, and often it doesn't, I guess. It does seem to bring out the worst in people. But it also has the potential to bring out the best. And frankly, I don't see an alternative. (Although, as a potential juror, I can see how a professional, trained jury would be better than a regular ol' me type).

That being said, I never want to go through it again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Day School Debate

I signed up for some local suburban Jewish listserves recently--mostly to hawk my Jewish Music Festival in their little suburban inboxes. My intention was to use it when I needed it, but before I knew it I was sucked in...reading it, following the debate raging hotly in my inbox.

The issue? The cost--and possible unsustainability--of the Jewish Day school model. Gluckel recently pointed out an editorial in the NY Jewish Week that explores the same question.

It's a difficult conversation for many--if not most--Jews trying to live a committed Jewish life. Jewish life is by definition not easy. If Kosher food became (hah!) prohibitively expensive, would we eat traif? If synagogue membership became exorbitant would we stop praying with a minyan? No...we find workarounds, support systems, we find a way to make Jewish life work, and even flourish, despite the difficulties and the cost.

But day school seems to be an intractable problem. They've become unaffordable to all but the most wealthy, and in these "difficult economic times" family after family that were just barely making it work before are seeking scholarships in record numbers. And that sky-high tuition is just barely covering the needs of the schools--the teachers are not in BMWs, the schools aren't pocketing massive surpluses...it's just that somehow, along the way, it just became that expensive to give a child a good-quality Jewish and secular education.

So how did it happen? Was it when we started demanding world-class teachers and facilities for our children? When we started trying to make our children as prepared for Harvard as they were for Yeshiva? Are we asking too much from our day schools when we ask them to be top-notch Jewish schools AND match and exceed the best that the private and public school system has to offer? Or is this really what we need to live and succeed as modern Jews in America?

We all struggle with the public school question. I myself went to public school for the first 8 years of school and it wasn't a bad experience for me. But I will say that despite the fact that there were lots of Jews in my school most of my friends weren't Jewish. That I learned countless Christmas carols and have fond memories of decorating trees and dying Easter eggs. And that at least one girl that I counted as a best friend was probably a little curious about my horns.

What do we lose when we send our children to public school? A body of knowledge, to be sure, but also a way of life. Within just a year of being at a Schechter school I had stopped dating non-Jews, by two years I had stopped eating traif meat. And that was with very little explicit pressure from my teachers and peers. My day school--an average one in most ways--showed me how--and maybe even why--to be Jewish.

These kind of influences on our children can be gained in other ways--in after-school programs, from mentors and tutors, in youth groups and summer camps (perhaps the brightest possibility) but can anything really compensate for the loss of year-round immersion? I'm not so sure.

And so I face down the cost, kind of frightened. Two years ago I figured that God--in the guise of the kindness of richer people--would provide. But now I'm not so sure. And age 5 doesn't look so far off.

But hey, I know this guy promising 200% returns on my investments....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What do Jewish mothers look like?


The Jewish Women’s Archive has initiated a new community photo project on Flickr.com, called “Jewish Mothers: The Way We Were, The Way We Are.”

 

Please help build the collection by contributing photos of yourself or another Jewish mother (literal or metaphorical) in your life.

 

The photo can show a Jewish mother, now or in the past, in any context:

·      Mothers at home or at work

·      Mothers in the family and in the community

·      Mothers of different generations and family constellations

·      Formal portraits or candid snapshots

 

It's up to you. How would you like to represent Jewish mothers?

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day reflection, with thanks to Henrietta Szold

Cross-posted at Jewesses With Attitude


Frankly, I’m too burnt out by a day spent with my children to offer much in the way of my own reflections on Mother’s Day. So instead I will share the words of Henrietta Szold to fellow Zionist activist Jessie Sampter on August 23, 1917:


“Deep down in the bottom of my heart I have always held that I should have had children, many children. It is only in rearing children that minute service piled on minute service counts. In my life, details have confused the issue; they have not gone to make a harmonious and productive whole. In a mother’s life, ability to lose one’s identity in details is the great thing for the future of mankind.”


Now, the cynic in me, the exhausted mother in me, responds, “Well, of course someone without children would think that. The grass is always greener, etc.” Or, “Great, yet another celebration of women’s sacrifice of themselves for the ‘future of mankind.’” But there’s also something about these words that rings true to my experience.


Please understand that I am in no way arguing that motherhood is the only worthwhile contribution one can make to society. And I certainly disagree with Szold’s claim that the details of her life’s work didn’t add up to a “harmonious and productive whole.” But I do relate to her sense that in motherhood the mundane tasks and minute details are often more rewarding – relentless, yes, but rewarding – than in other aspects of everyday life.  So I’m taking some comfort in Szold’s words; when I feel mired in the frantic day-to-day struggle of balancing work/kids/marriage/myself, they remind me of the bigger picture.


At the same time, this quotation reminds me that there are many ways to be a mother. Though she never had children of her own, Szold was considered a mother to thousands because of her tireless work leading Youth Aliya, which saved eleven thousand children from the Nazis by bringing them to Palestine.


Happy Mother’s Day. May you catch a glimpse of that elusive “harmonious and productive whole.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sleep

Well, here I am again. Thanks to all for your warm replies and agreement that we're not alone as mothers in this mess called life.

I noticed that sleep, or lack thereof, hit somewhat of a chord. I would continue this sentence, but I'm falling asleep. No, just kidding. No, just kidding, I am falling asleep, but I can continue to type!

I get between 5-6 hours of sleep on most nights. It just isn't enough. I have a 4 year old who goes to bed about 8:30-9ish and wakes up at about 7:30-8. And I know that you are saying what I should be saying....that is definitely enough to get your 7+ hours of sleep a night. Add to that the fact that I know I'm increasingly paranoid about life in general and many things specifically when I get too few hours of sleep, and that I'm mean and grouchy and jumped up on caffeine, and that I don't eat properly and well, the cycle keeps going.

So what is stopping us??

What's stopping me is that I LIKE ME TIME. No child, no husband, no dishes, no cooking for tomorrow, no sorting/folding laundry, no paying bills or calling friends or making playdates or writing thank you notes or checking email or finishing up the work I was supposed to do at the office. I like to be alone. And the only time I can do it is after everyone goes to bed and the day is done. I want to sit with a cup of tea and read the New Yorker or just fool around on Facebook or watch stupid TV. I want to be alone in the quiet. And that generally has to be done after 11pm. Or even after midnight. And I'm a nightowl, for sure. I get my best work done between midnight and 2am!

What is keeping you awake?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weighty Matters

I'm not really a bitch. I'm just small, and right now I don't fit into my clothes.

Before I had my baby I was fine with myself. And I want to be back to my physical self, or at least some semblance of it. If for no other reason than I can't afford a new wardrobe right now. And if it takes me 45 minutes a day to find something I can fit into, I may as well be using that time at the gym.

Let's face it, we all give up a whole lot of ourselves to become mothers. And, speaking for myself, I hadn't exactly been planning on doing so when I got pregnant. Some of the stuff I gave up was good for me to have quit: the stress smoking, the indulging in, shall we say, "artistic" moods. But some of it I really miss: the social and cultural events, the extra hours it takes to excel at a job I love, the ability to take a nap or read a book when I want to, the serious running I used to do.

So I decided, let the crocheted striped salsa pants go, let the running go (for now), and the beer-and-poetry group,the social smoking (yes please) but I will NOT let my figure go. Superficial as it sounds. No way. Anyway, it's only about 10 lbs.

I'm doing weight watchers on line (no time for meetings), and for that I had to buy a scale.

It nearly stopped my heart when my baby stepped on it and then said, "now your turn," to me, then insisted on stepping on it again and again. The second morning after we acquired the scale, she asked me, "Ima, you gonna step with the scale now?"

Like many, many, many women my age, I was anorexic as a teenager. For me, it was from about the age of 12-20. I didn't even menstruate until I graduated from high school.
Yes, I learned it from my mother, the earliest memories of whom involve (besides hours of reading to me), two-week fasts, scales, and a rather sensible swearing off of all processed flour and sugar for fifteen years.

Sure, my mother was 19 when I was born. At 22 she gave birth to her third child. I must remember her when she was that age. It makes total sense she would have been concerned about her figure.

But I don't want to do this to my baby.

It's already bad enough that she plays "exercises" with her friends in the park (sit ups).

I think that, dependent as weight-watchers is on, well, weighing in, I won't do that part. I am making a concerted effort to sit down with my darling when she eats breakfast. But that is an effort. I have no television, so breakfast is my equivalent of sitting the child down in front of a dvd to buy myself 10 minutes.

I praise her gorgeous round tummy (and her manners, and her ability on the potty, and her helpfulness).
Luckily weight watchers is pretty normal eating. But I need to watch what I do and say in front the two-year-old audio/video recorder that is my daughter.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where have all the Imahot gone?

I for one am hiding.

I feel lots of guilt for not posting, but it is certainly a significantly smaller and less significant kind of guilt than the guilt I feel on a daily and even minute to minute basis about all the rest of the stuff in my life. What would life be without some all consuming guilt?

Case in point. I fell asleep with my darling boy tonight. After we said the Shema, he went played with his babydoll in bed for a while, and I went straight to sleep. In his bed. Woke up half an hour later because my not so darling husband was poking my foot to try to wake me up. I missed doing the dishes, cleaning up from dinner, finishing my work for the night, and now I'm wide awake at nearly 11pm knowing that I'll be pulling another late nighter to get ready for the rest of real life.

I definitely can't handle it all. Won't even pretend about it. Whoever said that you could be a supermom didn't have a cape and was just totally wrong. I work full time, have a small child, and do a million other things I totally should have said no to because I'm a sucker and I like to try harder than "anyone else."

My bellyaching doesn't make for good blog posts. Neither does the challenge to my marriage and my waning physical and emotional stamina because of my lack of sleep and inability to focus on any one particular thing. So crazy that I ended up in the hospital a few weeks ago with a GI something that had STRESS written all over it.

Plus, damn it, I got a REALLY bad haircut a few weeks ago and my hair looks awful. My toenails look great, though, because I snuck out of work early (packed my flipflops, it was totally premeditated) and went and got a pedicure. I am not feeling that I'm at my (as Betty Crocker would say) moist, delicious best.

So I'll stop typing and try to go to bed by 11:30pm. Maybe I won't be so paranoid tomorrow and will have some time to write more. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll need a manicure instead!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Party on the Potty

Every day, many, many times a day, my girl is showered with applause, hugs and kisses. She has received by mail a package of frilly underpants from Grandpa-Grandma. A friend hand-delivered two miniature rabbis reclining upon a pair of groschen, along with a pink and white necklace. She is permitted to eat bamba and cookies and to drink juice boxes while completely naked.

I figure it will be easier to teach her that normally we don't eat and drink our favorite delicacies on the potty than it is to potty train in the first place.

Anyway, my mother's method of training little boys by having them "water the flowers" wouldn't work in the downtown apartment we've got.

And so it goes. It's life altering. It's cosmic.

And I get a kick out of how excited and happy this little-big activity makes her. She's so proud of herself she can't stand it.

She stops neighbors coming and going through the apartment building to inform them that she went on the potty today. She greets complete strangers in elevators, on trains, with information about her potty, and inquires whether they, too, go potty and wear big girl panties.

I'm not worried about spoiling her. The other day we brought home a big box of hand-me-down clothing. After examining a few of the pretty dresses together, my girl paused--you could see all the gears turning in her mind--then suddenly exclaimed, "It's my birthday!" Then she sang happy birthday to herself out loud a few times, waving her "birthday dresses" around.


Don't you wish we could save up all this credit for when such useful activities aren't so exciting anymore? I'd like to cash my potty-training treats in right now for a nice pair of shoes or a bouquet of flowers, a day the beach...

We're starting to slack off now that she's becoming regular. Now she can have a juice box the first time she goes. Then we clap and hug. Soon, I guess, we'll stop even clapping. I'd like to hold on to the hugs for a little while longer, though.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Post-Pesach

This was a terrific Pesach!

I usually like Pesach anyway. Since I'm a vegetarian and I don't like processed foods, it's usually a cleansing time. A salad and vegetables and fish time. I've usually got much more energy and am happier, as a result.

But this Pesach was even better than usual, even though I turned my kitchen fleischig in honor of my baby carnivore. Breaking out in horrible hives as an allergic reaction to detergents and spring--certainly not an auspicious beginning. But my lovely love took over the bulk of the cleaning and prep. The near-freezing temperatures and rain weren't so fun, but it meant I got to stay home and read books with my girl (among them our rabbi's manuscript, the blank back pages of which my girl "decorated for the rabbi.")

I know it's not good to let your child draw during chag. But it bought me some precious quiet (and after last week with ear infections and screaming, I needed it). It was gefilte fish for the brain. For instance, did you know that the Shema originally contained the ten commandments? That, in some circles, the first Pope, Simon Peter, is attributed with writing the Nishmat col hai? I didn't.

The reading/drawing technique also allowed me to cuddle and converse with my daughter for at least two hours each day.

As for the second days: At first I thought it was a disaster that the Dean of our college at the university where I teach invited an Irish poet to my graduate class--during second days of Pesach. But I invited the students and the poet over for dinner. It was amazing. The poet, a single mother of a nine-year-old, had never had an encounter with Judaism. I'm pretty sure she's drafting a poem about gefilte fish as I write, and she flies back to Ireland. Imagine serving people who are excited about matzah ball soup. The two Jewish students in class were happy. The conversation was charged, since the poet writes quite a bit about the encounter between Christianity and Paganism in her native West Kerry.

My love rolled with it all pretty well. Since he's accustomed to having the entire time of Pesach off in Israel, I know it was stressful for him to have to accommodate my work schedule and the unusual touches I added to a normal celebration. But it worked pretty well. And that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Maxed Out

The title refers to my capacity for having more children, not to my credit card, which I paid off and then shredded in August, thank you very much.

I adore my little girl. I leave work early, am dreadfully rude in my haste to catch buses and metros to get me home as quickly as possible--because every second counts, right? And when I’m home, my little wee one and I read and paint and dance and play, cook and sing, walk and slide. It’s not a question of love.

It’s like this: yesterday I spent the morning doing Pesakh shopping at Ikea with two friends who each have two children. Girls about my daughter’s age, and boys they still breastfeed. Who is the mother who lost a child during checkout? Who is the mother, who, upon having the child found for her, realized that she had also lost the child’s coat? And later, while lunching at Pita Plus, who was the mother who misjudged her daughter’s appetite and food preferences?

Why, moi, of course. The mother of one.

It’s not that I have more going on than they do, so I can’t say I was more distracted. My more fertile friends also balance work outside the home and childcare. And one of them has a husband who travels during the week, so she does the bulk of it alone. The other is remodeling the bathroom using contractors, and, well, need I say more?

Okay, I HAD just returned from a weekend with my parents in Texas, hanging with my daddy as he recovered from surgery (thank G-d) the colon cancer doesn’t’ seem to have spread). But it wasn’t like I was DOING anything. Since my parents went vegan to enhance their chances of remaining cancer-free (both of them are cancer survivors), I didn’t even have to worry about food and kashrut. I caught up on reading and chatting with my Dad, who was still very weak from surgery and hung out on the sofa.

And my girl? She played outside with her cousins, ages 2, 4 and 7, from the time the dew dried off the grass until the sun was about to set. All she needed from me was food, drink, potty/diaper stuff, and the occasional kiss to the booboo.

Hey, wait a minute…
No...

(And anyway, that doesn’t explain Ikea).