Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lekh L'kha Baby

Well, it happened. Chamudi started walking in the course of a week. Big changes! And today he got a brand new pair of fancy European big-boy shoes, courtesy of Savta.

Choosing shoes for my child turns out to be almost as stressful as choosing choes for myself, and no less complicated. "No we can't get that pair," I explained to Abba and Savta when disqualifying a trendy ankle boot." "They're too sleek and European--we'd have to redo his entire wardrobe."

It took me at least a half hour to choose between two pairs--I actually made a 14 month old try on the same pair of shoes 2 or 3 times--and only made a decision after all sorts of reverse psychology had been applied. But I did indeed decide, and Chamudi is as proud as can be, as are we.

For me, walking has been an easier milestone, emotionally, than any of the others. Maybe because the fact that he is big boy is such a foregone conclusion now. Is it possible that I'm done lamenting the end of his babyhood?

Or maybe it's because walking will open up so many worlds to him. Maybe you haven't noticed, but we as a culture are extremely bi-ped centric. The things he already loves are about to reveal whole new levels of fun and adventure.

Or maybe it's just that amazing adorable look of self-satisfaction.

Yasher koach Chamudi! May you go from strength to strength.

We’ve Secretly Replaced This Mommy With An Insane Woman, Let’s See If Anyone Notices

I’m not what you would call “tidy.” I am not gross. Or refuse to bathe…I just think it’s not a big deal for a Cheerio or two or six to roll under the couch and I get to it, well never. My vision of a perfect evening is when my husband and I watch a movie and eat pizza…in bed. I have piles for piles in the office. I am just not a spic-and-span kind of gal. I am fortunate enough to have a little cleaning help so that forces some tidying up and helps remove a layer of filth every now and again.

This laid back approach to clean has been quite helpful since the arrival of the child. She is MESSY. When she was a wee nubbin there was the random puking, the cleansing of the neck crevice, the laundry and the diapers. When she began eating real people food the mess spread to the kitchen, the den, the carpet, her room, her face, her clothes, her diapers. Now she enjoys creative time-so that involves paint, glitter, markers, crayons, glue, feathers….everywhere. Now I can easily say my house is coated in a lovely layer of child.

If this was something on the things I’m going to freak out about list, I would be FREAKED.

But nope. I’m cool. Me and the mess are as one.

Well until late last week.

Then I snapped.

It’s not the diapers or the feathers or the crevices or the Cheerios. It’s the toys. The mountains of toys. All of the sudden they are everywhere. Overflowing the toy box. Eeking out of the den. Sneaking their way up the stairs into my bed. That’s where the pizza goes you Cork Sucking Toys!

I think it started with her birthday. A lot of toys there. Then she started doing all the fun new developmental tricks, so we had to get her “educational” toys to support the learning. Then it was Chanukah. Then our nephews outgrew some great fun toys so we went ahead and adopted those. And of course there is the possibility that they were all crammed so tightly in together that they began reproducing amongst themselves.

I started cleaning the toys up at all hours of the day. She’d put one down, I’d pick it up. But it was a losing battle. The tea set pieces were where the peg board should go and the pegs were hidden in the hidden picture game and I can’t remember where I hid the memory pieces.

I needed to unload and reorganize. So I began by going through the toys and gave away garbage bags FULL. I used the extra stretchy magic bags so I crammed them full. But that was just a pee in the ocean. I tried making sure all the boxes were stacked neatly in the various toy boxes. Then I tried to put all the toys in Ziploc bags of various sizes and shapes to keep them contained.

But it’s not good enough. I honestly don’t know what to do. I am at my end. I need to build on an addition to support the toy growth. She plays with her toys. She loves her toys. She’s only going to get more toys because that is what we do as parents- we give our kids fun stuff to play with. But man, I need a fashionable storage solution. Until then I’ve taken the liberty of liberally applying spermicide to the inside of all the bags…just in case.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

End of Year Charitable Giving

So here's a plug for giving some tzedakah as an end of year charitable contribution. Do it. It makes you feel darn good and jeez, it's a mitzvah.

Forgive me for shamelessly promoting the causes I believe in. But sometimes you can get a good idea by hearing about how others do it.

Here's where I give (outside of my shul and my son's school). Lest you think I am a bazillionaire, some of these are pretty small donations!!

This list is in alphabetical order.

American Jewish World Service
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people,
while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.

Ansche Chesed's Shelter
The men’s homeless shelter at Congregation Ansche Chesed (100th Street at West End Avenue) is open seven nights a week, 365 nights a year, thanks to the efforts of volunteers. The shelter serves 10 men every night.

City Harvest
City Harvest, a non-profit organization founded in 1982, is the world's first and New York City's only food rescue program. Millions of pounds of good, edible food are thrown away each year by New York City food businesses. At the same time, more than one million people are hungry, including nearly 350,000 children and more than 140,000 senior citizens. City Harvest is the link between those who have so much and those who have too little.

Coalition for the Homeless
Coalition for the Homeless is the nation's oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women, and children. We are dedicated to the principle that decent shelter, sufficient food, affordable housing, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. Since our inception in 1981, the Coalition has worked through litigation, public education, and direct services to ensure that these goals are realized.

DOROT's mission is to enhance the lives of Jewish and other elderly in the Greater New York City Metropolitan area through a dynamic partnership of volunteers, professionals, and elders; to foster mutually beneficial interaction between the generations; and to provide education, guidance and leadership in developing volunteer-based programs for the elderly nationally and internationally.

Our vision is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community -- as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all. Our vision is of a renewed Jewish community: one that is rooted in Jewish tradition, engaged with the world around us, radically inclusive, passionate and creative. Our vision is of a community that fosters people's journeys, that engenders compassion among its members, and that recognizes that there are shivim panim l'torah - seventy ways to understand the Torah. Hazon engages in environmental education and education about food as the centerpieces of their vision.

Heifer envisions a world of communities living together in peace and equitably sharing the resources of a healthy planet. Heifer works with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth and their strategy is to “pass on the gift.” As people share their animals’ offspring with others – along with their knowledge, resources, and skills – an expanding network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance is created that reaches around the globe. This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 60 years. Today, millions of families in 128 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope.

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
JFREJ engages Jews to pursue and win racial and economic justice in partnership with Jewish and allied people of color, low-income and immigrant communities in New York City.

Kehilat Hadar
Kehilat Hadar is an independent, egalitarian community committed to spirited traditional prayer, study and social action. We meet for Shabbat morning services on selected weeks, and offer holiday services and educational programs throughout the year.

MATAN: The Gift of Jewish Learning for Every Child
MATAN is a multi-disciplinary team of Jewish educators, special educators, and mental health professionals committed to designing and implementing modifications that enable Jewish day schools and supplemental schools to serve all children regardless of ability.

The Neediest Cases Fund
The Neediest Cases Fund, administered by The New York Times Company Foundation, raises millions of dollars to help thousands of individuals and families in distress. The assistance is rendered by seven New York City social service agencies. The Times pays the Fund's expenses, so all contributions go directly to provide services and cash assistance to the poor.

The Susan Komen Foundation
SKF is a foundation started in memory of a woman just like you and me. A woman had a sister, Nancy Brinker, who promised she wouldn't stop till she found a cure. Twenty-five years ago that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested nearly $1 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.

West Side Campaign against Hunger
West Side Campaign Against Hunger provides food to 7,500 hungry households in New York City through a grocery-style food pantry. WSCAH alleviates hunger and in turn creates self reliance. It is the original grocery style model and provides education and training for other food pantries around the country.

WNYC New York's Public Radio Station
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio stations, broadcasting the finest programs from National Public Radio and Public Radio International, as well as a wide range of award-winning local programming

The Ziv Fund
Danny Siegel's Ziv Tzedakah Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to the collection and distribution of funds to various little known Tzedakah projects. It provides money and support for individuals and programs that offer direct, significant, and immediate services with a minimum of overhead and bureaucracy. Ziv is also involved in bringing the educational message of Tzedakah to communities and Jewish schools throughout the United States, Canada and Israel and empowers ordinary people to become Mitzvah heroes.

Shabbat Shalom/Merry Xmas

This Christmas morning was just like any other. My 3year old cries from bed. I go get him. I change his diaper (that is for another very long post) and then I take him into bed with us.

This morning, he lies down for a few minutes, then perks up.

"Ima, is it Shabbat?"

I am befuddled.

"Why?" I ask, knowing why.

"Is it Shabbat?"

"No, it's not Shabbat. Why?"

"Can I watch TV?"

So yes, my son got the sense that it was a special day, a day off, a day to play and be goofy and relax. Ahhh, a special holiday. Not Shabbat. Christmas. Oh well. Being a New York boy, he thinks that Christmas trees are something that you can only find in building lobbies (which is FINE with me).

And so, we were treated to an extended viewing for the zillionth time of Dan Zanes and Friends on video.

What a way to wake up.

Good-bye for now

When your mouth is full of Hebrew-letter refrigerator magnets, it’s difficult to keep that sweet, husky baby babble from becoming garbled. Something funny was happening in the mouth. I could tell because baby couldn’t grin up at me with that “come on, I know you say not to do it, but how wrong is it really,” look as she hung on the opened oven door. No, her mouth was too full of the alphabet of the language that soon, please G-d, she’ll be speaking.

After making sure none of the magnets had come loose and become swallowed, I re-rolled the toilet paper she’d begun unrolling in the bathroom. I picked up the printer paper scattered all over the living room, and then I pieced together the printer she’d taken apart.

O no o no o no o no. It’s the end of the world as I know it. And yes, I feel fine.

I’m moving to Israel for the next 6 months or so, so this will be my last post for a while. It’s thrilling to think that baby will learn to speak Hebrew (not just eat the Hebrew alphabet on the refrigerator) just as she begins to talk.

I promised family that, while away, I’ll start a blog of baby photos so they can keep up. Obviously, this will be boring to anyone besides family, so I'm taking a break from Ima Shalom for a while. I’m also planning to post a literary mapping project I just got a grant for. I hope to do video “tours” of three cities regularly featured in contemporary Israeli literature, by as many and as diverse a group of writers and poets who will agree to it.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading you all on Ima Shalom.

Before I go, thank you all for the community you’ve shared with me. Ima Shalom, thank you for the generosity of spirit that led you to share your blogspot with us. And for your generosity off the blog.

Gluckel, thanks for your insightful, thoughtful sincerity. Mahotma, it’s a pleasure to read someone who takes such pleasure in her life. Thanks for reminding me.

Joyous Jewess, good luck with your twins; thanks for your inspiration. Mamamia, thanks for your sweet sketches. Ima-ma: best wishes for healthy little ones.

I’ll be a visiting professor this spring, living in Tel-Aviv. I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming (of course, dreaming would be nice, too, sleep being at such a premium these days). Come visit!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

(Don't) love me for my mind

There’s a young woman on the metro smiling at me. Okay, former student. Her name starts with an S. Or maybe a P. I’m certain that either her first or last name starts with either an S or a P. Or maybe an N. She used to come to office hours every week. I’ve asked her about plans for the spring, after graduation, and she pauses for advice. Here comes that look of concentration on her face that says, “I’m trying to follow you. I’m sure you’re going to start making sense any minute now.”

If I’m at all lucky she’ll assume I’ve been smoking weed and not that I no longer have a brain.

I miss my brain. I really do. It may not have been the most brilliant one on the planet, but it was the only one I had, and it wasn’t so bad.

Absent-minded ditziness is expected from expectant mothers. But that’s not really the point at which one needs one’s mind.

Recently I locked my baby and me out of our apartment after shopping for Shabbat. When I phoned the building super, he was in Virginia, an hour and a half away. Neighbors let us hang out in their apartment. Eventually the super felt bad for us and gave us the Secret Combination to the extra key box. The duplicate key to my apartment didn’t work, of course. And, to top it off, my phone battery went dead. The nanny in the suburbs 45 minutes away has the spare.

Oh well, the neighbors had just installed a plasma television, so we watched the 10 laziest animals in the world (sloth is #1, no surprises there, but did you know #2 was the male lion?).

When people ask me if it’s hard to be a mother, I say, so far, not really. I mean, it's physically and emotionally demanding, but it's not hard. Well, it would be nice to be able to put the teething, feverish, congested sweet thing down for two seconds to use the bathroom (not to mention brush my teeth), but this is as bad as it gets. And anyway, the fever has subsided, and she’s almost back to normal.

Right now I get to sing songs like “Froggy Went A’courting” out loud in the street s of our nation’s capitol without looking at all strange. I can spend hours on the floor reading cool books and looking at wild illustrations. I can make weird food and crazy noises. And of course, because of breastfeeding, I get to eat 600 extra calories a day.

What’s hard is doing anything else: writing a book, commenting on student papers. I keep reminding myself that sleep deprivation is a means of torture. It’s okay not to be completely with it when you’ve got a baby. But I'm really worried about giving two papers at my profession's national conference this week.

I don’t blame my brain for deserting me. There is a certain amount of tedium involved with child rearing that might have bored it.

Still, if anyone sees it wandering around somewhere, please tell it that I miss it, I need it, and I love it, and I’ll be here for it whenever it decides to come home.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Well a small miracle has happened this December. I finished reading a book, it’s been about 2 years since I could say that. It took some time-I started it on the plane ride home from my vacation and only had a chapter left before real life took over again.

That one chapter took me about 3 weeks to read.

It was worth the wait.

The chapter was entitled “Naked” in David Sedaris’ Naked. The book as a whole was ok. Not particularly memorable or had me “rolling on the floor” as the New York Times promised I would. It didn’t make me feel smart or engaged. It was supposed to be light and fluffy airplane reading and it did its job.

But this last chapter was quite good because it made me think outside the book. Funny because I could envision everything he described perfectly. Crazy because I was picturing myself in the same situation. I most enjoyed it though because I thought there was a valuable life lesson in there.

I now think everyone should go spend some quality time in a nudist colony.

Not just because I think we would all be better about using sun block if we experienced sunburn in weird places- but because even a description of time spent in a nudist colony made me feel better about me. Some of the tushies Mr. Sedaris describes clearly could NOT have been mine. And while I’m not promoting nudity as a way of life, it has to be good to see that you aren’t the only ass in town that doesn’t look just like Cindy Crawford….even after she had 2 kids….and turned 40.

I think a lot about naked not just because I’m kinky but because I have a little girl and I know she isn’t going to make it another 2 years without worrying about the way she looks. She is growing up in a vain household where even Mahotma Papa plucks the occasional eyebrow. She learned to put on makeup by 6 months because she would watch me as I applied it daily…to get the mail. She hears me complain if my jeans don’t fit just right and sees me walking around with all sorts of weird potions on my face to prevent wrinkles.

And then there is the whole entire universe outside my front door that is self obsessed…and not in that good way. Anorexia should not be something that is now common in junior high. And elementary school is so not the place where I should hear “Do I look fat in this?”

To me she is beautiful everyday no matter what. To me she is perfect. Inside and out.

I can and will tell her that everyday for the rest of my life, but my word isn’t good enough. She has to think that too. And as much as I’d like to think it’s really only the inside that counts ,we all know it’s not. She just has to turn on the tv or pick up a People to learn there is much more that matters. And it doesn’t help things that the rest of us are covered in clothes, so wouldn’t it be great if we could all just spend a week checking out other people’s butts?

It would be wonderful if in our real world we got to experience a little real now and again. So I say, Nude City here I come!

Stop Looking at Me Like That

I'm having a recurring problem with our rabbi, a man I generally like and respect.

Sometimes I make the decision to bring my 13 month old Chamudi into services. Maybe I want to hear the drash. Maybe I think that he ought to see what Shabbat services are like.

Whatever the reason, sometimes I stay, rather than retreating to the children's program or some other Chamudi-rated setting.

And then, it happens. Chamudi gives out a yell. Not a full-on tantrum, but a yell or two because he wants my siddur or to steal my glasses or just to hear his own voice.

And the rabbi gives me a dirty look.

I tried to ignore it the first time, even after an amused friend caught and commented on it. And maybe even the second time.

But the third? Come on.

I'm not easily cowed, and I'm going to continue to bring the baby to shul on Shabbat. But one more look, and Rabbi is getting a talking to. No kidding.

I've already complained to the board--either you are a family friendly shul or you aren't, I said--and the board member essentially said "yes, that is the ongoing tension."

Okay, but I'm not throwing looks of death every time they do something that's NOT child friendly.

Maybe I'm being selfish. I don't really know. But I think I know the boundaries of consideration and good taste, and I'm pretty sure that I haven't crossed them.

So Rabbi...with all due respect...stop looking at me like that.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Zoo at Night

Last night, we all bundled up and drove to the zoo for Zoo Lights - where during the month of December, the zoo is open for business each night - with lights everywhere, hot chocolate, puppet shows, and lots of other treats.

My daughter was happily perched in the Bjorn, my husbands down jacket covering her so that only her little smiling face peaked out.

My son wore his warmest, puffiest jacket and happily sipped his cup of lukewarm hot cocoa.

The highlight of the adventure was the ape house, where we watched the gorillas sleeping soundly. My son was fascinated to see that animals sleep, too, and commented that they must be snuggling with their blankies.

Needless to say, it was absolutely freezing - and absolutely wonderful.

There is something magical about seeing a place at night that normally you only visit during the day.

I feel grateful to be able to experience adventures like Zoo Lights through the eyes of my children.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lex-o-matic reading freak (when I'm with you)

I’m pretty sure the third thing I thought after I discovered I was pregnant was “if I don’t have this baby, who’s going to read all those children’s books I’ve collected?” I like to think that, since G-d finds the written word a pretty good medium for communication, maybe the best efforts of people are also in books. But also, I'm just a book fiend.

I love illustrated books. Those of Maurice Sendak, Adolf Born, Petr Sis, make you feel as if something strange and, if not wonderful, then mind-blowing and beautiful, were about to appear from just outside the frame

One of the biggest thrills of motherhood so far is that my baby loves to read. We often read together, but tonight she sat in my lap and looked carefully through 8 books while I read one of my own. We’ve found some pretty groovy board books. Her favorite by far is Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman. This cleverly illustrated book depicts a sleepy zookeeper putting the animals to bed while a sweet little gorilla steals the keys and ends up co-sleeping with the zookeeper and his wife. Gee, I wonder why baby likes this it?

2. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? illustrated by Eric Carle. Loves the page depicting a roomful of children looking at HER. Carle has also done a cute series for Shabbat and the chagim.

3. “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?” Dr. Seuss. Who doesn’t like to make silly sounds?

4. The Bedtime Sh’ma. A Goodnight Book adapted by Sarah Gershman and illustrated by Kristina Swarner. CD companion must have. (NOT a board book).

5. Hug by Jez Alborough. A three-word book, with eloquent illustrations. A little gorilla wanders among hugging animal families, at first delighted at all the love, then sad because he can’t find anyone to hug him, then happy again when he finds his mommy. She laughs and bounces when we get to the reunion scene.

6. Gorilita by Ruth Lercher Bornstein, about a little gorilla whom everyone loves even after he turns 1 and isn’t so little anymore.

There are a lot of ape books in this list. What can I say? Baby’s got this thing for them. We were at the zoo again this week and the orangutan lept up to the Plexiglas, pressed her face against it, spread out her arms, and gave baby a hug and kiss. Baby hugged back. That was Lucy, who is now on birth control. I guess she wasn’t ready to stop having babies.

Some “children’s” books are really for me. I’ve got a warped sense of humor. Maybe it’s just letting off steam. I discovered Edward Gorey’s, The Doubtful Guest in my eighth month of pregnancy, when I felt as if my body had been invaded by a hiccupping alien who was using my liver as a trampoline. This book exaggerates the feeling until it's outrageous and silly.

How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Amos Vogel and Maurice Sendak (reissued). I think it’s funny. Babydaddy and I get into major fights about Maurice Sendak. He feels Sendak is simply too frightening. But I don’t want my child to be the Jewish equivalent of Tod and Rod Flanders.

In a Sendak book there is mortal danger, sometimes imaginary, sometimes the result of the child’s misbehavior (“Where the Wild Things Are,”). Always, as in Brundibar (adapted by Kushner from an opera performed in Theresienstadt), the smart, courageous children rise to the occasion. I used to be terrified by "The Cat in the Hat," when I was small (what if the mother came home before the house was cleaned up?). But Sendak always made me feel I had agency and that the complex world was more beautiful than I ever imagined, because it was fragile.

My parents used to tell my fretful sister if she didn’t wear her sleep sack at night in winter she’d turn into an ice cube and Mama would drink her up, and then she’d no longer exist. Now THAT is frightening.

It’s not like I plan to read her Struwwelpeteror anything.

I was certain baby would LOVE “Olivia” by Ian Falconer, but now I realize that the stories about this strong-willed, energetic little girl piglet are simply written from the point of view of a tired, affectionate parent.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

White Space

When I left the house this morning to take my son to his gymnastics class, it was perfectly nice out, whatever that means in NYC in December. But now it is snowing and I am indoors trying to get work done.

I moved from dropoff at gym to a nearby Starbucks (aren't they all "nearby"?), where I crashed and returned phonecalls for an hour. Since I am currently office-less but not work-less, I take whatever I can get. While I was drinking my coffee, I enjoyed an article by Lisa Belkin about working wherever the spirit moves you, in the "white space" of our world. The snow was coming down, and I was in my very own white space.

Sitting there, I felt kind of sad. Snow seems to me like tahara, purification. Sure, it is nasty and gray once it hits the ground (this is New York, after all), but it muffles our grumbles and softens our blunt edges. The snow is coming down, fairly fast and furiously--we're in for a big storm today and a big storm on Sunday too.

What do children see when they see snow? I am just learning about this through my son's eyes. He wants to eat it (where do they learn this) and we are having to teach the "never eat yellow snow" lesson. He doesn't seem to get cold and I find myself saying "you need a sweater because I am cold" more than once a day. But snow...well, I want him to love it, to be an excuse to throw caution to the winds and go out and play, to drink hot chocolate instead of regular milk or water, to build a snowperson or to just go a little crazy and throw a snowball or two. There is a purity, an innocence that comes with a snowfall, and maybe I just want to keep him a baby just a little longer so we can enjoy it together.

So I'll take the snow, where ever it may fall, even if it interrupts my work and shifts my focus to other, more lovely things. And maybe I can get my son to not eat yellow snow, but instead sit at our window and look out at the snow falling, and hear the quiet. Given that he's almost 3, it is unlikely that this white quiet will last for more than a minute or so, but it's good to still have hope.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bob Barker Is My Mentor

My daughter ran away yesterday.  It was upsetting not just because she is only 3 and has decided that the other girls on the block are more fun than her own mother-but because this is the 3rd time this has happened-this month.

I find her roaming the neighborhood, proud as a peacock until she sees my distraught face, then she run straight to me, jumps up into my arms and tries to get in my good graces by playing dumb. Acts all confused-how did I get here? Why mercy me, I have no clue! THANK GOODNESS YOU HAVE RESCUED ME, MOMMY!!!

Oh please.

My husband and I try to talk to her, play with her, buy her lots of great toys. But does she care? Nope. We let her outside for too long and POOF she digs her way under the fence.

She really is a bitch.

No really. She is.  You see Bella is more of a dogter than a daughter, but I love her just the same.  The girl child is 2 now, which means people have been asking me when I plan on reproducing again for...oh I don't know, 22 months now.  But don't they see? I already have another child!  Bella is a great sister, but she needs just as much love and attention as anything else alive (except for my bamboo plant, I abandoned it months ago yet it lives on). They both need playing with, they both need to be fed and bathed and taken on field trips.

My Furless Spawn of Love brings me pictures she has colored herself and Bella brings me dead squirrels she has killed herself, but I am equally proud of both my girls' accomplishments. (Although Bella's are much more challenging to stick on the fridge). I don't want to be like so many mommies who forget their little furry bundles of joy exist once they bring the ones that don't have butt breath home from the hospital.

It's actually surprisingly difficult. Aside from the fact that I barely have room on my lap for both of them, Little Miss Perfect requires a lot of extra attention.  Clearly a human child and a dog aren't in the same realm, but they both take up a good deal of space in my heart, and I wouldn't want to hurt either one of them.  That's why when Bella runs out I think it's because she is bitter she didn't get as long a bath or maybe her Bow Wow Yum Yums didn't smell as good as the peanut butter cookies at snack time.  I take it personally, and get frustrated even though I know it's just how doggies can be.

But it's that crazy worry that keeps me real.  That makes me a big ball of love for everything alive (again, except the bamboo plant), which I think is a nice thing about me and makes me so thrilled my little girl is growing up not just HAVING a pet, but WITH a pet.  

Aside from Bella being her first word, Bella teaches her responsibility and respect for other living things.  She also learns to stand up for herself whenever Bella tries to snatch away her baby pancakes and she learns compassion when she sees Bella get scratched in the nose by the cat.  They actually play together quite well (but gotta be careful when one of your younglings outweighs the other by 40 pounds) and make my crazy toy and fur covered home a heck of a lot of fun to hang out in.

One day I might consider having another...but right now one fur ball that likes to dig holes under my fence is enough.

Does Harvard Have Pre-K?

Abba recently sent me this article from the NYtimes:

Harvard to Aid Students High in Middle Class

Now all chamoodi (our son) has to do is get into Harvard. No pressure.

It's no secret that university educations are overpriced. And I've even opened up a college savings plan to help cope with the cost.

But I've recently realized that I'm fooling myself. There's an entire industry devoted to ensuring that my child gets a college education. It's good to be prepared--and to take advantage of every bit of help available--but college isn't the problem.

You want something to keep you up at night? Think about the cost of 12+ years of day school.

Abba is convinced that day schools provide substantial scholarships so that all eligible students can attend. But Abba went to Ramaz--which is flush in Upper East Side money and alumni support--and I am not sure that we can count on such largess from our local school.

At best, our financial life will be scrutinized by a committee of our peers, and our decisions to (gasp!) buy a car or go on a vacation put under a microscope. Humiliating.

Lots of ideas have been floated--from a community superfund to homeschooling to charter schools--but so far none have made a real difference. And still, day school looms.

So how will we do it? Some serious sacrifices, no doubt. And for 2, 3 or even 4 children? God only knows.

Hey, at least our rent is controlled.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Red-hot Chili paste and other domestic Channukah Miracles

My baby LOVES Chanukah—When I light she claps her hands and waves hello to the flames. She dances to the blessings. Well, to be fair, she also loves the lights of printers, radios, elevators, bus brakes, and pedestrian crossing signals. Why wouldn’t she like Chanukah lights?

So I was hanging out with my two-toothed wonder, waving at the candles and eating latkes with chipotle salsa, cilantro and a squeeze of lime, when she parked herself at my knees and opened her mouth. No, it wasn’t a yawn or a “Mr.-Brown-Can-Moo,-Can-You?” noise. I was seeing my daughter’s mouth voluntarily open for food.

I gave her a bit of tomato. She made the “this-is-disgusting,-give-me-more” face. I ended up feeding her the entire bowl of salsa. Without a bib. Not a drop landed outside her mouth or on her clothes or in her fists. She stood at my knees the whole time.

This is the child who acts as if she’s dying if she sees a spoon approaching her from any angle with anything but applesauce on it. This is the child it takes 45 minutes to get six spoons of anything into her mouth and swallowed. If they made painter smocks for infants, I'd have one for her, because she looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas when she's done eating, normally.

I further discovered, through the course of this miraculous week, she likes barbeque flavor, herb de Provence, and vinaigrette. Eats better from chopsticks than from her spoon. And she’ll eat anything as long as it’ mixed with enough marinara sauce.

Heck, she’s been crawling around the apartment with a Clementine, lemon or lime pressed against her gums ever since citrus season started.

I do feel like an idiot. I had been treating her as if, because she had no teeth, she had no taste buds. And obviously, baby’s got standards.

Have you ever actually tasted baby food? I have. It’s just awful. Especially those jars of lentils and rice, or peas. Really, everything but the applesauce is terrible. They don’t smell too good either.

Well, when I was pregnant I did go through an industrial-sized jar of neon-red Korean chili paste, and a couple jars of schug, so maybe it’s comfort food to her.

Slightly less miraculously, I found a furnished apartment in Tel-Aviv for the spring—I’ll be teaching there for a semester—that is only slightly too expensive for me. A lovely Bauhaus.

A girlfriend urbanely reminded me, “you do realize that 99% of Tel Aviv is Bauhaus? and really neglected Bauhaus at that, sadly. Tel Aviv needs to be queer eyed -- it needs a total reality TV makeover.”

Well, that may be true of 99% of Tel Aviv, but MY building is owned by N. who has, indeed, renovated the entire building.

He’s thoughtful, too. When I mentioned I needed a quiet apartment because I had a baby, N. produced a baby bed. AND a changing table. Without asking. For free. Wonder if he can get me a breast pump? It feels indelicate to ask, though.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Overprotective 3-Year Old

I always thought that my little boy would become jealous and possessive of my attention when his sister came into the world. To my utter surprise, he has shown virtually no jealosy and is wonderfully affectionate (albeit a bit bossy) and sweet to his baby sister.

Lately, he has become very anxious that she will get hurt. When she crawls around our living room (which is a safe, gated area), he often whimpers, "Mommy, pick up J. Feed her. Nurse her. Good mommy - keep feeding her. Hold her. She doesn't want to crawl. Just hold her!"

And if she ever tries to leave the living room? Forget it!

When I ask him what he is worried about, he says that he is scared she will get hurt or fall down the stairs. I do my best to explain to him that I am watching her and that she is safe. Most of the time, he remains unconvinced.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do. On one hand, it's so sweet that he cares about her so much. On the other hand, the little girl needs some freedom to crawl and explore! I hate to reprimand her for caring about her - but sometimes he just won't stop insisting that I hold her.

For now, I'm assuming this is just a phase - and I'll continue talking with him about it. When it comes down to it, this is a good problem. I am grateful that my daughter has a big brother to look after her.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mourning, Before Death

I hesitate to continue in the vein of the previous post, but time demands certain responses. My aunt is dying of cancer. I read the story of Emily Arndt with such sadness because I am watching a similar but yet very different story unfold before my eyes.

My aunt--she's my father's brother's wife--is in the end stages of breast cancer. She's my only aunt. I was terrified of her as a child, and only learned that she was human when I was about 18 (when I discovered that it was possible for adults to be human). She had a double mastectomy 6.5 years ago and a year and a half ago, just before that 5 year mark, the cancer came back with a vengeance.

She has asked permission, in not so many words, from her family to let her die. She has two fabulous adult children, two amazing children by marriage, and four smart, adorable grandchildren who love her very much. Then there are her nieces and nephews, 6 in total and 4 extra spouses, who love her for being the aunt who always called, who always cared, who always sent cards and gave hugs and understood when our parents never did. And now, 6 grandnieces and nephews. A total of 4 brothers and sisters in law, and one healthy as a horse almost 90 year old mother in law who herself is a survivor of breast cancer.

I ache about this. It is not just that I will be losing a woman who I deeply respect, someone who has truly taught me what being there for someone really means, and someone who was so deeply connected to her Judaism that she literally lived and breathed the fulfillment of hachnassat orchim and bikkur cholim. I ache for children losing their mother long before the right time to lose a parent (which is obviously never, but old age helps to soothe a loss). I ache for grandchildren who will won't make any more memories of grandma and will miss the way she cuddled them on her lap (even the older one). I ache for my uncle, who hasn't been the same since the cancer reappeared and in spite of his tough outer skin, is experiencing a deeper pain than I pray anyone ever has to know.

My resolution is as follows. I will "be there" when I am needed. Whenever that is.

And I will learn to crochet washcloths.

When my son was born almost 3 years ago, my aunt and uncle showed up at my apartment with a trove of goodies, from Baby Einstein videos to board books and toys, all the products of having had 4 grandchildren and learned from experience. But in that trove of real treasure were two hand crocheted washcloths.

No other washcloths will compare. They are amazing for washing, they hold so much water and squeeze out so nicely and they are the loveliest babygift I may have received. They even hold enough to rinse the shampoo out of a little boy's hair. They are the kinds of things that become heirlooms. And when the time comes, I will learn to crochet those washcloths because that is the way I would like to keep my aunt's memory alive.

Now, mind you, I am not a handy girl. I don't bake and I don't do handiwork. I can build an Ikea bookshelf but nothing more complicated than that. However, this strikes me as a vivid way of actively honoring my aunt and helping others understand how special she a person she IS. And somehow, this work of learning to do this, will be a healing process, a chance to honor a truly great woman, and to pass her love to others in a way that would make her happy.

It is crass, beyond crass to mourn for someone before their death. But in a way, realizing the eventuality prepares us to mourn properly. Shiva is meant to lead us through the mourning period with structure, shloshim to keep it going a little longer, and then the entire year to stick with the idea of loss and make it a part of the fabric of your identity. Because I am not obligated to say kaddish, I will mourn for her in my own way, and make washcloths.

The scholar of Christian-Jewish ethics you hadn’t yet heard of

Emily Arndt, the author of “Demanding our attention : the Hebrew Bible in Christian ethics : an illustrative analysis of the akedah” (the binding of Isaac), wrote this study after having given birth. With a newborn she finished her dissertation and won a competitive job. She was teaching at Georgetown University when she gave birth a second time, but she never came home from the hospital, and this weekend she passed away.

She and her husband were so committed to the inter-religious dialogue that is so lacking in our world today that he had put his promising literary career on hold (he’d published a book of poems and the poems from his second manuscript are published in the best literary journals) to help her finish her book about the Akedah and teach in the theology department. There she taught with great respect for Judaism and sensitivity.

Her husband, my friend (we are alumni from the same MFA program and colleagues now), took care of their 4-year-old daughter and intended to care for the newborn son and taught as an adjunct. I remember his excitement when he told me they were expecting again. We used to meet to read one another’s poetry during lunch.

Emily discovered she had cancer in the final trimester of her pregnancy. I suppose she had very little to gain if she were to begin treatment then, and so much to lose. Her 4-month old son is healthy and thriving.

Emily lived guided by the ethics she taught, and so did her family. If I may say so, she was a real Ayshes Chayil, a woman of valor. And it’s a great loss to Jews and Christians alike that her work has been halted by her death.

Should anyone wish to help her husband defray the enormous costs of treatment that insurance did not cover, here is where they can do so.

Emily Arndt Fund
c/o Linda Ferneyhough
Theology Department
Georgetown University
Box 571135
Washington, DC 20057-1135

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ho Ho Ho, Merry Chanumas!

I love Christmas. A lot. Thank jebus I don’t actually celebrate it because man, I’d go Christmas crazy. Tons of lights. Tons. I would totally make my husband line every square inch of the house with pretty white lights (the colored ones are nice, but the white have a certain classiness to them). He might be on pain killers for a few weeks after, but you’d be able to see my house from the space station. I’d get a dancing Santa. I might even rent out real reindeer. Woo…that would be sweet.

I enjoy Christmas, the season, the spirit. It gets tricky though, with Princess Peanut and all. I try and give her everything she needs to make her happy, but a Christmas tree just ain’t gonna happen.

A lot of mommies I know and love don’t even discuss Christmas with their children. Some think it’s forbidden biblically, others just don’t see the need. I’m quite the opposite though. I take her driving through the pretty lights. I tend to turn the radio up when the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve” is on-it’s AWESOME, and she totally loves to dance to it. I don’t skip over the page in her favorite book-“The Cheerio Cookbook”- that shows how to make beautiful (and I’m sure quite delicious) Christmas Tree snacks using only Cheerios, gum drops, food coloring ,2 bags of marshmallows and a stick of butter.

I talk to her about it and hope in her 2 year old innocence she gets it all. It’s not like she is going to grow up and NOT figure out something’s up. The streets are lined with red and green from Halloween on in most parts of the world. I explain to her that some boys and girls get to enjoy Christmas and some boys and girls get to enjoy Chanukah. I don’t play her Christmas carols or let her take pictures in Santa’s lap. But we do watch the lines of people at the mall as they make their way there. We point and smile and laugh. It’s fun for them, and enjoying other’s happiness? Not always a bad thing.

Now we do plenty of Chanukah celebrating at the Mahotmasteins. We have pretty decorations that our little Picaso has made all over. We know every word to Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” We have wicked cool menorahs (though the one that the girl made in school is the one we use with the most pride). And to make sure my husband gets to take his personal holiday spirit to his Christmas Wonderland called his office, I plan on spending the afternoon baking dozens of Chanukah cookies with my daughter for him and all his coworkers to enjoy.

Chanukah is great great fun. Fried things and presents and songs and family. But no matter how hard you try, it’s never going to be Christmas. It’s just not how we roll. So I say enjoy Christmas in a way that only a Jew can enjoy Christmas-from afar.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Turning the Pages

Tonight wasn't my son's first Hanukkah, but it was his first toddler Hanukkah. Last year he was less than 2 months old and had trouble staying awake for candle lighting.

I thought he'd be entranced by the candles and the singing, but I was wrong. He wouldn't--couldn't--take his attention from the little siddur I had given him so that he would stop grabbing at mine.

My son loves siddurim. So much so that the main reason that I have trouble davening with him is that he wants to grab mine and play with it, and will holler if I resist. He loves the feel and sound of the pages, and he's respectful and gentle with it, as he should be.

It doesn't stop with siddurim. At benching, he insists on holding a bencher until everyone is done. And I'm told that during Abba's Daf Yomi shiur he most certainly wants to hold a Talmud.

I'm sure that some people are bothered by the fact that we let him handle holy texts, but Abba and I happen to think that it's wonderful. For so many people siddurim and benchers are confusing and offputting. But not our son--he's already cozied up and gotten to know these soon-to-be-old-friends, building a relationship with these books that I hope will last a lifetime.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sleeping in the Hallway

I always thought I would want my children to share a room. They would keep each other company, learn how to share, and hopefully have more fun. I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to put my 3-year old son (who is a GREAT) sleeper in the same room as my 10-month old daughter, who is a less-than-great sleeper.

You always here that kids can sleep through a sibling crying. My son, a very deep sleeper, gets frightened by the sound of his sister crying at night. So inevitably, we have to take one of them out - often several times a night - and no one gets any sleep.

Then one night, my son brilliantly - and a little miraculously - solved our dilemma. Knowing that sleeping in our room was not an option, he began requesting to sleep in the hallway. We would lay down his sleeping bag and the various blankets and pillows and animals that accompany him to dreamland on the carpet in the hall outside our bedroom - and there he would spend the night. He essentially created a third "bedroom" in our apartment, enabling us to finally sleep train our daughter and all of us to get a better night's rest.

I am hopeful that soon our daughter will be sleeping well enough not to disturb him anymore - and that they can finally begin to enjoy sharing a room. Until then, I am very grateful to my little boy for being so flexible and so creative.

He's a great little guy.

What's Wrong With a little Spoiling?

“She’s so spoiled, there’s nothing for me, as a grandmother, to do,” my mother told me daily during my parents’ long-weekend visit. She means that I hold my daughter until she falls asleep, then I place her in her bed and, if she wakes up, pick her up after 15 minutes and try the whole thing again. Plus, any time she wakes up after midnight, I take her into bed with me.

Part of it is pragmatic—we live in a one-bedroom apartment and it’s just the two of us. So what good would it do me to lie in my bed listening to her cry for an hour and a half?

Part of it is—well, why not? I’m not sharing a bed with anyone else, so if that’s what my daughter prefers, I can deal. I’m not doing it for me, as I sleep much better alone.

But the visit made me wonder, what does it mean to “spoil” a child? I’m not talking about being a helicopter parent, doing everything for my daughter so she never learns to take care of herself. I’m talking about co-sleeping, dressing, feeding and being with my daughter attentively, instead of just treating her as a chore to be accomplished. Showing her she can count on others for comfort sometimes; she needn’t count only on herself.

As long as my baby is thoughtful, has a loving personality, and is a good person, as long as she is not self-centered, why not?

My mother says I am making things harder for myself, and I suppose I am. But she had four children, then three more, and a husband, so I understand how she’d need to be as efficient as possible.

And yet, during the day, my daughter doesn’t cry when she wants attention, she pulls up to me and stares at me until I look up. Then she smiles. She’s got great interpersonal skills already.

Yes, I’m independent. I paid my own tuition in college, lived and worked in four different countries. I can change a car’s alternator, the oil, build a table, sew a dress, and speak several languages. I don’t rely on others for much of anything. And here I am, a mother by myself.

I’m not a psychologist or anything, but it seems to me in retrospect, a little interdependence wouldn’t be so bad.

When I look at my girlfriends who profess to have been “spoiled,” I notice a huge difference between my life and theirs. One was raised by a single mother and her grandparents. She slept with her mother until she was about 6. Her husband now massages her every night and tucks her into bed. That’s what she’s used to.

I was telling this to another friend, who became indignant that her husband doesn’t give her a nightly massage, because her parents did. But her indignation was interrupted by a phone call from her husband—would she mind if they took a helicopter to the top of a glacier and then hiked around the glacier during the trip to New Zealand he was booking for her?

Both of these women were very generous, thoughtful, wonderful people. I’ve never heard them say anything negative about anyone. If they are the products of “spoiling,” then sign my daughter up.

Of course, having been spoiled doesn’t guarantee one a happy-ever-after life. But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t hurt. I’d be thrilled if my treatment of my daughter taught her how to make others want to pamper her a little.