Thursday, January 31, 2008

21st Century Digital Girl

I feel young. I look young. The other day a telemarketer asked if I could put my “mommy” on the line (I gave her a good scare when I told her I was home alone). My cheeks pass the firmness test. And according to the guys doing construction by the Kohl’s I have a “fine piece of ass.”

But I am old. Old. Old. Pass the Metamucil and Raisin Bran OLD. Do you know why? Do you know why Dirt signed my yearbook? Do you know why I wear slacks and a blouse? Because I just told my daughter (and this is verbatim) “ In MY day we couldn’t hear ‘We Are The Dinosaurs’ 4 times in a row. We had to listen to the WHOLE tape. And if we tried to press the rewind button there was a 95% chance you’d over shoot the song you wanted to hear again and end up smack dab in the middle of ‘The Sign.’ ”

When I was growing up my family did not jump at any new fangled inventions. We were sort of a status quo group. Heck, it took us a long time to get cassette tapes instead of records (though I do have some mighty fine memories of dancing around the den to our record player blaring The Monkeys). CDs were something I didn’t dare dabble in until college. Voice mail was for heathens. We didn’t even have an answering machine until the mid 90s.

And forget my grandparents…and great grandparents for that matter. My Safta used flash bulbs for her camera until the day she died…3 years ago. Bread machines were blasphemy to my great grandma. And while my Baubie did get a computer, she just named it Bertha the Bitch and used it to play solitaire and download viruses.

But here at the Mahotma House we try and stay up to date with the coolest of cool inventions. We have fancy digital cameras, DVRs, DVDs, burners, motion sensors and laptops. Ok so we’re kind of geeky, but in that cool look at our fun new toys that will give us massages while down loading our memory into an invisible keyboard sort of way. And the cool new stuff is great. It makes life a little easier. I can burn Laurie Berkner CDs for all the cars, I can record all the episodes of Wonder Pets simply by touching the “season pass” button and I can send my mom video of my daughter singing her Happy Birthday right over my cell phone.

I don’t miss the olden days. I don’t miss VCRs not recording episodes of The Golden Girls because I forgot to turn the power off (seriously-how does that make any sense). I don’t miss not being able to call my husband in the middle of Shaw’s and ask him which flavor of on sale ice cream he is in the mood for (Cheesecake Diva). And I sure as heck don’t miss not being able to show my Queen of Entertainment to the WORLD via her very own youtube channel (you have got to see her play the kazoo).

But of course you don’t know what you are missing if you never had it to begin with. So the Girl Child shall never know what it’s like to miss an episode of her favorite television show. Or to not be able to hear a favorite song on demand. Or not to be able to talk to her Baubie for endless hours thanks to unlimited nights and weekends. She is very lucky. I just want her to appreciate it.

So I guess to her, I AM old. DECADES older than she is. And as any old person it is my job to regale her with stories of my youth. How we were forced to listen to the radio with commercials in the car on the way to school AND back. How we used “film” to take pictures and we wouldn’t even know what the pictures looked like for DAYS after they were taken. How phones used to have cords that got endlessly tangled. And how lucky you young whippersnappers have it and don’t even know it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Vacuums are Beautiful

My three-year old son loves vacuums. He loves talking about them, looking at them, and of course - cleaning with them! One of his favorite activities is going to our local vacuum store, where the owner truly appreciates my son's special interest. We watch as my son moves from vacuum to vacuum - each one more wondrous than the next. "I love vacuums," he says. "Aren't they beautiful?" "Yes, they are," I answer, nodding appreciatively.

A few days ago we journeyed out to Rockville to visit their local vacuum store. My one-year old
daughter crawled happily around the store, touching the brightly colored machines.

"Va-cuum, say Va-cuum," he said slowly to her. She gurgled back.

As I watched them, trying to suppress laughter, I imagined what this little scene could look like to an outside - like some perverse 1950s brainwashing tactic - my son trying to get his little sister to say the word "vacuum!"

We left the store with many promises to return - and the owner expressing his excitement to someday hand the family business over to such a vacuum aficianado.

Who knew that I would spending my afternoons in a vacuum store?

The “I Can” Exercise.

Here was a meme that I couldn't resist from Aidel Maidel...

The Rules are simple:

  • You have 15 minutes and 15 minutes only. Time yourself.
  • No making changes once the list is completed beyond correcting spelling mistakes.
  • Be Honest. It's okay if it's silly or strange or weird or disconcerting.
  • Resist the urge to explain yourself. Wait and see what other people will ask you to explain after they read your list.
  1. I can read most books in 1-2 days
  2. I can bentch by heart
  3. I can make my kids belly laugh
  4. I can nurse my son
  5. I can cook for Shabbat in under 2 hours (for 10 pple)
  6. I can find almost anyone on-line
  7. I can change a diaper in a flash
  8. I can tell if a child has a fever using my lips on thier forehead
  9. I can write very well
  10. I can be very, very, very blunt
  11. I can keep an organized binder of medical records
  12. I can keep my kids activities in my head- and not miss anything
  13. I can get in to see a doctor at the very last minute
  14. in that vein, I can be very persistent
  15. I can turn on my husband
  16. I can do six load of laundry in one day
  17. I can do legal research
  18. I can bluebook
  19. I can blog
  20. I can push a double stroller while drinking a latte
  21. I can talk about things other than my children
  22. I can be very vocal about my opinions
  23. i can volunteer my time (when I have it)
  24. I can be discreet
  25. I can listen to others very well
  26. I can tune out the world
  27. I can pass multiple bar exams
  28. I can make my husband smile
  29. I can be a damn good interviewee
  30. I can do well in school
  31. I can crack my knuckles
  32. I can touch my thumb to my wrist
  33. I can fold my tongue
  34. I can lose my self in song
  35. I can lose myself in dance
  36. I can read all 7 Harry Potter books in 4 months
  37. I can pack 4 pple for a trip in 4 hours
  38. I can make lists with the best of them :-)
  39. I can talk to all members of my immediate family in the 15 minutes before Shabbat starts
  40. I can shmooze
  41. I can gossip
  42. I can keep a secret
  43. I can give great hugs
  44. I can check my email 50 times a day
  45. I can win at Snood
  46. I can braid my hair
  47. I can give my daughter great pigtails (or double-ponies)
  48. I can tell a great story
  49. I can lead a group
  50. I can inspire
  51. I can get very angry
  52. I can use guilt
  53. I can throw a killer party
  54. I can drive to calm myself
  55. I can cook for people in my community who need it
  56. I can over-extend myself
  57. I can be lazy
  58. I can be forgiving
  59. I can be easy-going
  60. I can read ten books at a time with my kids, and not get tired of it
  61. I can remember stupid trivia
  62. I can be strong-willed
  63. I can kick tuchus at trivial pursuit - want to challenge me?
Time's up!

Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm Davening

This morning, we were all getting dressed in many layers to go to a birthday party when my son marched out of the living room and into our bedroom. He closed the door behind him and said, "I'm busy. I'm davening." I didn't know what to say or do in response so I sneaked over to the partly closed door and listened.

My kid grabbed his abba's siddur (that abba liberated from me) and was standing flipping through the pages and singing the Shema.

He came out a minute later and said, "I'm done." Then he walked over to his toy area and grabbed a little xeroxed pamphlet that he made in school, basically an illustrated Birkot HaShachar which he markered all over in green. Took it right back into the room, went through the whole routine again. This time he comes out and said, "I said brachot."

Kvelling would be not even enough to describe how full my heart was (and is).

Then, I got bitter. I thought about my parents who seemed to have much disdain for Jewish ritual life outside of the synagogue (although my father is and was a pulpit rabbi). I thought about how lucky I was to go to a Jewish summer camp.

And then I got sad. I felt sad for every single one of those Jewish 3 year olds out there who have no Jewish role models and no teachers and no parents who care enough to teach them the Shema so that when they grow up they can teach it to their children. Of course, I think about this all the time because it's my work to do so as a Jewish educator, but I can't help but think that this is the singe most important moment in a person's life to change how they relate to their Judaism, and we are missing the boat.

If we don't get parents of young children on board, and help them learn and teach their children, well, it won't happen for those kids. And then the cycle repeats itself. I am not talking intermarriage here (that seems too obvious) but the continued decline of any relationship to Jewish living.

So at a moment that I felt (and still feel) such tremendous joy for my son, for my family and for myself (sorry for the lack of humility), I feel sadness for those who don't have this or don't know how to access it. Maybe we should call it a day and pour our resources into early childhood education instead of (whoa, I'm not going there)....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Birthday Wishes

Today is my daughter's first birthday! I wanted to take a few moments to express my gratitude that she came into the world!

From the day she was born, she has been positively sweet and delightful. Her smile is infectious and her laugh is like music to me.

She has had a wonderfully positive effect on our family - calming my son and making us all more joyful and loving.

This one is no shrinking violet. When she wants something, you know it. She she is unhappy, the whole world hears about it. She has a piercingly loud cry!

It's amazing how quickly her first year of life has gone by. So much faster than my son's year one. And yet, I still find it challenging at times to be present with her and am looking forward to a time when she is more interactive and verbal. I want to slow down, though, and appreciate at each and every stage. Slow down and really be present with her.

Thank you, my beautiful daughter, for coming into our lives. Happy Birthday. I love you!

Go Blue (and Black and Purple and Every Color Out There)!

When I was a little girl the very first pet I ever had was a beautiful long haired black guinea pig named Samantha. I adored Samantha. Thought she was the best friend any girl could ever have. I chose the name Samantha for my wonderful best friend because the only black person I had ever seen was this cute little girl on Sesame Street-named Samantha.

Samantha on Sesame Street was really the only African American person in my life for a long long while. I went to all Jewish day schools from nursery on up and I don’t think there was anybody there but a bunch of white Jews. I had all white Jewish friends. I am pretty sure all of my doctors and dentists were white Jews.

But seeing Sesame Street Samantha taught me that there are in fact other people in the world out there besides white Jews. And I wanted to meet them.

My Yeshiva High School was VERY disappointed when I decided to not go to Stern-the big all girls, all Jewish college in New York. They were a protective bunch. They FIRED my 11th grade art history teacher because he showed us art that involved the Madonna. Not the one with the cone bra, the one who ended up with a pretty famous son. So they refused to send my transcripts to colleges that they deemed too non-Jewish (such as Northwestern...yeah I don’t get it either).

Yet somehow I manage to convince them that the 6,000 Jews that the University of Michigan housed would provide me with not only a top tier education but a Jewish husband as well (one of their largest concerns).

Ann Arbor was great. The big huge melting pot of people I had never talked to before, let alone befriended. It’s not like we sat around and sang Koombaya, but my best friends freshman year were an Indian, a lesbian, a hilarious blue haired boy and my future husband-a lovely Jew from Rhode Island. I took a class on all the world’s major religions and a REAL art history class (no worries Rabbis, my eyes didn’t bleed and I didn’t go jumping in the fountain in the Quad for an emergency baptism).

But I understand why everyone fought so hard to keep me contained. It is a big huge trust issue. You have to hope that all the Orthodox brainwashing (and I’m sorry, but whatever it was that kept me from eating the delicious looking pepperoni pizza at study groups has to involve some form of brainwash) keeps hold. You have to hope that all the love of Judaism you have instilled upon a person as they grow up will keep them loving Judaism even when their roommate decorates the dorm with beautiful Christmas lights. But in my opinion, protecting does not mean hiding them from the whole world. You can stay in a little sheltered region of space and time-but why would you want to?

I have all these grand “We Are The World” thoughts, yet here I am 7 years out of college and most of the people I know and hang out with are a bunch of white Jews. That’s just how it turns out. But I don’t want my daughter thinking that any person that speaks Spanish is named Dora.

To be fair my daughter has a bit more of an advantage than I did growing up as one of my fantastic bestest friends, happens to be black and happens to be among her favorite Aunties. So points there. I also have friends that aren’t orthodox, white or straight that she’ll get to know. So that’s good. But ultimately my daughter is going to be kept in her white Jewish day school protection unit as long as they’ll keep her because they are the ones in charge of the really good brainwashing.

So my hope for her is that she has the open mind of her mother. The desires to get out past all the pasty whiteness that I have entrenched her in. That she’ll see and want everything the world has to offer, all while remaining true to herself. If she wants to go to Stern I will not stop her. It is a wonderful school. My brother is currently in Yeshiva University and loving it.

But there must be a little of me in her because in the play room during services on Shabbos, she gathered up every Barbie of every color and had them all sit around her in a circle and started singing to them. And I am quite sure I could make out the beginning strands of Koombaya.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just You Wait

One of the stand-out sessions for me at this year’s LimmudNY was a panel called Can You Hear My Now? Fixed Liturgy and the Crisis of Prayer.

It included luminaries such as Rabbis Michael Strassfeld, Reuven Hammer, and Andrea Cohen-Kiener.

They each had a lot of interesting insights on prayer,the possibility/necessity of change to the service, and more.

At the beginning of the question and answer portion of the session I raised my hand and asked a question that all of the sudden seemed very important:

How can I balance my own spiritual needs–my desire to have a deep and meaningful prayer experience–with the education and care of my young child?

I sat back and waited for their words of wisdom. Interestingly enough, only Andrea Cohen-Kiener, the sole woman on the panel, chose to answer the question. And she answered in a way that I truly didn’t expect. Especially not from a feminist (and female) Renewal rabbi.

First of all, she said, you should know that there’s a heter (exemption) for you that allows you not to be obligated to fixed prayer during this time in your life. (A misleading statement–in the tradition it’s not so much a heter as a lack of obligation altogether–and covers a woman’s entire life).

Also, she continued, though in the ancient period a women spent most her short life childbearing, for this is only a short period in your life, and before you know it, it will be over, and you’ll probably miss it. And meanwhile, you’re engaged in some of the most spiritual work of all, shaping a young spirit.

That doesn’t mean, she said, that you don’t need “the pause that refreshes” that prayer offers. You just may not be able to get it at 9:30am on Saturday morning.

Her advice? Form a Rosh Hodesh group or create some other form of woman’s prayer group. Or set aside time each night to read something spiritually uplifting. Find the time, inside or outside synagogue, to nurture your soul.

I appreciated her advice, but I also found it somewhat troublesome…she essentially advised me to give up on finding spirituality in my Shabbat prayers until my children are older. I don’t think that I’m ready to do that, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to search for ways to make it work.

And as for forming women’s groups…an interesting idea, but most of the women in my circle don’t have the time or the inclination to join yet another group and take away from the already limited time that they get with their children.

But she also reminded me that having my son with me in shul–even as he pulls off my hat, throws cookies, and shouts at the rabbi–adds a level of joy and truth to my prayers that would have been totally unachievable without him. And with every “amen” he utters, I can feel pride in the beautiful Jewish soul that is developing within him.

Had her advice come out of the mouth of an Orthodox rabbi, I most certainly would have taken issue, seen in it hints of the “women are on a higher spiritual level” idea that is used to exclude women out of so much of traditional Jewish public life.

But coming from a female Jewish renewal rabbi, it was something else entirely, and so I listened with an open heart. And that’s how I came to remember that though communal prayer will always be an important part of my Judaism, there are many types of spiritual experiences to be had in this life.

Cross-posted to Mixed Multitudes.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Here's a long shot: anyone have leads for finding a wonderful nanny/nanny share/in-house babysitting in Tel Aviv (not far from the Old Central bus station) fast?

I'd planned on devoting the first three weeks in Israel to finding the perfect situation. After all, I'm still breastfeeding and I wasn't planning to lug a million-pound breast pump at this late stage in our feeding.

But now the teaching strike is over in Israel’s universities. This means that, instead of starting to teach in mid-February, I’ll begin to teach the very next day after I arrive in Tel Aviv. That is, eight days from now.

Administration has decided to start the fall semester on the last Sunday in January. I got bumped up from the spring semester to the fall semester.

I don’t mind rushing the syllabus. Finishing it this week, with the taxes,the book-length translation, the merit report, the packing. But I hadn't planned on rushing child care.

I'm not easily fazed. The first month that I taught Spanish in the Czech Republic I had no classroom—actually, I did have a classroom, "they" just lost the key to the classroom. It’s nice to know there exists a country so virtuous that no one understands how to pick a lock, break a window, slip a really skinny person through the window up at the very top, or any of the other tricks you see in the movies. There were also no textbooks and the photocopy machine wasn’t working. But I digress.

The point is we'll be okay. I can bring baby to class the first day in Israel. We’re going to read some Walt Whitman out loud, and she’ll like that.

I understand that my luggage will get lost—it ALWAYS gets lost, and this trip has a lay-over in Heathrow—so I’m carrying teaching clothes, makeup and syllabi in the diaper bag.

I’m all set. Except for the most important thing of all—baby.

I'm not a freakishly uptight mother. Baby's pacifier drops, I lick it off, or wipe it on something, or dip it in a glass of water, and give it right back. I let her eat sand, and I didn't freak when I found her mouth full of cat food at a friend's the other day. But I lay awake at night terrified at the thought of my daughter feeling abandoned or afraid (or G-d forbid, hungry for milk!) when I'm not there.

Baby turned one two weeks ago, and, of course, it matters more than ever who she's with. She's even more expressive: “Hi Kitty Cat!” “Hi Baby!” “Bye! Bye!” She likes to hide her socks, so that when I inquire, “why, where’s your sock, young lady?” she casually pulls it out from behind the pillow, then cracks up.

In the morning she climbs pillows, flings herself from on top of them onto the bed, erupts in laughter, plays peek-a-boo, throws her arms rapturously around my neck. I’m madly in love. (I just had to go take a peek at her sweet sleeping self in the middle of writing this).

I know that this blog isn’t usually a great forum for soliciting advice, but I’m desperate for good childcare. Please don’t be shy if you’ve got any leads.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mmmm, Broccoli!

I do believe I heard words that I thought I would never hear tonight.

We often have dinner at my inlaws' with my husband's grandmother, who is 90. Their fabulous very part time housekeeper, who raised my husband from age 1 (we can talk about the WOHM/SAHM debate some other time), always makes the same dinner. Grandma H has a limited diet so we eat the same thing every time. Meat. Starch. Veg.

Every week, we have meatloaf. Sometimes it is with carrot/potato puree--don't worry, it's instant mashed potatoes. And always we have broccoli. And sliced tomatoes. For dessert, raspberry sorbet.

In the beginning, my son had to be literally forced to eat the food. Pushing and prodding got a few bites of puree with a dot or two of meat. Then he started to like it when it was fed to him. Now, at three, he is WOLFING it down.

Tonight, after a whole helping of dinner, my son pushed himself up against the table and said,

"More broccoli, please."

I think that nothing pleases me more. I was not raised to have a healthy attitude toward food, and it overjoys me that I have a kid who likes fruit and vegetables. And he said please! I don't know where to begin being happy. This is why we call him the NachesMachine.

It does strike me, though, that my child watches everything I do. He sees things that I am painfully aware of, all of my shortcomings. He sees stuff that I'm quite proud of and things that I know are flaws but that I somehow have also convinced myself are endearing. And he sees things that I never even noticed about myself...copying all of it in his own unique way. Copying is the highest form of flattery, I know, but I just had no idea that in reality, this is how our kids learn to manage the world, and negotiate the thorniest of watching us and then copying our responses. Of course, I knew, but I didn't really know. By now, though, I've learned, because the snotty way that he says "What, Ima?" when he is caught doing something that he shouldn't be doing, or he doesn't want to comply with whatever the demand du jour is the way I respond when I'm in the same situation. I guess I better watch my mouth.

But more broccoli, please? On so many levels, it was so cute and so polite and so nice to hear. I guess sometimes this careful parenting actually works. Afterward, the politeness was followed by a bowl of raspberry sorbet. And then I gave in on a request for a second scoop, because he did eat a huge helping of broccoli, after all.

Je m'ennuie...SIGH

Thank goodness for the French. They have given us words like ennuie.

A word which nobly and beautifully describes a condition of stultifying boredom and malaise.

Work? Boring.
Dishes? Exceedling Boring.
TV? Boring boring boring.

Why am I in such a funk?

Chamudi was sick last week, which drained me to the extreme and kept us stuck inside for a lot of days, but he's long over it. And I've been given numerous opportunities to "recharge." And yet--I feel still tired, grumpy, and full of...ennuie.

I get like this sometimes. I think it's when I'm in need of new challenges, opportunities, and just feel in a rut.

And yet I have an ideal situation. I am working from home! I can watch my son grow up while I earn money and develop professionally!

Or can I?

Working from home is a mixed blessing, as anyone who has done it for even a little while will tell you. I spend something like 90 % of my time in my 2-bedroom apartment, for one thing. And I never feel like I'm spending enough time on my work OR my son. One always seems to be calling me away from the other, or other distractions call me away from both.

And am I really developing professionally? I am not sure. At this point I am not making new connections or gaining new skills, I am just doing more and more of the same. I am not getting stimulated and motivated by coworkers--many days I am lucky if I even hear from them. And I have a contstant nagging fear that out of sight is out of mind, and that they'll soon find me superflous.

Furthermore, my experience is becoming so specialized that I fear that I'll never be able to qualify for something else.

But this is a great situation, right? Don't rock the boat? Enjoy what you've got?

I'm not so sure. And the trouble is, I'm not sure how to break free. This somewhat unusual arrangement has now become our status quo. If I even think about looking at new professional opportunities, I will have to figure in the cost to our family--financially and emotionally--of upturning everthing. Finding daycare, a nanny-share, what have you, leaving him there for entire workdays just when he's getting to be a really splendid companion, and then living hand-to-mouth because of the money all this would cost.

And, worst of all, deep down I think I will discover that I really did have the best of both worlds, and I don't want to look back and realize that I blew it, all because I didn't have the imagination to make it what I needed it to be.

So after Limmud NY this weekend (so excited for that!) I am going to sit down and think about how to make this situation work better for me. So that I am stimulated, excited, and motivated to make amazing, essential contributions. And how to round out my professional experience with other opportunties that will allow me to thrive in my current situation while gaining new skills that I can carry with me wherever I may go....

Even if it's just to the next room, to get another cup of coffee.

So hey..if you hear of anything interesting, let me know!

Do You Ever Get That “Not So Fresh” Feeling?

I had a conversation with my 27-month-old daughter last night. It lasted a healthy 15 minutes. We talked a little bit about finger painting and how come it’s so fun even though it is “squishy” and “cold.” The only part that I didn’t quite grasp immediately was at the end of the conversation where she was either asking for her “Stegosaurus” or her “Thesaurus.” Turns out it was her toy stegosaurus, as she doesn’t have a thesaurus.

She is a good talker. Not just good, but “advanced.” She knows A LOT of words. And she uses inflections. And hand gestures. And big big girl words. And is just the cutest darn thing you ever did see.

So this talking makes her cute and miraculous and according to all the authorities, brilliant. But spoiled. Not like curdled spoiled, but like a good whiff will tell you that you can get by with just one more bowl of Capt’n Crunch spoiled.

It is so hard to not give her what she wants when she SPECIFICALLY asks for it. Usually it’s good. Makes me happy to have moved past the nonspeaking days. Now to figure out what‘s on her mind I just need to ask. I know if she wants “French toast with cinnamon” or “apples and cinnamon with hot water and butter” for breakfast. And when she is feeling under the weather I know if it’s the “back of her throat” or the “top of her tummy” that’s bothering her.

And it’s not really an issue at the toy store or check out lane. It’s the demanding to wear specific clothes. Or watch a specific show. Or pitches a fit if she wants to feed Dory the fish “7 food balls” and Dory is only allowed 5 food balls. She KNOWS I understand her. She KNOWS I have the ability to do her bidding. And she’s smart. She knows that I hate to see her upset, so I have to do everything in my power to not allow myself to get manipulated and outsmarted by 2 year old.

That’s good for the ego.

My whole life I have just tried to give people what they want. For the past 29 years I have tried to say just the right things at just the right times for former teachers, employers and employees. I try and pick out the perfect birthday gifts for my husband. I try and cater to my friends’ tastes so I can make them the perfect meal for Shabbos. I just want to make everybody happy. Not insanely so…it’s just making people happy makes me happy. That’s not a bad thing.

But it does not do the best for the rearing of the child. You simply cannot give your child everything they ask for. You are the parent. Still, it’s not like she is out of control. Or doesn’t say please and thank you. Or doesn’t do a million wonderful kind sweet and generous things everyday. It’s just that she knows what she wants.

I don’t want her to curdle. I just want to make her happy. She makes me happier than anyone. She’s not always going to get what she wants. Not by a mile. I try not to indulge her every whim. But her smile sure is charming. And even at 2am, when we hear her high voice over the monitor asking for “One sip from my milky cup, please” it’s hard to ignore.

But I will overcome. I will turn her into a perfect lady. I will give in, probably one time too many. But I will try to keep her fresh. Because she is delicious with Capt’n Crunch.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wisdom from My Dentist

Last week, while getting my teeth cleaned, my dentist and I chatted about our kids.

"How old are your kids," she asked.

"Nn and Fr," I managed.

She spoke about how nostaligic she was for the early years of child-rearing, when you are everthing to your children - and their love knows no bounds.

"I'm sure at the time I was exhausted," she admitted, "but I miss those days."

That night, while playing together before bed, my son looked at me, smiled, and said, "I love you Mommy."

"I love you, M," I answered.

"I love you Mommy."

"I love you, M."

This went on for about ten minutes. Under any circumstance, this would have been a sweet and deeply gratifying little conversation. But after talking with my dentist, I was able to appreciate it even more.

There is no doubt that it is exhausting to constantly be needed. I find that I am often desperately waiting for the bedtime, the nap, the 10 minutes off. And there is no doubt that I, too, will look back on these years with nostalgia and with longing.

It is an amazing blessing to be loved so much.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Forgive me

Please forgive me, I've talked about my aunt before, but I feel like it's consuming me so I'll do a bit more oversharing. Isn't that what a blog is for?

Another "forgive me." Today, I went to go visit my aunt. By car. Yes, today, Shabbat. But I am working tomorrow and going out of town on Monday so I had no choice but to go today. My aunt is nearing the end; she left the hospital on Friday to go home to die. She is lucid but barely, able to answer questions if need be, and eating, but her body is shutting down. And I'm not sure that when I come back there will be much to see.

While I grew up traveling to shul on Shabbat by car, I don't anymore. I don't drive on Shabbat. But somehow, today was fine, with me, and, in my humble opinion, with God. I needed to go and hold my aunt's hand and tell her I love her, and try to reassure her that I'll see her on Friday when I come back from traveling. It was hard.

She smelled like death, that sour smell that you usually only smell in nursing homes, the smell of neglect and bodily fluids and a body that doesn't work anymore. It was awful and I felt like the scent clung to me even after I left. But her hands were soft and her eyes were bright, and we talked about why it was great that Giuliani got rid of the squeegee men, but why this does not qualify him to be president. Mostly she nodded her head.

I got to feed her chicken soup (in a styrofoam cup thru a straw) and canned peaches, comfort food. My cousin wanted to offer her chocolate milk afterwards, because my aunt seems to love it these days, but my cousin knew that she would turn it down because who drinks chocolate milk after chicken soup? Not my aunt, who maintains a stricter level of kashrut than anyone in my family. There is nothing like feeding an adult who cannot feed herself. This may have been one of the most profoundly humbling experiences I have ever had. She needed me to do it, and I needed her to show me how.

And when I gave my cousin a hug before I left, she thanked me for coming so profusely, and then asked what I would have said or done had any of my friends seen me in my car on Shabbat. I told her. I don't care what anyone would have said. This is the most important place to be.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gratitude, A Little Late

No amount of conversations with my mother or therapy could begin to help me understand my mother's love as much as becoming a mother has. Unfortunately my mother is no longer around for me to express this to her.

I lost my mother when my older son was a little less than a year. Not a day goes by now that I don't pause in amazed wonder at how my mother took care of three young children, managed the household and excelled at school. What's more she did all this while battling with anorexia.

Before becoming a mother I saw only how her disease negatively impacted her role as a mother. Now I can appreciate how incredibly strong she was. How her love came through in so many small ways. How hard she must have struggled to just get through everyday. How much she chastised herself for her own difficulties.

My mother once told me she went to bed every night resolving to do better the next day in her interactions with me. I didn't appreciate this at the time. Now I understand and wish I could tell her how much I appreciate her efforts.

Thankfully I don't face nearly as many hurdles as my mother did. I don't live with the demon that eventually killed her. But, like all mothers I have my own issues. There are my lofty ideals of how I think a mother should be and then there is the reality of what I can achieve. Like my mother, I try everyday to do just a little bit better.

Growing up I fantasized about having a mother like I thought my friends had. From the outside it was easy to think other mothers were perfect. As a mother, I now realize the only thing perfect about any mother is the all encompassing love we can each feel for our children.

I can no more expect perfection from myself than I could from my mother. But, I can hope, that I can successfully offset my shortcomings with abundant love just as my mother did.

Welcome Mamalady

A warm welcome to our newest blogger, Mamalady.

In her work life Mamalady is a part-time communications director. She has been married for almost 4 years and she and her husband have two wonderful boys, ages 2 1/2 and 3 months. Mamalady moved from Manhattan to Teaneck, NJ almost 2 years ago, but she still feels like she's adjusting to life in the suburbs (depite having grown up in NJ).

I’ve Got A Thing For Guys With Big Q-Tips

My name would be Cougar or Might oooh ooh or Lightning. That’s a good one. I would color my hair a lovely auburn with blonde streaks. I would wear red hot pants with a black pleather body suit. I would apply far too much eye make up. And I would kick ass.

I would be the BEST American Gladiator. I LOVE American Gladiators. Deeply, embarrassingly, can’t-believe-I’m-telling-you-how-much-I-love-them, love. I remember watching them Saturday nights when I was growing up (yes, I was the most popular kid in school). I thought they were all so awesome. Big muscles. Great smiles. Shiny costumes (I do like me some pleather).

And the games. Well the games were great. Two grown men chasing each other in gigantic hamster balls? Thwacking each other with oversized Q-tips? Ducking and covering while being shot at with deadly tennis balls? THAT is entertainment. And I would love rooting for the gladiator. I knew each one of their names for appropriate cheering. I enjoyed watching them kick some mere mortal’s scrawny patooty.

So needless to say when AG made its big television comeback on Sunday I was thrilled. I counted down the seconds until the referee’s starting whistle. And it was all just as grand as I remembered. All the great games were still there. All the great pleather. And with the developments in steroids over the past decade, the muscles were even BIGGER!

Just one thing had really changed for me. Turns out, I’m a mere mortal kind of girl nowadays.

I found myself routing for the red guy or the blue lady. Hoping that somehow a 130 pound preschool teacher from Wichita could creep and crawl her way past the 205 pound Hellga (who interestingly does not get to wear pleather hot pants).

How have I gotten so soft?

Well what I do when I notice a change in myself from my effervescent youth is turn to my own little Gladiator. And that’s it. She is little. Little bittle. Not dangerously so. She just is petite in a land of average. She weighs as much as many 9 month olds and even though she is nearly 2 and a half, I have to cuff her 24 month jeans.

She comes from tiny genes. I top out at 5’1”…in heels. And while her dad is jolly and looks great in green, he is far from a giant. So she is small. But I root like hell for her.

She came back from school last week talking to me about how she hit a little boy. In the head. Because-and this is a direct quote-she was just “SO ANGRY!” At first I was very upset. Hitting is bad bad bad. And I started giving her the lecture-but then I asked why she hit him. Apparently he pulled her hair, and this is not the first I’ve heard of this boy’s pulling ways. She is cute and little so sometimes the bigger kids like to treat her like an oversized doll. In fact the teachers were telling me that they encourage her to fight back.

She still got the no hitting lecture. But in the secret I’m not allowed to say it out loud because I’m the Mommy way, I’m proud of her. When you are the little gal in a group of bigger little guys it’s not always wrong to stand up for yourself. And let’s face it, a lot of 2 year olds just aren’t going to respond well to “Please don’t pull my hair, it hurts ever so much."

So go Little Blue Man. You kick some Gladiator Pleather Coated Ass.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Seeing Stars

The New Hampshire primary has come and gone, and I eagerly await the results. Mostly. Sometimes I can't help but think that this whole primary season--and the media analysis that comes with it--totally distorts the essence of the democratic process and pushes good people out too early. But I digress.

This election is fiercely important to me. 2000 was a hard year for me. In the course of a few months I ended a 4-year-long relationship, was thrust into the Big Big City, and started my first real job. But I will always remember 2000 as the year I lost the stars in my eyes.

In Israel, the peace process that I had believed in so completely crashed and burned, and the seemingly endless waves of violence began. In America, the contested election disenfranchised me in a way I never thought was possible in our democracy.

I was only 23. Too young to become cynical. Yet there I was.

I'm not sure that you can ever really regain your youthful idealism--the complications of living life necessarily inject nuance and if/and/ors into everything. But as the election process gains speed, I'm hoping for a hint of those old stars.

Like never before I understand the damage that a bad president can wreak. This is not the world I want my son to grow up in. Too much hatred and division, too much war, too much sadness and poverty. And it's everywhere, swirling, I fear that I will only be able to protect Chamudi for so long.

A new president won't change everything. But if the United States could just rise high enough to consider--and maybe even elect--a deserving African American or female candidate--I might just begin to believe that we are indeed a progressive society, that as a nation we stand for something worthwhile. That Chamudi will grow up to be a proud American in a safe and free society, and that I will stand beside him, social security check in hand and stars in my eyes.

Hip Hip Hooray!

I know that its been forever since I've posted, and I've had a darn good reason. Yeled has been undergoing a seemingly never-ending series of tests to determine the cause of his hypotonia. This has been a very stressful time for our family, as many of the causes of hypotonia fall into the category that I like to call the "Big-Bads."

Yeled has undergone appointments with numerous specialists (neurology, genetics, ENT, and more - unfortunately, hypotonia isn't his only issue) as well as multiple tests- x-rays, MRI, and bloodwork.

All the while, Yeled has been making amazing developmental progress. In the past six weeks he has pulled to stand, transitioned to sitting on his own, figured out how to sit without flopping over, and most recently- started clapping (YAY!). [Side note: he's clapping all the time- during diaper changes, mealtime, and the funniest- while nursing!]

Its been very hard looking at him and wondering what the future holds. No matter how many times the doctors used the term "mild," when talking about the Big Bads, mild didn't make me feel any better.

Well, today was the EMG. This was a test I was dreading, as every person who knows anything about it told me it would be very painful for Yeled. I was also expecting to hear bad news, and had already lined up an appointment for the next test in line- a muscle biopsy. It seemed that today would just be another step in our quest identify Yeled's particular Big Bad, and the faster we got to a diagnosis, the better. Not knowing has been awful. The build up has been gut-wrenching.

Tachlis... the EMG did not show anything wrong with Yeled's muscles!!!!
B"H, the doctor told us to cancel the biopsy appointment, and to come back in three months for a check-up. He doesn't think that Yeled has a Big Bad. Holy moly! To say that we couldn't believe our ears is an understatement. The relief is still sinking in.

I want to jump up and down.
I want to throw a party.
I want to thank G-d over and over and over again.

I feel like a giant weight has been lifted . I think I haven't stopped smiling all day.

I'm looking at Yeled in a new light and with new hope.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Contradictions of motherhood

I haven’t posted in a while because… well, because I’m tired. Really tired. Working mother of twins tired. Chasing two toddlers who run in opposite directions tired. Haven’t slept through the night more than a handful of times in 14 months tired. Two kids with stomach flu and then stomach flu myself tired. Single-parenting for the next 10 days while my husband travels to promote his new book tired. T-I-R-E-D.

But enough of the whining. It’s just been a rough couple of weeks, in which I’m reminded again of the deep contradictions of motherhood. On the one hand, I find myself utterly captivated by my kids and the things they do (highlight of last week: my daughter’s first sort of sentence, a brilliant post-diaper change commentary: “No poo poo… pee pee!”). I still find it hard to be apart from them on the three weekdays I’m at work. Often, in the late afternoon, as I’m wrapping up at the office, I’ll feel this stabbing pang as I realize that the babies have had a whole day of life without me. I’ve missed it.

And for some reason, I can’t bring myself to hire a babysitter to stay with them for one evening so that my husband and I could go out to dinner. Theoretically, I absolutely believe in the importance of couples prioritizing some alone time. And it’s not like I’ve never left the kids before – they are with a nanny three days each week and they love her and are fine without us. But I just can’t seem to leave them in the evening, even though they would probably sleep through it. To the utter bafflement of my husband and most of my friends and family, I just can’t do it.

But then there is the other part of the equation – the part of me that is flooded with relief when they go to sleep and I can sit down and breathe, eat, read the paper. The part that passes the bookstore on the way home and remembers what it was like to just wander in on a whim and spend 45 minutes browsing, no particular place to be. The part that watched them playing at 6 am the other morning and had the slightly panic-stricken realization “OMG! They are going to be here every morning for the next SEVENTEEN YEARS!”

I realize these mood swings could probably be eased by a few nights off and yet… See above re: inability to leave babies with a babysitter in the evening. I’m not sure how to make sense of it all. So I’m left with one of the defining features of motherhood: a powerful blend of emotions, sweet and bittersweet melting together, resoundingly alive.

listening to my father

I often do not take time to appreciate the fact that I am now raising my children in close proximity to their grandparents - my parents. While I am very grateful for their support and for the role they play in my children's lives, I do not often stop and reflect on how lucky I personally am to have my parents nearby.

Tonight my parents came over to help with bedtime, as my husband is away for the week. I went upstairs to nurse my little one while my father read stories to my son.

As I nursing my daughter in her dark room, I listened to my father read story after story to his grandson. For the first time in a long time, I personally felt comforted by hearing his voice - a voice that used to read my stories when I was three years old. I listened to the familiar intonations, voice modulations, and his subtle, bemused sense of comic timing. As I was mothering my own child, I felt like a little girl, and it felt wonderful.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Oh, Bama

I have stayed up too late tonight, but it was worth it. This is not a political endorsement but a personal one.

In the last week, I have often considered that I might want to move to Iowa. Not for real, mind you, but because I am really moved by the idea of caucusing. Let's divide ourselves between the people who really don't care (which is, IMHO, fine) and those who do, and let those who do care work to make their vote happen. There is something intimate about it, challenging, and it requires not just a mindless pulling of the lever.

So obviously, I'm not moving, and I was sitting here in Manhattan watching Obama win the Iowa caucus.

And I cried when he spoke. I tried to hide it from my husband, who was reading the 5th Harry Potter and was engrossed. He couldn't have cared less.

I want to feel the hope that Obama spoke about. I want to know that the world I leave for my son will be even a smidgen better than the world I inherited from my parents. And I want damn good public education, affordable health care, and safe toys and clean air for my kids. I want the war to end and men and women who serve our country to be taken care of as they deserve and not (now I'm sounding like his speech) sitting on the corner outside my apartment begging for a hot meal.

I couldn't be happier to cry at Obama's speech. I finally feel enfranchised, like my vote will actually count, and even more so, will matter. I feel like there is possibility, that we do have a future.

And now I just discovered that I have to fill out the absentee ballot because I am supposed to vote on Super (Duper!) Tuesday and I will be visiting my family in warmer climes.

REGISTER to VOTE! I don't care who you vote for (really). Just do it. Thanks, Obama, for making me feel like we can do it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Rules (for Jewish Mothers)

I haven't read The Rules, that dating book. But I will say that I feel as though I could write my own book on the rules for Jewish motherhood. Apparently there are quite a few. Here are some things that I have culled from my own experience over this past week, a week which coincided with a major birthday party for a carpenter and ended with a major party where all girls apparently wear only bras out in public. I wish very much that someone would publish them. Here is my Readers' Digest condensed version of The Rules (for Jewish Mothers).

  1. Don't be offended when your child refuses to sing the Shema with you before bedtime. It is a phase and doesn't mean that he/she will marry a non-Jew.
  2. Wigging out when your child wants to go to McDonalds is uncool. Especially in front of said child, in long drawn out fight with spouse. Prepare yourself with an appropriately short lecture on kashrut that you have at the ready beginning at age 2. Might want to emphasize that we are not like everybody else and in our family (or our Jewish family) we do it differently.
  3. Regardless of what anyone says, there are plenty of very good (and frum!) Jewish parents who allow their small children that sippy cup of milk immediately following the hamburger. (Really only applicable up to age 3, and at a separate table or in a different room)
  4. I am not a freak because I do not want my small child to stay up till midnight on New Year's Eve. I am the one who will have to deal with him on New Years' Day.
  5. It is not the end of the world if your child is in the middle reading group in first grade. Your perfect child is not then completely flawed. And if you want to help, don't choke him with reading drills or he will end up hating reading.
  6. There are as many different ways to keep kosher as there are to structure your child's TV watching. And NO, it is NOT OK for my 3 year old to watch Dick Clark's New Years' Rockin' Eve. Or, frankly, Ratatouille (which is very scary in movie form, actually, but makes a lovely parve side dish if you're talking just vegetables).
  7. Repetitive behaviors can be used to your advantage. Repeat everything and you'll get a child who knows a lot. I mean this to be used for things like please and thank you, or even brachot. Or smiling. Not: It's time for bed. It's time for bed. It's time for bed.
  8. Insisting that your child wear a dress or a shirt and tie to shul is a waste of time. You will be lucky to get them there for Adon Olam. Lower your expectations and go for shirts with collars and things other than sneakers and sweat pants.
  9. When invited over for a meal, bring something nice like a (good) bottle of wine or a small gift for the children. Do not come empty handed and say "Are you planning to put up new window treatments in here? I could give you the number of my guy."
  10. Be a mother unlike any other. Oh wait, you already are. Your child(ren) really love you, even though they won't keep the food on the table or put away their toys. Those things don't have anything to do with how much they love the uniqueness that is you.

There is just something about "vacation" that allows for the mind to truly be vacant.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Easing Back In

Every once in a while, I do something as a parent that makes me feel like maybe I'm not so bad at this after all. Today was one of those days.

We had just gotten back the night before from a wonderful two-week vacation to visit the in-laws in Santa Barbara. Lots of sunshine and ice cream. Lots of time with mommy and daddy (not to mention Bubby and Zaidy). Very little school.

Needless to say, this morning, my little boy did not want to go to school. OK, that was an understatement.

I was about to pick him up and drag him screaming out the door, when I had a brainstorm. I offered to take him shopping at Trader Joe's (an errand we both love) before school. He loved the idea and put on his shoes and jacket without so much as a word of protest.

It was unexpected special time together, and we both loved it. The school drop-off was still full of tears, but so much easier than it would have been had we not taken that little detour.

As we pushed our shopping carts together at 9 a.m. I felt incredibly grateful to be able to work part-time - and be able to play hooky with my little boy with little consequence. And I felt gratified that I had the shopping idea in the first place. It was a great way to ease back into school - and back into daily life.

Crack For Mommies

I have 2403 songs on my itunes. A highly odd number of them from the 80s. Thirty five or so unlabeled ones that I stole off my brother’s laptop. A bunch from some musical I have never been to. Some I bought to make me seem cool. Some I bought because I am drawn to sappy music at the end of ABC dramas (which negates any cool that I might have gained from previously mentioned song purchases).

There are enough songs on there for me to listen to music for nearly a week straight without hearing the same thing twice. A lot a lot of songs. The strange thing is, I only listen to the same 20 of them. Over. And over. And over.

Laurie Berkner is crack for my child. She loves every last ditty from “Boody Boody Ya Ya Ya” to “We Are The Dinosaurs.” She will ONLY listen to Laurie Berkner…or “Laurie Boogner” as my Dancing Queen refers to her.

She is completely and totally head over heels in love with Miss Laurie. She is going to explode with joy at the concert we are taking her to in February. She knows the words to every song and sings along happily-and loudly. We have special dancing time during the day. And I’m sure because she read somewhere that it can aid in digestion, we have a little Laurie Berkner with dinner. We can be in the car for 6 hours straight and the only Laurie Berkner free moments are the 3 minutes of dead space between “Moon Moon Moon” and “Victor Vito.”

Here is the part of the blog where you think I am going to start saying I’m going insane over Laurie Berkner. How I hear her in my sleep. How when my husband should be singing me “When A Man Loves A Woman” he regales me with a fantastic version of “The Googleheads.” How I’m going to take the CD, shatter it into a million pieces and use the shards as ammo off the top of her recording studio.

But no. Laurie Berkner is my Mommy crack. I looooooooove Laurie Berkner. Not in the same way I love Kanye West or those great tracks at the end of sappy television shows, but in that good “well looky loo I have found something that makes my daughter enormously happy and doesn’t involve sugar, television or a trip to Disney Land” way.

I am telling you about Laurie Berkner because I feel it is my duty as a mother to do so. Her music is beyond palatable, it is fantastic. Truly well done and well performed. It is miraculous.

I have listened to many children’s CDs and the vast majority make me want to corkscrew out my eardrums just to make it stop. Just because you have a 10-year-old girl singing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” does not make it children’s music. An amalgam of animal sounds is not children’s music. People singing in high squeaky voices trying to be funny is not children’s music.

Laurie Berkner IS children’s music, but it’s more than that. It’s Mommy and Daddy music too. We all have to listen to it, so we might as well all like it. And when my husband tells me I’m a googlehead I know he means it from the bottom of his heart.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Escape from Momcatraz

I've been making a slow and steady effort--over the last 4 months or so--to regain the me behind the mom.

It all started when--still months away from finishing nursing--I went and bought a real bra. Instantly my spirits were...ahem...lifted, as I started to hate looking in the mirror a bit less.

Next was the Baby Weight, which frankly should be more accurately called Brownie Weight. 4 months later and twenty pounds lighter, I am finally starting to wear some of my pre-Chamudi clothing and to once again shop for things that show my figure.

The final pieces of the puzzle...two weeks ago I spent a princely sum at Sephora on a 3 minute makeup routine and dusted off the old blow dyer...and used it.

This is a familiar cycle for me...ever since I learned how to use makeup I have gone through low maintenance phases (think flannel and denim) and periods of extreme feminine goofiness.

This time, though, I'm trying to adopt things that are easy enough to keep doing indefinitely, toddler and all. Clothes that are low maintenance (think no handwashing), makeup that can be done quickly, eating habits that can be sustained even under extreme mom-fatigue.

So far, so good. I'm not saying that I actually get out of my jammies and shower every day, but nowadays I am making more and more of an effort to make myself look like a person, even if it's just for a walk to Starbucks.

The best part..and the worst when people notice. The positive reinforcement is great, of course, but implicit in the compliments "you lost weight" or "you look so nice in makeup" is that you were overweight and looked washed out before. But I digress...

Why am I doing it? Who knows. Perhaps taking the time to make myself look pretty and feel a little feminine is my way of warding off self-neglect--both physical and spiritual--that often comes with being an Ima. You get so used to the Chamudis being in the spotlight that you forget that you used to shine pretty brightly yourself.

So here I am, reassessing my wardrobe, thinking about all these frilly little things. Not so much because I care deeply about them, really, but because I still care about me.

Happy New Year from Imashalom!