Sunday, March 30, 2008


When I am out of milk, I go to the supermarket. When I am out of diapers, I go to costco. When I am out of patience, I lose my temper.

Needless to say, I wish there were a patience depot - a place where I can load up on what I believe to be one of my most valuable tools as a parent.

Lately, I am finding that my patience supply seems to be depleting rapidly. And I want to do something about it.

I didn't always have this problem. For the first three years of my son's life - when he would often have upwards of 15 tantrums daily, I somehow managed to have, in my humble opinion, extraordinary patience. But now that the tantrums have substantially decreased, I have a much lower tolerance for the whining, and the defiance, and the other difficult 3-year old behaviors. Sometimes I just feel burnt out - like I put so much energy into being patient when it was really tough - that now that it is easier, I just don't have the energy anymore.

This is not good. I am really, God willing, only at the very beginning of my parenting journey. I am in this for the long haul, and I need to stop sprinting and become a long distance runner.

I am also a believer in the slippery slope of bad parenting. Once I allow myself to raise my voice once, even ever so slightly, it becomes that much easier to do it the next time.

I see parenting as the ultimate zen challenge. If I can be calm and focused and patient when my child has been whining all day, I know I am on my way to being a zen master.

Right now it just feels good to define the problem. The solutions elude me at the moment. I have a feeling, though, that prayer might help. I desperately want my patient self back, and I want to talk to God about how I can get there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mothers without children, single mothers and other freaks

I have no idea what happened to my bashert, to the one I was meant for, and who was meant for me. One thing is sure, though: my daughter was so meant to be that she arrived even if my husband never did. I cannot imagine the world without her in it.

They say there is a whole phenomenon of single orthodox Jewish mothers. I’ve only met one. In shul in Jerusalem I bumped into someone I used to know, and now we both have daughters about the same age. Someone else in that shul is writing a book about single religious mothers. I’d like to read it when she’s done.

I don’t meet many single mothers in general, but those I meet are wonderful. One has a daughter who is about 20—back then, single motherhood was a scandal. She told me she didn’t let anyone at work know for fear of having it held against her. I have to say I identified. I let everyone at my university believe my daughter’s father and I were together. I didn’t want my status to give anyone a reason to judge my work unfavorably. Now I’m less worried, though I am proud of the fact that most people I deal with have no idea I do what I do by myself.

It’s not that I hide it. It’s just that I don’t go out of my way to mention it.

When I was first pregnant and in doubt about what I was doing, my rabbi and my parents all said, “I never thought I’d tell someone in your situation this, but you should NOT marry the child’s father.” It was such a relief.

I was raised in a family that cared about such things. No divorce in it. None of my three married siblings knew (in the Biblical sense) anyone of the opposite sex until their wedding nights. Somehow the model that worked for everyone else just wasn’t working for me. It’s true one of my siblings opined that I should either marry or let a married sibling raise my baby as their own, but they seem to have come around since the baby was born and I adore her.

Being a single mother by chance has its challenges and difficulties, but these are nothing compared to what my friends face.

I’m thinking about women who never had the chance to give birth, though they are, hands down, the most maternal and amazing women I’ve ever met. A Czech friend whose ten-year relationship with a man who kept saying “one day” finally brought her to the end of her natural fertility. She’s an elementary school art teacher. She lives in a country in which it is illegal for single women to seek sperm donors. She has had the opportunity to help her sister raise her nephew, at least. It’s so unfair—I’ve known her since she was 25, and she’d already knitted a whole set of baby clothes just in case.

Two friends currently seek fertility treatment and have had a couple of miscarriages each. One of these friends had been in an abusive marriage, and it took her this long to get over it. Another was struggling with sexual orientation and orthodoxy. I am moved by their courage, their willingness to hope and love despite their extreme fragility and vulnerability.

I don’t think you have to have given birth to a child to understand motherhood. I think there are many women out there who are mothers even though they’ve never borne children. When I think about how I became a mother, without even trying, and how much they are trying, I’m grateful they don’t hate me.

It takes a big spirit to be friends with someone who has what you want with all your heart. And they fill me with awe, gratitude.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A taste of Jerusalem

My first forays into cooking were in Israel, when I was 18, living with friends for the summer. We had a vegetarian kitchen and lots of free time, so we went to the shuk every Friday and came home with backpacks weighed down with fresh vegetables. One of our weekly favorites was a simple eggplant salad (“salat chatzilim”) and I still make it regularly, with great fondness and nostalgia for those fragrant afternoons of cooking. It’s good as an accompaniment for challah, a topping for couscous or pasta, or just on its own (I like it with hummus or a little feta cheese crumbled on top). It’s the kind of recipe that is imprecise and calls for a little improvisation, so I invite you to add your own flair!

1 large onion
1 eggplant, cut into half inch cubes (skin on or off according to your preference – I leave it on)
2 cloves garlic (or more)
4 or 5 tomatoes, chopped (can also just use a tbs or 2 of tomato paste)
cayenne pepper (in Israel I used paprika charif)
olive oil for sautéing (works with a lot or a little, to your taste)
salt and pepper to taste
zatar (optional)

If you have time, you might want to “weep” the eggplant first, to get rid of bitterness. Cut it and salt it and leave it on papertowels for 15 minutes. I often skip this step.
1. heat olive oil in large pot, add crushed or chopped garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is slightly translucent
2. add cubed eggplant. Let it cook for 5-10 minutes (until it starts to get softer) before adding tomatoes
3. add salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste. (If you weep the eggplant, you don’t need too much more salt).
4. cook until soft and well-mixed.

Good hot or cold – the perfect Shabbat dish!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Real Beauty? Real bulls*@#t!

I remember the first Real World. And I remember the first Survivor and the first American Idol. We used to love watching Iron Chef and even gave American Iron Chef a once over. We tried Big Brother last week (pass) and even something called Here Comes the Newlyweds, which was fascinating in the way a train wreck is – you hope and pray everyone is ok, but you can’t take your eyes of the sheer destruction. I was surprisingly taken with Amazing Race and Top Chef is just great.

What all of these shows have in common is, or should be, the ability for the average viewer to relate in some way to the “real” people on the show. So here’s the one I DON’T get: America’s Next Top Model. Nope. Not one bit. Not at all. It repulses me – makes me sick. Not even in the train wreck kind of way – in the Port-a-Potty on a hot summer day kind of way.

Last week they ridiculed some poor, famished girl for having hair under her arms. Now I’m as big a fan of Mahotma’s Venus razor as the next American man. But they called her DIRTY. They called her GROSS. She said she had never shaved in her life and they said that’s disgusting. Since when was Tyra Banks named Empress of American Beauty Standards? Isn’t America all about diversity and the blending of cultures? The men on the show wear lipstick, glittered eyebrows and mullets. And that’s ok, but some underarm hair isn’t?

So now there’s 7 stick-thin girls left who disappear from view when they turn sideways – and 1 who’s a size 10: the “plus” size model. Hellooooooooooo? I know that Mahotma is a size 0 – and still is a size 0 even 4 months into her pregnancy – and that’s about all I know about sizes. But size 10 doesn’t exactly strike me as “plus.” Stay tuned next week: the preview shows some bitch wrinkling her nose at Ms. Plus and telling her she doesn’t design clothes for size 10’s.

Now here’s why I care. Because our beautiful, perfect princess, who doesn’t eat and ain't got back and is still in a size 3 diaper while her classmates are in a 5 or 6, is going to grow up being led to believe that she is less than perfect. Because Tyra Banks has determined what is and is not beautiful. And if it’s not her, it’s not beautiful.

Full disclaimer: MahotmaDaddy works for a company that sells, among other things, beauty products. I guess that makes me something of a hypocrite but such is corporate life. That said, I have to give Dove’s (the competition) Campaign for Real Beauty a ton of credit (even if it isn’t helping them to sell more products). What dad with a little girl isn’t brought to tears by the Dove Onslaught video? I just watched it for the 20th time and Mahotma is passing me a Kleenex.

The entire industry is the problem and the show is just a showcase. Underfed, overindulged, and delusional in thinking they somehow have the right to set the standards the rest of America must aspire to. The ironic part of it is that most of the industry is made of people who grew up “different” – gay, lesbian, artistic, brilliant, forward thinking, dorks, nerds and outsiders. And yet they go about their day trying to create clones of what they believe beauty to be, and even created their own “reality show” to perpetuate the myth. There’s nothing “real” about it. No more real than Tyra Banks and her sparkling eye-browed friend.

Extra Extra!!

For those of you who missed it, Ima Shalom got a shout-out from a New York Times blog!

In other news....

Please give a warm welcome to our newest Abba blogger, Mahotma Daddy. Mahotma Daddy is Mahotma Mama's adoring (and I mean adoring) husband, who has devoted his entire life and every breathing moment to making Mahotma Mama and Mahotma Daughter as happy as possible. He plans to write about family, fatherhood, and how he balances the necessary evils of corporate life.

Why I Do Not Like Social Networking Websites

Do I need to make a list?

In no particular order, I don't like social networking websites because....

  • my boss' husband is now my friend on Facebook and I am certain he share my updates with her.
  • I have interviewed for another job and my prospective boss is on Facebook too.
  • it is icky to hear about someone's separation and impending divorce via the web.
  • a friend of my mother's wanted to connect with me on Plaxo but was dissatisfied when I listed her as an acquaintance and reposted that she wanted me to be her friend.
  • I now play Super Mario Brothers like I did when I was on vacation from college and I played with my little sister's Nintendo (all thanks to Facebook).
  • I traded caring about how many contacts I had on Linked In for caring about how many Friends I have on Facebook, and it's about the same stupid number.
  • a friend new to Facebook listed herself as "interested in women" and it created a firestorm of emails amongst her friends to figure out if that was her way of coming out or a typo. It was a typo.
  • I am now addicted to Scrabulous even though I really suck at it.
  • my profile picture is of my child, because I don't think I have any pictures that are worthy of putting up on the internet.
  • I don't want to have to hear about someone's zits, their existential crises, or what they had for lunch this way. Maybe some other way, but not this way.
  • I don't want to network socially with people who, IRL, I'd never ever have an interest in meeting.
  • and last, but not least, I do not ever want my little boy to think I'm a major dork because I want to friend him.

Is it a problem that I like people? I love the internet, don't get me wrong. But I don't want to spend the rest of my life communicating with my friends in 7 word spurts on Facebook!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wanna Play Doctor?

When we moved here a year ago I had to pick all new doctors. So when I was picking a gynecologist, I asked one friend to tell me who she used. Here you go random doctor lady, take a look at my vagina. When I was picking a dentist, I checked my insurance plan and picked the dentist on the list who was the closest to my house. Here you go random man in a face mask, please feel free to stick needles directly into my gums.

When I picked a pediatrician, well that was different and special. I asked a lot of friends who they use. Tons. I asked for references and feedback. I set up appointments to actually interview the various doctors. To be honest I had no idea what to ask. Schooling? Are you cool with kids watching Nemo a few times in a row on special occasions? Will you make me feel like a bad mother if I bring my child in with pencils shoved up her nose?

I made up a bunch of questions to make me look smart. I sat and tried to get the “this person is mostly with it” vibe. And I picked someone. Lovely woman. Sweet with kind eyes. She is cool with television and I don’t think she’d ever make me feel like a bad mother (unless it was wine bottles shoved up the nose). And since we started going to her I only have had nice things to say.

But I am getting a new pediatrician.

She did nothing wrong. Her office staff is fantastic. I can get past the crazy office hours. And I can get past the no windows in the office thing. A little trouble getting past her mustache (how can you get through medical school but not pass Waxing 101?). But what I can’t get past, what I can’t stop obsessing over, what is making me go through the whole arduous process again is the one question I didn’t ask. And when I finally did ask it, it was too late.

I didn’t ask her if she had her own children.

It seems silly. I don’t care that a man delivered my daughter. I figure he’s seen enough chinas to know what’s up. I don’t care if my dentist never had a cavity. He has seen enough people in pain to know that he better be careful with that needle. But you can’t truly learn what it’s like to have a child until you actually have one.

Granted, everyone’s experience is different and I’m sure she has seen hundreds of mommies and answered thousands of questions. But this is different. You don’t know what it’s like those first few months, when you are so tired and so questioning everything you do. You can’t understand unless you have seen a life you have created and nurtured come home from school with a 103 degree fever. It is a change in your life and in your being that no schooling can prepare you for. No exam. No nothing.

So I’m going to go a little nuts. I have a whole new baby on the way and I can’t take somebody seriously unless I know they at least marginally know where my brain is. I have a lot of phone calls to make, and a lot of questions to ask. I’ll get started tomorrow… right after my appointment with the podiatrist I picked out of the Yellow Pages.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Feeling Grateful

Today I had my first ever parent teacher conference.

For almost 40 minutes, M's teachers and I sat in a room and talked about his experience in school. They had taken copious notes and obviously took the meeting very seriously.

I have always felt grateful to my son's teachers. Being a full-day preschool teacher seems to me to have to be one of the most difficult and challenging jobs imaginable. The physical labor is exhausting - and the mental energy it requires is just mind-blowing. Just getting the kids fed and in their cots each day is a major accomplishment. Each of the 15 children in the class is a handful on his/her own. Each of those 3-year olds has his/her unique set of challenges. And when you put all in one room every Monday-Friday? Wow.

But today my gratefulness level reached a new height. What came through in our meeting was how deeply they care about my child and are invested in his happiness and growth. They take his development extremely seriously, as well as their role in it. It was an honest, caring, and loving exchange.

I feel deeply indebted to them.

He Is Not Me

According to experts on child development, Chamudi is at the age where he is beginning to understand that he is not me--that he is his own person with wants and needs separate to mine.

What's surprising for me is the many ways in which I, too, am learning this important lesson.

Case in point: Chamudi loves slides. The higher the better. Twisty? No problem. He is also an incorrigible climber. In short: he is a thrill seeker.

I, on the other hand, am a scaredy-cat. I have never been on a water slide, never gone on a roller coaster, never jumped off the high diving board. Never dived off anything, for that matter. I am a thrill-escaper.

I've made peace with this part of my personality, and I no longer feel bad about it. When I was a kid, though, my reluctance to seek fast-paced fun often made me feel less-than. And when I think of these things--feats of danger that nobody has suggested I try for over a decade--I still get a little nervous.

But one of the nicer parts of adulthood--at least for me--is that your coworker is rarely going to pressure you to hang upside down from the monkey bars. And so I've avoided all of these scary things...until now.

Chamudi has a need for speed, and I'm going to have to learn to live with it. I can't--and won't--keep him off the slides and jungle gyms just because I find them scary. I need to realize that my perceived danger is totally disproportionate to the actual risk.

I'm trying. So far Abba has been the one to take Chamudi on the slides, reporting back on their gleeful escapades while I listen with grim terror. But the weather is getting warmer, and it won't be long before it's me out there with him.

I'm glad he's not a scaredy-cat. It will make a lot of things in his life easier, and it will open up a world of fun and excitement that I totally missed.

And I'll let Chamudi be himself, without projecting my fears onto him.

But please, Chamudi, don't make me go on the big roller coaster.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shabbat Recipe: Yemenite Step Honey Rosemary Chicken

Just in case you have no time to cook for Shabbat, here is my very favorite recipe that takes about half an hour TOTAL work time and cook time.

The Yemenite Step was a fabulous restaurant on Yoel Solomon in Jerusalem, just off the midrachov. It had been closed for some time, and I don't think it has reopened, so really this is their honey rosemary chicken of blessed memory. I discovered the Yemenite Step in a search for date-worthy restaurants during my junior year of college at Hebrew U, and logged many hours there with my then unrequited love, now my husband. This chicken has special memories for me. And I have cooked it a zillion times, getting raves each time.

In the dorms at Hebrew U, there weren't any ovens, so all chicken had to be pan fried. Hence, this recipe, perfected in the Reznick dorms, and with a very forgiving procedure.

Honey (8-10 oz or so, or whatever you have left in the bottle)
Fresh rosemary (sprigs, torn off a bush near a dorm because it grows like weeds in Israel--oh wait, you may have to go to the grocery store)
Some olive oil (depending on how much you like to use for cooking, this can be done with Pam too)
About 8 chicken breasts (preferably from Machane Yehudah--just kidding)

Tomatoes and Cucumbers

Dice the chicken breast into smallish pieces.
Heat up a frying pan with some olive oil in it.
Put in the chicken and fry it up a bit.
After a minute or two, when the chicken is losing its' translucency, add some honey, maybe 3 tbsp or a short pour.
Strip a full sprig of rosemary and add the leaves to the liquid at the bottom of the pan,
Keep stirfrying the chicken in the oil/honey mixture.
Keep pouring on the honey.
Cook until it's finished. You may want to cut open a larger piece of chicken to check for done-ness.

Garnish with more sprigs of rosemary and tomatoes and cucumbers in slices.

Obviously, you can scale back the ingredients if you want to make fewer chicken breasts for fewer people. Or increase if you're having a ton of company.

I imagine this would taste nice with some rice, or better, mallawach (but that would require a lot more work).

Shabbat shalom!

Here's a link to an article from the New York Times that has a description of the Yemenite Step.

Shiva (and not the Goddess)

For those of you following my family saga...

My aunt died last Monday. The funeral was Wednesday. There were about 500 people at her funeral, and I have never heard two more beautiful eulogies than given by my cousins, her daughter and son. In general, I loathe Eishet Chayil, but when the rabbi of her congregation read it aloud, I found resonance in each phrase, as it really echoed the choices she made in her life to count people, community and mitzvot above all else.

And then there was shiva. The teeming hordes. The bagels and lox. The teeming hordes. The "oh, I haven't seen you since your grandfather's funeral." The "I'm sorry"s over and over. And yet it seemed like a huge party, every day, from 11 in the morning until way into the evening after maariv, with food and drink and socializing. It was so hard, and yet so easy. My cousins and uncle had what they needed, constant distractions, structured reminiscences, and chances to say kaddish together. The house was filled with children--the four grandchildren and all of their friends, and my son and the extended cousins, and the whole place was filled with life.

I kept trying to stop myself from thinking how much my aunt would have enjoyed it. She would have loved to catch up with all of her cousins and my father's family, and pinch all of the babies' cheeks, and she would have loved how my cousin's house looked and how beautiful all the platters were. She would have marveled at the sheer numbers and wondered why they were all there--was it for her?? Unreal. My older cousin, a product of a Hebrew school and USY and a Schechter parent, lead davening for almost every mincha and maariv, and her mother would have been so proud. I wish she could have been there. Maybe she was.

Thank God I've never had to sit shiva myself. But now I know how structure is so absolutely necessary here, and how each person who came through that house fulfilled the mitzvah of distracting my family and somehow lessening their pain while enhancing the texture of their memories. Shiva is a miserable thing, no matter who dies. Whoever came up with it was a genius.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gigi on Vacation

This past weekend. I went away without my husband and kids! At first I missed them terribly, but after the first day, it was wonderful. And I was so thrilled that my husband was able to hold down the fort. While I was away, my son almost lost his beloved blanket - his gigi - the object that he has been deeply attached to since he was 3 months old - handmade, irreplaceable - and at times, the bane of our existance. Why did I let my son become attached to something one-of-a-kind, when it is so easy to lose it?

As it turned out, he found Gigi - but decided not to tell my son and see if we could wean him off it once and for all. Granted, the weaning process had already started. M was starting to become attached to other objects (library books, a stuffed dog, and even a magnetic letterJ!) and asked for Gigi much less often. But still. This was BIG deal. And I admit that I have become attached to Gigi as well. How could I not be? That little rag has provided my dear son with endless hours of comfort in times of need.

So far, we're doing OK. We've told him that Gigi is "on vacation." And I know that in a pinch, I can always retrieve it from the wicker chest and give it back to him. I also know that I need to show him that I am confident that he will be fine without it. The past few months have been ones of tremendous growth for my little boy - from making friends at school to going potty by himself to tantrumming much less. I am very proud. And I want to let him know that I know he can do it without Gigi.

Still, it's not easy.

Oh Dear Lord, What Have I Done?

I like easy. I never take the hard way out. I don’t have laces on my shoes. I highly enjoy paper plates. I make my hairdresser keep my hair just long enough to tie up in a ponytail. I like pie, but mostly because “easy as” goes before it. I wanted to be called Mahotma Easy Mama, but feared people might get the wrong impression.

I like easy, but having a child is hard. Hard. Hard. Hard. Mind blowingly fun and wonderful and exciting, but you are responsible for a WHOLE LIVING THING. That is not easy. Nope. And while it’s not the same hard as building a tower or doing brain surgery, it is a weight you feel every time your child does something you have told them no to a million times, or gets hurt, or does something so wonderful that you just want to pick them up and eat them because they are the most delicious thing ever.


That is one child.

One must assume that two children would be measurably more challenging.

So I really have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to reproduce again.

When we found out we were pregnant with our daughter it was great. I peed on so many sticks I could have made a cabin out of them. We stared at so many white magical circles that we began showing symptoms of snow blindness. Never has there been so much interest in my pee. But man, when the pink line appeared in that second circle it was the best. The best best best feeling ever.

This time we smartened up and got the digital “Pregnant” vs “Not Pregnant” sticks. Very very clever. Didn’t have to invest in snow goggles or even use my brain. And when it blinked “Pregnant” it was also the best. The best best best feeling ever.
Then it was two seconds later.
Then reality slapped me upside the head.
We knew what we were doing. We were TRYING and HOPING and PRAYING for this.
But woo doggy. I know it is a blessing but I also know EXACTLY what I am getting myself into. How hard it will be. So when I found myself short of breath and ever so slightly panicked it wasn’t surprising.

We got pregnant with our daughter for US. All us. Selfish selfish wanting to make our family grow. Wanting to share our love. Wanted to hold something teeny and tiny and cute. Sort of wanting an excuse to buy an entirely new pregnant lady wardrobe, but it was all us.

I got pregnant with my future piece of perfection for HER. Sure it was our decision. Sure we wanted to expand our family. But just like so much of what I do now, I am ultimately giving my child what I think is best for her, which in turn is best for all of us.

If you don’t think being a parent is fantastic and amazing then you are probably not in the right mindset. If you don’t think being a parent is hard, then you are doing something WRONG.

Sure hard is just a frame of mind. I could bend down and tie my shoes, but my slip ons have the same effect. I could use real plates, but paper holds my pie just as well. I could have just one child-the one I already have is pure perfection. And I know two is going to be put an IV of liquor into me for the next 18 years challenging, but I am so sure that two is going to be so great that I can’t even fairly compare them.

Double my pleasure, double my fun? Yup, but hella hard. Thankfully pregnancy is one of the things that is on my easy list. So for now I will live it up- I have 24 more weeks of easy and all the pie I can eat.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Purim Online

Purim's just around the corner! This holiday is so kid-friendly and I am sure that Chamudi is going to have a blast.

Below are some great Purim resources I put together last year for the blog, Mixed Multitudes.

And while I'm plugging MJL...definitely check out our Purim section for holiday recipes and much more! Enjoy!

  • Toratots offers information about Purim celebrations around the world as well greeting cards, a Purim story (With a virtual grogger that goes off everytime you put your mouse over the word “Haman”!), coloring pages, games, a Purim shpiel and more.
  • Babaganewz’s Purim Central has Purim Mad Libs, as well as mask templates, Purim ecards, a costume maker (think virtual paper dolls), Holiday Jewpardy and special Purim movies.
  • Are your kids planning great costumes? Enter them in the Chabad Kids! online costume contest. Chabad Kids! also has Purim videos, songs and stories, fun holiday games and puzzles, special Purim arts and crafts and kid-friendly Purim recipes.
  • Encourage your kids act out the Purim story with the fun Purim Play from Akhlah. The Akhlah Purim page also has Purim traditions, vocabulary, blessings, and recipes, as well as a Children’s Megillah, a quiz and a Purim timeline.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Breastfeeding into the Second Year

When I want to see what I look like, I have to go into the elevator. I don’t have any mirrors in my Tel Aviv apartment except a small one above the bathroom sink. The elevator has a floor-to-ceiling mirror. And it was to the elevator I went yesterday after noticing that every time my baby glanced over at me, she would hesitate, as if debating something, then crawl over and lift up my shirt.

In the elevator I realized that the pretty blouse I was wearing, and which was perfectly modest before baby, now showed a healthy bit of rather nice cleavage. Advantage #1 of nursing into the second year: your baby will tell you if your clothing isn’t modest enough.

Advantage #2—an excuse to leave early. As in, “Gee, I would love to stay for the conclusion of this interminable ulpan lesson in which I have learned quite a few new Russian words, but no new Hebrew ones for the last 30 minutes, but I forgot my breast pump, and I really have to go.

Advantage #3—the seat next to you on the bus or train is free. There are people who sit beside a mother and child, but no one sits beside a breastfeeding woman and child unless there is absolutely no other option.

Advantage #4—I never have to think about whether or not I really can afford that piece of dessert. I’ll have two.

Advantage #5—Baby threw her sippy cup out the bus window? No problem.

Advantage #6—I can shut people up. “You mean you STILL breastfeed?” Why yes. I know that here the pediatricians recommend only six months…(in a tone that suggests you don’t want to go on so as not to embarrass anyone). This is usually answered with a rush to show that not ALL women stop at six months.

Advantage #7—a couple of sips of wine makes you happy.

Advantage #8—several minutes of a relaxed, eyelids-half-closed, sweet-smelling, rosy-cheeked little one in your arms.

Advantage #9—counteracts all the new germs baby is exposed to.

The plan now is to stop after one of two events happens:
1. Baby turns two or
2. Baby discusses the taste and quality of my breast milk with me: “Mama, can you please eat some strawberries today? I love the taste of the milk after you have eaten strawberries, but not so much after asparagus.” When something like that happens, we're done.

Still, I’m looking forward to weaning. I have already decided what I’ll do to celebrate:
1. buy a nice bra
2. wear a floor-length dress
3. buy a bottle of antihistamines and enjoy breath again
4. drink a dry vodka martini, or two. But who am I kidding? I’ll probably be too giggly to stand after about half of one

Friday, March 14, 2008


I really love having people come over for Shabbos. It is great for so many reasons-the conversation, the company, the fun stories. And even though I try to act modest I really love it when they love my cooking. I love it when they tell me how yummy something is or ask for a recipe. I love when they ooh and aaah. I have a bit of crazy Jewish Mother Complex going on so I tend to cook to woo, or cook like a crazy person as my husband likes to call it. But it is totally worth it...and it increases the odds that somebody will really like something when you make 2 mains, 3 starches and a Viennese table of desserts.

The other great thing about having people over is the reciprocal invite. Yeah it might be selfish, but it sure is nice. I am always so grateful when they call, and the good guest in me knows to of course ask what I can bring. The answer is ALWAYS the same.

“Oh Mahotma, you always make such AMAZING desserts! Please won’t you make one for us?”

Of course I say yes. Of course I am flattered. But in my head I am thinking: Dude. Seriously?

I love cooking but I hate making desserts. It is my least favorite part of having guests. I always do it, because it is always loved and appreciated the most. But sheesh, just once maybe they’ll ask for wine, or salad, or challah, or a braised veal shank.

Thankfully, I have found this amazing easy shpeasy recipe. It is yummy and delicious, kids love it and I promise you, you will look like a goddess.

Why The Heck Did They Ask Me To Make A Dessert Chocolate Ice Cream Cake

1 chocolate cake mix (Devil’s Food works best)
½ cup brown sugar
1 stick margarine, softened
1 carton Rich’s Whip
Rainbow Sprinkles

-Preheat oven to 350.
-Whip Rich’s Whip until firm and set aside.
-Mix first 3 ingredients and gently pat into a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes.
-Let cool.
-Take ½ of the mixture and GENTLY pat (if you pat it in too firmly it is hard to cut) into the bottom of a 9x 13 pan.
-Spread the Rich’s Whip on top.
-Crumble the rest of the cake mixture on top.
-Sprinkle with sprinkles.
-Cover and freeze…..or bring over to the people you are eating it at’s home and have them keep it in their freezer until they serve it on Shabbos.
-Knock the socks off of everyone at the table.

Mmmmmmorechocolate Addition: Fold chopped up parve cookies or chocolate chips into the Rich’s Whip before spreading on top of the cake mixture.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Get These Mother F*&@ing Snakes Off My Mother F#!$ing Couch

When I was a little girl my parents took me and my sister to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO several times. To those of you who have not been to this fantastic arena of fun and excitement, Silver Dollar City is like olden days Disney World. Country Six Flags. Where Jesus would walk if he wanted to eat a giant turkey leg and hear some cute blonde girls in overalls playing fiddles sing songs about him.

I have such fantastic memories from there, Jesus songs and all. But out of all of my Silver Dollar City memories the one that stands out the most prominently involves the time we went and I was 8 and my sister was 5. It doesn’t involve eating a giant pickle on a stick or walking beside my father when he went through that unfortunate knee high black tube socks with white tennis shoes and shorts phase. No no, my strongest memory involves the trip to the souvenir store.

It was my favorite part of any trip, and my parents were so awesome to always let us look through the magnets and cups that never had my name on them. But on this particular journey I fell in love with a brown bear dressed up like Martha Washington. Beautiful blue bonnet. Silky maroon dress and these adorable black tie up shoes. And $50.

It’s a lot of money now for a teddy bear, back then it was monumental. In the end my wonderful sister actually forfeited getting a souvenir of her own just so I could take Martha Washington Bear home with me. I got Martha Washington Bear, and my sister got bragged about for generations. Her unending generosity and givingness and all. Earned the respect of others all while I looked like a greedy pig. But you know what, I didn’t care because I LOVED Martha, deep pure made my husband carry her with him ON the airplane love. She is far too fantastic to be checked.

But I guess I am a sort of teddy bear slut. Martha was special, but she was far from my one and only. I love them all. Anything stuffed and cuddly and cute. If it has pink rhinestones on it, all the better. In fact wherever we went with my family, if there was a souvenir to be gotten, mine was of the plush variety. That is what made me happiest.

So now I’m the Mommy and I am fortunate enough to be able to take my little girl to the souvenir stores at the end of our adventures. Her name is also not on one single pen, bracelet or keychain but that’s ok, because I walk her right over to the stuffed animal section. She smiles. Sometimes I get an “aw that is so cute, Mommy!” But then she leads me away. To the plastic spiders. Or the tube of Galapagos animal figurines. Or the giant octopus made of real “ooey gooey glow in the dark fun.”

We are in Baltimore accompanying my husband on a business trip and some friends and I took her to the FANTASTIC aquarium. And she was a super star after the long day and of course got to go for a present. There was so much great stuff there. And do you know what she picked? Snakes. Plastic snakes. A bag of plastic, yet highly colorful snakes. There are 9 snakes. And they are all taking a nap with her right now.

Our toy bins are full of all of these little plastic creepy crawly slimy smelly freaky deaky animals. I mean it’s good. She plays these wildly creative games with them. And loves each and every thing we buy. She is appreciative and thankful and associates the item with the adventure at which they were purchased. I just really wish I didn’t have to play them with her. Or touch them. Or carry them around. Because ew.

I don’t know why it bums me out so. She loves animals, that’s good. She’s creative and fun, that’s great. I could be cool and say I just wanted her to be like me. But really it’s just because I wanted the purple octopus with a yellow sparkle necklace.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Tent of One's Own

Chamudi has a tent. It is blue and it is totally awesome. We bought it at Ikea this past Sunday.

I want a tent. I seriously do. If I had my own tent I could get so much work done. I'd feel happy and protected and focused and nobody could bother me ever.

If I only had a tent.

Okay--I have an apartment, lovely furniture, lots of beautiful things to fill my home. But none of it thrills me as much those secret places of childhood--the "house" underneath the dining room table, the "fort" behind the couch. None of them make me feel the magic of special place that's all my own.

Maybe I'd feel differently if I owned my home--maybe renting my whole life has robbed me of the adult equivalent of that childhood thrill. But then again, secret forts never need plumbing redone, and imaginary houses don't need to be repainted. So maybe that's not it.

Or perhaps I just want a space all my own. After all, I have never lived alone. I went from my parents, to my dorm, to housemates, to flatmates, to Abba. I've never really had a place that was mine and mine alone--never had, in my adult life, the opportunity to create a space that was just for me, never really felt the peace (and the loneliness) of that kind of solitude. Just an endless flow of (wonderful) people, with their ideas and their opinions and their stuff. Or nowadays..."our" stuff.

I wonder if I just long for the simplicity of childhood, when having that special place was the most wonderful thing you could imagine. Maybe the tent would be wasted on me now. Would I run in and out and in and out? Would I laugh like crazy when people peeked in? Would I drag all my favorite toys into it for safe keeping?

Anyway, Abba said I could get one if I really want to. Honestly, I don't think we have the space for two tents in our two-bedroom apartment.

But maybe if we redecorate...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Time to Shop for Yarn

My aunt died this morning. It's too soon to know how everyone is doing. I do know that I was having breakfast with a colleague when my cousin and my dad called to tell me, and I burst into tears. I am, to say the least, sad.

The next few days will be heartbreaking. My aunt was a tremendously courageous woman who battled breast cancer, cared for her aging mother (till her death this past summer) and took care of everyone around her. Trained as a nurse, she nursed everyone around her and cared for them with compassion and love. I could continue to eulogize her but everyone else will, far more eloquently, so I'll hold back. But this was also a woman who was a wife--for more than 40 years--and a mother, a grandmother of 4 sad little children, an aunt, a friend. We will all miss her so much.

I wish that people would stop saying "She's in a better place now" or "At least her suffering has ended". It doesn't help. The better place is HERE. We wish she didn't have to suffer AT ALL.

I made a vow to make washcloths for new babies in honor of my aunt, just like she made for my son when he was born. They are the softest, most delicious things, meant to be heirlooms but yet not really heirloom quality. I cherish them. I will go out, after the funeral, to buy yarn and learn how to do it myself. That way, a little bit of her will always be with me.

Yehi zichra l'vracha.


Yesterday, we went on a family outing to the National Air and Space Museum in DC. The museum was packed with kids all excited to see the suspended airplanes and rocket ships. I venture to say that there was only one little boy in the entire museum who was wearing tsitsit over his daddy's fleece (or floor-length dress, as the case may be) while carrying a siddur with socks on his hands.

My kid really does his own thing, and I love it.

Granted, it wasn't easy climbing up the stairs of the 1950s airplane while trying not to trip on the vest or the tsitsit, and trying to hold tightly on to the siddur with the sock mittens. But he did it. And I think it was worth the extra effort.

I am grateful for Purim. Each time he asks to wear something which seems to go too far, (for example, I draw the line about wearing daddy's vest to school), I tell him, "You can wear that on Purim! Purim's coming very soon!"

There will be no Thomas or Spiderman or even Haman costumes for this kid. Pop culture means nothing to him at this point. He is too excited to wear Daddy's shirt and tie and Mommy's long brown velvet dress.

I remember when he was potty trained and I told him he could pick out underwear. He insisted on having "brown underwear." OK. It would have been much easier if he had asked for something that is actually in the stores, such as Elmo or Superman underwear.

But brown?

Fortunately, I remembered a scene from one of my favorite childhood reads, All of a Kind Family. Henny, the mischievous middle child borrows, without asking, her older sister's beautiful white dress to go to a party, where she accidentally stains the dress with tea.

Always resourceful, Henny resolves the problem by dying the entire dress in tea - hoping that her sister won't notice the color change.

So that evening, I boiled a big pot of tea and died his white underwear a lovely shade of light brown. Needless to say, it was a big hit.

One of the aspects of his quirkiness which I love most is that fact that he is blissfully unaware of it. He just does what he likes.

It is a quality I admire and would like to emulate.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Kindness after Terror

Friday in Jerusalem, the morning after the terrorist killed eight boys in the Mercas Harav Yeshiva, the Old City seemed fuller than ever with groups of Israeli youth and soldiers and police. The Kotel that night seemed more crowded than it had been in a while. Maybe it was Rosh Chodesh Adar, maybe it was those who’d come for the memorial service in the morning and just decided to stick around. But the mood was intensely prayerful and oddly warm.

I had been invited for Shabbat in Jerusalem, and I was glad to be there. Earlier that morning I’d uttered one of those dumb, clichéd rhetorical questions people sometimes utter at times like these: “how could anyone purposefully kill children?” And my hostess replied that it was the wrong question. And that it was pointless to ask the right question, “How can anyone kill anyone.”

As if in self defense, perhaps the answer that a great many people around me seemed to reach was to flip the question over again, into a command: “take care of one another. Be kind to one another.” That’s at least what I felt as once more we were all reminded of how fragile we were, and how irreplaceable. That seemed to be the mood.

Because if you think of absolute evil (the killing of innocent children) on one end, and absolute good on the other, there's a whole spectrum in between, and you can almost feel everyone shifting the balance a little, being a little kinder.

This weekend I was offered no unsolicited advice. Instead, I was offered help without asking for it. A mother and her two daughters, without saying a word, took my bag and folded up my stroller and stowed it as I boarded a bus in Jerusalem. When I got off the bus, they were waiting with the stroller opened and ready. A young Haredi mother whose children were playing in a public fountain next to mine late Friday morning saw that my daughter was impatient with me. She picked up my daughter and fed her something I wouldn’t have, but it did the trick.

I myself even interfered in a family of five young children,because it felt like we all belonged together. Two very young boys were dragging a baby no older than mine up steep stairs, holding the stroller with one hand each, heatedly debating something. I lifted the stroller (my girl, in the ergo, wasn’t thrilled, but big deal) and carried it up the stairs despite the boys’ protests. “Break your brother’s head when I’m not around” I thought.

I know this is simplistic, maybe even naïve and sentimental, but times like these all I can think to do is to respond with as much kindness as I can, and to open myself to receive it. Not for the sake of others, but for my own sake. So I don’t get cynical and bitter. So I’m not tempted to act inhumanely, like those who want to hurt do. Because, regardless of one’s politics, an attack on a child seems, to some extent, like an attack on all children, and on all parents. It feels to me as if we all hurt, though obviously, not to the same extent the parents of those eight were hurt-- and need consolation, no matter how inadequate and small the gestures seem to be.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Recipe Friday: Bread Machine Challah

I'm thrilled to introduce Ima Shalom's newest feature...Recipe Fridays.

Our crack team of Ima bloggers will help make your Shabbat preparations easy and delicious.

All recipes Ima-tested, toddler-approved!

So, without further ado...

Ima and Abba Shalom's Bread Machine Challah Recipe

Makes 2 challahs

1 cup water
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 packet yeast
4 cups flour

1. Put all ingredients in your bread machine pan. If you don't have a bread machine, buy one, they are the best thing ever. Put pan in the machine. Set the machine to the dough cycle. Press start.

At the end of the cycle (about 90 minutes)...

2. Remove dough from bread machine. Lightly oil a cookie sheet.

(Note: keep flour on hand to make the dough easier to work with)

3. Separate dough into 2 balls. Form the first ball into four strands. Place strands on the cookie sheet and join them at the top.

4. Braid! To make a four-strand braid lift up the rightmost strand, put it under two strands and over one strand. Repeat until you get to the bottom of the strands. Join at bottom.

5. Form second ball into 4 strands. Braid your second challah!

6. Let braided loaves rise in a warm place for about 1 hour (30 minutes if using rapid rise yeast).

7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make an egg wash out of 1 beaten egg and about 1 TBS water. Use a pastry brush to cover challahs with egg wash.

8. Bake 25-30 minutes. When challahs are done they should be golden brown and make a hollow sound when tapped.

9. Let cool.

10. Enjoy!

Note: If you are making these challahs more than 12 hours in advance, they should be stored in the freezer for maximum freshness (place freshly baked, still-warm challahs in a brown shopping bag to avoid condensation and place bag in freezer). Remove from freezer 4-6 hours before serving.


-For a healthier challah you can use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups white flour.
-For a tasty twist mix craisins or raisins into the dough before forming strands.
-For a kid-pleasing treat put cinnamon and sugar or sprinkles on top of the challah before baking.
-For a super-sweet challah, add honey to dough ingredients and egg wash.

Finally...a big TODAH to Abba, whose challah recipe I gladly adopted when I married him.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


The fat envelope arrived today. I didn't realize exactly what it was until I went through the flushes of emotion that accompanied similar arrivals my senior year of high school. The fat envelope, 9x12, the one that contains the acceptance letter.

I wish it were called something else. It is more than just a statement of admission. It's a hard copy statement that says, "You're enough like what we need you to be to be accepted. We'll take you, with all of your baggage, and conditionally too, because if your baggage becomes too cumbersome, we'll have to reconsider."

It was an acceptance letter to nursery school, the early years program of a prominent Jewish day school. My delicious 3 year old has been accepted to the school of his (oops, our) choice. For those of you who have followed my postings, you'll remember that I went through this last year when we applied him to a two's program and chose ultimately to send him to Chabad...although we're 100% not Chabad. This school is a MUCH closer fit with our personal religious practice and our philosophical orientation.

The big deal here is that this is an ongoing school, meaning that we don't have to fill out another damn application, submit to a playdate/child interview and a parent interview, and write stupid essays about the ways in which our personal religious practice meshes with the school's philosophy. It's an even bigger deal because he made the cut; there were a total of about 15 available spots for boys and girls, and my kid made it.

I feel accepted. And unfortunately, it's much more about us than about our son.

The whole thing is pathetic. This is school, after all. And a Jewish day school. It irks me a great deal that there are people shut out of the process, that not everyone is accepted, and that there's not a seat at the table for parents who want to take advantage of this kind of Jewish education for their children. I do acknowledge that this is a ridiculously competitive environment that we live in, and that in order to be seen as competitive, schools have to cultivate that image of themselves. And even though we're in, it bothers me.

Inside that fat envelope was a very impersonal welcome letter and about 15 pages of jargony contracts, tuition statements, and explanations of the various methods of making payment (cut off your left leg and send it in with 10%, be billed daily, tuition discounts beginning with the 10th child, etc.). And it still left me breathless with excitement. Or breathless in a panic. How are we going to pay for this??

Baby Ain't Got Back

I bought a vat of butter. It was huge. Eight boxes of butter stacked neatly on top of one another. Very tall, very yellow, very churned. They came up about waist high. My butter tower really was one of the 7 wonders of my world. I buckled it in the back seat as we drove it home from BJ’s to ensure its safety. And once we got home I stared at it for a long time, almost inappropriately admiring its vastness.

This was 2 weeks ago. My butter tower is now a butter hut. There is barely enough left to make a butterball. I look at the remnants of my once proud butter erection and feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Sad. So sad.

Well it’s sad not only because my butter was so fun to look at and brag about to friends, but also because all that butter did not serve its intended purpose. Some of it went into cookies for friends. Some in a nice alfredo sauce I made. But most of its buttery goodness was supposed to go into my daughter’s tummy…and hopefully onto her cute, yet not-as-pinchable-as-one-would-hope tushy.

She is itsy bitsy teeny weeny. Not unhealthy. Just a petite svelteness that makes her extra adorable. She is not going to grow to be 6 feet tall due to her DNA but I’ll be damned if I can’t get her to reach 22lbs at 2½ due to not eating.

To be fair she does eat, but she’d rather eat apple chunks than peanut butter crackers. She will pick out only the sprinkles from an ice cream sundae. She really loves frozen peas but won’t eat a chicken finger to save her soul. And even though I try to stick butter in absolutely everything she eats, she just doesn’t eat enough of it to add on those pinchable cheekies pounds.

It’s something about the fat. It’s like she has fat-dar or something. Millions of mommies and doctors have told me I am doing nothing wrong. Children will eat what they will eat. Yet I see her run with the big kids in her class, the ones who fit snuggly in their 2T clothes, the ones who could face forward in their seats BEFORE 27 months, and I feel like it’s all on me. The guilt is bad not only because I am a mommy-but a JEWISH mommy. Oy.

Cooking is my thing. It’s the one thing I do that I know I do well. But I can’t get the one person I want to impress most to enjoy my wares. So when I see I am failing at something I guess my gut reaction is to try try try. Never accept failure. Throw in MORE butter. Splash in a little olive oil. Sprinkle on extra cheese. She must like what I make and I must succeed in my Fat Mission by any means necessary.

I can’t think like that. She is doing what works well for her and as her mommy I need to be proud of that. She is healthy and happy and I KNOW I’ve already impressed her. I can play the piano with my toes. I can play a mean game of hide and seek. I can make her laugh louder than anyone else in the universe. If I can’t make her gain weight, well one out of 1 million's not bad. So I will focus on the upside-she is smart, beautiful and thin. If she wasn’t my daughter, I would have to hate her.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hold My Hand

Yesterday a 16 month old boy in my building was accidentally run over and killed by his father in our parking garage. When I found out I felt physically ill and so, so sad.

Yesterday morning they woke up their own Chamudi and kissed him and gave him breakfast. This morning there's nothing but sadness and emptiness and, I have to imagine, crushing guilt. How do you go on after you have accidentally killed your only child? I honestly don't think that I could.

When I heard the news I quietly said Baruch Dayan Emet. But then I protested out loud at my own piety--NO! This isn't just! This is a beautiful child cut off in his prime by the hand of his loving parents. This is God's absence from the world.

When Chamudi woke up from his nap I picked him up and squeezed him so tight and made all sorts of promises that I can't possibly keep, about protecting him forever and always keeping him safe and never letting anything bad happen to him. And then I lugged my 26 -pound toddler around town in our Ergo--instead of the stroller--just so that I could enjoy and appreciate and love him as much as humanly possible.

After the depth of the tragedy sunk in, my next thought was--My God--I always let Chamudi walk without me in our parking garage. It's pretty small, and there are not too many cars coming in and out during the day, and supose that I try to keep him at an arms length. But he's a toddler, and toddlers wander off, and run away, and have no sense of danger.

And I realize now that I've been taking an unacceptable risk. That he must always hold my hand in the garage--and if he refuses, be carried. He may be standing on his own two feet, but he still desperately needs me to guard him against all the possible tragedies of the world.

So Chamudi, stop running. Hold my hand. And please, please, don't ever let go.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Parenting as a Spiritual Journey

I highly recommend Parenting as a Spiritual Journey, by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer.

Here is the book description from
A perfect gift for the new parent. A helpful guide for anyone seeking to re-envision family life. Parenting as a Spiritual Journey explores the transformative spiritual adventure that all parents can experience while bringing up their children.

Parenting as a Spiritual Journey shows, by looking at a typical day's routine, how even the seemingly insignificant moments in a day with your child can be full of spiritual meaning. From waking up in the morning to bedtime at night, there are so many opportunities for parent and child to connect in a spiritual way. Fuchs-Kreimer helps us see those possibilities, revealing how parents can come to recognize, understand and appreciate the joys, insecurities, wonder and awe that can contribute to the spiritual fulfillment of raising children.

Fuchs-Kreimer's interviews with over one hundred parents, plus her own experiences as a mother of two, illuminate the journey we take every day in raising our children. Included are rituals, prayers, and inspiring passages from sacred Jewish texts--as well as from other religious traditions--that are woven throughout this wise, funny and lyrical book.

I first read this book when I first had my son. It felt wonderful to read about an aspect of parenting other than sleeping and feeding!

And as more time passes, I continue to turn to it for inspiration and for the reminder that parenting truly can and should be a spiritual journey!