Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Like a Two-Year-Old

She’s not two yet, but she’s practicing hard to be.

Which means I’m thinking like a two-year-old. I mean, I think parents’ brains must get re-wired, or else they’d go crazy. Now I can go crazy and it feels normal. You know the two second attention span? The sentence that starts “I want” and ends up with a list so contradictory it could be a political promise or a justification for war with Iraq? I want agua!, juice! shoes! socks off! go outside! book! up! walk! babydoll! DC! (that means CD), bubbles! bath! flaffle! (waffle)! poon! (either phone or spoon, depending on the context, which, as you see, isn’t always easy to tell).

Thank G-d for the group They Might Be Giants, and their album “NO!”

Now when my nearly-two tyrant makes multiple demands I can sing “Violin,” a song which, in our version, allows words to be paired with musical notes: violin-lin-lin, hippo, mop mop mop mop. That song has her running all over the house finding objects—luckily we have a stuffed blue hippo. I just wish they didn’t spend so much time on George Washington’s head. We make up our own words. Works well in a stroller, too.

TMBG also helps out with saying no. When I break out into the title song, “no means no, always no…” with its seductive refrain “fingers pointing, eyebrows low, mouth in the shape of the letter o,” denial is transformed into play—you should see my little tyrant’s eyebrows go low and her fingers point!

She's almost two. By the time we finish singing she's forgotten what she was insisting on in the first place (usually milk. I can't seem to get her weaned!)

Nevertheless, there are things that music can’t help with. And that’s what work outside the home is for. or pretending to be deaf (after five minutes of completely rational and entertaining explanation). Or earplugs and bourbon. Depending on the time of day.

Today I fled. I couldn’t take my girl’s clinginess (she wants me to hold her every second I ‘m with her. which is hard to do when you’re also stir frying her tofu or making her tomato sauce). I couldn’t take a tiny apartment full of three children (girlfriends' nannies get sick).

Yep--I left as soon as the nanny appeared. Which means I didn't brush my teeth, my hair or put on makeup. I was the first person in the office--even beat the Dean.

I feel like running for the hills.
There are probably lots of songs about that, too. But “Country Roads” (we’ve got the reggae version about West Jamaica) ain’t one of them.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Today's the Day (or "Real love advice")

My love will be arriving from Israel in 8 hours. After a month of waiting for news, he sent me a one-line email a few days ago with the flight time, air port, and date.

My heart is in my throat, and my baby girl keeps saying “I want S_______!” If he’s not serious about us I’m going to have to break both his knees. I tell her, “when you wake up tomorrow, S____ will be sleeping on the sofa!” But I’m not really sure he will be. He might have already left for Hoshana Rabbah services.

Well, she HAS been waking up at 5am every day for weeks now. And I’ll be out the door to work before he gets back. When I return we’ll have an hour to be alone together, we three, before we rush off to services and dinner in a sukkah. I’m deliriously thankful for this whirlwind, for the inconvenience that comes with an observant life.

I must admit that I’ve not got the best track record with relationships. Let's face it: I'm an idiot, and I can use all the help I can get. I used to freak out at the idea of being tied down. Not being able to up and move to Barcelona tomorrow if I wanted, for example. In the first month of this relationship, I seriously thought of breaking it off because of his incorrect use of a punctuation mark (it wouldn't have been so bad if he'd not kept bringing it to my attention). Of course, the baby and the job have done much to settle me down.

And I swore to myself and my child not to get seriously involved in anyone unless it was with the intention of forever.

My love and I have never been together for longer than a Shabbat (with his family). And now he’s moved here. I hope to g-d he’ll think it’s worth it. I guess it’ll be worth it if we make it worth it.

Today I’m simultaneously planning a week’s worth of classes, searching for a youtube video of Sarah Palin meeting Tina Fey on SNL last night, cleaning the apartment and cooking for the final days of chag. And I'm racking my brains to remember all the good advice I ever heard or witnessed about how to keep love and have it grow. Feel free to chime in, dear readers, with your advice!

Babysitter is running errands with my sensitive, teething child on her back. And I can't think.

Of course, the second I washed all the sheets and towels last night, using the last $4.75 in quarters I had plus a French coin the shape of a quarter, my child got sick on my sheets and then on her sheets. So hand-washing it was. I was also baking a cake for the nanny share’s mother’s birthday (my nanny share mama just gave birth this past week), a quiche and soup, and also changing my hair color. I felt like I was in an I Love Lucy sitcom episode.

I don’t know how long he’ll stay, how long it will take him to find a job and an apartment (or to propose), so I cleaned out a closet, a chest of drawers and a bookshelf for him. To think that two years ago all this space in my 600 square foot apartment was nine. A year and a half ago I gave half my space to my baby. Now I’ll give another portion of it to my love.

The more compact my material life gets, the bigger the emotional life. Not a bad trade-off. Though it would be great to have a garden one day (like I had when I was a graduate student in Austin!)

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I am too classy to beg. But anyone who uses the word classy isn't classy, so...

I called both of my grandmothers who live in two different swing states to convince them to vote the Democratic ticket.

Good grandma, a south Florida voter who swears she accidentally voted--G-d forbid--for Buchanan in 2000, is in. She's been in a long time. She has arthritis, leaves the house only to go to Publix and Costco (now you know what swing state she's in) and she is all for Obama. I've put her on to convince her older brother, who says he can't vote for a black man. Call in Sarah Silverman and the Schleppers.

Bad grandma (and I say this with all due respect, but she has been pissing me off regularly since I was 3) says that she'll vote Democratic, but with hesitation. He doesn't have any executive experience, she says. Oh wait, she realizes, "McClain" doesn't either. I feel comforted that even if she were to vote, she would see that there's no McClain on the ticket and maybe vote for Obama. For her, I hope that the weather is good enough to go vote, and that there is a handicapped spot out front so that she can get in comfortably.

No matter who you support (really, at this point, I don't care), I want to urge you to vote. I hope to hell you've registered and that you'vemade a committment to exercise your right to vote. I'm sure someone will comment here that this isn't a politics blog but a mothering blog, and so I'll say it:

This election will decide your child's future.

Of course, every election will, but this one, more so than anything else. This election can decide whether or not your child will have a future of clean energy, reduced dependence on foreign oil and a cleaner environment, access to affordable health care and improved opportunities in public schooling, not to mention access to affordable higher education. Who would think that this isn't important to mothers?? Of course it is. And by the way, that's on either side of the aisle.

My grandmothers are both parents (obviously). But one is looking backwards, to the way it was back then when it was "better," and one is looking forward, to a way that it can be someday in the future for her children and grandchildren. I'm an optimist. Let's go with the future instead of with the past.

Last: please take your children with you to the polls. I attribute my interest in politics to one thing and one thing only, being taken to the polls with my parents. Going in that booth, with the curtain closed, with a sacred and private space to exercise my right to be a free person in a democratic country is a big deal. Do it with your kids and show them what being free truly is.

I beg you too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why I Dread Simchat Torah

This is the most frightening blog entry I’ve made to date. The reason Simchat Torah, the most joyful holiday of the entire year, fills me with dread is that I am terrified of the aliyah. To be specific, I am terrified to say the Hebrew names of my “parents.” In fact, I have always managed to be out of town for every Simchat Torah except this one. And if I didn’t have to work erev chag, I’d be out of town this year, too.

I wasn’t born Jewish. There. I said it. When I was converted, before moving here and joining my present community, I was promised by my rabbi: now you can enter a new community seamlessly, and no one need know you ever converted. Well, that’s true as long as you don’t participate in women’s tefillah, attend a Simchat Torah service in your community, or get married. Then, everyone will know. Which is a pity, since I was told all my life that I looked like (the young) Barbara Streisand.

I know I’m being dramatic. I know there are many converts who are just as good, knowledgeable, and valuable to their communities, if not more so, than people who were born Jewish. Besides, I know there are plenty of born-Jews whose parents just happen to be named Sarah and Abraham.

But I’m touchy about it. My conversion experience was awful. It was worse than undetected placenta previa and an emergency c-section. It was worse than lying in a dark room for three days, screaming and throwing up pain-killers because the nurse in recovery made me wait until the pain killer wore off before I could leave the hospital after surgery on a shattered wrist (She didn’t believe I didn’t have general).

My conversion was, psychologically, worse. The superficial reasons were understandable—I lived 70 miles from the nearest orthodox shul. I begged to be given materials to study, only to be told, “conversion is not a college entrance exam.” I studied anything I could get my hands on--alone. I learned Biblical Hebrew for two years and Aramaic for one. The first time I came before the bet din, the rabbi (who told me I didn’t even need to learn Hebrew) opened the siddur at random and asked me to sight-read. I was able to do so, haltingly. Then he commented: “I thought you were a scholar, but you read like a child.” I was sent home because I couldn’t answer what to do when a fleischig pot was triefed by dairy. I answered, “I’m a vegetarian! This would never happen to me. But if it did I’d get rid of the pot.” Turns out, the correct answer was “ask your rabbi.”

Although I made dear friends for life in that community, and the rabbi was a lovely person, there were other circumstances, rotten luck, general naivte and other problems that made the experience so nightmarish. I’m glad it’s over. But I would be more glad if I didn’t have to announce that I’m a convert once a year.

It’s not that I was raised without religion. I have an MA in theology. I spent a year in a convent. It’s just that I wasn’t raised with THIS religion. And I wasn’t even looking for religion or to convert when I left my birth-religion. (It’s just “not done” if you’re Catholic).

Still, it was all worth it. Even though I went from being an expert in one religion to a baby in another.

And in general, I look forward to the chagim. I never pray as intensely, and am never as honest with myself and with G-d as on Rosh H’shanna and Yom Kippur. It seems that every year, just before this time, I am faced with what seems like the worst challenge of my life—conversion, one year. Getting a job, one year. Having a child (though, to be honest, in my prayers I asked for a husband first). This year it is a custody battle and getting to move to Israel, since Baby Daddy is now unwilling to negotiate my going. I suspect that if I did not have these challenges, I would not pray so intensely and so deeply.

I am looking forward, though, to the year that my biggest challenge is dealing with my feelings about Shimchat Torah. I understand that it’s my problem. It’s a stupid problem. And I suspect one day I’ll even get over it.