Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'd Really Rather Not

I like Facebook. It's turned out to be a great way to remember the names of the really nice people in shul who grab my child before she tumbles down the stairs, and arrest her wrist in mid-swing, as she’s about the toss a handful of cheerios from the balcony of the women’s section onto the bima.

You got your face. You got your name. And I’ve got a horrible memory for names, made worse by chronic sleep deprivation. (You’d think a two-year-old would be sleeping through the night).

I created my file for networking reasons—I do poetry, for Pete’s sake, and need all the help I can get. Plus, with a child, I can't attend the local poets' "drink and walk" sessions in which we talk shop over beers. But it’s really fun catching up with those fantastic beings I thought I’d lost forever in the act of perpetual moving, producing a child, and becoming a productive member of the labor force.

But the recent craze, “Twenty-five Things About Myself” has left me cold. The idea is that someone lists 25 things about themselves that you may or may not already know, then they "tag" 25 people who are invited to read the list, and create their own lists.
It's sweet to be among that person's top 25 choices. But I'd REALLY rather not.

I don’t know why I’d rather lecture naked than make a list of twenty-five things about myself and post them. It’s not like I’m particularly secretive or private.

The lists I have read have been thought provoking and heart warming. A colleague who has survived severe abuse (thing #6) is trying to decide whether to adopt a mixed-race child or to give birth to one using a sperm donor because her mixed-race partner has adopted a mixed-race child (thing #8). Her parents converted to Judaism (thing #3) and she grew up as a racial minority (thing #7).

I’m glad she posted that list. It’s a lot to think about; it raises all sorts of questions and challenges me to re-examine my idea of living ethically in the world. Obviously, I wish she and I could talk about these issues in person over coffee, rather than having me discover them on Facebook. But I’m glad I know them anyway.

Some of the twenty-five things people post are frivolous. I don’t particularly care what your first pet was called,what your favorite color was when you were twelve and what your favorite junk food is. But in the course of a physical conversation, a chatty person will say lots of things that you can pay attention to or tune out. At least on Facebook I can skim.

I guess it just seems weird to me to list 25 things, taken totally out of context. Yes, it seems incredibly self-aggrandizing. Yes, I’ve lived about 10 different lives so far, and it’s weird for me to reveal personal things to people I’ve friended for professional reasons—different kinds of relationships warrant different levels of intimacy.

But reading over my friend’s 25-things note about race, abuse, adoption, something really strikes me. This particular friend is really centered, really at peace with herself and incredibly comfortable in her own skin. There is nothing she would hide from shame, or even to save the feelings of those who have hurt her (surely some of her family members would cringe at her revelation of family abuse?) It must be incredible to live like that. She’s my hero.

But I still think it’s more fun, sexier, more exciting to discover someone bit by bit than to have them tell you 25 things all at once.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hap Birt

Well on Friday we will celebrate my Little Prince’s half birthday. Yup. He will be half a year old. Six months, is how most people will say it. I was really hoping to do something very very special to commemorate the day. My goal was to give him the gift of thank you note completion.

While he was still in the hospital my husband and I picked out thank you notes. We were so proud of the name that we agonized for months over that we found a website that made cards which would proudly display both his Hebrew name and English name (in a lovely shade of the orange, which in my opinion is the new blue). We spent hours adjusting the footprints that we chose to adorn said names properly and we called the printer just to make sure that our vision would come to fruition appropriately.

That was when he was in the hospital.

Now thankfully he was not in the hospital too long and we got to take him home. The thank you notes came in a week after that. And the meals and presents stopped coming in a month after that.

But I kept a list right by the fancy silver box they arrived in. I was going to be on those notes like white on rice. But you know, I did just have a baby so I did get a little break. First I said, I’ll write them once he gets on more of a schedule. Then I said, I’ll write them when he sleeps through the night. Then I said, well maybe once he goes to bed a little earlier and I have enough energy.

But nope. Just as he grew and grew so did the excuses. I was blaming everything from needing to spend more quiet time with my husband to catching up on all the Grey’s Anatomy I missed out on to just not wanting to write notes when I was on my 3rd gin and tonic of the day (it got a little stressful around 4 months or so). And about a month ago I decided that etiquette allowed me until his half birthday to complete the thank you notes without looking like a complete ingrate.

Well it’s a month later and still no notes.

Darn you passing time!

I guess part of my problem is that I like to make the notes personal and special. I am just not the generic:
Dear X,
Thank you so much for the beautiful _____. It sure is special! I can’t wait to use it/ grow into it/ be able to eat it soon!
Love, Prince Peanut

But my valiant procrastination efforts have also made this hard because now he’s actually outgrown some of the things he has gotten so I am finding myself writing notes in the past tense which is just awkward.

Dear Aunt Joan,

Thank you so much for the sassy Michigan hat. It looked really great on me for a few days but now that my head is the size of a cantaloupe I have moved on to knit caps so I don’t outgrow them every week or so. I hope to meet you soon!
Mighty Muffin Man

I also am having issues coming up with appropriate ways to thank people for monetary gifts. Those were great but I always feel the need to tell the sender what the gift was spent on.

Dear Rich Uncle Todd,

Thank you so much for the generous present! Mommy and Daddy really wish they could have saved that money for my college education but instead had to spend it on Mommy’s lavish 30th birthday party so she wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown and abandon me.
Hope to spend a summer at one of your lovely vacation homes soon!
The Boy Child

Six months doesn’t seem like so long. It was not as bad when I made the 350 guests at my wedding wait for thank you notes. Then 6 months after I received the gifts I was still married and we were still using the bread maker/tablecloth/ coffee maker and since I was only 21 I could spend the money on furniture and that made for a lovely thank you message.

But in Baby Land 6 months is a long time! In that time he has tripled his birth weight and learned to laugh and smile and roll over and almost sit and eat solid foods and develop a fantastically annoying case of separation anxiety.

And it’s all extra nifty because he came early and wasn’t even supposed to be doing all the neato 6 month old tricks until March.

Wait wait…does that mean I have until March?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cold and Colder

Snow is coating the ground here in Washington DC and though my thoughts should be on warm things I'm just too excited about two dessert recipes I recently discovered. One is the ultimate in convenience and kosher chic, the other should appeal to the Martha Stewart and/or Earth Mother in you.

NY times columnist Mark Bittman (aka the minimalist) always has something interesting to say, but recently he rocked my pareve world with this sorbet recipe that uses silken tofu:

Super-Simple Sorbet

1 pound frozen strawberries or other fruit

1/2 cup yogurt, crème fraîche or silken tofu

1/4 cup sugar, more or less.

1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor container along with a couple of tablespoons of water. Process until just puréed and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If the fruit does not break down completely, add a little more water through the feed tube, a tablespoon or two at a time, being careful not to over-process or the sorbet will liquefy.

2. Serve immediately or freeze it for later; if serving later, allow 10 to 15 minutes for sorbet to soften at room temperature.

Yield: At least 4 servings.

I discovered the second recipe after googling around for a while for a faux "Mr. Yogato" recipe. Those delicious $5 bowls of sweet-tart happiness always make me feel like a sucker for paying someone else to freeze my yogurt. This recipe from the great blog 101 Cookbooks just about does the trick (though my kitchen's selection of toppings will never rival Mr. Yogato's).

Frozen Yogurt Recipe
By David Lebovitz, adapted by Heidi Swanson

3 cups strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

To make 1 cup of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups of whole-milk plain yogurt into the cheesecloth [I used low-fat, with good results]. Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. So, for the above recipe start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt.

Makes about 1 quart.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inauguration Reflection

Watching the inauguration, it was difficult not to be awed by how civilized the whole thing was. I don't know why this year more than any, I was struck by just how smooth and peaceful the transfer of power was. Both the Obamas and the Bush's acted with remarkable grace towards each other.

I couldn't help but reflect on the many places in our world where changes of power lead to extreme and brutal violence.

Neither Bush nor Obama are blessed with superhuman powers of calm and dignity. A respected system is set in place for them - and they merely followed this set pattern - perhaps a little better than most.

As a parent, my natural potential to lose my cool or remain calm is not significantly greater or weaker than most. This year's inauguration reminded me of the importance of establishing patterns and systems in the home that help to guard against outbursts of anger and impatience. And it's harder to establish those systems on our own - without the help of lawmakers and judges. Still establishing patterns such as prioritizing rest, not over-programming, asking for help, and taking time to reflect can help our family guard against the temptation to lose it when the kids drive me crazy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lexomatic Reading Freak (the Two-year-old edition)

Our household is weird. We don't have a television. No reason. Just never got around to it. Besides, we get lots of invitations for such spectator sports and national bonding moments as the Inauguration (our apartment, twelve blocks from the White House, was wasted on us this year), the Super Bowl, and, of course, the Oscars.

But for quotidian entertainment, we read. My baby’s reading tastes have been changing so gradually over the course of the year that we’ve turned over most of the rather extensive library already. You see, the theme of our baby shower was books!

Here’s a brief list of current favorites. By favorites, we mean the books we MUST read at least once a day, or every other day.

1. When the Moon Smiled by Peter Horacek.
In general, Czech and Slovak illustrators are among my favorite on earth. This lovely bedtime book features a moon who does not smile because the animals on the farm aren’t behaving themselves. The ones who are supposed to be awake at night go to sleep, and the ones who are supposed to be asleep are awake, You can imagine the fun we have with it when the girl acts out what each animal does, the sounds it makes. We like to stop in mid-action and fall suddenly to sleep. The cut-out stars are fun to stick your fingers in, and the colors are breath taking.

2. The Big Orange Spot by D. Manus Pinkwater
This one was given to us at said baby shower. The message is probably too sophisticated for her—the “neat street” gets all funky as people start to paint their houses to resemble their dreams. But if you summarize some of the dialogue, the houses themselves are really fun to look at. Luckily, we have a toy alligator, a toy elephant, and other props to help us act out the fun.

3. Curious George by H. A. Rey
Again, slightly sophisticated (I don’t think she understands what “curious” means), but my girl adores this little monkey.

4. ABC books. We have Elmo and Richard Scarry
Though she likes the Scarry illustrations, they’re a little abstract at this point (we don’t juggle or talk about jack o’lanterns all that much). But she can proudly sing her ABCs all the way to L, at which point she starts mixing up the letters in adorable combinations, of course.

5. Ruff! Ruff! Where’s Scruff? by Sarah Weeks and David A. Carter
The pleasure here is the pop-up book, with the muddy dog, Scruff, hiding very cleverly behind various other farm animals. Really a cute and very smart book. And it’s fun before bathtime.

6. The Big Red Barn & The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
The girl is obsessed with animals. The first is sweet. The second is fun to play. We run away and catch one another, and it keeps us going for a long time.

7. How the Mole Got His Pockets by Eduard Petiska and Zdenek Miler
Another Czech illustrator. This one is hard to find in the USA, but once you do, you can supplement it with youtube video clips of various Mole adventures. Especially moving is the Mole and the Swallow and the Mole and the Snowman. But the Pockets book takes you through the entire process of making clothes. You start with flax plants, go to spinning (spiders help here) and weaving (the ants), you dye the fabric and cut and sew, and viola! Pockets!

8. In the Hebrew language category there are four.
Bo Elai Parpar Nekhmad by Fania Bergstein. It features scenes from a kibbutz, and some of the photos features songs we like to sing, like "Ha auto shelanu." It was originally published in 1945.

9. Vayhi erev, also by Fania Bergstein, is about a little girl who wants to tell the chickens good night, but gets into all kinds of trouble. It's also a mid-century book. Very sweet.

10. Ayn Arayot Ka-Ele by Ami Rubenger, (2005).
She likes this one much more than I do.

11. My favorite favorite of all is Yom Shel Tom by Rinat Hoffer. It's got lovely folding half-pages, and it's full of little surprise.

I’d love to hear what you read because, frankly, I’ve already memorized these the first thousand times we read them.

Read on!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Happy Inauguration Day!

DC is crazy--lots of traffic and drunk people and patriots--but it's fun to be in the center of the action...even if we did watch the inauguration from the warmth of a friend's apartment.

Like everyone else I feel excited about a fresh start, putting the damaging politics of the last eight years behind us. I'm hopeful that President Obama's administration can accomplish real change--or at least healing--and I think it's so important that President Obama stressed the importance of each of our contributions. I was touched that he mentioned parents in the same sentence as firemen.

Somehow I never noticed the swearing in ceremony is quite religious--Christian mostly, though the minister include a surpise Shma Yisrael and only mentioned Jesus a few times. As much as I tend to cringe at the blurring of the lines between church and state I couldn't help but approve. Because the national crises run so deep, and the responsibility over life and death so awesome, that perhaps only a person who is deeply humbled by his place in the universe and profoundly touched by the beauty and potential of creation can lead our country effectively at this time.

President Obama, b'ezrat hashem, with God's help, and with the support of all who believe in you, may you go from strength to strength.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gender Bender

This evening, my son announced that he was having difficulty pooping. You must be constipated, I said. Yes, I'm very complicated, he replied.

How true.

When I first found out that he was a he (after he was born), I admit I worried a little that I would not be able to connect. I am a fairly girlie girl. Would I be able to get into fire trucks, race cars, football, etc? A friend at the time said to me, maybe this boy will be the type you can share all your feminine interests with (books, movies, etc.)

Little did I know how right she would turn out to be. My son has never really gotten into typical boy stuff. His interests have always been more gender neutral and quirky (vacuums, haircuts, musical instruments are a few examples). But lately, he seems to be developing a more intense interest in "girl stuff." (princesses, dresses, the color pink, etc.) He has always shown an intense appreciation for beauty and it seems that now he wants to be more of a participant than an observer.

I admit that this makes me a bit uncomfortable at times. When we left the shoe store last week , he expressed some disappointment that he did not get pink shoes like his sister. I explained that it was too late - we had already purchased the shoes, which he seemed to like at the time. But truthfully, I would not have had the guts to be buy him the pink shoes from the girls section. It's just too much for me - and ultimately, I think, somewhat irresponsible. For what it's worth, he lives in a extremely color-coded gender world right now. I can try to neutralize it, but it's really hard go cross over completely. I think I will switch to Zappos for the time being.

I do allow him to dress up in girls clothes in the context of play and even to wear my pink scarf and hat to school. I am trying to give him room to experiment and explore while at the same time make more of an effort to show him that it's also fun and exciting and special to be a boy - even if sports and superheroes aren't his thing right now.

The experience is also challenging me to revisit some of my behavior towards my daughter as well. It is easier than I thought it would be to have a little too much fun dressing her up in cute outfits and gushing over how adorable she looks in them. It takes a certain discipline for me to tone that down - and I think it's really important for everyone (especially her!) that I do.

I find it difficult to be in the present with this - to not let my anxieties about the future get in the way. I am anxious, for example, that he will be teased at school. But I try to remind myself that no one is teasing him now. And even if they do, he will have the strength to get through it and the wisdom to grow from it.

I hope that I will learn how to be as supportive and helpful to him as I can as he continues on the journey.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy, and for those first three weeks of my daughter’s life, before I had to go back to work, I was just like everyone else, more or less. I was a woman who had just given birth. And that’s all. Like many other women, I spent my waking hours with my shirt unbuttoned feeding the girl. Or trying to get her to burp. I spent my sleeping hours awake, feeding the girl or walking up and down stairs with a screaming colicky bundle, patting her back, or whatever it took, to quiet her down. Like everyone else.

I’d never felt so much woman solidarity was when I was in my ninth month of pregnancy. Everyone from the post-office clerks to the checkers in the grocery store would smile and tell me about their kids. They’d guess the baby’s gender by the shape of my belly. Some even produced detailed horoscopes. The people on the bus talked to me and gave me their seats. The stream of pedestrian traffic individuated itself as random people smiled and talked to me in passing. Even the crowds in a couple of sweaty concerts took the mama in stride: “rock on.”

Babies are the common denominators of humanity.

A goodly portion of half the population has given birth, and the rest know someone who has. And everyone was once a baby. My body may have become a bizarre and ponderous formation I did not recognize, but I was just like everyone else.

But this past week was another story.

This past week I was the odd-woman-out.

Or rather, I felt how my difference caused discomfort and inconvenience to a greater community. For the first time.

What kind of person has to serve papers to Babydaddy in conjunction with her daughter’s birthday party? For reasons I won't go into here, I had no choice. The couple with whom I hosted the party was so uncomfortable with the idea we had to resort to more chancy tactics.
Justice was served out of sight and off-property,in a manner not unlike a Sopranos episode I’m proud to say no one else realized what happened, except the guy who got served. But I'm still queasy.

This week my place of employment was hiring. I sat through brilliant candidate talks that left me speechless. But I was too tired to ask intelligent questions. What does it mean to “queer the generative literary systems”? I'm not sure, but I suspect it’s too late for me to start thinking about doing that now.

Nope, I’m not like everyone else. Not like that nice family who shared my daughter’s birthday. Not like my nice family of birth. Not like my childless colleagues, or male colleagues with children and wives.
Not this week, at least.
Oh, well.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nidah? I Hahdly Even Know Ya!

When my husband and I got married we registered for 6 pages worth of stuff. Hundreds of household items, everything you could think of from crystal to striped roll pillows to a grilled cheese maker. But we did not register for sheets. No siree Bob.

We had an orthodox wedding and we shockingly had purchased a queen sized bed. Oh the drama. We didn’t register for our scandalous queen sheets so we wouldn’t shame my family. Some Jews are so judgmental (you know who you are) and since we weren’t so into the whole “we can only be pure if we do the whole Donna Reed beds pushed together thing” we just left that off our list.

But one cat, one dog, one daughter and one son later man oh man do I wish we frum’ed out and got the big bed...or rather two small beds pushed together to form one large bed.

We used to be so strict about the bed. It was our sanctuary. Our romantic hideaway. We had candles around and high thread count sheets. And the girl was never allowed in our special love nest. Even when she was a baby we would fight through the sleepiness and rock her to sleep in her room. It’s not like we didn’t share, we just had rules- she loved snuggling with us in the bed after the sun came up, would enjoy hearing stories on my pillow before bed time and don’t even get me started on the crazy games of tent she would play under said high quality sheets. But the nighttime was not the right time for her.

I am not sure what changed. Well I know what changed. First we decided to get the dog on anti-anxiety medication, so now rather than sleeping UNDER the bed she sleeps ON TOP of it. Which is fine and healthier for her self esteem and all but man, 60lbs of dog laying upon your toes sort of cuts off circulation around 3am or so. And then of course the cat got threatened by that, so he moved from the end of the bed to right on my pillow. And while I do find purring in my ear sexy, it is done most effectively without Meow Mix breath.

Then of course there is the whole added life form. He certainly drained our energy levels. Thanks to him, we simply do not have the physical or emotional strength to get up and give our Queen snuggles in her bed if she awakes from a bad dream, so she plops on in with us. And if the boy sleeps until 8am and she wakes up at 5:30am then we sure as heck aren’t going to do something silly like play with her and chance waking him, so into the playroom-formerly-known-as-sanctuary she goes.

The same thing goes with the new man in town. We really try to keep him in his crib, but the other night he woke up with a cold and after a few attempts to settle him in his bed we just brought him in with us. And then of course all his crying woke up the lady in our lives so she joined us (which was what the bringing him in our bed was supposed to avoid). Thankfully the dog was there because I was able to prop my one foot that no longer fit in the bed on top her snout to maintain some sense of balance.

So here is what hasn’t changed, my husband and me. We are still annoyingly lovey dovey. We spoon so hard that his arm tends to cramp when we somehow manage to get more than 6 hours of sleep straight in a single night. And while nowadays leaving candles about can be a bit of a fire hazard, we did get a mini fridge for our room that holds not only the morning’s bottle but the evening’s bottle of wine as well.

So maybe even if we don’t think there is ever a time of any month of any year where a husband shouldn’t be allowed to spoon his wife (forking is a different matter) or give her a hug or I don’t know, accept water from a cup she has poured into (gotta love the Yeshiva) maybe we should just do the twin push. That way we can give the kids one of the beds and we can have our bed-and sleep in it too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Derech Eretz

I just read this great article on good manners in the science section of the New York Times. Whhoooshh. It's by a pediatrician who recalls a particularly rude patient who bossed his mother around and generally was obnoxious. Oops, I hope I'm never that parent that gets talked about behind the pediatrician's doors. This week it would be the following: "Why isn't that child completely potty trained?"

The article quotes and frequently refers to Judith Martin's Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children. I think that the hook for me was the following:

I like Miss Manners’ approach because it lets a parent respect a child’s intellectual and emotional privacy: I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.
I have a four year old son. He never went through the terrible twos. There were no terrible threes and he's four now. I feel so lucky (I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M WRITING THIS DOWN, I'LL PROBABLY CURSE MYSELF) that I can barely contain myself. I'm sure there'll be some adolescent rebellion at some point, and I'll handle it very imperfectly when the time comes. No child is perfect (and no parent either) and just because my son takes after his two doormat, easygoing first born parents doesn't mean he won't lose it at some point.

My key to overcoming those terrible, tantrumy child episodes, however few and thankfully far between they've been in our house, is to remember that feelings are OK but not always necessary to share, but that behavior is public. Shall we remind some of our adult friends and maybe even our spouses about that?

I really love the part about respecting a child's intellectual and emotional privacy, though. Maybe we don't pay enough attention to what our kids are thinking, and how that contributes to their behavior. I think it is perfectly acceptable to be furious, and even sometimes to yell about being mad (for 36 year olds and 4 year olds) and grouse about being sad, but that hitting is never OK. I also think it is OK for a child to dislike a peer from school or is not a big playdate, and you don't have to have them over to play, you just have to suffer them politely. My mother in law seems to think you need to actually like everyone. It's even good, probably, to say that all feelings are OK, but that you just can't be rude. We all know that we don't like to spend time with those kids and parents who are OOC (out of control) but I don't always think about how my family might look or act toward others.

I remember years ago when I was a school administrator that I had to discipline a whole grade of boys who were rude, mean, and would physically intimidate others and especially the girls. So I worked and worked to craft lessons on derech eretz, "the way of the land," or the general rule of politeness and socially acceptable behavior...respect, or good manners. It was awful. I mean, I was not on my game, but they were just tough.They didn't get that it was important to treat each other with a modicum of respect, or even that Jewish tradition could have something to say about that. I never once thought of saying to them, "Jesus, it sucks to be a 5th grader. But what you gotta do is to remember that some things just can't be said out loud. It is perfectly cool to think them and even feel them, but you can't act on them. Just hold back. Being the bigger person,well, it feels damn good. And gets you points with the ones who really matter." Maybe acknowledging their feelings but requiring them to behave respectfully would have helped.

So I think I'm going to try this: have good manners. Both for me and for my son, and if we're lucky my husband too. Please and thank you always. A few others. Obviously no hitting--we're good with that--but life isn't one big play date. We might even tack on chewing with our mouths closed, shaking hands, saying excuse me when we fart, bless you when someone else sneezes and whoa--not interrupting! I guess I'm going to have to hold myself to the same standard...

A Taste of Vacation

It's almost seven in the morning and I'm about to go away to a conference for two days--the longest I've ever been away from Chamudi continuously. Of course he chose last night to get a stomach virus...he was up from 3 to just a little past 5:30 and now has thankfully drifted off to sleep so he doesn't have to see me leave. I can't imagine how upset he'll be when he wakes up, though--all he wants when he's sick is Ima--and the guilt is already getting me.

Following Maya's theme of the healing powers of chocolate, I wanted to share with you the most wonderful chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I found on the back of the Hershey's chocolate chip bag. Over vacation Chamudi and I whipped up a batch to bring to Savta and had a great time of it, measuring and mixing (with our hands) and eating cookie upon cookie and making a big mess of ourselves. I could have done that forever.

So here it is, a taste of vacation:

Hershey's Classic Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups HERSHEYS milk chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl with mixer [or clean hands!] until creamy. Add eggs; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Drop by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until lightly brown. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet onto wire rack. Cool completely. About 5 dozen cookies.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Friend

I am grateful for this is blog (and have missed contributing) partly because it is a space for me to write down things my children say that I want to always remember.

At least once a day, my 4-year old son tells me that we are good friends. "We're very good friends, aren't we Mommy," he'll say. Or when we walk to shul together he'll hold my hand and say, "Isn't it nice to walk together mommy? We're good friends." And every morning we snuggle for a few minutes and he comments, "You're my friend."

It's a big counter-intuitive (I'm supposed to be his mommy, right, not his buddy), but I've found that the friend language is also useful in terms of discipline. I find that the more I use the friend language, the more respectful he is and the more likely he is to listen to to my instructions gracefully.

Don't get me wrong. There are PLENTY of times when this does not work. Mainly because it is hard to switch into "affectionate friend mode" when I am frustrated at his behavior. And because when he is misbehaving, often the my stern voice gets me a lot farther.

But when we start the day talking about our friendship and when I remind him throughout the day how happy I am that we are friends, then he is less likely to be difficult.

What a good friend!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dark Chocolate Mousse!

Tonight I am hosting Babydaddy and his new girlfriend (who, I hope to G-d, is fertile) for Shabbat dinner. I'm not that nice. I'm just working all day and don't want to miss seeing my baby after 5 pm. And I also don't want the little miss taken out in the freezing weather in the middle of the night. This is a man I'm currently suing for custody. This is a custody case requesting that I be permitted to take my baby into a country at war. We won't even go into the war. I did that last post.

All I can say is, Mousse!

This mousse won't bring world peace, and it probably won't even make you a better person. But it will sure make you feel better. One little bite fills you with unreasonable joy. It can be parev, depending on the chocolate you use.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

12 oz. semi-sweet or bitter sweet chocolate. I use ghiradelli.
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp. instant coffee (dry crystals--elite coffee works well because it's fine, and who really wants to drink the stuff anyway?)
1-2 tsp. Chocolate liquor (or really anything you have on hand).

Separate eggs. Place the yolks in a bowl with the liquor.
Beat the whites until stiff

Melt chocolate with the coffee crystals in a double broiler. DO NOT allow even a drop of water on the chocolate. Do not overheat the chocolate. Melt, and then turn the heat off.

Pour the chocolate into the yolk mixture and beat vigorously.
Fold the whites into the chocolate.

Refrigerate and let set for at least 4 hours. It's better if you leave it overnight. It really just improves with age, up to about 3 days.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ours Is Not To Reason Why. Ours Is To Keep Answering After 1000 Whys.

I am slowly going insane.


Because I think my daughter wants me to take a long walk off a short pier.


Well she’s not really doing anything mean or evil, she’s just being a normal and inquisitive 3 year old.


Well she just wants to know a lot about everything I am doing and why I am doing it.


Well I guess it’s because that is the way that 3 year olds learn all the random stuff that there is to learn in the world. But man, sometimes I feel like she is trying to annoy me on purpose.


Well for instance she will start pondering why she needs to be quiet when I am putting her brother down for rest. Or start asking me why I am still wearing a shirt I slept in to school in front of her teachers. Or once I say I have to make dinner she asks me a 30 minute series of “Why?”s until I throw a jelly bean across the kitchen to distract her.


Oh I was just kidding about that last part. I could throw an elephant across the floor and it wouldn’t distract her.


Because she is so darned focused on why! Why why why! She MUST know! And once I tell her why she asks me a new why and if I give her an answer she of course asks why to that. And if I ignore her she just won’t stop “Why why why”ing until I have to say something.


Well I have tried replying with “Z” or “Try Bud Dry” or "Because I am taller than you" but that didn’t do anything but cause further confusion.

Because she can sniff out a fake response a mile away. And the whole “Because I’m the Mommy and I say so” doesn’t do squat for her. She is way too smart for that line.


Because she is from my genes and we all know I am a freaky genius.


Because I am smart enough to know that even though all I want to do is yell at the top of my lungs, “Oh Sweet Lord SHUT UP!” or maybe just give her a teeny tiny dose of a sleep aide, I know that this is part of the wonders of growing up. And one day when she doesn’t ask me about anything anymore I’ll miss when she wanted to know why I have to crack eggs. So I guess I’ll keep answering her insanely annoying, cyclical and always ill timed Whys.


I love her, so why not?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Cheese Stands Alone

Okay, I'll admit it...I was an "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" sort of single girl. Always greeted the announcement of engagement and ensuing wedding with an equal measure of public excitement and private bitterness. I'd like to say that I stopped when I got married, but the truth is that to this day when I attend weddings I get a little envious...thinking wow to be experiencing that blissful day once again, long before the realities of building a life together really begin.

So let's just say I have "though shalt not covet" issues.

Which brings us to today. One by one I've watched as each of Chamudi's friend's Imas hit that "two years apart" mark, popping out lovely new younglings to build their beautiful families. It was basically down to just two holdouts--one of whom is not currently married--plus me. I actually said to one of them last week, "God, don't tell me when you become're my saving grace (or my last hope, or something similarly melodramatic)."

Yeah, guess what? The cheese stands alone. It's all the worse because I'm not even a little bit confused--I know that I do want more children--and soon. I love Chamudi and I love little babies and I'm ready for more chaos and more excitement and more mess and all of it, I have been for a while.

And maybe at my old job we could have made a go of it. But my new job--which on most days I really like--pays $12k less than my old one. And Abba's still a year or two from finishing his Phd, though he's making great progress. So...there you go.

The day I realized this was a brutal one. It's a shocker to realize that sometimes you can't make your own future--that sometimes money really does matter, even if it shouldn't. Some of it is cruel circumstance, but to a certain degree I'm just eating the consequences of the choices I've made in my life--and would likely make again.

It's an Ima thing to yearn just a bit for the little ones, but I guess I'll just have to suffer through for another year or two. But meanwhile, perhaps I'll try and count my blessings, like Abba is always pushing me to do when I get melancholy about the children's table for one.

Top Ten Reasons Why It's Nice Having One Toddler, No Baby...For Now

1) I get lots of sleep.
2) My breasts never randomly spurt milk.
3) I'm not feeling nauseous or exhausted.
4) My son gets my full attention.
5) I don't need a double stroller.
6) I can go grocery shopping with ease.
7) I don't need a "family car."
8) I don't need to move to the suburbs.
9) I don't need to take unpaid maternity leave.
10) I can lend out all my favorite baby stuff to my favorite friends.

So there you have it. A little positivity for the road.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Divorce, Sister Style

My sister is getting a divorce.

This could lead me in a number of directions. I have traveled in each direction, thinking through various anxieties and concerns. But it just occurred to me that I am missing something. Here are the different things that have leaped into my mind, and let’s play a game and see if you can figure out what’s missing.

How awful. OK, that was just for one second. So it turns out that I don’t—scratch that—have never really liked my brother in law. That isn’t a real surprise, but now I have permission to say it. I could go on for hours about this, but there’s really a big reason. Turns out that he was unfaithful to my sister within the first year of their marriage, but they promised to try to work it out. Two beautiful little children and 6 years of marriage later, and I don’t feel sorry for him. Cheating just isn’t OK, no matter what kind of spin you put on it, and I admire my sister for having made a go of it. Here’s what she said: “We just kind of fell out of love.”

How awful for my sister. Well, no. She’s the primary breadwinner, and a capable parent. And lives an hour from my parents, and my mother doesn’t work, so she’s a built in caregiver when needed. And she initiated it. It won’t be easy in this world to be a single mom, but we have great examples of how women with great support systems are amazing single moms (thanks Maya, for teaching us so gracefully). And maybe she won't be single forever.

How awful for the kids. Two beautiful little girls, and I do mean little (both under age 5). But is this really true? My personal philosophy, constructed as a work outside the home mother, is that a happy parent makes for a happy child. And it would seem to me that this applies as well to children of divorce, if the parents can make a go of it in a way that is amicable and productive. If they have a chance at happiness, then so will their children. And a miserable, unhappy home with depressed, angry parents who constantly fight is no good anyway.

In my family? I have a pretty emotionally healthy extended family. No divorce. My parents are married for almost 40 years. Their parents were all in healthy marriages, and for the most part, the rest of my extended family too. This is the first, so we have no experience, and that adds to the shock. At least we know that divorce happens to Jews, “unlike” rape, alcoholism, domestic abuse, drug addiction, homosexuality, etc. But just like that awful stuff, divorce happens too. So yes, in my family. But it could happen to any family, and it’s no stigma, because it can and it does. And better to take away the stigma, because then the children can learn to handle it better.

But what I did not leap to think about was “what if it were me/us?”

My wonderful husband and I have definitely had kinks in our relationship. In fact, I will fully confess that there have been a few hours that we have spent together with my therapist. We have a lot of issues. We don’t really get each other. I can be a horrible pain in the arse and he can magically become blind and deaf at the drop of a hat. Right now he is throwing the dishes in the kitchen around because he’s annoyed he has to clean up from dinner. But we both put a lot of effort and energy into our relationship (he clearly puts up with a lot from me) and we will celebrate our 13th anniversary in a few short months. We committed to making a home and a family together, and in every resolution to every argument, no matter how small, we both work to remember that in our own way.

But I did not think what it would be like if it were me. If it were me and my son, about to strike out on our own. I didn’t think about what life could be for myself as a single parent, nor did I feel the cold anger that one must feel to discover that your partner has been unfaithful. And I truly thank God for that. And my amazing husband.

I wish all those out there in difficult relationships the courage to fight for what is important to you, whether it is to strengthen your partnership or to choose to dissolve it, and the courage to do what is right for your children. And luckily this is an anonymous post, so my sister won’t know that I’m writing this for her…


Returning from my parents’ house in Texas last week, I was shocked and embarrassed to realize Israel was in its third day of air strikes on Gaza, and I’d not realized it. I can excuse myself, saying that I was so occupied with my father’s cancer and aneurysm, my Uncle’s unsuccessful brain surgery, and what was probably my last visit with him alive. But then I remember my student from Ramallah whose mother was undergoing cancer treatment while bombs fell around their family not so long ago.

But the second thing I thought was: damn! This was about the very worst week of the entire year to serve Babydaddy papers in order to sue for full custody of my child and a “reasonable visiting schedule” so that I can move with her to Israel. What judge on earth is going to award a parent permission to take a child into a country at war?

Babydaddy phoned the first night of the air strikes to discuss mediation. There have been no follow up phone calls.

I fully support Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself. And when I am face to face with my student, who has spent significant amounts of time praying that the last suicide bomber was not from her home town, I am at a loss. The West Bank is not Gaza. But even if it were, Hamas must still be made to stop its incessant rocket fire, whose only purpose is to provoke Israel and to prevent any two-state solution, any hope for peace.

But why is the world so screwed up that innocent civilians cannot move out of the way of fire? When she asks me this, I won't have an answer.

This student has sent me an invitation to sign petitions, and to subscribe to her blog that tracks the death of every civilian in Gaza. Before the strikes, she was awarded a national prize in Israel for an essay she wrote about her mother’s cancer treatment—a prize she received at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. She clings tenaciously to the distinction between the people and the politics of politicians. Or she used to.

So far the tactic we have both taken is never to lose sight of the humanity of the other. She is going to be in my class this spring, translating the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who passed away late this summer. I really hope we can do this.

She has the assurance that most of the world views her and her people as the victims and Israel as the oppressors. She has the experience of having bombs fall all about her. She once wrote movingly about being unable to distinguish the broken jars of strawberry jam from the blood in the kitchen. I have the burden of loving Israel, and evaluating the student’s work, thereby, in the worst-case scenario, duplicating the political power structure in the realm of personal relations.

I hope the poetry we’ll be translating is elastic and profound enough to absorb the mental and emotional chaos. Because if two people who are invested in this situation cannot find the humanity in one another from a distance, imagine how impossible it is for those who are in the heat of it all, who face being killed or killing.

I hope that the war accomplishes all that Israel needs it to, quickly and with as few casualties on either side as possible.

I hope all of the soldiers that I saw daily on the bus between Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan, new recruits who came in to pick up their uniforms and receive assignments, will be safe. They were boys who spoke to their mothers on cell phones in Hebrew, Russian, French and English; who teased each other and shared their snacks. Of course they annoyed me at the time, since I often had to stand for 45 minutes while I graded papers on the bus; they and their baggage took up all the space.

And if I have any wishes left, I hope that this war will not prevent my daughter from living with a man she loves so much she calls him Ima. That I can take her to Israel and she can grow up in a loving family.

Terrible Ten Minutes

I did not think twice when our nanny called me last week at work. She often does. But as soon as I picked up the phone, I knew something was wrong. Her voice sounded too far away. Then I realized she was crying. She kept saying, "She won't stop bleeding." It took about 5 minutes for me to figure out where she was calling from. And those 5 minutes plus the 5 additional minutes (thank God it was close by) when a colleague ran with me to get her were no doubt the scariest of my life. Thank God a million times she was OK. She had fallen and cracked her head open - a classic little kid injury. When I finally saw her, I knew she would be fine. After a few hours in the ER and some glue, she was as good as new.

But I still can't stop thinking about how awful those ten minutes were.

I think they are going to haunt me for quite a while.