Friday, March 29, 2013
When Bella was a year old and attended her first music class, she became friends with a set of twins who had two dads. In her preschool class, she had two classmates, each with two moms. And there was another classmate whose mom was a single parent by choice. My kids have grown up in an environment where families come in all shapes and sizes. Two moms, two dads, one mom--all of that is normal. So it was with complete wonder that Bella asked me not long ago why they were talking about gay marriage on the radio news. People can marry whoever they want, right, Mom?
As parents, we all do our best to instill our values in our kids. Often we don't even have to try; they hear us talking, they follow our example, and they learn about the world through the communities that we bring them into.
One of the more unsettling things about raising kids is having to teach them about the truths of the world that look different from what they know. Gradually, they learn about racism, and they learn about war, and they learn that in many synagogues women are not allowed to wear a tallit or lead the prayers.
I cherish Bella's incredulity whenever these discussions arise. Inequality baffles her. And that is a beautiful thing. The young people of our nation already overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage rights. One day my daughters will grow up, and they will join in that majority.
I hope and pray that it won't take that long for gay couples to receive equal treatment under the national laws of our land. But no matter if it happens in weeks, days, or years, the waves of change are washing over our shores, starting from a toddler music class, and inching forward.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Josh made chopped liver yesterday. I will admit that this very fact made me a little crazy, on the day before Passover when I had to clean and change over the kitchen: a dastardly chore perhaps only understood by other Passover-observers for its full-on over-the-top-ness. By the time Josh was able to start cooking in our Passover-ready kitchen, I had spent several hours scrubbing, boiling, and covering. I was tired, and could have used a full-body massage, or at least a nap. But instead, I gave over the kitchen to him, where he reined in complete thrall to his schmaltz and livers for the next half-day, while I took two of the kids out to pick up those last-minute chopped liver indispensables: a Passover food processor and fine mesh strainer.
(As Passover observers, we need to have a separate collection of kitchen utensils and equipment, all only to be used for this one week each year. Our collection is bare-bones, indeed. Every year, we say we'll buy more tools for proper cooking on Passover, and every year we fail to make the necessary investment. "It's only a few more days," we tell ourselves. "We can get by without a knife that can cut through a carrot, and a saucepan makes a perfectly fine teapot.")
Josh and I have different approaches to time spent in the kitchen. I tend to be efficient, using simple but tasty recipes that produce predictable, appreciated results. As my big brother likes to say, Josh is ambitious. No shortcuts for him. He spent hours rendering schmaltz from chicken skin, which he bought from our awesome local/ pastured/ sustainable/ kosher butcher, Grow and Behold. His inspiration for taking this project on, as well as the recipe he used, came from The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song To a Forgotten Fat, which was a birthday present from his sister, Nina. The two of them share the ambitious-cooking gene.
There was one hairy moment in the kitchen, after I returned with the equipment. Josh realized, after all that rendering, that he wouldn't have enough schmaltz for the recipe. Glitches like this frequently happen when you're making a recipe for the first time--something doesn't turn out just the way you expected, because, in fact, you don't really know what to expect. This may be why, come to think of it, I avoid new and complicated recipes. So much effort, without guaranteed results? Yikes.
I suggested he could make chicken stock, and use the fat skimmed from the top of the pot. Thence began simultaneous project number two: several burners going, plus rising stress levels as the frozen chicken bones were stubbornly stuck to their styrofoam packaging.
I had to go out again to pick up last-minute groceries: eggs, onions, milk, eggs (there are never enough eggs on Passover). Our three girls, plus one friend, were full of energy and none of them wanted to come out shopping with me. They were screaming and doing wheelbarrows and making Louisa laugh. I told Josh I was leaving and he looked at me like I was nuts. "Can't you take them with you?" he asked. To which I responded by smiling and telling him it would be ok. And I left.
When I came home our whole apartment smelled like Golde's kitchen from Fiddler on the Roof. The stove and counters, which, remember, I had just hours before meticulously scrubbed, were covered in a film of grease. The sink was stacked high with grimy bowls and utensils. But the kids were all happy, and Josh greeted me with a bite of what may be the best chopped liver I have ever tasted: creamy, umami-ful, with delicious crunchy bites of onions and gribenes. Love.
Wishing you and yours a happy holiday, complete with old-world ambitious food, be it schmaltzy or vegetarian, made by someone you love.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Isn't it rare to find an article that tells you the benefits of doing something that you already do? Pure joy. Usually these sociology/ psychology pieces are chock full of criticism: if only we would get more exercise, or more sleep, or work less, or laugh more, or play board games, or unplug, or get rid of all our stuff, then we and our kids would be oh-so-much-better-off.
Obviously, any article that tells you how to best live your life must be taken with extra shakes of salt when it appears in the Sunday Styles section. You know, with the celebrity profiles and the fancy-shmancy wedding announcements. (While we're on the topic, ever wonder why the NYT parenting blog, Motherlode, is part of the Style section? I guess because parenting is all about what's trendy?)
But this piece I can get behind. Because my kids love family stories. They can't get enough of them. Anything to do with me or their dad when we were kids, or their aunts and uncles, their grandparents, even great-grandparents. Not only do they love these stories, but they really listen to them. They can tell them back to us.
A favorite is about my brother Jeremy. Here's how the story goes:
Jeremy, age four, was play-driving in the family car, which was parked in the driveway beside our house. He somehow released the break. The car rolled down the driveway and half-way down the street where it stopped against a curb. Either I, or Ben, alerted our mother. And we all went running down the hill to find little Jeremy the car-enthusiast and trouble-seeker, still behind the wheel, still pretending to drive.Oh, do my kids love this story. They want to hear all the details. Where were you? Where was Ben? How old was everyone? What did Savta do?
I have to embellish when I tell it since I can't check the details on Wikipedia. I have no doubt that my little synopsis is all wrong. But that's essentially how I remember it, so that's how it gets told.
Ruby's favorite stalling tactic at bedtime, along with "get me a drink" and "what are we doing tomorrow?" and "what should I think about?" is: "Tell me three stories about the family." She and Bella have an endless thirst for stories like that Uncle Jeremy ditty. And so I tell them: about the professions of our relatives, and where they lived, and about trips I took when I was a kid, and things that Josh and I did together before they were born, and on and on.
But here's the awesome part: according to the article, all that story telling that we do is great for kids. Telling family stories and sustaining a family mythology helps children build self-confidence and resilience, because children learn that they belong to a unit that is bigger than themselves. The best thing you can do for your kids is to "create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones."
This warms my heart, both as a writer who already believes in the power of a good story, and as a mom who can now, for once, pat myself on the back.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Today is the tenth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. I remember that time, a decade ago, very clearly. With a ten-week-old baby keeping me up and keeping me down (I was in the throes of breastfeeding mayhem right then), I had nary a moment to read the newspaper, electronically or otherwise. When I finally got it together to call a La Leche League leader for help and she told me that the next meeting was in April, I responded with frustration, "but that's months away!" To which she replied: "No, it's just over a week." I literally had no idea what day it was. (That winter was the only time in my life that I watched, baby on boob, an entire season of American Idol: an obvious sign of my compromised mental state. Ruben won, to remind you).
My head was comfortably in the sand, and whenever I heard mention of the war, I would look at my tiny baby's face and just think: peace.
Becoming a parent can unsettle your relationship with world events, with your spouse, with your friends, and with yourself. Forever after, time is measured in the ages of your kids. I've been known to forget how old I am (seriously), but I could never forget how old they are.
Two years ago today, I woke up in the morning, put on a maternity frock and makeup, adjusted my daughters' hair and dresses, and set out for nephew's bar mitzvah across state lines. It was one day before my due date, and for months there had been speculation in my family about whether I would make it to the simcha. I made it, all right, even though I knew even before I left my apartment that morning that I was in early labor. However, I missed the desserts.
To read the rest of the story of how life began for our littlest, who will turn two tomorrow, click here. (The story was originally published in The Journal of Perinatal Education, Fall 2011, Volume 20 Number 4. If you have comments, please put them here, not on Scribd. Thanks.)
Monday, March 18, 2013
My mother has imparted to me that it's important to get the physical paper at home, even if you don't read it every day. For the children. This is a hold-over opinion from the heyday of the newspaper: once upon a time, the quantity and quality of the newspapers you had delivered to your front door was a direct reflection of your intelligence and moral fiber. (My parents received the New York Times and Newsday daily. Plus weeklies like The Jewish Week, The Jewish World, and the local Three Village Herald. And Newsweek and Moment, and various other magazines. We could have opened a periodicals reading room.)
The idea that you can demonstrate to your kids your intellectual worth through the presence of the newspaper is sibling to the idea that it's important to raise the kids in a house full of books (and, most importantly, a full set of encyclopedias). This, too, is on its way to being an anachronism -- we all know what happened to the Britannica. And as Josh and I (and my parents!) are all happy with our e-readers, what evidence is there for my kids that I'm actually reading something other than the Facebook newsfeed? Especially when I'm using the Kindle app on my iPhone?
There's no evidence at all. But I just want to say: the times they are a-changin', and it ain't just me. Example:
Bella just finished a wonderful, in-depth research project about the howler monkey as part of her fourth grade class's rainforest unit. She wrote an essay, created a Powerpoint, and made notecards for her presentation, which she will give tomorrow in front of parents, teachers, classmates, and children from other classes. At home she's been practicing making eye contact, speaking loudly, and answering questions from the audience (me). I wondered how she knew that the howler monkey is the second loudest animal, after the blue whale. Where did she do her research? I asked. Two words: the internet. I don't think she knows what an encyclopedia is. Seriously.
All this is just to say that I will inevitably go on reading the news on my phone. My kids will have to believe in my intelligence for some reason other than seeing my face hidden behind the actual paper. We do still get the paper on weekends, but more often than not, it goes straight to the recycling bin.
One day when my kids are older, they might read this post and wonder what in the world I was talking about. People used to get the newspaper delivered to their home every day? Why, oh why?
Friday, March 15, 2013
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
In response, many people have reached out with positive, inspired reactions. I heard personal stories of struggles to find a meaningful spiritual practice and community. One commenter said she was educated in Haredi schools, and started wearing tallit with Women of the Wall. She advised that I practice the bracha in advance, as I might find myself tearing up. One friend wrote to tell me that she didn't start wearing tallit and tefillin until she was in college, but her daughter, now in high school, began at her bat mitzvah: "It has been very joyous for me to watch this be a natural and comfortable ritual for my daughter, rather than a vexed one, as it has been for me."
But there was also this, on Twitter:
@rachelmannnyc @JVoicesTogether There's so many beautiful things to do as a Jewish woman and wearing a talit isn't one of them.Really? Like keep quiet, mind the kids, and let the men pray for us? Remember, a hundred years ago many people would have agreed with the above statement if you delete "Jewish" and replace "tallit" with "trousers." I'm quite familiar with the traditional women's role in Judaism, and I am very happy lighting the Shabbat candles with my family every week. But there are some aspects of traditional religious gender roles that are simply outdated, and yes: sexist.
Standing yesterday with an overflow crowd at my home shul, I saw hundreds of Jewish women (and men) proudly davening in tallit. And I have to tell you: they were beautiful. It was beautiful to see that despite the rain, so many people cared enough to miss a couple hours of work or school to come together and pray. It was beautiful to hear an inspired, educated, and unified congregation, which was really an amalgamation of dozens, sing the Hallel together. It was beautiful to see the future of pluralistic Judaism join in the service: middle school students from Hannah Senesh and Schechter Manhattan. It was beautiful to sit with my daughters by my side and yes, it was beautiful wearing a tallit.
Most importantly, it is beautiful to know that there is a large, committed group of people who believe that a small segment of Jews should not have carte blanche to decide how people can pray at the Kotel, or anywhere.
I asked Bella, my 10-year-old, to write her reflections on the service and the cause. Here's what she wrote:
I definitely agree with the Women of the Wall because I think that it is very important that all Jews have equal rights especially when it comes to the precious Kotel. I thought that the service was special and that it showed that we believe in equality as Jews. If women don’t wear tallit or tefillin then Jewish women don’t have any clothing to represent their religion. I am planning on wearing tallit and tefillin after my bat-mitzvah and that is one of the reasons this is important to me.
I was not the only one who wore a tallit for the first time yesterday. The woman sitting directly behind me at the service told me that she was, too. Another woman like us was honored with an aliyah. And, more famously, three female Knesset members also wore tallitot yesterday at the Kotel, participating in a service with Women of the Wall.This time, no one was arrested.
I can't say that wearing a tallit will become a permanent part of my practice. Time will tell. But I feel certain that yesterday, it was just the right thing to do.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Last night my dad and I were discussing, via g-chat, tomorrow's NYC solidarity minyan in support of Women of the Wall, which we are both planning to attend. I told him that I was thinking of borrowing my husband's tallit to wear to the minyan. I've never worn a tallit before in my life. He was, needless to say, surprised.
What, you might ask? You don't wear a tallit and yet you attend an egalitarian synagogue, send your kids to an egalitarian Jewish day school, and believe very strongly in the rights of all Jews, male and female, to pray outwardly as they wish, in any and all locales, especially the most holy one? Here's why:
Growing up entrenched in the NY Conservative movement of the 80s, I had no role models of women who participated equally with men in Jewish prayer and leadership. There were no women rabbis. There were no women in my Schechter school who put on tallit or tefillin or even a kippah. At my bat mitzvah, I did not learn to read torah or haftorah. It's really no wonder that these rituals never became a part of my personal practice. When and where would I have picked them up? My personal spiritual journey took a backseat in my twenties as I was trying to figure out who to be and what to do (while suffering through graduate school). I did a lot of yoga. Probably more om-ing than davening, to be honest. I did come into my own opinions about women's role in the world, and also in Judaism. For my and Josh's aufruf, I decided to learn to read haftorah. That was a big step. The service was held in my parents' back yard because their shul does not allow women to participate.
Then motherhood took over. I discovered a different kind of spiritual practice: the kind with pushed-beyond-exhausted visions of godliness in my baby's smile.
I have three daughters, and I've already begun thinking about how my example will affect them in their spiritual practice. I want them to feel like equal members of the minyanim that they take part in, and I want them to feel comfortable wearing tallit and tefillin. So I've been thinking, for some time, that I should try it. Even though it feels about as comfortable to me as putting on my husband's suit and tie. Perhaps this minyan is just the right time to give it a go. It can't hurt. And it could be, like the minyan itself, a powerful message to my daughters.
My father's views don't always jive with mine, but he and I both believe in religious pluralism. Which means that even if you don't subscribe to a practice yourself, you respect other people for their beliefs. I can't tell you how proud I am of my dad for coming with me tomorrow, and for teaching me that tolerance and compassion are central tenets to leading a Jewish life.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Savta: "Louisa, are you having a birthday soon?"Humans are born imitators. From the time babies are able to focus and see their parents, they are studying facial expressions and learning how to be behave like other humans. Since Louisa spends all her time with her family, we know exactly where her new language is coming from: us. It's also clear that sometimes she doesn't know what she's saying. She's just repeating, on auto-pilot. Beware the occasional verbal slip-up in her presence if you'd prefer she not toddle around the apartment muttering, "shit!" (oh, no, of course nothing like this has ever happened in our house...)
Louisa: "Birthday soon."
Savta: "Are you going to get presents?"
Louisa: "Get presents."
Savta: "Will there be cake?"
While the imitation starts when they're babies, it doesn't stop there. As they grow, kids continue to repeat what they hear, often without understanding the context or subtext of the phrases that they use. And of course, from the day they join a social environment such as preschool, or start watching television or listening to the radio, their language doesn't just come from their family anymore.
This hit home for me this week when my 8-year-old brought home a manuscript for a play written by her friend, in their free time at school. Ruby said she had offered to type and print five copies, because the author didn't have a printer at home. After she'd typed for a while, I insisted she finish her homework and get ready for bed, and told her I'd finish the typing. But then I read the play. Here are some choice lines. (Don't try too hard to understand this. Dramatic influences seem to come via Ionesco):
spagetti: are you single?So, what, parents, would you do with this little piece of literature? I shared it with Josh and predictably we both said, "Where did they get this language from? Who talks like this?"That always seems to be the first thing we want to know--who and what the kids are imitating, when they speak in ways that don't sound familiar.
plum: raise your hand if spagetti cheated on you!
plum: pizza, stop now! no way i will ever be nice to you!
pizza: are you single
sugar plum: yes you’re annoying
plum: (smack head)
pizza: ohh and plum you’re a liar
plum: i just didn’t want you to cheat on me and sugar plum break up with pizza. he’s a liar.