Nov 26 2014
My son turns 8 years old this Thanksgiving Day. The last time his birthday fell on Thanksgiving was when he turned 2. I wasn’t with him that day. I didn’t get to see him blow out the candles on his slice of pumpkin pie. I didn’t get to sing “Happy Birthday” to him and I wasn’t there for his birthday party.*
Instead, on that day, I was in the hospital, taking care of my daughter. The funny thing is that I hadn’t even met her yet. Nobody had. I didn’t even know she was a she. I was about 22 weeks pregnant and we were already fighting with one another. I was fighting to keep her in and she was fighting to get out. Little did I know that I was about to spend the next 16 weeks flat on my back in a high risk pregnancy unit.
About two weeks earlier, I was going about my business taking care of a toddler and teaching my students how to read, when I was diagnosed with incompetent cervix. The situation was so dire that I was immediately sent to the hospital and the doctors didn’t know what the outcome would be. Ultimately, I had to undergo an emergency cerclage procedure. It was a scary and uncertain time, but now, six years later, I continue to be thankful for what I have and for what I didn’t know I had at the time. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 24 2014
Around my neck, for years, I wore a gold heart-shaped locket. Instead of a traditional photograph of a cherished friend, boyfriend, or family member, when opened, the locket had two words scrawled in pen on each tiny side: “Reb Zusha” and “10 minutes.”
There’s a Hasidic story of the great Reb Zusha of Anipol who was found crying profusely on his deathbed. “Why are you crying?” asked his disciples.
“If God asks me why I wasn’t like Moses or Maimonides,” answered Reb Zusha, “I’ll say, I wasn’t blessed with that kind of leadership ability and wisdom. But I’m afraid of another question,” continued Reb Zusha. “What if God asks, Reb Zusha, why weren’t you like Reb Zusha? Why didn’t you find your inner being and realize your inner potential? Why didn’t you find yourself? That is why I am crying.”
Touched by this story, the scrawled letters inside the locket were a desperate attempt to remind myself that I needed to do art, at the very least, for 10 minutes a day. Somehow, all my time as a young single woman in her 20s was used up attempting to succeed in the workplace, leaving no time for artistic urges. My deep conviction that I had an artistic power began at the age of 16, when for the first time, an art teacher taught me that my messier, intense style and approach was indeed beautiful. He was the reason I continued on to pursue a painting degree. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 24 2014
While settling into our new house this summer, I unpacked several boxes that had been sealed for so long that the contents were long forgotten. Some contained treasures I was thrilled to find again and others were filled with junk that made me wonder why I had schlepped them around for so many years. But two boxes in particular, smothered in “FRAGILE” stickers and falling apart from thousands of miles of travel, stood out from all the rest. They were waiting for this house, this moment, for the big reveal.
One box contained the china I received as wedding gifts almost five years ago. Still in the original packaging, with not one dish broken or chipped, they gleamed eagerly. My husband quipped that if they’d been comic books we could have sold them in mint condition. The pile of discarded carton and foam packaging grew as I reverently unpacked each piece and beamed with joy that every piece had a home. I carefully arranged them along with a variety of other tchotchkes, marveling at the collection of treasures from so many places and generations.
Which brings me to the second box. Inside I found the few glass and silver serving pieces from my bubbe that I remembered from each yontif (holiday) spent together at her table. After years of wandering through the desert of disuse, they too had finally found their way home. They aren’t fancy pieces by any means and are clouded with age that no amount of cleaning will clear. But having them on my table this Rosh Hashanah will remind me of how my bubbe would make my favorite foods and repeat with every helping: “Ech azoy mein kind, ech azoy” (“Eat and enjoy, my child, eat and enjoy”). She is dearly missed and I hope her blessed memory infuses the yontif meal and the New Year ahead. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 25 2014
Jesse Bacon with new baby Dafna.
I was 35-weeks pregnant with my son when I became violently ill and started having contractions at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday night that happened to be erev Purim. My husband and I decided that, rather than risk our not-yet-2-year-old daughter waking up and not having us there, I would go to the hospital with a friend, and he would stay home. I realized how fortunate I was to have more than one person I could call in such a situation, but we figured that our friend Ilana was the most likely to still be awake from Purim festivities, so she was the lucky recipient of that phone call.
Without a moment’s hesitation, she was at our house, she took me to the hospital, and she stayed with me there for hours. After a terrible night, but one that would have been infinitely worse had I been alone (or had the baby ended up being in any distress), I thanked Ilana as much as words could possibly thank someone for that kind of generosity. She said, simply, “This is what we do.”
Those words have echoed over and over in my head this week, reminding me of the unbelievable value of community. No matter how capable we are of handling our own joy or sorrow, handling it in the company of other people is just better. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 14 2014
“Last US Exit,” my husband, our driver, reads aloud. I reach for my iPhone to capture the image of our departure, but we whiz by too quickly. Too unceremoniously.
Can I really leave my home, take my children out of their excellent school, say goodbye to an amazing job and kind friends and a beautiful neighborhood–again?
We’re not American, though the country feels like home to us. Graduate school brought us to the US from Canada for a long stay that began in the 1990s, and we have since left and returned to the country with every job change and new opportunity. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 26 2014
I come from a long line of people who have great difficulty recognizing faces.
The technical term for this is prosopagnosia, and I don’t have a full-blown case, I can recognize people I know well. That said, I’ve definitely failed to recognize my first cousin in an elevator, I have been known to say, “Hi, Shabbat Shalom, my name is Amanda. What’s your name?” to the same people in shul many, many, times, and I was very upset to be voted down in my desire to have everyone at my wedding wear a name tag.
My husband functions as my seeing-eye human, trying to clue me into who people are so I can interact with them normally. Before I met him, I would email pictures of the guys I had gone on a date with to my best friend in Jerusalem, who would email me back a prose description of them so I could attempt to identify them on our second dates. “So and so has glasses, a beard, is very skinny, and has blue eyes,” I would think, over and over again, scanning the sea of pedestrians for a fellow I had last talked to in person for three hours and with whom I planned to have dinner. If they shaved or wore contacts, I was out of luck. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 12 2014
As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. The other day, I forwarded an email to a local community listserv from a local pizza restaurant offering to donate 20 percent of proceeds to a well-known Jewish charity. And with that, I had ignited a religious firestorm.
The listserv was started by an Orthodox woman in our town and, though I assume initially it was comprised of mostly Orthodox women, word has spread and it has grown to nearly 200 women who span the range of religiosity. I was added to the list about two years ago. For me and for many others, it is our go-to place for community recommendations like babysitters or doctors. All three painters who provided an estimate to paint my house were recommended by women on the listserv. When I was cleaning out my playroom, with a quick email to this group, I found an eager taker for many of the toys my children had outgrown. When a friend from California posted on Facebook that she was looking for a bike to borrow or buy cheaply for use during an upcoming New York visit, I was able to hook her up through this list. People post about anything from asking for a last minute ride to the train station to finding out which streets have been plowed in a snowstorm, from promoting a local Torah class to offering sheitel (wig) cleaning services. Though I have never met many women on the listserv, including its founder, I love that they are out there and that we are all willing to help each other out.
Which is why I was so surprised at the reaction to my email. Within minutes of posting, one woman responded to me directly to point out that this restaurant was not kosher, stating that she didn’t think anyone on the listserv would go there. A few minutes later two more women sent replies to the entire group questioning why I’d send an offer for a non-kosher restaurant. Feeling like I had totally done something “illegal” by the unspoken listserv rules, and not wanting to engage in a religious debate, I quickly sent an email to the entire group: “I am sorry if my email offended anyone. My apologies.” Read the rest of this entry →
May 22 2014
Living on an island in Maine–unreachable other than by boat, plane, or helicopter–has its challenges and its pluses. For every moment of feeling like I live in a Manhattan-sized fish bowl–for every canceled ferry boat–there are moments when our tiny community, with just 350 or so year-round residents, functions like a loving family.
If someone has a medical emergency, not only are they often cared for and transported off the island by our volunteer emergency medical service, but a card will appear at the island’s one grocery store, available for all to sign. Donation jars appear in the same spot on the counter for families in need. And perhaps because each new resident represents the continued sustainability of North Haven, the island family is never more functional, motivated, and caring than when it comes to welcoming new babies to the island.
I’ve gotten to see this first hand over the last week, since I had my baby. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 30 2014
The first time I remember talking to Oscar about his younger brother Saul’s special needs, he couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Definitely still in preschool. There was something–though I can’t remember exactly what–that Oscar thought Saul would like and he said, “Saul is going to do this!” and started flapping his hands and bouncing up and down. I lost it. I couldn’t believe my sweet little boy was making fun of his younger brother who has Fragile X, which is a genetic syndrome and the cause of intellectual disabilities that can include learning problems, autism, anxiety, sensory, and behavioral issues.
As a parent, my biggest fear was that Saul was going to be subject to a lifetime of cruelty from others who didn’t understand his condition, but I didn’t think this cruelty would begin in our own home. I yelled at Oscar–I can’t recall exactly I said–and his face fell. He said, “But Saul will be happy and that’s what he does when he’s happy.” I realized then that he wasn’t mocking his little brother. He was simply acting out the happiness he anticipated from Saul. And I had yelled at him for it. When I agonize over all of the mistakes I’ve made as a mother to three children, this incident always cracks my top 10.
Saul was diagnosed on the first night of Hanukkah in 2007. He was just 1 1/2 at the time. And in the six years since, our family’s life has, often out of necessity, revolved around Saul’s treatment and care–from countless early intervention classes to a variety of therapies to special schools. There are places and things we can’t do together as a family. And at home, Saul’s needs sometimes seem to take priority ahead of those of his “typical” siblings–his twin sister Beatrice and Oscar. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 20 2014
It was my second time meeting with Chana with the hopes of renting her Jerusalem apartment. I was in Israel on a research grant and following an ulpan (intensive Hebrew immersion course) in Jerusalem, had moved to Tel Aviv to be closer to my university. After just a few weeks of living by the water, I felt pulled back to Jerusalem.
Chana went through a checklist of the idiosyncrasies of the apartment. It would be furnished and I would not need to, nor would I be permitted to, bring my own bed. The school across the street could be loud at lunchtime. There was no dishwasher, of course, but I was welcome to use the laundry machine provided. And then almost as an afterthought she added, “Shabbat. Of course you keep Shabbat.”
“Well,” I started. And that was the beginning of the end. “I may turn on the lights here and there.”
“No. No turning on and off the lights. You must keep Shabbat.”
“No. No. I cannot. My friend rented to someone like you and first she had a car accident. Then…” her voice trailed off. “No. I cannot take the risk.” Read the rest of this entry →