Nov 19 2014
I was 7 years old the first time my mother told me that the fate of occupied Europe was in my hands. I remember it clearly. My mother sat me down and explained to me that if, when I grew up, I failed to marry a Jewish girl and raise Jewish children, it would mean that Hitler won. I, in turn, explained to my mother that Hitler had already lost the war, and also that girls were gross and that I had no intention of getting married to anyone ever.
I suppose some people might consider that sort of conversation odd, but my mother grew up in Belgium during World War II and had lost both her parents in the camps. My sister and I were told and told often that we had special responsibilities as the children of a survivor. To my mother that responsibility was clear. It was my job to have Jewish children. For many years, when I was growing up, my mother would quote the words of Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The words were meant to tell me that I must always help those who needed my help, but in truth, for my mother, they were always at heart an acknowledgement that it was the Jews who’d have to look out for the Jews, since no one else ever would. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 7 2014
We know the rule: picking up hitchhikers is bad. It’s been drilled into our heads from a young age, along with other stranger-danger situations and how to avoid them. Parents and educators teach children to be wary of strangers, and try to impart a survival savvy that they hope will never be needed. And in addition to the parental and school warnings are the many movies and TV shows that reinforce these concepts. We know that when a scene features a naïve driver picking up a hitchhiker, it will not end well for someone. Needless to say, we’ve been warned.
So then, what possessed me to pull over for a hitchhiker on my way to work?
I rolled my window down, and there she was: a woman with salt and pepper colored hair, a brown cardigan, and orthopedic shoes. She was at least 75 years old, and seemed to be in distress. She explained that she’d missed her bus, and was going to be late for an important doctor’s appointment. She told me the address of her doctor, which was coincidentally near my office, and she asked for a ride. What else could I do? I told her to get in. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 23 2014
A little over three months ago, my father died. It was sudden and devastating, but not totally unexpected. I held his hand, and with my mother, our rabbi, and sister on the phone, we said the shema and told him how much we loved him as he left us. We should all be so lucky.
My dad passed away just before Shabbat, which I think he did on purpose, to be sure that we’ll remember him at least every week. Not that he needed to worry about that, since I’ll miss him every day. He loved our Shabbat dinners around the table and singing a few zmirot before we lit candles. Shabbat became extra joyous after the first granddaughter—my gal Charlotte—was born. My dad added lyrics to one of his favorite Yiddish songs, “Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos, yidn zol zayn Shabbos,” to include “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, yidn zol zayn Charlotte.” Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 13 2014
Yesterday I picked up my eldest grandchild from her ballet class. She is 7 and she is about to be in her first concert with her class of eight little girls. She wasn’t quite finished when I got there, so she invited me in to watch her rehearsal.
She is tall and lean and leggy, and she has been learning ballet for only a few months, but she really looked the part with the white leotard and pink slippers and little crossover cardy. I don’t think that I will spoil anything by telling you that her dance is to “I Want to be Where the People Are” from “The Little Mermaid,” and she isn’t Ariel.
She was tip-toeing and wafting her arms around in the chorus and doing little jumps and knee-bends (we used to call them petits jetesand plies and porte-de-bras, but I guess they don’t anymore) and I did what I usually do every time I see little kids trying so hard to do things that the teacher wants: I cried. 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 19 2014
There are two sentences that have impacted my parenting philosophy more than anything else I’ve read about raising children. In “The Art of Loving” by psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, he writes, “The Promised Land is described as ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness in being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving ‘milk,’ but only a minority of giving ‘honey,’ too. In order to be able to give honey, a mother must not only be a ‘good mother,’ but a happy person.”
I didn’t have children when I read those words for the first time, and yet, I made a promise to myself that when I did, I would make an effort to be happy, no matter what life threw my way.
A few short weeks after I encountered Fromm’s writing, my then-boyfriend brought up the idea of starting a family, and before we realized the enormity of our decision, there was a wonderful baby boy in our lives. Read the rest of this entry →
I have worked with retired “senior” adults for many years. The other day a woman I had never met came in sobbing about the loss of her mother over a year ago. This was not the first time I have been surprised by the intensity of grief experienced by an older woman over the death of a very, very old mother.
But it did pose the question: Can you be too close to your mother?
A few weeks ago, the same thing happened with another woman in my office. Years earlier, someone else told me she had never married or fulfilled her potential because her mother insisted that she take care of her until she died. I recall a man who slept on the floor next to his old mother’s bed in case she needed immediate attention during the night. She lived a long life and by the time he got up off that floor, he didn’t have much else. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 14 2014
“He needs some TLC and gentle handling,” says the assistant head nurse as she hands me the chart of a new patient. “He’s young, he’s a career soldier, and his wife just gave birth to their first child two weeks ago.”
I look at his chart. All that goes through my head is that he is seven years younger than me and has Stage 3 colon cancer. Yet again, I find myself standing there and wishing there was no cancer in this world, even if that meant, as an oncology nurse, that I would need to find a new career. I go look for my new patient in the waiting room. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 29 2014
I was the Peter Pan who was never going to grow up.
I drank regular Coke well into my 20s, loved roller coasters when everyone else my age turned green thinking about them, went back to camp as a grown up for five years, and preferred surprise birthday parties well past adolescence.
Then, somewhere along the way, I changed. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 22 2014
Secrets are not good for a healthy family life.
Discretion is. But secrets are not.
I was already in my 30s when one of my closest friends, the daughter of my mother’s best friend, told me that my grandmother had had multiple sclerosis and my own mother had a mild form of the same disorder. I remembered my grandmother being unable to walk, but my mother would never discuss why. If I asked, she’d say, “It doesn’t matter.” Read the rest of this entry →