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Jul 8 2014

That Time I Almost Picked Up a Hitchhiker with the Kids in the Car

By at 3:52 pm

hitchhiking

I saw a hitchhiker this morning. It was a woman. She looked like she was in her mid-40s. Scraggly, blond hair, a tiny butterfly tattooed on her neck, a defeated look in her gray eyes.

My first instinct was to pick her up. In fact, I slowed down and pulled up so close that she slung her grungy backpack over her shoulder and started to move towards our car. The lines by her mouth rippled out into a tight lipped smile.

“Who is that, Mama?” Evi strained to get a better view. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 7 2014

Filling in the Gaps of My Grandparents’ Jewish Past

By at 10:43 am

Grandparents vintage photo

I remember my grandfather reading The Forward (in Yiddish) on the back porch. I remember my grandmother in the kitchen cooking all the wonderful Eastern European foods from her childhood for me and my brothers and sisters.

I loved my grandparents, but they were foreign to me. I knew they weren’t born in the U.S. and came from somewhere else. I knew they had to leave their childhood home suddenly and it had something to do with them being Jewish, but the details and the reasons were fuzzy to me. I had a vague sense of something heavy and intense, but couldn’t quite sort it all out. Nobody really talked about it much.

Even though I was just a little girl, I knew my father loved his parents, but also felt ashamed of them. He would avoid driving through the Bronx and Queens where he grew up. He hardly ever spoke about his parents at home with us and rarely said the word “Jewish.” I used to eat my grandmother’s chopped liver by the spoonful when I was younger–it was so delicious. My father, on the other hand, gravitated to more refined food. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 1 2014

This Birthday My Mortality Clock is Ticking Extra Loud

By at 4:37 pm

hour-glass

Too early that March morning, my mother came into our bedroom and told us, “You don’t have a Nana anymore.”

My sister and I sat up in bed, sleepy-eyed, and shocked into silence. We knew Nana had been in the hospital, but we had no idea she could die.

Although it is contrary to today’s thinking about children and death, I am still grateful that, at 9 years old, I did not go to my grandmother’s funeral. I know that forever after I would have thought of her suffocated in a box. Despite the trauma, at least my memories are of a smiling, well woman who delighted in me and whatever I did. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 12 2014

The Questions I Forgot To Ask My Dad

By at 3:53 pm

sarah-rudolph-dad

It’s ironic that most of my childhood memories of my father involve conversation, yet the big family joke is that he never really talked.

What we mean by the tease is that he was never one to open up and share his thoughts and feelings. If we wanted to know how his day of teaching went, or what he liked to do in his spare time, or how he felt when he lost his mother at the age of 14, or whether he believed in God, we would have to pry it out of him.

Yet, I was always talking with my father. A philosopher through and through, he challenged my thinking at every turn. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 2 2014

How to Be Respectful to Your Racist Grandparents

By at 2:52 pm

michelle-obama

My husband and I have a rule for ourselves: We don’t argue with old people.

This rule applies primarily to our parents and their friends, but also old people in general.

We also have a rule for our three kids, ages 14, 10, and 7: You will respect your elders. Whether you agree with them or not. Especially when you are a guest in someone else’s home. That’s just Etiquette 101 in our book. Read the rest of this entry →

May 2 2014

The Special Tradition My Poppa Started That I Continue With My Own Grandchildren

By at 10:30 am

brass-candlesticks

One recent erev Shabbos (the night before Shabbat, Friday night) was special. My oldest granddaughter turned 3 and we had the opportunity to continue a family tradition through another generation.

On my own third birthday, my handsome, fun Poppa, who lived around the corner and whose delight in me I still remember and hold dear, brought me brass candlesticks so I could light Shabbos candles with my mother. I am the eldest grandchild, and he gave the same gift to each subsequent granddaughter at the same age. Although he often took us to Heshy’s Toy Store on the Lower East Side (which was to me the 1950s and 60s equivalent of Toys”R”Us), and insisted that we could buy “WHATEVER WE WANTED!” somehow, that gift of candlesticks was very special. I was a big girl, I learned the bracha (blessing) for the candles, and from then on, stood beside my mom each week, bringing Shabbos into our home.

When my own daughter, his first great-grandchild, turned 3, Poppa again appeared with his special gift. He did the same for my younger daughter. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 11 2014

Mommy, Will You Die?

By at 10:08 am

driving

“Mommy, are you going to die?”–My 3.5-year-old daughter as we drove to lunch.

“What do you mean?”–Me, buying time.

“Are you going to die like GaGa Marilyn died?”

My mind raced. What did that child psychologist say when I went to consult her about the impact of my mom’s death on my then 2-year-old? What was in those books that the rabbi gave me after the funeral? What do I want my daughter to believe about mortality? What could I handle talking about as I was driving?  Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 4 2014

Every Time My Son Eats a Cheeseburger at Daycare, It Makes My Mother Cringe

By at 11:53 am

cheeseburger

I grew up keeping strictly kosher, both inside the home and out. My husband, on the other hand, grew up eating pretty much everything from shellfish to pork. These days, we work hard to maintain a kosher household, but do not keep kosher outside the home. For me, that means sticking to vegetarian items, but for my husband, it means all bets are off. And I don’t have a problem with that.

But a friend raised an interesting question a few years back when she observed that although I freely admit to not keeping kosher outside the home, she’s yet to witness me eat anything other than dairy and vegetables in a restaurant setting. “So what are you guys going to do if you have a kid?” she asked. “Will he follow Mommy’s rules, or Daddy’s rules?”

We didn’t really give it much thought until about a year ago, when our then 1-year-old moved up to the toddler room at our daycare center and became eligible for free breakfast and lunch. The idea of not having to pack up two meals on a daily basis was enough to convince me to go for it. However, when I casually mentioned this to my mother, her initial response went something like this: “But have you seen the menu? And just how unkosher is it?” Read the rest of this entry →

What You Learn in Your 20s

By at 10:52 am

highway

If all goes according to plan, this article will come out just shy of my 28th birthday. Since Pamela Druckerman is enjoying a lot of attention for her recent New York Times piece “What You Learn in Your 40s,” I thought I’d piggyback on her success and add my own two cents on what you learn in your 20s.

First and foremost, things you thought only happened to “other people” can very well happen to you. When I was 25 and sitting under fluorescent lighting in a stark office across from a geneticist who informed me—much too blithely for my taste—that my “fetus” was incompatible with life, I remember thinking: “But…but this kind of thing happens to other people. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen to me!” This was the first, rude awakening that expecting tragic circumstances to affect only other people is neither realistic nor very charitable of you. Why do you deserve to lead a more charmed life than someone else? News flash: you don’t. I don’t recommend walking around with the specter of doom and gloom at your elbow while expecting tragedy to befall you at every turn, but it would behoove you to remember that you are part of that amorphous “other people” to someone else. You are not untouchable.

Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 22 2014

Even as an Adult, My Parents Are Still Trying to Protect Me

By at 11:53 am

phone call on green background

Right now, my father is getting over pneumonia, my mother has bronchitis, and I am annoyed.

When I spoke with my mother on Saturday night, she first asked about my daughter and what we did during the day, and then I heard, “Oh, so Dad’s in the hospital.”

Me: “Um. Why?”

Mom: “Well, he has pneumonia and his oxygen level was low.”

Following that conversation, I conducted the “routine.” I have to share the news with my two older brothers as I am usually the first to hear any news in the family. I called each of them and heard the same response: “What is wrong with them that they can’t tell us what is going on?!” Read the rest of this entry →

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