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Jun 6 2012

On My Birthday, This One’s for My Folks

By at 10:09 am

39th birthdayIt’s my birthday today. Apparently, once you’re past a certain age, it’s somewhat unseemly to be jubilant about one’s own birthday. Well, too bad–I am anyway. Today is the beginning of the last year of my 30s. Rather than feel old (come on!) or anything stupid like that, I feel blessed. What better time to look back on the most tumultuous decade of my life–and to thank the two people who got me through it with flying colors: my parents.

Of course, my parents were great during the other decades of my life, too. I grew up in one of those mythical entities known as a non-dysfunctional family, where everyone genuinely liked as well as loved each other (really!).  I was the oldest of four siblings. I was on the editorial board of the school newspaper and literary magazine, star of the school musical, and about as straight-edge as a person can get while still being liked by more than three people. I had a charmed life with my charmed family. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 16 2012

Strangers Getting Personal

By at 10:13 am
beeswax

Beeswax: Mind your own.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think that our daughter’s grandmothers were up to something. After all, how many random Washingtonians can ask me when Baby #2 is due?

To be clear, I’m not pregnant. And that’s precisely the point. I am the non-pregnant-looking mother of a 9-month old-bundle of wonderful. At this point, I have lost count of how many strangers–all women–have asked me about my next, theoretical baby. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 26 2012

For a Happy Marriage, Put Your Kids First

By at 9:18 am

anniversary champagneMy husband and I celebrated our anniversary recently. We met at summer camp when he was 17 and I was 16-years-old. I knew, in the middle of my senior year of high school, that he was the one for me. While I was dating someone else. But that’s another story.

As a geriatric social worker, I have been privileged to know, and learn from, many older adults. Many have shared their life stories with me. And it is clear to me, based on those stories, and my own observations of my peers, that the families that work best achieving self-actualization and happiness for its members are the ones where the kids, not the marriages, come first. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 5 2012

My Soviet Immigrant Father Vs. Modern Medicine

By at 12:34 pm
doctor's bag

No need to call a doctor, Grandpa's here.

In the 1960s, in the Soviet Union, my father wanted to be a doctor.  But, he was Jewish, so he was told he couldn’t be one – because he wore glasses.  By a Russian doctor.  Who was wearing glasses.

So, instead of becoming a medical doctor, and in spite of the infamous “Jewish Problems” designed to keep ethnically undesirable students out of Soviet Universities, he got a PhD in Bio-Chemistry.

And just doctored on the side – as a hobby.

He did it in the Soviet Union.  He did it upon immigrating to America. He did it to his children.  And now he does it to his three grandchildren.

He did it before he’d ever heard of the American Academy of Pediatrics, or the American Medical Association, or magazines where experts advise nervous parents about what they should and should not do.  And he does it now in spite of them.

Below are some comparisons of the prevailing pediatric medical wisdom (PPMW), and what my Soviet Immigrant Father (SIF) tells me to do with my kids (over the phone, over e-mail, over IM, over Skype)….

PPMW: Do not pour fluid into a child’s ear in cases of ache or infection.  The eardrum may be perforated.

SIF: Heat up some oil.  Pour it in.  Plug up with cotton ball.  Put on a hat.  And bedroom slippers.

PPMW: Stay out of the sun, reapply sunscreen every two hours, wear specially treated, anti-UV Ray clothing.  In case of sunburn, apply cold compresses and a topical pain reliever.

SIF: Children need Vitamin D.  The sun is good for you.  If your skin is peeling, that means it’s healthy.  In case of sunburn, apply raw scrambled eggs directly to the skin, it’ll suck the heat right out. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 1 2011

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Now With Soviet Jews!

By at 8:43 am

guess who's coming to dinnerIt wasn’t until after my African-American husband and I had been together for over a decade that we finally got around to watching the movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

In 1968, critics called it “a serious family drama” and predicted “it will make you laugh and may even make you cry.”

Well.  We laughed… though not, I suspect, at the parts we were supposed to.

The thing that made us laugh hardest was how the movie’s main conflict was presented as being about race.  Just race. Only race. Nothing else.

For two hours, we were supposed to pretend that the sole objections the respective parents – good San Francisco liberals on one side; good church-goers from L.A. on the other – might have to their children getting married had to do with the color of their skin(s).

Religion is never brought up, class is never brought up, and certainly no suggestion is ever so much as whispered of a possible values clash. Surely, all good people think the same way, don’t they?  It’s inconceivable that maybe the church-going folks wouldn’t want their son marrying into a hippy, permissive family, while the newspaper publisher and his art gallery owning wife might find their daughter’s fiancé’s parents much too conservative and narrow-minded for their taste.

Nope. It’s all about color. Only color. Nothing else.

Not at our house. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 14 2011

Yiddish, the Language of “Bubbe Love”

By at 4:08 pm

i heart yiddish t-shirtI loved Cara’s description of her relationship with her own grandmother and of her pleasure in seeing her child relate to his grandparents. Believe me, Cara, your parents and in-laws are also kvelling as they watch you parent and grow into your new role of “mother.” It’s a bonus of grandparenting.

I also noticed, with a smile, the Yiddish words used in the piece.

Both sets of my grandparents lived around the block from me when I was growing up so I saw them a lot and have many, many wonderful memories. I lost one grandmother, my Nana, when I was only 9 years old. It was a devastating loss which I only fully realized, mourned, and came to terms with as an adult. My Grandma, on the other hand, died six years ago, at almost 100 years old, and lived to see my first grandchildren.

Each time I walked through her door with the twins, she first looked at me and happily called, “Hello, Savta!” Then she would beam at the twin bundles I brought to visit her every week. Her joy at seeing them was only exceeded by her joy seeing me as a grandmother. She was so happy for me. “I loved being a grandmother,” she would tell me, sure that I would find the same joy and sense of purpose.

Both my grandmothers spoke fluent Yiddish. I didn’t understand the words sometimes but the tone and the inflection with which the Yiddish words were spoken came straight from their heart and into mine. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 11 2011

The Blessings of Bubbes and Zaides

By at 11:12 am
baby reaching out to computer

Babies love bubbes, even via Skype.

Since Aiven was born last year my husband and I have had the tremendous honor of watching our parents become his bubbes and zaides. I know how special a grandparent-grandchild bond can be since my bubbe was the earth, sun, and moon for me.

I can still feel the self-generated wind blowing through my hair as I ran from the elevator doors into my bubbe’s waiting arms. She always had my favorite treats waiting for me: chopped egg with onion, red Jell-O, iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing, and green olives. (So my palate wasn’t too sophisticated back then, give me a break!) She would also put on Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and we’d have a dance party around her apartment. Oftentimes when my parents were around I would crawl into bubbe’s bed and pretend to sleep.  I could hear her say, “Don’t disturb her. You can pick her up tomorrow.”  As soon as the door closed, she would come into the bedroom and let me know the coast was clear. We stayed up until the wee hours eating junk food, playing with her make-up, and trying on her shoes (clearly my shoe obsession predated Carrie Bradshaw!).

My bubbe passed away four years ago this month but I feel her near me every day. I can see her smile whenever I kiss my son’s chubby cheeks, and I imagined her laughing when I gave him some herring to try and he wouldn’t even go near it. As much as I miss her, her passing cleared the way for my mother to step out of her shadow and become a bubbe herself. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 28 2011

A Loss and a New Year

By at 8:23 am

My grandfather died on Saturday morning. He was 97, and he was beloved.

Within 36 hours of his passing, over 100 friends and family members gathered at his country club (my grandfather wasn’t religious—the golf course was his sanctuary) to remember him, console each other, and support my grandmother. We recalled his love of pickles and bialys, his decades as a jazz musician, and his commitment to early morning lake swims, regardless of the water temperature. Most of all, we remembered how much he loved his family, especially my grandmother, his wife of over 50 years.

I’m back home with my husband and daughters now, and I’m feeling foggy, sad, and exhausted. Rosh Hashanah starts tonight, and I’m not quite sure what to do with everything. Just last week I was buying crafts for the children’s services at our synagogue. I was thinking about my intentions for the new year, and wondering whether or not my preschooler will actually try the honey this year, and how I’ll get it out of my toddler’s hair. Now I’m worried about my grandmother and how she will weather this transition. Now I’m missing my grandfather, and remembering when he sang at my wedding almost 8 years ago—the dance floor was packed, the band loved him, and no one could believe he was 90 years old.

Two weeks ago I went to a class at our synagogue about the High Holidays. Our Rabbi spoke about traditional greetings for the new year, and she reminded us that while we may wish each other a sweet or good new year, we don’t usually offer greetings for a happy new year. She was only partially joking when she said that we all know it’s not going to be a happy year, so why even say it? Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 3 2011

Nice Jewish Girl Grows Up

By at 1:44 pm

I used to be really good at #5 but now that I'm a parent myself, not so much.

For years, the commandment to “Honor thy mother and father” always came ridiculously easily to me. I was the dorky kid in high school who, while I did my fair share of partying, never missed a curfew, and who always ran to tell my parents the details of every excellent grade or youth group accomplishment. In college I remained the nice Jewish girl, an overachiever who always wanted to please and impress my parents with tales of my academic successes and leadership activities. Sure, I had my wild frat party moments, but overall, I worked hard and made responsible decisions because I wanted to honor my parents’ unconditional love, generosity, and support.

Post-college, through jobs, grad school, and marriage, I remained the good Jewish girl, always wanting to obey, respect and please my parents. That is, until our baby Eliana was born three months ago.

All the sudden, there was a 7-pound, pink-clad, new boss in town.–and I stopped trying to please my parents. It wasn’t my hormone-ridden teenage years that initiated my rebellion and sense of independence, but my hormone-ridden early days of motherhood. All the sudden my new family of three became the priority.

It started the night she came home from the hospital, after an incredibly stressful five-day stay in the NICU. My husband, daughter, and I needed time to adjust to our new life at home. Pre-baby, when my parents used to visit, we’d all stay up late spending extra time with my mom and dad by watching old movies of my childhood. On that first night at home, I sent my parents back to their hotel room before 8 pm. And then every night after that for the remainder of their three-week visit. I was a new parent, and this was definitely new terrain. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 14 2011

I Took My 2-Year-Old to the Cemetery

By at 10:31 am

The tiny Jewish cemetery in the mountains looks a lot like this.

My husband’s mother died almost seven years ago, of a heart attack. One day she was teaching first grade, the next day she was gone. She’s buried at a beautiful, quiet cemetery up in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. We drive to the Catskills every summer to visit family, and always stop at the cemetery along the way. The experience has changed over the years. First we were dating, then we were married. Then I was pregnant, then we brought our baby. But every year we stand by her grave, and tell the story of our lives over the past year.

So it didn’t occur to me that I should do anything differently this year. In the car on the way up, I decided that the best way to talk about things with my almost-2-year-old was to say, “This is where we go when we want to talk to Bubbe Sharry.” I was actually proud of this brilliant idea. And then we got out of the car.

Abigail was tired and a little bit cranky. Dan had her help him collect rocks to put on the gravestones (his grandparents and some cousins are buried there too). She liked finding rocks. And she liked putting the rocks in their places, and noticing the flowers and bugs in the grass. But then we started talking to Bubbe Sharry and that didn’t go over well. I started tearing up, and when I tried to explain that this is where we go to talk to Bubbe Sharry, Abigail said, “Want to see Bubbe Sharry!”

Then I really started to cry. (Of course seeing her mommy cry only made things worse for our 2-year-old!) Abigail, I want to see Bubbe Sharry too. I wish I’d really known my mother-in-law. We were lucky to have met twice. Rumor has it, she liked me. I liked her. It would have been nice to have been able to hear more about how she raised children. And I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on everything, but I would’ve liked to have known her.

Explaining death to a 2-year-old is complicated. And perhaps close to impossible—they’re so young. But as luck would have it, they have selective little memories. Abigail seems to have forgotten the cemetery, but she certainly remembers the chicken nuggets she had for lunch that day. Us adults, on the other hand, have long memories, filled with the people who’ve come before us, who made us who we are, and whom we thank for giving us the gift of life. Ashkenazi Jews name our children after our ancestors who’ve passed away, both to honor their memories and in hopes that the child will have some of the traits of the deceased. We knew from day one that Abigail would take after her namesake Bubbe Sharry—after all, they both were multiple-sneezers. And we hope that she’ll take after her grandmother in many other ways: her kindness, her warmth, her hospitality, and her incredible love for family.

And if collecting rocks at the cemetery is part of helping our daughter take after her bubbe, well, I don’t think it’s such a bad plan after all.

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