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Oct 23 2014

As a Mormon, How Can I Comfort My Jewish Mother-in-Law?

By at 3:48 pm

We Don't Agree on the Afterlife but We're Family

My family always asks me what Jews believe about the afterlife. My family is Mormon but my husband’s family is Jewish—they belong to a Reform synagogue—and my father-in-law is slowly dying. So whenever my family members ask me how my mother-in-law is doing and I give them the update—that she’s coping but still sad—they always shake their heads and say, “How does she do it without a belief in the afterlife?”

This is incredible to them. Mormons spend a lot of time thinking about the afterlife. For example, even though my uncle died tragically, before I was born, he was still very much a presence in my extended family. So much so, that when I was little and I would say my nightly prayer, sometimes I would ask God to put him on the line. Then I would say, “Hello, Uncle Rich. How are you?” and I would tell him things that I thought he might want to know about my grandma, my cousins, etc… (I kept it upbeat, so he wouldn’t feel bad about cutting out early). At my grandparents’ funerals we sang “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again,” and I meant it. To Mormons, the idea of an afterlife is the only antidote to the sting of death. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 11 2014

I’m Turning into My Mother-in-Law & I Think I Like it

By at 9:57 am


Mah Jongg is an old lady game.”

I tried to block out those words as I carried the small red suitcase of tiles to my first lesson. I had fully assumed I wouldn’t like it, but honestly, once I understood the whole “crack bam dot” business, it was a blast.  Challenging, fast moving and competitive, all of the qualities I like best in a game.

“So I like Mah Jongg,” I told myself, “doesn’t mean I’m old.”  Read the rest of this entry →

May 11 2013

Trying to Make Nice with My Mother-in-Law

By at 9:20 pm

yellow yarnWe present this piece about that tricky mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship just in time for Mother(-in-law)’s Day.

My mom and I are so close that we can finish each other’s sentences, or at least harmonize in what my husband calls the Parade of Horribles (“Hope this milk’s not expired/Hope it’s not too cold for shorts/Oy, oy, oy”). But this Mother’s Day, I need to make a special effort to knock down the walls that have risen between “MIL” Dearest and me.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 7 2013

Parenting Teens & Anxiety Dreams

By at 9:43 am

I have a recurring nightmare. It’s not a classic anxiety dream, like the ones where you find yourself standing naked at a podium with no notes or teleprompter. Mine is a maternal dream.

In my dream, my teenage daughter, my mother-in-law, and I are standing on the Golden Gate Bridge. The setting is disconcerting, as the three of us have never been in San Francisco at the same time. In fact, my teenager has only been there in utero.

My ordinarily soft-spoken mother-in-law is yelling at me. I look down and I feel queasy. Not unlike I felt when I was pregnant with my daughter. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 7 2012

Testing Out the Intermarriage Waters

By at 9:54 am

movie ticketsIt didn’t sting this time. Watching Meet the Parents, that is. I watched part of it with my husband and father-in-law after Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s actually a pretty funny movie.

I first saw it in a Texas theater 12 years ago. A new college graduate, I had recently moved to Austin to intern for a campaign. Some interns went to the movies one night, and I spent the whole time squirming. The story of a New York girl who brings home a boyfriend with a different religion and an underwhelming career (at least in the eyes of the future father-in-law) mirrored my life too closely. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 1 2012

Surviving Shabbat At the (Ultra-Orthodox) In-Laws

By at 10:27 am

“I’d rather shove a fork in my eye.”

That was my response when my husband said his parents called and asked if we’d like to come spend the last Shabbat of Sukkot with them in the ultra-Orthodox community my husband, children and I recently moved out of. It wasn’t any one thing in particular that gave me the knee-jerk, panic-stricken reaction to shout, “NO!”

In part, it was the fact that my relationship with my in-laws has been cordial but not particularly warm. It was the idea of spending 24 hours in a place where I’d never felt like myself. And much more basic than that, I hate packing my boys and all their belongings up and taking them somewhere unfamiliar to spend the night. They don’t ever sleep well, which means I don’t sleep well and that translates into one miserable weekend for everyone. My husband said, “Think about it and we’ll let them know tomorrow.” Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 4 2012

My In-Laws Ditched Me, So I Got a Puppy

By at 11:53 am

Moses, our new dog.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Without so much as a phone call, email, or discussion, my in-laws were extremely upset and offended by a post I wrote about Thanksgiving. Even though I wrote it about my anxieties going into the holiday, they read it as an autobiographical account of the actual event. To my dismay, I discovered that to even question the perfection of a family event on my husband’s side is cause for divorce.

I had no idea they were so upset. They chose not to discuss it with me and instead talked to other family members, digging for dirt and gossiping about me in an attempt to build a case that I am a person who is not “honest, truthful, or loving.” Those are their exact words as written in a nine-page rant that is the most hateful letter I have ever read (since high school). The letter arrived after my birthday trip to Vegas. What a welcome home! While I was away, my in-laws cornered my husband and laid out their argument against me. They offered their home for him and our son to escape to and threw themselves behind him if he should want to divorce me.

Divorce!?  Over a blog post!?

My husband admits that he participated in a hypothetical discussion about divorce, and he deeply regrets it. It is no secret that my husband and I have been bickering since we got to Austin. We’ve been dealing with unemployment, infertility, finances, family issues, going into business together, and adjusting to a new city. Each of these alone would introduce stress into a marriage, and we’ve been facing them simultaneously. When his parents confronted him on the first night they saw him, he had been caring for a sick child all day, hadn’t slept well in a week, was battling a nasty sinus infection, and was trying to placate parents that he trusted and idolized. I love my husband dearly and I forgive him for being indiscreet. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 27 2011

Lighting a Candle for a Woman I Never Met

By at 11:37 am

yahrzeit candleI always used to pride myself on packing light when I traveled. No fashion plate, I generally err on the side of leaving that extra dress or pair of shoes behind. But as I prepare to travel abroad with my five-month-old daughter, that conservative thesis has gone out the window. A baby is a fashion plate by necessity, of course, as someone who poops herself on a fairly regular basis. So the suitcases are going to be jam-packed with diapers, formula, pacifiers, clothes, and flammables.

TSA-readers, don’t be alarmed. In terms of the first flammable, I’ll be traveling with a hannukiyah and candles in my bag. I’m not sure how I’ll light them on a transatlantic flight, but they’ll find a home on the ledge of my hotel window in France. And I’m also bringing a yartzheit candle.

My husband’s mother died in December of 1998. It was long before I knew my husband. It was, in many different ways, a lifetime ago. At that time, the man who is now my husband and the love of my life was married to someone else. And I was in law school, dating the man who would become my ex-husband. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 24 2011

Thank You Cards, No Thank You

By at 10:25 am

I have an issue with thank you cards. I think they are ridiculous, a waste of my time, and an antiquated custom that is long overdue to be updated for the 21st Century.

Actually, I’ve hated them since last century since I absolutely refused to write them after my Bat Mitzvah. My mother, who is deathly afraid of upsetting social conventions, forged my handwriting and sent them in my name.

Fast forward many years later. My husband’s parents and mine put an enormous amount of pressure on us to write thank you cards for our engagement, wedding, and baby gifts.  Nowhere in my crazy schedule could I have possibly put writing thank you cards high on my priority list. (The past year included an engagement, a wedding, and the birth of our baby, and not necessarily in that order.)

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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