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Jun 20 2013

Taking Your Kids to the Beach When You’re Terrified of Water

By at 5:04 pm

little girl on beachI walk up and down the aisles of a local discount store, filling my cart to the brim. My kids are chattering happily about swimming suits, beach towels, matching flip-flops, and sand pails. I have an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Mommy, what does the beach look like?” my 4-year-old son asks. We live less than a three hour drive away from the ocean, and even closer still is the bay, and yet he’s never been to either. “I know how to swim,” exclaims my daughter excitedly. “I’ve been practicing in the bath!” I smile uneasily. I know it’s time I really teach them to swim, to teach them all about water safety. I can’t keep avoiding it. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 11 2013

Sending Your Kids to Camp is Not Easy to Do

By at 9:59 am

coach bus in parking lotWhen my second son was 8 years old, he decided to that he wanted to go to camp. My husband and I were all for it. We went to different camps but we both loved, loved it. Did I mention loved? We both started our camper careers young, me at age 8 him at age 10.

We chose a camp, my husband’s alma mater, made the necessary arrangements early in the year, and talked about how great an experience it would be for him. We regaled him with tales of our camp adventures, boating, color wars, girl boy singalons, trips to town, hikes, camp outs, and ghost stories. Even my mother-in-law got in on the action; she told him about unpacking his father’s trunk when he got home and finding the new packages of underwear that she had sent unopened. Gross…but so campy…  Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 20 2012

Sending My Son to Russian Jewish Teen Camp

By at 11:11 am

camp boatsSo, remember when I said that this summer my kids were doing… nothing?

I tried to stick to the plan, I really did. But then, I found out about this free dance camp for my 8-year-old son. (And if there is one thing I love more than making life easy for myself it’s things that are free .

And then, thanks to the articles I’ve written here on Kveller about my Soviet Jewish background, I was contacted by the Marks JCH of Bensonhurst asking if I might be interested in sending my oldest to Camp B’Yachad, a 12-day overnight program happening this August 22 to September 2, specifically for teens from Russian-Jewish families. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 6 2012

To Jew Camp or Not to Jew Camp

By at 11:20 am

dock rowboat“Is this going to be our first fight?” my husband said to me at our friend’s Shabbat table. He said it jokingly–I mean, obviously, we NEVER fight because we are PERFECT–but it did make me think. It might be our “first fight,” after all. And who would suspect the topic of our first fight would be whether to send the kids to Jew camp or not to Jew camp?

Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 2 2012

This Summer, My Kids Are Doing… Nothing

By at 10:20 am

kids playing in summer“And what are your kids doing for the summer?” smiling friends and strangers alike ask regarding my three children, ages Just-Turned-13, Almost-9, and 5.

The smiles fade a bit, to be replaced by a somewhat puzzled expression when I proudly, answer, “Nothing!”

Nothing? Nothing?

In New York City, home of IQ testing for 4-year-olds, enrichment classes in subjects ranging from Mandarin to Art Appreciation to My First Splitting of the Atom, and multiple websites to help keep track of Junior’s incredibly busy schedule, nothing is somewhat of a capital offense (if not outright child-abuse). Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 19 2012

Embracing My Fellow Russians of Brighton Beach

By at 3:59 pm

brighton beach vacationIf my life had followed the statistically expected trajectory, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1976, my family would have settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, home of the United States’ largest Russian-Jewish community. (It’s also very possible that I might have gone to Stuyvesant High School and thus met my husband about 15 years earlier. When, we both agree, I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. But, that’s another story for another time.)

We didn’t, though. We ended up in San Francisco, CA, instead. I stayed in California until the last week of 1994, whereupon I finally packed up and relocated to New York City. But, to Manhattan, not Brooklyn. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 29 2011

Notes on Road Tripping With Kids and Without DVDs

By at 11:02 am

Our road trip didn't look like this. At all.

Maybe don’t do it.

Bring a DVD or two until your kids are in grade school and have required reading.  As I just said to a friend who suggested I write about this–and actually thinks I’d be applauded for braving several trips with two kids and without DVDs (she’s pregnant…)–of all the moms I am good friends with, I am the dimwit.

Let it be known that we didn’t consciously not bring a personal DVD player because we believe in “no t.v. for kids” (quite the contrary, but that’s a post for another time).  We didn’t bring one because we were pressed for time to buy or borrow one.  Also, let it be known that we once brought a DVD player on our first-ever roadtrip with two kids, and it worked really well for keeping the toddler entertained for one of four hours.  But somehow, the charger cord for that device was lost between our house and my in-laws’ house, and so our borrowing expensive things days are at an end.

Here are my  notes on the subject after three consecutive car trips (three weekends in a row) with a two-year-old and a 10-month-old:

Infants don’t need DVDs, but thrive on stimulation from their elder siblings who like to make farting noises and silly faces that involve sticking their chubby little fingers in their noses, mouths, and eyes simultaneously.  This is how all of our trips started out, except for the final leg home from Vermont, which began with two screaming (read: bloody murder screaming) kids, both overtired as we’d missed the “let’s leave at naptime” window, resulting in two kids who slept for three of the five hour ride home. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 21 2011

It’s Summer Vacation and There’s Something Missing

By at 9:01 am

Our Jewish community takes a break during the summer. We only have Torah services twice a month, and Tot Shabbat will resume in the fall. I understand why—our Rabbi gets some time to herself, to travel and study, and many of our congregants escape to Cape Cod or other cooler spots for weekend trips and longer vacations. Everything will pick up again in September, as we prepare for the High Holy Days and another year of holidays, bar and bat mitzvahs, brits, and funerals.

The thing is, I miss my community. I miss the learning and the singing, the rituals and the bagels. Even though many of my fellow members aren’t my closest friends, they are people that I am happy to see each week. We ask about each other’s children and parents, and we remember the details of each other’s lives. We support each other in our journeys, and celebrate holidays together.

I also miss my Judaism. Yes, we listen to “synagogue music” (as my toddler calls it) each week, and we celebrate Shabbat each week, but it’s not the same. We don’t celebrate the minor holidays (such as the fast of 17th of Tammuz or Tisha B’av), and without services and holidays, Judaism just doesn’t seem as present our daily lives. In fact, without Kveller, I’m not sure how much I would be thinking about Judaism in our family these days—I’m more concerned about keeping my daughters cool in this blazing east-coast heat.

I don’t want it to be this way, but I’m not sure how to change things. I do want Judaism to be a bigger part of our daily lives, even in the summer (or perhaps especially in the summer). Yet our family isn’t interested in becoming Orthodox; we belong to a Reconstructionist synagogue that we love dearly, and that supports and reflects our values and beliefs.

Yet, I want more, for myself and for our family. Which is why I was really excited when I read this recent posting on for an upcoming class called “Parenting through a Jewish Lens” or Ikkarim (Hebrew for values). The class is offered throughout the greater Boston area, and starts this fall. It sounds like just what I have been looking for—another venue for integrating the two most important aspects of my life.

So I’m signing up. What about you?

Jun 29 2011

Sunshine: How Do You Cope?

By at 1:39 pm

We all have our neuroses. I get that. But one of Alex’s is driving me crazy! And when I say anything even remotely dismissive about it, it makes me look like I am endangering my child.

You see, I am a redhead. I am sensitive to the sun and actually get an allergic reaction to it. I have had some nasty sunburns in my day, and I am much more careful now.

Alex is also a redhead. He had a skin condition a few years ago that dermatologists told him would be exacerbated by sunlight, and even though he was cured, his paranoia has remained. Naturally, our son Aiven is a redhead. And because of his neurosis, Alex is obsessed with not letting one drop of sunshine land on his beautiful, fair skin.

For instance, when we go out, Aiven is covered head to toe in fabric. A hat. Clothes. Socks. And an light blanket draped over him. Don’t forget sunscreen on his face, too. It could be 100 degrees out, but Alex will cover him up.

When we go for a walk, Alex switches sides of the street constantly depending on where there’s more shade. And when we come to a crosswalk, he waits far behind, in the shade, rather than wait at the curb for the light to change.

Relaxing walk in the park? Not so much. Alex is only focused on keeping Aiven out of the sun. That means avoiding the sun like a dodgeball. To the right, to the left, bend down, high up, backwards. I can’t walk like this! People look at him like he’s on some super secret scavenger hunt while trying not to step on a crack.  It is CRAZY.

Now, of course I do not want my son to get a sunburn or any kind of sun damage. But I also don’t want him to look like those kids from Flowers In The Attic. Nor do I want him to get rickets either.  If I say something about this Alex looks at me like I should be sent to Rikers Island for child abuse. How dare I let Aiven experience the warmth of the sun on his face?

What will happen when Aiven is old enough to rebel? I don’t want him to become Texas barbecue just to annoy Dad. We won’t be there every time he goes outside, and inevitably, one day he will go out unprotected. I dread the day of the first sunburn. It may hurt his dad more than it hurts Aiven.

But I think I am slowly starting to convince Alex to relax a little about the sun. The other day, we all went out without a hat and sunscreen. And I was the only one who got burned.

If anyone has any suggestions, please, offer them up! How do you protect your kids from the sun? What sunscreen to do you use? Do you always use it?

Jun 28 2011

Why I Hate Ice Cream Trucks

By at 1:35 pm

Let’s get this straight from the start: it’s not about the ice cream, just about those annoying jangling vans. I love ice cream and I come from excellent ice cream pedigree. My Great Great Uncle Albert (aka “the greatest”) used to regale us kids in the north of England with vague stories of his war years, which all ended up with him coming home and eating a “bucket of ice cream.” He could think of nothing more impressive and, in truth, there was little that would have impressed us more. It’s not officially vacation in our family until the first ice cream has been consumed — whether fall, spring, summer, or winter.

There was a time when the tinny tune of a nearby ice cream truck would have thrown my mouth into a spasm of Pavlovian salivation. But now, as a parent, the noise is as likely to fill me with a rage that is all the more brutal because it is born of betrayal. Instead of delivering sunny childhood goodness at snack time, these armored vehicles of consumer capitalism roll in to belch diesel fumes over the playground and tempt children who are playing healthfully outside into the desire for frozen fat laced with lactic offal and high fructose corn syrup.

Of course, when the trucks first ventured out this year (refitted from their winter jobs as burger vendors?) the temptation was less. First because it was just cooler then, and eating ice cream while wearing a hoodie always feels inauthentic. Second, it was mitigated over Passover when the list of acceptably kosher items offered by the weary, care-little drivers was diminishingly small.

Maybe it’s because I have girls whose metabolism is not automatically set to infinite like their male friends so I’m worried about them spoiling their appetite. Maybe it’s because since I was a toddler tasty, high-quality ice-cream has become widely available so the van purveyed fare looks unappealing. Maybe it’s just that as a father I am descending inevitably into grump-old mandom. Whatever the reasons: viva mint choc chip! And down with the ice cream trucks!

Dan Friedman is the Arts and Culture editor at the Forward.


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