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Apr 11 2014

Your Toddler’s Just Not That Into You

By at 9:50 am

Your Toddler's Just Not That Into You

This post is part of our Torah MOMentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Ahare Mot. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s portion is roughly halfway through the Torah. Here’s what I’ve noticed after writing about parenting for half a year: it’s hard to find the middle ground.

To acknowledge the miraculousness without sentimentalizing, without glossing over the day-to-day reality.

And to acknowledge the profound daily challenges without complaining, without dwelling in negativity.

Middle ground has been in short supply around here lately, and not just because I’m pregnant with #2 and on my own hormonal roller coaster. Like one of those tantalizingly unpredictable loves of my early 20s, Sylvie, about to turn 2, vacillates between extremes:

1. Unbearable cuteness. Example: “Thank you mama, for brush my teeth!”

2. Frustrating randomness.  Example: “Orange juice please! Orange juice please! Orange juice please!” Then, when I bring her some: “No, I want apple juice!”; weeps in utter despair.  Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 28 2014

10 Reasons My Daughter Would Make A Great Rabbi

By at 10:18 am

risa-daughter

All parents have wishes of what their children will become and this is mine: I want my daughter to be a rabbi. At the young age of 4, my daughter loves being Jewish. She loves Shabbat, she loves all the Jewish holidays, and she loves learning about Judaism. She says the Kiddush proudly on Friday nights wearing her kippah.

My daughter is lucky to attend preschool at our local JCC and the program is simply amazing. Not only has she made wonderful friends, but my husband and I have, too. She learns about doing mitzvot and about being a mensch. She learns about the Jewish holidays and takes it all in like a wet sponge.

For someone who went to the Joint Program, (Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University) I have a good understanding of what Rabbinical school entails and I think she would be able to handle it. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 28 2014

On the Other Side of Parental Boredom is Awe

By at 1:54 pm

toys

This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Pekudei. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

I have to say right away that my daughter is not boring. She’s a little strawberry-blond spitfire who cracks me up with her sense of humor, amazes me with her expanding grasp of language, keeps me on my toes, and regularly blows my mind.

But still. We’re not exactly peers; it’s hard to find activities to equally entertain a 22-month-old and a 37-year-old. Mommy and Me is cool, and we’re both into baking, but there are only so many sing-a-longs you can attend in a day, and if I bake chocolate chip cookies four times a week I’ll never fit into my clothes again. So on our longer days together, a certain amount of boredom inevitably ensues. Sylvie gets bored when I take too long in the grocery store bulk aisle. I get bored pushing her on the swings. She gets bored when I do dishes. I get bored singing “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” (again). And so on.

Boredom is generally considered a bad thing. And I can’t say it feels particularly good. But recently I have been experimenting with seeing it as a spiritual teacher rather than an enemy. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 27 2014

The Moment I Understood Why I Chose Jewish Day School for My Son

By at 4:03 pm

siddur

Last month I had one of those “I have no idea what to expect because I went to public school” moments. The occasion was my son’s “siddur play”–an apparent rite of passage for every first grade child in Jewish day school. For the weeks leading up to the big event, my son had been practicing his line for the play and belting out songs in the bathtub. He excitedly talked about stage presence (“we have to say our line very loud”) and choreography (“this is the part when we all stand up”). And while the theater major in me could relate, the public school student in me could not.

On the big day, after dropping my son off with his class (actors need their prep-time, you know) my husband, parents, and I filed into the schools beit midrash (study hall/multi-purpose room) with cameras at the ready. What followed was 40 minutes of pure sweetness. Through words, songs, prayers, and props the class told the story of how much they have learned since those first timid days at the start of the year, and how they were now ready to receive their very own siddurim (prayer books). It didn’t matter that I only understood about 70 percent of the all-Hebrew performance. Their pride was palpable.

My son could hardly contain his excitement. He sung loudly, delivered his line as if he was on a Broadway stage, and closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and swayed with great passion when the class sang the Shema. At the conclusion of the play, when his name was called and he was handed a beautiful leather-bound siddur with his name printed in gold, it was as if he gained inches before my eyes. For a child who seems to be straddling the line between “little kid” and “big boy” (scared by the Lego Movie, but fearless during his first time on a snowboard), I watched him take a definitive step toward the latter. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 14 2014

What My Daughter’s Favorite Stuffed Animal Has to Do with the Golden Calf

By at 9:41 am

Torah Momentary: Was the Golden Calf the Israelite's version of a lovey?

This post is part of our Torah MOMentary series, where we interpret the weekly Torah portion through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Ki Tissa. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As parents (and humans), we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting to grow up. Waiting to meet the right partner. Waiting to move in together, get married, or partner up in a long term way. We wait to get pregnant. Then we wait for our baby to be born. Once our baby is born, we wait for him or her to grow up. We don’t want to rush it, but in some ways, we do. We’re waiting for him to smile, laugh, eat solid foods, sit up, sleep through the night, point, clap, wean herself, talk, walk, run, use the potty, listen to reason, win a Nobel, have kids of her own. But like Tom Petty knows, the waiting is the hardest part. And yet, we have to do it.

Our kids have a hard time waiting, too. Mine are not yet 3, and they cannot wait for anything. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting just a few seconds, as long as it takes for me to finish chewing before I answer their question about icicles, or the letter “M” and how it really does look a lot like a “W.” Sometimes, they cannot wait the two minutes it takes for me to find a missing puzzle piece that is lodged beneath the couch, or the 10 minutes it takes for chicken nuggets to cook in the toaster. They certainly can’t wait five days until our weekend trip or the two months it’ll take before their birthday arrives. For them, waiting is beyond hard. It’s impossible. It often reduces them to tears. (Me too.)

Apparently, the Israelites didn’t like waiting, either. In her commentary on this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses writes, “Waiting is difficult. When a child waits…for a parent to come home, the time can feel excruciatingly long.” Cohler-Esses points out that when the Jews waited for Moses to come back down from his tete-a-tete with God on Mount Sinai, they grew impatient, just like a child might. Their leader—their parent, in a sense—had disappeared. “They are anxious that Moses will never return to them, frightened that they will have no leader to lead them to the Promised Land,” Cohler-Esses explains. “They are so scared that they build themselves an idol—a Golden Calf to accompany them through the desert.” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 4 2014

A Surprising Antidote to My Infertility Frustration

By at 2:42 pm

pregnancy test with calendar

I had been trying to get pregnant for a year. Twelve months of charting my body’s rhythms, of turning sex from an art into a science; twelve times allowing my hopes to soar and then scraping them (and sometimes myself) off the floor.

I felt like I was beginning to lose my mind. Every pregnant woman on the street was a personal affront, every baby shower invitation an assault. When Britney Spears announced her pregnancy, I ranted about it to anyone who would listen. I organized our schedule around my ovulation and measured upcoming events by what month I would be in if we were successful this time around. I stopped sleeping.

The lack of control was maddening for a control freak like me, but even worse was the waiting. I’m task oriented; if I had to wait around for this pregnancy thing to happen, I needed to feel like I was taking concrete steps that would contribute to our eventual success. Give up caffeine? Done. Track my temperature? Daily. Obsessively check for fertile cervical mucous? More often than I care to admit. Though it put us into a new and scary category of “medical problem,” I was actually relieved when the insurance company finally cleared us to begin fertility treatment, because it meant there would be new action to take and new partners helping us in this seemingly intractable process of getting pregnant. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 31 2014

Torah MOMentary: What is the Point of All These Rules?

By at 9:41 am

girl watching tv

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Terumah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

After binging on Internet reading last Wednesday (thanks in no small part to the polar vortex that kept me and my kids inside far longer than is healthy or recommended), I spiraled down the rabbit hole and beseeched my Facebook friends to tell me if I was letting my kids watch too much TV.

Thirty-six comments later, and I had been reassured that basically, I was within the “acceptable” zone. After the fourth or fifth Curious George episode, I shut the TV off and took the kids to the basement to do some puzzles. I brought my phone. After a half hour of being semi-attentive to them, I realized I wasn’t being even remotely mindful, and spent a few ill-advised minutes panicking about their emotional well-being.

The next morning my husband suggested that we start drizzling the girls’ pancakes (and everything they eat, really) with flax oil. Later that afternoon, my mother intimated that perhaps it’s time to get serious about the potty training. Then I got a call from school that one of my twins had bitten the other one (because we are forever in and out of the biting stage, a Groundhog’s Day of biting, if you will). Sometime around exasperation-o’clock, I read this Forbes.com article about the “crippling” (CRIPPLING!) behaviors that we, as parents, are guilty of. And then after all of that, I read this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, and wanted to cry.

There are too many rules. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 3 2014

Torah MOMentary: What Do We Make of the Killing of the Firstborn?

By at 9:46 am
"Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt" by Charles Sprague Pearce

“Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt” by Charles Sprague Pearce

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Bo. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s Torah portion is Bo. We read about the final plagues, culminating in the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn.

I often like to interpret Torah metaphorically. I love the Hassidic tradition of reading Torah as a sort of psychological analogue for what’s happening inside us all the time. For me, this is a way of connecting to Torah as a story that’s happening continually, rather than an ancient document that may or may not have taken place.

But sometimes there is a story so literal and vivid that to metaphorize it feels like a cop-out. For example, the slaying of the firstborn.

The 10 plagues always felt kind of removed from me–sort of magical and not relatable, like a fairy tale. Now, reading as a new mom, the words “slaying of the firstborn” feel very, very real. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 27 2013

Torah MOMentary: What Pharaoh & New Moms Have in Common

By at 10:47 am

frogs plagues

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vaera. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s portion, Vaera, contains seven of the 10 plagues that God sends Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

After each plague, Pharaoh begins to relent, but then he (or, weirdly, God) “hardens his heart” and decides he actually does need those Israelite slaves after all. And so the plagues increase, all the way into next week’s portion.

Reading about these plagues and Pharaoh’s resistance to let those Israelites go, I thought about how hard it is to change after a long time. What does it take to convince a stubborn person to loosen their grip, to be more gentle, to change their life? And why do I feel so sympathetic to Pharaoh even though he’s clearly the bad guy here? Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 13 2013

A Father’s Letter to His Unborn Son

By at 12:17 pm

father holding newborn son in arms

You are coming soon. And when you arrive, we will bless you. But for whom is this blessing? Is it for you? Or is it for us?

I can already feel the moment. It’s January, and the wind is leaking through the window. Your mother will be spent, and in the drafty night, crankily demand that I try to soothe you.

You will be at my shoulder, both of us stuck between sleep and alertness, barely able to see.

And then will come my blessing for you, remembering how my father and I recited the Shema together before bed. We would name each aunt, each uncle, each cousin, and then finish with a patriotic flourish that invited God to look after “all the Jewish people, the United States, and all Earth.”

Jacob to Manasseh and Ephraim. All the way down, from me to you. Read the rest of this entry →

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