Tag Archives: daughter

Teach your children well

I always thought of myself as a generous person. I have a list of charities that I donate to annually, and I respond to all kinds of stray petitions throughout the year. Then I got laid off and discovered that what I really am, is a fair-weather contributor. Last year, I cut several of my annual contributions in half, sponsored only one friend in the Pan-Mass Challenge instead of two, and hardened my heart against the General Israel Orphans Home. Rather than feel good about what I gave, I feel ashamed about what I didn’t give.

While my loss of salary doesn’t create a financial hardship for my family per se, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it does substantially reduce our combined income; hard for me, anyway, not my better half. He continues to donate to his chosen charities generously. He doesn’t think we give enough; cutting back on my giving is not something he encourages.

Some of the wealthiest Americans, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, have signed ‘The Giving Pledge.’ They’ve agreed to give away half their wealth. That’s mighty impressive. Of course, most of their wealth is ‘on paper,’ and not the kind you spend at the supermarket. If Andrew and I gave away half of our wealth, it could jeopardize our ability to eat during retirement, or buy the dentures we’ll need to do it. Given that medical expenses are the single biggest cause of personal bankruptcies, how can you even know how much you’ll need to retire? Who’s to say that near the end I won’t be tin-cupping outside the General Israel Orphans Home to pay my medical bills?

I’m not trying to make excuses for my recent charitable parsimony, I’m trying to understand it. Apparently financial well-being is as much a state of mind as a reality. I’m confident that when my mind catches up to my reality, I’ll loosen the purse strings again.

In the meantime, our daughter’s allowance is provided with the following caveats: twenty-five percent has to go into long term savings, and twenty-five percent has to go to charity. She puts the money aside and makes her charitable donation at the end of the year. This past year, she had enough to buy a pig through Heifer International. (Pigs provide, “…a valuable source of protein, income from the sale of offspring and manure to nourish crops and soil and increase crop yields.”) Our hope is that charitable giving becomes a habit for her, even if some years all she can afford is a flock of chicks.


Just because you’re paranoid…

I got in the car this morning to drive my daughter to the bus, and pushed the button that turns on the Prius. Nothing happened. I looked at the dashboard and saw that the only light that had appeared was a small key icon with a line through it. That didn’t do it for me. I said, without expecting an answer, “What gives?” And my fourteen-year-old daughter, who does not drive, replied, “Do you have your purse?”

The Prius has what’s called a ‘keyless entry’; you carry a fob that communicates with the car and as long as it’s in the vicinity of the ignition you’re good to go. The fob lives in a zipped pocket in my purse. I never leave the house without my purse. My purse was in the house.

Last week, I was working out with my trainer, and he demonstrated something he wanted me to do. Then he went to get a floor mat and I immediately forgot the specifics of what he had shown me fifteen seconds earlier.

I recently read a book called Still Alice, about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. The protagonist was about my age, but much more accomplished, a professor at Harvard (which underscored how much she had to lose compared to the rest of us). Literary criticism aside, I found the book disturbing, primarily because now I have something else to worry about.

I’ve had a bad memory all my life. I inherited it from my mother, who, by the way, is still sharp as the proverbial tack. I always make lists of things to do so I’ll remember to do them. If I run to the store for a couple of things without writing down what I need, I’ll recite a list of the items all the way there so I won’t forget. I always knew this behavior indicated a somewhat compulsive nature, but I didn’t think it foreshadowed Alzheimer’s.

Since reading Still Alice, that’s all I think about. I fantasize about what life would be like for my husband and daughter if I did have that disease. I wonder if I’d have the courage, not to mention the wherewithal, to check out before it became too problematical for all of us. When these thoughts get overwhelming, I chastise myself for being maudlin and melodramatic. I remind myself that there’s no family history of Alzheimer’s, and the likelihood that I will fall prey to it is slim. Then I remember the old chestnut, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, and I start to worry all over again.

When is a religion not a religion?

It came up during dinner conversation the other night that the fatal disease, Tay-Sachs, is more likely to be found in Jews than other ethnic groups. My daughter thought (since we’re Jewish) that I was expressing some bizarre form of reverse bigotry, making a gross generalization. I explained that no, Jews had a genetic predisposition to the disease.

She pointed out that we have good friends who are Jews-by-choice, so they’re not more likely to carry Tay-Sachs than non-Jews, ergo, being Jewish had nothing to do with it. I allowed as how converted Jews probably didn’t carry the genes, but it didn’t change the fact that Jews by birth were at higher risk than the general population.

I explained that all ethnic groups have some genetic predispositions when it comes to diseases (not that I can name any, other than maybe hemophilia for descendants of European royalty) and that Jews were no different. It was clear that even post-Bat Mitzvah, my fourteen-year old still hadn’t fully groked the fact that we’re not just Jewish by religion, but by dint of our ethnic group. (What did she think the Nazis were going on about?)

The knowledge that Jews, as a group, share genetic traits, should help explain why there are so many Jews who are also atheists: there’s more to being Jewish than the religion. For many of us, the cultural identity far outweighs the religious aspect, and for some, the whole g-d part is irrelevant, if not moot. (I’m not admitting to my own beliefs one way or the other, but let’s just say I’m starting to appreciate the wisdom of the old saying, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’.)

I always wondered why Jews were the only religion that carried the -ish suffix. Christians are Christian, Muslims are Muslim, but Jews are Jewish. The suffix can mean (among other things) being, as in British (of Britain), or inclined or liable to, as in bookish. That supports my contention that I am part of an ethnic group (Jewish) and inclined toward the religion (Jewish).

I recently found out that Ashkenazi Jews are also slightly more prone to breast and ovarian cancer. As a matter of fact, it turns out there are a whole host of Jewish genetic diseases I didn’t know about. It’s enough to make me want to convert, until I remember that it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s in my DNA.

It’s never too late

I attended a friend’s Bat Mitzvah this weekend. She’s in her mid-70s. For the uninitiated, a Bat, or Bar, Mitzvah is the Jewish service that marks a child’s passage into adulthood. It is also what you call the individual involved; Bat/Bar Mitzvah means ‘daughter/son of the commandments.’ Traditionally, this happens on, or near, the child’s thirteenth birthday. But, as evidenced by my friend’s accomplishment, there is no age limit on the practice.

To prepare for the service, one learns to chant a particular section of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, or for those so inclined, the Old Testament, in Hebrew. To chant, however, one must not only read Hebrew, but must also learn how to read the trope, the little marks that indicate what the melody is at any given phrase. This is not for the faint of heart. It requires many months of study with a tutor, and hours of practice. For traditional B’nai (plural) Mitzvah, that studying usually happens while their peers are doing homework, playing after school sports, or watching television. This is why the days leading up to the B’nai Mitzvah can be accompanied by some resentment on the part of the honoree (and perhaps why the relieved parents often throw a big party when it’s all over).

As if all that studying isn’t enough work, the B’nai Mitzvah also write a D’var Torah, a talk about the section of the Torah they chanted. I’ve heard some spectacular D’var Torahs delivered by thirteen-year olds, none more impressive than that of my own daughter, but the more mature B’nai Mitzvah bring a perspective to their analysis that comes only with age.

Many of the older women who pursue becoming a Bat Mitzvah, are from a time when most temples did not allow girls that opportunity. That was a privilege, and a duty, that belonged only to boys. As time went on, and the women’s movement picked up steam, girls were allowed to have Bat Mitzvahs, but they were often relegated to Friday nights, and instead of reading from the Torah itself, they read a Haftorah, a portion from the Prophets, a work that complements the Torah. That was the experience my sisters and I had when we were girls. Today, both boys and girls read from the Torah, on Saturday mornings.

Individuals who become B’nai Mitzvah later in life are driven by one or more common desires; to explore their spirituality on a deeper level; to be closer to their community; to study Hebrew and enhance their appreciation of the prayers. For some women it may be as simple as reclaiming that which is their right. Whatever their motivation, I greet the new ‘adult’ members of our community with the same pride I would feel for the more traditional set. To my friend, and all the older members of our community who came before, a heartfelt Mazel Tov.

Laid low by a volcano

Who would of thunk that a volcano could put the kibosh on hundreds of thousands of travel plans? Terrorists, maybe, but a volcano?

I was diligently wrapping up my obligations prior to a family vacation in Paris that was scheduled to depart the following day, oblivious to what was going on in the outside world, when my husband emailed me a link to a French newspaper. My French doesn’t even qualify as rudimentary but there was no mistaking the headline which, loosely translated, said, ‘you are about to be severely disappointed.’

We watched anxiously as flights were canceled and airports closed. But our Friday afternoon flight to Paris, via Philadelphia, was still showing an on-time departure. We were already packed so when the time came to go to the airport we figured we might as well; maybe we’d be able to fly in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary. At the check-in counter the less-than-gracious US Airways employee informed us that yes, the flight was still scheduled and no, she couldn’t advise us as to the best course of action; we could check in or not, it was no skin off her nose. We had an hour or so to decide.

“What happens to our luggage if we check in now, and then the flight’s canceled?” we asked.

“You try to get it back,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

Since most of my underwear was in my suitcase, and it would be inconvenient to be without it for an unspecified amount of time, I suggested we not check in quite yet, but instead go have lunch and see if anything definitive transpired in the next hour.

Just as we finished ordering, we got an automated message that our flight had been canceled. I waved the waiter back and ordered a drink.

We were, of course, extremely disappointed that our trip had been canceled, but we knew right away that we were luckier than many. From an inconvenience perspective we suffered not one whit. We were grounded, but we were on home turf with all our underwear. One friend from the UK was stuck here while her valiant husband wrangled their two young daughters on his own for an extra week. Another friend was stuck in Germany while his wife tried to hold onto her sanity as a single parent here. Another friend in the UK had a scaled down wedding party because her European friends were unable to travel, and another wedding was canceled altogether. Those are just a few of the stories that I’ve heard from people I know. Imagine how many other plans were ruined, and lives disrupted, by that pesky natural phenomenon.

I’m sorry that my daughter’s school vacation did not work out as planned; that she didn’t get to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or visit Versailles, or practice her French. But we got to participate in a moment in history that will not soon be forgotten.

C’est la vie.

Sometimes fat is good

Passover and Easter were earlier than usual this spring but like clockwork colleges all over the country sent out their admission’s decision letters right on time. This annual rite of spring doesn’t affect my house this year, we have four years to go, but it’s easy to get caught up in the drama when you know someone whose child has been wrestling them to be first at the mailbox for the past week.

I remember my own experience like it was yesterday (and in my case this yesterday was over thirty years ago). I know firsthand that the failures and triumphs of admission’s week will trail these seniors for the rest of their lives (or until they’ve completed twenty years of therapy). I was a lack-luster high school student (as you may recall from last week’s post, Memory lane is a lonely road) and my father despaired of me getting in anywhere respectable. While my friends were grudgingly adding UMass as a “safety school” just in case there was an act of G-d and they didn’t get into the more prestigious universities, my dad was strongly advising me not to waste his money applying to anywhere other than UMass. I ignored him and applied to half a dozen or more schools, none of which was UMass.

I knew from all the seniors that had come before me that a thin envelope was not even worth opening since it signaled defeat; you wanted the fat ones. On April 9th, my father’s birthday, I got my first envelope, and it was fat. I’m sure I was happy that I was now assured a college education, but that paled next to the pleasure I took in waving that big, fat letter in my dad’s face and saying, “So there!”

The real victory that week was that I was accepted by a school that had rejected my straight-A, over-achieving, older sister. (In deference to her, since I’m sure this must still be a painful memory, being bested by her academically inferior little sister, I won’t name the school here but do email me if you’re curious.)

At the gym today, my neighbor on the next elliptical was shaking her head over the fact that her daughter had gotten into Oberlin, but not Tufts, but that her daughter’s friend had gotten into Tufts and not Oberlin. We agreed that there must be a capricious element to the whole process that no amount of extra-curricular activities could defend against. That knowledge, however, does nothing to take the sting out of receiving a thin envelope from the school you have your heart set on.

Even though I know it’s long past time for me to define myself by which colleges I was accepted by, I won’t be giving that up anytime soon. My other sister, also a straight-A, over-achiever, tells me that there’s no way we’d get into those colleges today. I say that’s the opinion of someone who didn’t have to buck the odds in the first place.

Self-censoring is a parent’s best weapon

When my daughter graduated to the Young Adult section of the library I was proud and excited. I didn’t give a thought to what she was reading because I naively assumed that if it was labeled Young Adult than it was age appropriate. Granted, she hadn’t hit thirteen yet so I knew some of the books might be too adult but nonetheless I figured that if she wanted to read them, and could understand them, then it was all good. And if she couldn’t understand them it didn’t matter anyway.

Then one day she told me she’d read a great book and I should read it too, so I did. That was the end of my blissful ignorance. In that particular book, Deadline, (which, by the way, I thought was extremely well-written and recommend highly) there was, in no particular order; a boy with a terminal illness; a girl with a little brother who turned out to be her son, the result of being raped by her uncle; an alcoholic ex-priest who’d molested children, and more. That was when I learned that nothing is taboo in YA literature.

That experience made me question, briefly, my decision not to censor her reading material, however, my daughter is a voracious reader; it’s not unusual for her to take ten books out of the library at a time. It would be a full time job to stay on top of YA books to the extent that I could approve or reject her choices. Laziness aside (which believe me, is a major contributor to my resistance) censoring anything is a slippery slope. My daughter knows better than I do what she’s capable of understanding and if it’s too graphic, or too scary, she self-censors.

The movie rating system, designed to protect parents from making stupid mistakes with their children’s viewing choices, continuously disappoints me. The choices that the MPAA makes are not consistent with the choices that I would make for my child. I’d much rather she hear a few F-bombs than be exposed to people being blown up, yet the former nets an R rating and the latter a PG-13.

We were away for a weekend with another family and we rented I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for the kids to watch, because my daughter insisted it was age-appropriate. The kids in question ranged from 9- to 13-years-old. The sophomoric humor was immediately off-putting for me but the kids were enjoying it. Each time something questionable was said or done the parents would sneak looks at each other to see who was going to be the first to crack and shut it off. Consensus came during a shower scene where several buff naked men, shot from the back, prepared to play ‘pick up the soap.’ Our collective parental gasp made it clear that no amount of arguing was going to get the movie turned back on. That movie was PG-13.

This weekend, we watched Up In the Air. It had one brief scene of a naked woman, shot from the back, and verbal innuendo about the sex post-facto. Oh yeah, there were F-bombs. That movie was rated R. Guess which one I’d prefer my daughter watch?

I continue to censor movies in my own, lazy fashion. I know from experience that the visual nature of movies makes a deeper impression on my daughter than reading, so if it’s too ‘adult’ or scary we don’t allow it. But then, if it was too ‘adult’ or scary she wouldn’t want to see it.

When it comes to books, however, self-censoring is a highly effective parenting tool, and the only one I need.

A blanket apology

As evidenced by previous posts, this blog has no particular theme. It will reflect whatever is top of mind when I sit down to write. These days I spend a lot of time thinking about my work-in-progress, a Young Adult novel for, well, young adults. (I look forward to telling you more about that in subsequent posts.) I also spend a lot of time thinking about my daughter and that’s where I feel the need to issue a blanket apology, in advance.

I, like you, have limited patience for people who talk about their children ad nauseam. It’s okay, you can admit it, we’re alone. When your friends start talking about their children you fix your smile and prepare to be a good sport. If the story is about a younger child and is told in a voice meant to approximate that of the child, you might even leave your smile in place like the Cheshire cat and go off to your happy place in your head.

These are the defense mechanisms we employ when parents are speaking admiringly of their offspring. The reactions are different if the parents are angry at their children. Those stories are entertaining. They cause our antenna to go up as we lean forward in our chairs. Our heartbeat accelerates as we anticipate a story that will validate that we are not alone.

Parenting can be a very lonely job, not unlike writing a novel. Even if there is another adult in the family there are hours in the day when you are on your own, or worse, just feel like you are. Parenting happens in real time, you don’t get to go back and edit it once you’re done. So what do we do instead? We talk about it. Sometimes the stories are uplifting and sometimes they’re a downer, but there’s a constant stream of them because parenting is 24/7.

So, I hereby issue a blanket apology for all the posts about my daughter that will inevitably worm their way into this blog. You are not obligated to read them, of course, but she is an endlessly entertaining subject. She’s very smart and as an only child she relates well to adults. Her teachers are always struck by how nuanced her sense of humor is and how well she communicates. Why just the other day, oops, sorry. This post was the apology, I’ll save the stories for later.