Sunday, December 27, 2009


Rose Waldman
aka Great Aunt Rose

Saturday, December 26, 2009

All Work and No Play...

I’m dull.  Well, maybe not completely dull.  But duller than I’d like to be.  I have not read the latest Pulitzer Prize winning novel, am not well-versed in any one particular subject, do not have a hobby or sport I’ve mastered through the years.  Mostly what I am right now is stymied by vacation.  I check my blackberry at regular anxiety-filled intervals and cycle my projects through my head in a panic.  What have I forgotten?  What haven’t I done?  What could I be doing that I’m not? And when I’ve done with that exercise, I realize I have slowly, over five years time, become increasingly uninteresting.  Faced with a day of no work obligation I am paralyzed. 

Day One I gave over to Sig Other and his insistence that I learn to shoot.  So we trekked out to Piru (a place where bucolic farmland meets Deliverance) and I learned to handle an HK, a Glock and a Remington.   Turns out I’m a good shot.  I don’t quite get the adrenaline high “yeehaw” of our instructor after shooting the shit out of stuff.  But I’m good at it. 

Day Two was Christmas – Sig Other and I took the dogs to Venice.  Alpha Dog nearly ran off while Beta Dog sad idly by watching Sig Other and I run hysterically after her.  We then harnessed both beasts, put on their Hanukah jingle bells and took them for a long walk by the beach before heading off to an over-indulgent dinner with friends.  On our way we marveled over the number of Jews with Christmas trees and Sig Other raged about how he felt it disrespectful to Christianity to strip their holiday of symbolism. 

And now its Day Three.  Sig Other is off on his bike – he’s in training for the century he’ll ride on his birthday.  Alpha and Beta are sleeping sweetly.  And I’ve begun a novel I’ve wanted to read for weeks now.  The start is unsatisfying.  I realize I’m a little sick of drunk-lit.  Ex-Husbands #1 and #2 were drunks and clearly there was a long period of time when the romance of alcoholism held an intense appeal.  But those days are long past and the self-indulgence of an addict’s tales no longer hold me rapt for long. 

And so I’ve put my book down and am instead focusing on how I got this uninteresting.  I must do something to address this – take up a hobby, find a book I like, explore ways I can expand my brain past the limitations of the everyday challenges it meets.  Wish me luck…

Monday, December 21, 2009

Clocking time.

Great Aunt Rose is in hospice now.  She’s 99.  And she’s dying.  Ninety-nine years.  Imagine the change she’s seen.  She lived through two world wars, the formation of Israel, the assassination of Kennedy, the rise of Frank Sinatra, the discovery of Elvis and the Beatles.  Middle Sister told me that lately, Rose has been talking about how excited she is about Obama.  About how she never thought she’d live to see the day.  It’s very like Rose, to be excited about Obama.  Rose never watched anything but public television and never voted any ticket other than Democrat her whole life. They considered themselves socialists, that side of the family. 

99 years.  For 99 years, Rose has watched as the world transformed around her.  She has thrived as her hair turn from red to grey and as her stride went from brisk to the careful walk of a woman cautious of too many broken bones.  She outlived her parents, her sisters, most of her friends, and of course her beloved nephew – my father.   I wondered today, as I was thinking about Rose, when the world started to look different to her.  In the span of 99 years, what are the watermarks?  When do you start to clock the change in social mores?  When do you take notice of the transition from analog to digital?  When do really see your first wrinkle?  Is there a day?  A year?  Or do these things just start to sneak up on  you?      

For me, it seems that 43 is definitively the year that things look different.  There’s a certain sag to the skin on the front of my upper thighs.  My cheekbones are both more and less prominent depending on the lighting and angle (jowls more emphasized in harsh light and diminished in lower light and from high above).  The list of things that anger me has grown shorter but more profound.  I care more deeply but for fewer people.

And today, one of my girlfriends made a lunch date with me pending bruising from her most recent botox appointment.  Truly.  It seems she bruises easily and her social schedule now revolves around the public unveiling of her face.  If today didn’t go well at Dr. Needle, our lunch would be put off to next week.  I laughed as she told me this and asked what lasts longer, the bruising or the botox.  I knew the answer, of course.  But it seemed right to ask, if only to remind her of the ridiculousness of the situation.  She laughed and said she’d report back.  In a few short hours an email arrived.  Thankfully, the good doctor performed well and we’re meeting for a meal in just a few days time.

There was a time when we girlfriends got together no matter what – when the urgency of our meetings was dictated by boyfriend trouble or job drama and not by the vicissitudes of a paralyzing bacterium.  And there was a time when our skin was tight, our troubles were fewer and we didn’t worry much about the effect of a second glass of wine on our ability to rise early in the morning.  There were no husbands then.  And no children.  No complicated scheduling and no one to worry about but ourselves.  And there were no sweet requests for a tuck in or a snuggle late at night. 

The tautness of our skin yields to time.  Life gets more complicated.  And more difficult.  Richer in some moments.  Less so in others.    I lay in bed next to Sig Other.  Alpha and Beta dogs snuggled in for the night.  Child Two tucked tightly away.  And Great Aunt Rose, three thousand miles away, lies in a bed breathing what may be the last of her breaths.  I wonder if she’s thinking about change.  I wonder if she’s thinking about sagging skin or graying hair or wishing for a time when things were simpler.  Or maybe, just maybe, she’s thinking about Obama and what programs she might miss tonite on PBS. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sisterhood of the Traveling Tweeters

One of the oddest things about the blogosphere is how intimately it is connected to the world of Twitter.  Too intimately sometimes (recall my post about the inadvertent tweet which led to my mother’s discovery of what I thought was my secret blog).  That’s the creepy downside.  But the fabulous upside is the world of women I now know through the wonder of 140 characters that show up in a window on my computer or a screen on my blackberry.  I’ve never met most of these women and probably never will.  Few live nearby and many are in far away lands.  I would say 50% or more of my twitter friends are Brits.   And yet we’ve found each other and know odd details about one another’s lives.

Example:  Spice Spoon writes one of my favorite blogs.  I found her after she commented on one of my posts.  I followed her to her blog, which is rich in delicious prose and amazing recipes.  And so I began to follow her on twitter.  Miss Whistle and CharlieCircus and Liberty London Girl and Mrs. Trefusis are also friends with Spice Spoon (I imagine it was one of them who led her to me in the first place) and our lowest common denominator – the thing that seems to unite us in spite of relatively disparate backgrounds – is a great passion for food: discovering it, cooking it and, of course, eating it.  I would venture to say that a boozy party might be another one of our shared interests.  But first and foremost is food.

Food may be the thing that introduced us but Twitter is the glue that holds us together.  Through Twitter we learn of one another’s favorite books, the best place to get a haircut in a foreign city, the grooviest new stockings for winter.  We share gossip, interesting articles, thoughts on politics or religion and of course interesting new blogs.  Every now and then we share heartbreak about a child, a job or a friend. 

It’s a uniquely inviting group – there is very little exclusive about it.  All that is required is a genuine interest in the world around you and an ability to squeeze that interest into a compelling 140 characters.  Usually those characters lead to an article or blog that yields greater fruit.  And the bond is sealed. 

And so when someone violates one of our own, we feel protective, we feel united, we feel downright angry and we bond together.  The other day, Spice Spoon was insulted by a reader.  And she tweeted about the fact that we are all, those of us in the blogosphere, so vulnerable to those we don’t know who come to visit our site and leave whatever comment they so choose.  And she’s right of course.  The great fear of blogging (which I still consider a bit wimpy) and the greater fear of "real" writing (the kind with an editor and publisher and such) is the fear of discovery and the fear that discovery will lead to criticism or worse, contempt.  But the flipside of contempt is camaraderie - the camaraderie forged by women across the continent and across an ocean, drawn together by shared interests and hilarity.   And to my amazement (and often amusement) the scary world of writing has also led to new amazing and supportive friends.  Take that, critics!

Monday, December 14, 2009

On the 4th Night of Hanukah

On the 4th night of Hanukah, the canter’s wife sent me a Farmville Christmas gift.  As did Sig Other’s kosher friend, Dan.  He won’t eat a meal in my house without checking first to make sure it vaguely adheres to the basics of kashrut.  And yet his Goyish farming alter-avatar-ego sent me a green wrapped gift to put under the tree I’m ignoring on my abandoned farm.  He has a tree on his farm as well.  But its hidden behind the barn so his son won't see.  Sig Other’s mother sent three brightly wrapped presents.  This is sort of less bad because she falls into the slightly more ambivalent category of immigrant agnostic.  All told, there are twelve gifts waiting to be accepted in my Farmville inbox.  And I’m ignoring them all.  I’ve not gone to check on my farm in days and it takes every ounce of will power in my exhausted, depleted body to NOT check on my trees, my animals, my sweet little snow covered cottage.  Poor Christian farm.  Poor abandoned, wilting, ignored Christian farm. 

I find it particularly challenging to ignore my farm this evening – I’ve tucked myself in before 9pm having survived and in fact triumphed with the success of last night’s Hanukah celebration.  Happy, adorable children stuffed themselves with gelt and donuts and ran themselves silly around a house filled with friends and gifts.  Child Two reigned supreme over an aggressive game of dreidel.  Sig Other presided beautifully over the lighting of the candles.  And I reveled in the joy of catching up with friends I see too little and love so much.  But now its done and I’m snuggled into bed with farting Beta Dog and my lovely AirBook and its all I can do to NOT go check on my farm. 

But on this fourth night of Hanukah, I will resist the urge to harvest, will resist the urge to plow and plant and will instead turn my energy to something more productive.  I will go catch up with my favorite news sites, catch up on friends’ blogs, perhaps even catch up on much needed sleep.  But I will miss my farm and my fellow farmers.  And so I take this opportunity to thank my Farmville neighbors for their gifts, which will remain unaccepted and unopened.  Happy Hanukah, former fellow farmers.  And a very merry Jewmas to you as well.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Few folks know that in an alternate universe, I’m a farmer.  I have a farm.  It’s a beautiful property, nicely maintained with a quaint, single family dwelling in the midst of fertile land.  I have 16 cows, 21 chickens, 8 horses, groves of various trees and ever rotating crops on my farm.  I also have a herd of reindeer, a giant candy cane and a Christmas tree with branches laden with ornaments hovering over some forty-odd gifts from friends and neighbors.  On my farm I am a natural blonde and wear overalls.   This is, of course, my Farmville farm and the blonde girl is my avatar.  And it occurred to me today, as I harvested an entire field of poinsettias, that my Farmville avatar is Christian.

 It’s a little weird to have come to this realization the same week that I agreed to sit on the board of my temple and the same morning on which I woke early to grate potatoes for the Hanukah latkes.  But it is nonetheless true. 

I feel guilty about my farm.  Feel guilty that I dedicate any amount of time, no matter how mindless, to its care.  Feel guilty about having a Christmas tree and a giant candy cane next to the front door of my quaint cottage.  Feel guilty about all the presents under the tree even though most are from my Jewish friends who are also clearly playing out their own Christian jealousy plays online.  My guilt may be all the proof I need that a Douglas Fir, no matter how well decorated, does not a Christian make. 

And so this morning, in spite of my great love for my farm, in spite of the fact that Child Two and I spend a good deal of time discussing our mutual farms, in spite of the fact that I do find it relaxing to harvest at the end of the day just before bed, this morning I have decided to abandon my farm. 

It’s a sad thing really.  And a failure on the part of the creators of Farmville.  They should have realized that even the most advanced farmer will, one day, decide to move on.  And so they should have created a realtor avatar to sell my farm.   I think I’d do pretty well.  Even in this market.  After all, I have a tractor, a seeder AND a harvester.  I even have some fuel left in each.  My animals are well behaved and nicely lined up.  And my trees yield good fruit.  But I have to sell. 

In a world in which I struggle to find an extra moment to myself, in a world in which I am trying to dedicate myself 100% in too many directions – finishing one movie, trying to put two more in the pipeline, figuring out Child One’s SAT prep classes, prepping latkes for the children for the first night of Hanukah while wondering how I’m going to manage feeding the 60 people descending on my house for a Hanukah party in just a few short days, this doesn’t really seem like a good time to farm.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guilty guilty guilty!!!

Beta Dog looking terribly guilty after being found nose down in a banana cream pie from the dessert table at the department holiday party...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Blog Not. Therefore...

I am not.  Not really.  But it feels like it sometimes.

Following are excuses I give for my absence in the blogoverse:  I'm busy.  I have nothing to say.  I have lots to say but none of it worthy for public consumption.

Therefore, I blog not.  Which does not mean I write not.  Only that I write things kept hidden away in a file called “best not published” and that I tap away quietly in the small sliver of space that exists in the dark when the children are sleeping and the dogs are snoring and Sig Other is breathing rhythmically beside me, oblivious to my restlessness.  But if I’m writing in the dark, if my writing is a tree falling in an abandoned forest, then why bother?  What is the point of setting out to be brave if I stay hidden behind “being too busy” or “having nothing to say?”

The rabbi talked tonite about modalities of prayer.  She talked about keva and kavenah.  Practice and intention.  She talked about how sometimes you show up to pray and nothing happens.  Sometimes you show up and you go through the shema and the amidah and the choreography of the ritual and you don’t just show up once, you show up three times a day.  And three times a day you say a version of the same thing over and over and you may say it three times a day for weeks on end or even years and feel nothing.  Or one day you show up and you do the same exact thing you’ve done for days or years before and something is different – you may get stuck on a word or an idea or a piece of the prayer and you are struck by how moved you are. 

I think a lot about just showing up – for friends, for family, for colleagues.  And I think a lot about whether it matters how I FEEL about showing up.  Whether I go to a funeral or a birthday party or a sickbed or a premiere with good intention or ill turns out to not really matter at all.  And it turns out that in Judaism, just showing up is half the battle.  Whether you’re there for the right reason, whether you feel what you’re supposed to feel when you’re supposed to feel it – all that is really secondary to the doing of the thing.  It doesn’t matter how you feel about showing up.  It matters that you do it.   

Writing, blogging even, may be the same.  It may be that the greatest thing I can do when I don’t feel like writing – the greatest gift I can give myself when I feel that I have nothing to say at all – is to sit down and write.  Because the practice of it – showing up at my computer – showing up on the page – may be more important than whether or not I feel inspired in the moment to write something beautiful or something profound or something funny.   So here I am.  And I’m making a pledge to show up more often.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don't let this face fool you...

Alpha Dog (foreground) and Beta Dog (background) look innocent enough, but beneath these sweet cuddly exteriors lurk the stinking, fetid souls of skunk hunters!  Last week's attack still clinging to fur.  Seems a relaxing return home is not in the cards.

Pepe le Pew

Beta Dog slumbers sweetly in spite of his wretched stench.  Skunk attack while Sig Other and I were away last week led to shocking odor greeting us as we walked in the door after a full day's travel.  Welcome home!

Friday, November 20, 2009


Sig Other is a chivalrous man.  And so, when a reader of my blog made a comment to him that I wrote as a woman who clearly had never birthed children of her own, he took offense on my behalf.  It was very sweet of him.  The statement was made, as I recall, as an observation about a certain lack of warmth that this reader equated with an unused uterus (or at least unused as far as reproductivity is concerned). And Sig Other took offense because the statement felt like an insult.

But whether it was meant to be or not, I take no such offense at the comment made by a woman who doesn’t know me.  It is true that my uterus is not well used.  And it is true that I am sometimes warm and sometimes not.  But I have never thought to equate warmth (mine or any one else’s really) with motherliness.  I know some women who have birthed quite a few of their own young and are still quite chilly.  And likewise, there are women I’ve known with no biological issue who are warm and cozy.  I consider myself a member of neither category.  I consider myself a person who loves the children in her life and doesn’t give much consideration one way or other to their origin. 

Perhaps this is tradition in my family.  I had two great aunts – one from my mother’s side and one from my father’s – who were childless.  One, I would say, was tragically so.  The other, not at all.  Both were diminutive and both had careers far more successful than most women of their generation.  And both were well loved. 

First there was Great Aunt Henny.  Henny was a seamstress and worked for Bob Mackie at the height of his career.  She would fly to Vegas and onto movie sets to fit glittery dresses onto the svelte figures of Cher, Diana Ross and Carol Burnett.  She was married to Uncle Max.  I loved Max because Max had a little poodle named Shoo Shoo and because he would bring us pepper beef and pastrami and because he was generally a delightful great uncle.  But I was a little, little girl.  And what I didn’t know is that Max was an alcoholic.  And a cheater.  And a louse.  Max was also sterile (the least offensive of his negative attributes).  And he failed to share this fact with Henny until just before their wedding night.  She was stunned and devastated and called my grandmother (her sister) who told her it wasn’t too late to call it off.  But Henny was ashamed and embarrassed and worried she’d never find another man.  And in the end, Henny decided that she was better off with a cheating drunk than with no man at all.  She had no children but treated her two nieces and grandchildren as her own.  She sewed for us and doted on us and worried about us.  And asked nothing in return.  I remember going to visit her in the hospital as she lay dying.  She was 68 pounds – a frail bag of skin and bones – and she had no real idea who was in the room with her.  I was there with my sister and my aunt and two cousins.  And though she couldn’t tell you any of our names, still she knew she was surrounded by family.  Finally, at the very end, she seemed at peace. 

And then there’s Rose. Rose is still alive and in her 90s and sort of fabulous.  Rose never had children.  And Rose never married.  Rose was one of the first female vice presidents in the advertising business and every time I watch Mad Men I imagine her as a prettier, less awkward (and certainly less Catholic) version of Peggy – ahead of her time, navigating the waters of abject chauvinism and ballsy feminism.  Rose was also little (although never fragile) and a natural redhead until well into her 70s when she lied about her age so she would not be forced into retirement.  Rose took a class at Hunter (her alma mater) every semester and a trip somewhere interesting in the world once a year.  She went to the opera, the symphony and the theater every chance she got and took a bus to every single destination.  She now lives in a retirement home in the countryside where she is looked after by my cousin who lives nearby.  But I remember almost a decade ago having lunch with Rose in a little bistro around the corner from her New York apartment.  It was fall and she was wearing her jaunty beret.  She told me that the only real downside of getting older was that she had to find new friends – all of hers had died.  And so now she was cultivating a new group of pals – much younger – all in their seventies.  And she told me if she had it to do all over again she would have had children. 

Two childless women on either side of my family.  Both terribly influential in my life.  Both for entirely different reasons.  Rose because I admire her – admire her energy and her lust for life.  Henny more as a cautionary tale – she was so kind and so generous and so deeply insecure that she could never get out from under her own self image.  But both women with deep connections to children in their lives.  Both women who I would think of as warm first and childless last. 

I guess my point is this – it sort of depends on what you think of as childless.  Rose and Henny were childless by any traditional definition of the word.  They had not bourn children of their own.  They did not adopt babies and raise them in their homes.  But they were influential forces to us and, I imagine, to many who did not share their blood.  And they were warm.

In a world where warmth and kindness are scarce enough commodities, I’m not sure that fertility and gestation should be the final arbiters of what makes a mother.  Nor am I sure that being “childless” is any kind of insult at all.  I am not bothered by a comment made by a woman I don’t know.  I’m not bothered by whether I seem like a person who has birthed her own young.  And I’m not sure we should live in a society that judges the value or warmth of a woman by the yield (or lack thereof) of her reproductive organs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

They're getting ready early in London...

This was my view walking back to my hotel in London this eve.  Gets dark by 4pm.  Busy streets prepping for Xmas almost six weeks early.  All busy and bubbly and fun.  Almost makes me wish I believed in the baby Jesus...

My Rabbi

The strange thing about being a Jew is that you can be an agnostic or even an atheist and still call yourself a Jew.  I’m not sure this holds true for Catholics or Protestants or Mormons or Muslims.  I’m going to guess there are not a lot of folks wandering around calling themselves both Catholic AND atheist in the same breath. They might say they are lapsed Catholics or were raised in the Catholic church and left.  But it doesn’t feel like there are a lot of Catholic atheists hanging on to the “Catholic” part. 

I was not raised in a religious household.  We celebrated Hanukah as a consolation prize to being screwed out of Christmas and periodically I would go to my grandparents’ house for Passover.  I liked the food.  I knew my father hated religion and my mother opposed it as a polarizing force but was somewhat less reactionary in general.

So how did I, a lapsed atheist, sometime agnostic but always Jew, end up with a rabbi?  How did I find myself, at the age of 43, a person with a rabbi I call my own?  It began with Sig Other, of course.  Sig Other desired an experience of Jewish life, for himself and the children, authentic enough to exercise both the intellectual and the traditional.  For me, the bonus was a rabbi who is young, who was not raised religiously but came to her Judaism later in life, and for whom an absolute belief in God is less important a requirement for her congregants than the desire to learn about, be aware of and engage in the world around us.  Her brand of Judaism hovers somewhere over the chasm between conservative and way-out, hippie-dippy, drumbeating, left-wing progression.  Hers is a community dedicated to social justice and diversity.

The weirdness of saying a sentence that includes the phrase “my rabbi” is not lost on me.   I’m not a person with a rabbi.  I’m not a person who had even met any rabbis for the first three decades of my life.  But then I met Rabbi Mark who is B’s rabbi.  He and I would have coffee every now and then and he gave the eulogy at my great aunt’s funeral.  And through Sig Other, I met Mendel, the Hassid who won’t shake my hand but is warm and friendly nonetheless.  And then charming Rabbi Seidler-Feller who came to the door in a white kittle and wrapped me in a huge hug the first time we met.  And then, finally, I met Rabbi Sharon Brous.  And because of her, I can say sentences that include the phrase, “my rabbi.” 

My rabbi is young.  And my rabbi is a woman.  The latter thrills me.  The former periodically makes me uncomfortable.  I have a distinct awareness of the fact that I have a decade of life experience greater than that of my rabbi.  But so too am I aware that my rabbi has wisdom of text and of history that I could never approach.   My rabbi, in spite of (or maybe because of) her age, has a depth of empathy I will never access.  This is the rabbi who calls to check on the health of the children, the rabbi who called when Sig Other’s father died and two months later when my stepfather passed.  This is the rabbi who married us.  This is the rabbi who will preside over the bar mitzvah of Child Two. 

My rabbi doesn’t make it easy.  Her brand of Judaism comes in a shiny wrapper promising joyous music and an open community.  And all of promise is fulfilled.  But underneath the pretty paper, just past the joyous melodies, you’ll find a firebrand of a leader – a rabbi who cautions us against complacency and urges us all to look around at the world as it is and make it our responsibility to help it become the world as it should be.  And this is also the rabbi whose husband asks for the recipe to the fig and feta salad and who asks if she’s wearing the right outfit on various occasions.  She is friend, scholar, advisor, leader and little girl all at the same time.  This is the modern rabbi.  And I am thrilled to be able to call her, my own. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eyes without a face

We don’t pay much attention to the homeless in L.A.  Not really.  Maybe they’re not paid much attention in any city in the world.  But it feels like Los Angeles is the place where a person is least likely to really pay any attention at all to a homeless person.  We don’t spend much time on our own sidewalks.  We’re in our cars, not pounding the pavement.  So it’s easy to drive by and not pay attention. We, the privileged few in the vast fortunate desert of Southern California, pay attention to those we know.  We pay attention to the Jews.  We pay attention to the cancer-stricken.  We pay attention to the gays (although clearly not enough or I’d have many more weddings to attend). We pay attention to rare diseases that tragically visit the lives of the rich and famous.  But we do not pay attention to the homeless.  After all, we don’t know those people.

But today, I paid attention to a homeless guy.  He was sitting outside the Starbucks on Ventura just west of Laurel.  And he had a sign in front of him.  The first time I passed him, I didn’t read the sign and barely made note of his presence.  I then passed him the second time and thought, “I should give that guy something.”  This is not a normal thought for me.  Giving money to the homeless is not my first instinct.  Mostly I tend to feel frustrated that their presence makes me feel guilty.  I don’t want to feel guilty.  I don’t want to BE guilty.   But I am.  And I kept walking. 

By the time we got to the car, I still hadn’t looked in that homeless man’s face nor had I read his sign.  But the fact that I’d walked by twice and given nothing weighed on me.  So I said to Sig Other, “I need to go back and give that man something.”  We pulled out of the parking lot and I asked S.O. to drop me at the corner as he went on to his next errand.  “I’ll meet you,” I said.  And I crossed the street and went back to where that man was still sitting. 

As I approached, I looked at him.  I mean I really took a good look.  He was a man without a face.  A fire or some other accident had left him with a hole where his nose used to be and scars from his hairline to his chin.  There were no eyebrows left and his eyes were mostly iris – very little white showed so what was left was dark and piercing.  His hands were badly disfigured as well and, as he reached out for the money, it looked as if he was missing a few fingers.  “Thanks,” he said.  “You’re very welcome,” I said.  And I turned and walked away. 

I thought about him the rest of the day – wondered what had happened to him, if he’d ever been a person that did not live on the street asking for money, if he’d ever been a person with a face.  And I thought about the indignity.  I certainly didn’t feel terribly dignified handing over a few dollars and then going back to my comfortable life.  And I could not imagine the indignity of sitting on a street corner with my back against a wall and a sign in front of me asking for money.  I could not imagine the indignity that must preceed all the steps it takes to get to that place or the pain he must have suffered physically and mentally.  A man with a face.  A man without a home.  And yet he didn’t act undignified.  He didn’t bow and scrape and say “God Bless You” as thanks for the pittance I offered.  He didn’t smile and wish me a good day.  He just gave a simple thanks.  It was, after all, a simple transaction. 

I wondered, too, if the man without a face thought about me again at any point in the day.  Do you think about the person handing you money or just what the money will buy?  I hoped for the latter honestly.  And hoped I wasn’t his only visitor that day. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bedtime Stories

Sig Other likes to be talked to sleep.  His favorite thing is the snuggle up close on my side of the bed, wrap his arms around me and say, “tell me the impressions of the day.”  Rarely does he actually have the opportunity to ask me about the impressions of the day because nine nights out of ten, I’m dead asleep before he turns out the lights.  This is not ideal for Sig Other as he hates to be alone and, to him, being awake when I am asleep is about as lonely as it gets.  But lately I haven’t slept so well.  There’s a lot on my mind.  So, lately, Sig Other has had more opportunity to hear about the impressions of the day.

The other night, in response to the request for the impressions of the day, I started talking about Abraham.  The guy from the bible.  I don’t know a whole lot about Abraham.  I never read the bible or went to Hebrew school.  And I am most likely way out of my depth engaging in this conversation.  But I had come from a study class with my rabbi and had Abraham on my mind.

In class that evening, we were talking about the tension inherent in Judaism.   And we were looking at a particular passage from the Torah, which begins with God’s inner monologue about whether or not to tell Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  And that’s weird enough.  Why is God talking to himself much less questioning (or strategizing) whether or not he should let Abraham in on his plan?  THEN, God tells Abraham and Abraham, in a display of pure hubris, challenges God.  And not only does he challenge God, he WINS.  And not only does he WIN, he keeps going.  First, Abraham gets God to agree to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of fifty good men.  But that is not enough for Abraham.  He keeps going.  What about forty, thirty, twenty, ten?  And God agrees.  Of course in the middle of this negotiation, Abraham does something brilliant.  Abraham says to God, “I am but dust”.  He basically kisses God’s ass in the middle of the negotiation and, EVEN THOUGH HE IS WINNING, he takes a moment to compliment God and acknowledge his own subservience.  And then he keeps going until he gets what he wants.  Fucking brilliant.  Of course, there are not ten good men and so God destroys the cities anyway.

But the destruction of Sodom is not the thing I care about.  This passage alone is not the thing that haunts me.  What haunts me is another passage.  The passage where Abraham recognizes that the world was “created for my sake.”  This is the thing about Abraham and his story that is so interesting.  Abraham acknowledges on the one hand that the world was created “for my sake.”  And on the other, he also admits to God, “I am but dust”.  My rabbi often talks about the notion that to be a Jew is to walk around with a piece of paper in each pocket – in one pocket is a piece of paper that says “the world was created for my sake” and in the other, a piece of paper that says “I am but dust.” 

Clearly, my evening class with the rabbi had my head spinning with this idea.  What does it mean to live this paradox?  What does it mean to be the most significant and the least in the same moment?  Is this meant to be the lesson of Abraham?   Maybe.  “But,” I said to Sig Other as I continued on my rant about Abraham, “I don’t think is that this duality is what defines our lives as Jews.  I think this duality is what defines our lives as humans.  To be alive is to walk the knife-edge ridge of hubris and humility.  To be alive is to be in constant conflict with overactive ego and crippling lack of self-esteem.  To be alive is to be simultaneously aware of the individual vs. the social.  Am I for myself or am I for you?  And if I am not for myself how can I be for you?  The great struggle of my adult life is to try to balance my inherent selfishness with my desire to get outside of myself and do something greater – for my family, for my community, for the world.   Likewise the struggle between “I’m great” and “I’m shit” is sort of a constant.” 

I paused to take a breath here – I felt I was really getting to something deep – that I was about to uncover something truly insightful about myself through the my newfound spectacular knowledge of three paragraphs of the Torah when suddenly I realized that Sig Other’s breathing had slowed and was being accentuated by an ever-so-slight snore on the inhale.   I think I’d lost him somewhere between “Sodom” and “Gomorrah”.  Or maybe even at the mention of Abraham.  It didn’t matter, really.  I would talk to him about Abraham some other time.  “M,” I said, “are you asleep?”  “No,” he replied in a muffled voice, “I’m listening to every word.  Keep talking.  Its so nice.”  And I did, though I know he had no awareness of anything other than the hum of my voice. 

Friday, November 6, 2009


There is nothing quite so blissful as first class on British Airways from London to Los Angeles.  I especially covet flying in this direction as it means the fulfillment of my biggest fantasy – extra hours in the day!  I leave at 4pm, arrive at 7pm but have an amazing, hermetically sealed ten hours.  Never mind that the math is disastrous in the opposite direction.  I focus on my extra ten hours with no cell service, no email access and plenty of time to read, snooze and catch up on movies.  That is, of course, assuming that those around me adhere to the basic rules of flight etiquette.

The basic rules of flight etiquette, in my opinion, demand a certain kind of awareness.  The traveler must realize that the sanctity of the pod creates the illusion of privacy within a somewhat public space.  So in order to maintain this illusion, I believe two simple rules must be enforced.  Keep to yourself.  And keep quiet.  

But today, someone broke the rules.  There I was, bobbing along above the clouds, blissfully hovering between a script and a nap and thoroughly enjoying the downtime after a grueling 24 hours of meetings when suddenly, my bliss bubble was popped by screeching laughter from the pod behind me.  A woman’s high pitched voice, piercing the solitude and violating the rules of pod travel while watching some comedy or other on her teeny tiny movie screen.  “Ok,” I thought to myself, “clearly this is a one time outburst.”  And then a man’s booming laugh.  Her husband, in the pod next to her, watching the same movie but on a 45 second delay.  For the next two hours, every time she laughed, he laughed shortly thereafter.  Needless to say, neither was happy with just one movie during the flight.

Why, you might ask, didn’t I get up and simply ask them to pipe down?  Why didn’t I politely suggest that they might giggle more discreetly?  Or even send the steward on the cruel errand?  Why?  I guess in part I was envious.  How wonderful to be so completely unselfconscious that you can roar with laughter in your own private bubble!  How amazing to be swept away by a movie or a tv show and lose yourself for a moment or two (or in their case, ten hours or so)! 

So I ignored them as best I could.  I put on my own headset and popped up my own teeny, tiny screen and lost myself in Roman Holiday for the twentieth time, and wept into my mint tea and scones with clotted crème.  I still believe in the sanctity of the pod but I am oddly tickled by the loud, movie-watching couple.  Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I am NOT Florence Nightingale

Child One is feeling better.  She was sick last week.  Missed three days of school and a horseshow.  At the first sign of congestion (accompanied by intense exhaustion), I told her to stay home.  Her compliance was proof positive that she wasn’t well.   Since her incident three years ago, any sign of illness is a yellow flag to all of us.  Three sets of parental eyes stare warily at Child One if she coughs, much less shows signs of exhaustion, body aches or temperature.  We cautiously watch her frail physique, searching for signs of recurrence of the illness that stole so many months of her 14th year.   It was not a major illness this time – not something that would last for months and drain her of her energy and spirit – not something that would shake all of us to our very cores and force us to marvel at our helplessness in the face of her illness.  This was just a cold.  Child Two is not better.  He’s on week two of some mystery illness and is weak and tired and sick of being sick.   Maybe it’s a low-grade flu, maybe mono or maybe just a cold. 

A cold, it turns out, does not bring out the best in me.  Nor does a flu, or any kind of fleeting infectious illness.  It isn’t that I’m unwilling to cater to the sick.  I’m quite good at squeezing an orange, steeping a cup of fresh ginger tea, creating a tempting meal to feed the low appetite of a cold or fever and run around to find the extra blanket, the perfect pillow and a good old fashioned movie for watching.  It’s just that I don’t like it.  I don’t want to spend my time around sick people.  I redeem no self-esteem vouchers for wiping the noses of others or mopping their sweaty brows.  I take no pride in sopping up vomit.  I am relatively healthy and want to remain so.  The idea of spending time in close proximity to someone who I KNOW is infectious does not excite me. 

I know this is not very maternal.  I know it is not very nurturing.  I know that a lack of desire to cater to the ill is not my strong suit.  I don’t want to be around sick people and when I’m sick, I don’t want anyone around me.  I don’t want someone around petting me, mopping my brow or catering to me.  I look bad when I’m sick.  My nose is red, my eyes are puffy and my skin lacks radiance.  And I’m either cranky or weak like a kitten.  Why, on earth, would I ever subject anyone, much less a loved one, to that?

I subscribe to the Ebola theory.  You know what I mean – the tribal practice dictating that members exposed to the deadly virus are locked in their hut the minute they become symptomatic.  If they emerge from the hut within four days (the period of time it takes the disease to run its course), they are accepted back into the community and are assumed to have built immunity.  If they do not emerge, the hut is burned with the diseased inside.  This, I think, is the perfect way to deal with illness.  Let me go to my hut and be left alone.  I don’t want anyone waiting on me.

But Sig Other does not subscribe to theory of the burning hut.  Sig Other likes company when he’s sick AND when he’s well.  Sig Other does not want to be alone.  When he’s sick, Sig Other wants me to hold his hand and stroke his head and tell him that everything will be all right.  When he’s well, Sig Other wants me to hold his hand and stroke his head while he tells ME everything will be all right. 

And of course the children are not interested in the burning hut either.  They like company.  They like to be close.  They don’t like to be alone.  They want to share their snotty, sweaty maladies and are blissfully unaware of the petrie dish like environment that follows them around like Pigpen’s dust cloud.  The children are germ bombs – deadly little explosives just waiting to go off.  I love them.  But this is fact. 

I would love to be the stepmother who turns into Florence Nightingale at the first sign of a sniffle.  I’d love to want to wrap the snotty little infectious creatures in my arms until they are healed.  But really what I want is to lock them in their rooms and cut a slot in the their doors through which I can pass fresh juice and hot soup until they are well enough to emerge.  I’ll make the soup from scratch.  I’ll harvest and squeeze the juice myself.  I just don’t want to be exposed to their illness.  Is that so wrong?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cut it out

If I were a surgeon I’d start at the base of my throat.  I’d cut a very thin, very straight line down the center of my chest to just above my belly button and start to gently ease back the skin on either side so as not to stretch it too far.  Then I’d go to work on the muscle.  A sharp scalpel could make quick work of the job, until I exposed my chest cavity.  Once there, I’d remove the dark masses that grow through the week.  They look like cancerous lumps only more square.  But instead of diseased organs they are the dark masses of Envy, Shame, Humiliation and Failure.  I’d remove them and put them on a white background in a Lucite box and display them in a well-lit space as though they were the best of Damien Hirst.  And I’d feel better.  

But I am not a surgeon.  I’m just a regular person.  And I cannot cut these things out of me and pretend they were never there.   They are always there and to what degree they get to direct the course of my day depends largely on so many factors but all of them point back to me.  Do I let these words, emphasized by capital letters, get the best of me or do I suppress them with a smile and a laugh?    

Home, work and love.  The great cliché says that you can only find joy in two out of three at any given moment.  And I hate to live a cliché.  But the older I get the more I am forced to accept that I am lucky to have even one go well, much less two or three.  Tonite, at the end of a long day, at the end of an even longer week, I am grateful for the deep, steady breathing that indicates a sleeping Sig Other next to me, the periodic grunts of the beasts on the couch across the room, and the quiet hum of stillness that resonates through my home.  Two of my three are in tact tonite. Whatever else may happen, whatever else seems to be falling to pieces around me, I am forced to remember how lucky I am to have great love in my life.  My love and my home are one and the same.  How lucky am I?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Armed and Dangerous

Nora Ephron feels bad about her neck.  She shouldn’t really.  I saw her the other day and her neck looked great.  All of her looked great.  She was wearing a sophisticated black suit and had a perfect blowout.  She was, as always, dressed for the occasion.

I do not feel bad about my neck.  My neck is fine so far.  The skin of my neck has age appropriate looseness and there’s little if any waddle under my chin.  My arms, however, are another matter.  I feel bad about my arms.  Not all the time.  This Spring my arms were looking pretty good.  I was working out and had done a fair amount of work to make sure I could pull off my shoulder and arm baring wedding dress.  But then I got busy.  And life took over.  And now I feel bad about my arms.   They might look ok again someday.  But right now, they’re taking a little break from public exposure.  And that’s ok.  They still look fine in a tight fitting t-shirt.  The basic shape is still acceptable.  But the skin is a little loose.  And the looseness, in the wrong light, can look a little, um, cottage cheesey.  Yuck.

This is what I was thinking about as I sat at my table during the awards segment of a charity dinner tonite.  Instead of listening to the experts discussing the impact of the changing environment on children’s health, I was focused on the number of women in the room who had not paid proper attention to their arms.  It was shocking to be in a room with that much botox and that many eye lifts and waddle tucks and neck jobs and to realize that women who had spent near fortunes on their faces had forgotten entirely about their arms. 

Let me clarify:  I am not a person who believes that every woman should look like a Playboy bunny.  In fact, I prefer a woman to look her age.  Nothing is more glamorous than a well-aged woman.  And I’ve almost never seen plastic surgery look anything but ridiculous.  BUT, I also think a woman should DRESS her age.  At a certain point, unless you are Sarah Jessica Parker, you should probably check your arms before you go sleeveless.

Some inappropriately sleeveless women have an excuse.  They’re single or perhaps lack proximity to a full-length mirror.  Some may have husbands who don’t know any better or perhaps they just don’t have gay friends.  But most women over 40 have no excuse.  Most women over 40 have a husband or a child or a friend or a gay man or a full-length mirror or some combination of all of those things who can let them know when they wiggle.  And some women have people they PAY who should let them know.  Some women have assistants and publicists and STYLISTS who should tell them that the perfect new one-of-a-kind designer dress was really meant for some other woman – some woman whose arm skin has not succumbed to the rigors of time and gravity.  Some women should, quite simply, know better.

If 43 has taught me anything it is that at a certain age, no amount of working out can stave off the simple march of time.  And it is JUST NOT OK for a woman with a stylist to go out with flabby arms.  It is NOT OK for a woman wearing a borrowed designer gown to flaunt bicep cottage cheese.  If you are forty or forty-five or fifty, before you leave the house, ASK SOMEONE.  Seriously.  Ask a friend, ask your housekeeper, your daughter, your husband or your driver.  Ask the valet guy and your publicist.  And then ask again.  Mostly ask the mirror.  In low light and in high.  Because truly, I promise you, there is NO ONE THING MORE UNATTRACTIVE than a woman who cannot discern the difference between age appropriate bareness and showing too much skin.  If it jiggles, wiggles or looks like something you can buy in the dairy section, COVER IT UP.
Nora Ephron knows best.  There is nothing more chic, nothing more sexy, than a woman who knows when to sheathe her arms, cover her shoulders and reveal only the décolletage that is still reaching upward.  Hide anything that cannot defy gravity.  And for god’s sake, learn to feel bad about your arms.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sig Other's Scrabble Bitch

There are times, late at night, when Sig Other is glued to his computer and ignores everything else around him.  And sometimes, late at night, when Sig Other is in such a mode, I will hear him from across the house scream, “That BITCH!!!”  And I know that he is talking about my mother.

This is not the result of some overly protective move on Sig Other’s part.  Its not like Mom and I had a fight or that she is overstepping her mother-in-law bounds on some household issue.  No.  Sig Other and Mom are engaged in war.  But it isn’t your typical mother-in-law vs son-in-law battle.  It’s a word war.  An online, all-out, to-the-death word war called “SCRABBLE.”  It is possible that the two of them were responsible for the shutdown of Facebook Scrabble. 

For a long time, I suspected them both of cheating.  Sig Other would mumble, "That word is bullshit" under his breath as he went to the online dictionary to check it out.  It seems impossible that could both get so many seven letter bingos, could have such consistently high scores, could parry at such lofty heights.  And yet they do.  They are a perfect Scrabble match – each highly competitive and driven to find the highest scoring word in spite (or because of) their draw. 

At first, Mom would call and I’d think she was actually interested in me - how I was, what I was doing, what the kids were up to.  But then I realized that what she really wanted to know was why Sig Other hadn’t taken his turn yet.  We’d chit-chat for a moment or two and then she’d say in her sweetest voice, “Is your husband home? I see he hasn’t taken his turn yet in our game.  Is everything ok?”  And if he was home, and if he knew who I was talking to, he’d immediately chime in, “Tell that bitch I’m coming after her – she’s not gonna beat me – no seven letter bingo I can’t handle.”  It was a little uncomfortable. 

But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about marriage (and I’ve certainly had enough “at bats” to have learned something), it’s that we cannot be all things to our mates.  So if Sig Other is to have a Scrabble Bitch, I guess better my mother than some hot young word bimbo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Just so we're clear...

I was sitting at lunch with a girlfriend today and somehow we got on the subject of the children and life before and after.  And we talked about driving to games and horseshows and playdates and the grocery store and what my weekends look like now versus what they looked like when I was single and not the stepmother of two fabulous children.   The funny thing is I swear I do not remember what I did all day Saturday and Sunday in my single life.  I know I was in better shape.  I know I was well manicured.  I know I saw friends more and was certainly more aware of the latest in handbag styles and skirt lengths.  But was that really what took up the 48 hours in between my last staff meeting of the week and my first?  Good God!

Let me back up.  Where I’m going with all of this, what I was thinking about in the shower as I washed off the detritus of my day was this: you can’t have it all.  I know we all know that.  I know we all repeat to ourselves every day.  And I know that as much as we say it to ourselves as adults, the damage done when we were young and being raised in the brave new world of liberation is too great to overcome.  Because in that world – in the world of the working woman and equal opportunity and bra burning – no one said you can’t have it all.  In fact, they said quite the opposite.  They said, “go for it.” No on ever said, “you have to choose.”  There was never a conversation about balance or priorities or any of that stuff. 

Honestly, I blame it all on the Enjoli girl.  Remember her?  She could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never, never let you forget you’re a man?  Her?  Right.  She fucked us.  Because clearly the Enjoli girl only worked a three hour day.  The rest of the time she was working out and getting a great wash-n-set so she could look like a rocking sex bomb when she walked in the door to greet her bacon-loving husband.  And where were the kids?  No where, that’s where!  Because Enjoli girl didn’t have time for rugrats.  She was busy earning, buying and frying the bacon before dripping the grease on her husband’s cock as foreplay to the kind of dirty sex romp that only well-rested, well-worked-out people experience. 

But I digress.  My point is simply this.  There is no one I know who has it all.  There may be some people who look like they have more than others.  I may actually be one of those people.  I am crazy about my husband, I have a terrific job, phenomenal stepkids, two ridiculously good-looking dogs and amazing friends.  Everything looks really good.  And it is.  I am NOT complaining.  But, the outside lights in my backyard are all blown out and have been for weeks.  No telling when I get around to fixing those.  For about six months I’ve been thinking my windows really, really need to be cleaned but soon it will be the rainy season so I may as well put that off until Spring.  My mother’s 75th birthday is coming up and I have reservations at various restaurants but no firm plans.  I’m two months behind on waxing, haven’t dealt with a recent speeding ticket and don’t remember my last manicure. I mostly feel like I’m bad at my day job and I sometimes feel I’m failing on the home front as well.  So it all may look fantastic but just so we're really, really clear and for anyone who may have missed my point let me make it again, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL.  Got that?  Great.    

Sunday, October 18, 2009


My friend, C, has a theory about dating.  When I was single, she used to tell me that I had to find someone whose handicap complimented my own.  She would say that if a person was the emotional equivalent of a paraplegic, he shouldn’t be dating another person who couldn’t walk but instead should seek out the human version of a wheelchair.  Two people who can’t walk will go nowhere together.  It’s not a bad theory really. 

Likewise, a person cannot be expected to win a war armed with the wrong weapons.  A bow and arrow rarely work against a gun.  Combat training is no preparation for nuclear war.  Through time, the rules of engagement have changed and conflict grown more complex, more sophisticated.  I realized this as I was thinking this morning how ill equipped I am to battle the demons that haunt Child One. 

My own teenage years were fraught with operatic mood swings and dramatic battles. Thus I felt fully prepared to take on whatever teenage drama might come. I expected meltdowns.  It’s just that I expected them to be about things like bedtime and curfew and permission slips (real or figurative). My own teenage battles, however internal the underpinnings, were manifest in power struggles with my mother. I'm sure my father would have gotten roped in had he lived long enough, but unfortunately mom was left to fight alone and the will of a hormonal angry teen can triumph over a single parent nine times out of ten.

But Child One’s meltdowns bear no resemblance to those I staged almost 30 years ago.  It is a far more sophisticated battlefield on which she plays out the drama of adolescence. And perhaps we've done her a great disservice by providing no external enemy.  Her demons’ rule from within and usually only come out, like monsters under the bed, late at night and when no one else can see them.  I don’t know how to battle what I can’t see.  I don’t know how to battle something this unfamiliar. 

Of course, by the light of day, Child One’s disposition returns to its sunny state.  She awoke, refreshed by a good night’s sleep and unscarred by the tears of the night before.  This, I suppose, is the beauty of youth.  The young can fall apart so grandly one moment and bounce back the next.  I’m sure there is more drama to come, and I’m sure Sig Other and I will face each new battle ill equipped as we were for the last.  Knowing that we don’t have the right weapons doesn’t make going into battle any easier but it does help to know that she'll bounce back and, in the words of the great Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Worry About the Big Stuff

It’s 11:54 on a Saturday night and the whole house is asleep.   Child One is nestled in sweetly amongst the bears and blankets of her wee childhood.   Her Macbook and Blackberry are ever present by her side.  Child One’s friend, H, is spending the night and snores gently beside her.  Child One falls asleep quickly, exhausted from too many tears before bed, the result of not enough sleep and an abundance of activities: honors classes and internships and after school clubs vying for time spent divided between two houses and her beloved horse. Child Two is also sleeping – always a more difficult endeavor for him though blissfully easy tonite.  The boy rests on a yard-high downy soft mattress surrounded by clouds of grey bedding.  The dogs are down too, although that is an obvious and easy task.   A simple “let’s go to bed” will suffice for them any time after the sun has dropped, each burrowing into his and her own side of the couch and hunkering down for the night in the same position, same places no matter the weather or time.

And Sig Other is next to me, the rhythm of sleep clear from his breath.  We talked a while before he drifted off tonite – talked about Child One and her anxiety.  He wondered if she was suffering, if she was really in trouble, if she really needed help.  And I reminded him its impossible to make any sort of judgment about a tired teenager the closer you get to midnight.   Having been a female teenager once many, many years ago, I remember the anxiety and frustration and exhaustion and the feeling of being completely lost and totally overwhelmed.  I remember not knowing what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go to college (or even IF I wanted to go to college) and I remember that the not knowing was the worst of it.   I also remember many a meltdown and that each one felt real and horrible and brutal in the moment and in hindsight was probably the result of a teenage hormonal rollercoaster. 

I don’t worry about Child One’s teenage meltdowns.  I don’t worry when she cries or gets upset or anxious.  It’s natural to freak out as a teenager.  It’s natural to be afraid – of change that’s coming, of change that’s happened, of change you can’t predict.  What I worry about isn’t the anxiety.  What I worry about is what she’s anxious about.  I worry that our children worry about the wrong things – that we’ve created a false sense of security, that we’ve cushioned and protected and coddled and cacooned them right out of realistic fear.  Realistic fear is “how am I going to fend for myself in the real world?”  Realistic fear is about making a living, putting food on the table, affording a decent place to live.  Realistic fear can also be about government policy, war, healthcare, the safety and security of our future as a nation.  Realistic fear can be about bad guys down the street or across an ocean.  And realistic fear can be for the welfare of our family members and those we love.

Realistic fear is NOT “am I going to get into an Ivy League school?”  Realistic fear is NOT “am I going to do well or Really Well on my SATs?”  Realistic fear is NOT “if I take only two honors courses instead of four, will I jeopardize my future?”  But these are the fears that haunt Child One.  They are ridiculous.  And at almost midnight on a Saturday night, it is futile to tell her so.  At almost midnight on a Saturday night, all you can do is shut off the lights, send her to bed and know that the world will look different in the morning. 

But after she’s gone to bed, after the house is asleep and four humans and two dogs are lightly snoring in unison, I lie awake and wonder where we went wrong.  Of course we’d like the children to want for nothing.  Isn’t that what we all want?  And giving what you can doesn’t yield a spoiled child.  Child One and Two are not remotely spoiled.  BUT (and it’s a big but), wanting for nothing does not take away anxiety.  All it does is take away perspective about what to be anxious about.  Be anxious about world politics and the global economy.  Be anxious about how to pay the rent.  Be anxious about being kind and attentive to those you love.  Be anxious about the Nazis coming.  The rest of it, you have to let go.  How do I imprint this onto the brain of an anxious teenager???  

Friday, October 9, 2009


Today I received an email from my Fairy Blogmother, Miss Whistle.  In it, she let me know, in her lovely, English way, that I’ve behaved badly.  I didn’t behave badly on purpose.  But I behaved badly nonetheless.  It seems that etiquette in the blogosphere ("blog-iquette" as I now refer to it) dictates that if someone comments on a post, you (the author) should reply.  Of course that makes perfect sense.  And I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until now that NOT responding is terribly rude.  Because, of course, if someone takes the time to read a post and respond, the proper thing to do is say "thank you".  And I’m usually quite good at a thank you.  I’ve stacks of stationery ordered for just such a purpose in my real life.  And I even keep stamps in my office drawer because I believe that even in the email/text-happy world we live in, it is still nice to receive a handwritten note in the mail after a dinner party or for a gift.  

But that is in my real life.  Somehow, I act differently in my blog life.  I still treat my blog life as though I am completely anonymous, as though I don't really exist or as though my posts cease to have a life of their own after I post them.  The truth is, I’m rather stunned that ANYONE reads my posts but for Miss Whistle, my mother and my friend, Rebecca, who lives in New York and reads as a way to keep up with the kids.  And so whenever I see a comment on the 43rd Year, I’m so excited that I get sort of giddy – I turn into a teenage girl who is so thrilled that she’s been asked on a date by a cute boy that she doesn’t have the presence of mind to respond.  Instead, my heart races and I fear discovery and fantasize about it all at once.  And so the tremendous “thank you” that is coursing through my blood never makes it onto the page.  

So this is my way of saying a belated THANK YOU to those of you who do read, and my way of sending a big, fat apology to Charlie Circus and anyone else who has taken the time to read and comment only to be seemingly ignored by me.  I’ve NOT ignored you, I swear.  It’s just that I’m so excited you wanted to date me that I’m still blushing in a corner, embarrassed to show my face.  Please forgive me.  I’ll act better in the future.  And thank you, Fairy Blogmother, for letting me know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women Who Walk

My best friend and I speak every morning.  We call each other from our cars on the way to work.  It’s the best time really.  No home life or work intrusions to distract us.  Sometimes it’s a two-minute check in.  Sometimes it’s a long chat that ends only when one or the other of us is at our office door.  We talk about what we’re wearing, we talk about the day ahead, we sometimes talk a bit about work and exchange vital information or just gossip about what’s going on around town and I usually ask what her infant daughter is wearing and doing that day.  But most often, we’ll start our chat with the fantasy conversation of what we would say to each other if we were not women who work.  We imagine a life in which we call each other in the morning to discuss our daily plan – will we meet for a hike or at exercise class?  Will we go to coffee after at Le Pain or at Joan’s?  And will we have meetings for the various charities we have time to dedicate our energy and passion to that day or perhaps just visit LACMA to see the latest installation?  Now that she has a baby, our plans include picking the child up after school and including her in the latter portion of our leisurely ladies-who-lunch day.

This all started because one morning as I was dialing her number (speed dial “B” on my berry), I noticed all the women walking in my neighborhood.  I was running a bit late that morning.  It was about 9am.  And there were droves of women in twos and threes walking through my neighborhood, chatting and looking very fit.  I should mention that I live in a neighborhood in the hills adjacent to an excellent hiking path.  So it wasn’t unusual to see people walking.  I just hadn’t noticed before how many women walk in leisurely groups at a time when the rest of us are headed to or already at work.  So when B answered the phone I immediately assaulted her with, “who are these women?”  “Who are you talking about” she asked with a laugh in her voice.  “Who are these women who walk at nine in the morning when the rest of us have to get to the office?  Why do they get to walk?  How did they figure out their lives like that?  I want to walk at nine am!”  We talked about the women, talked about what the rest of their days might look like, talked about what it would be like if we didn’t work.

And thus was born the ritual of the conversation in which we fantasize about a life in which we get to take a late morning walk, or go to the gym, and go to lunch, and dedicate ourselves to causes we care about, and get our nails done on a weekday.  It’s a silly ritual, really.  And in truth we both like being working women most of the time.  The fantasy is a “someday” fantasy and not a “today” fantasy.  But its fun and it’s a good distraction from the anxiety that can build on the drive to work.  And I still want to know who those women are that get to walk at nine in the morning and what they do with the rest of their day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hebrew School

Child Two started Hebrew School this year. It was his choice to learn Hebrew and begin to study for his bar mitzvah. His sister did not attend Hebrew School and was not bat mitvah. Sig Other was in his Hindu period during her formative years and thus Child One grew up more inclined to lunch at the Krishna temple than to snack time in the sukkah. And Child Two is often drawn to pursuits that are in direct opposition to Child One’s interests – a wise effort to distinguish himself from the glow surrounding his sister. She played piano. He likes drums and is showing an interest in guitar. She loves horses. He likes bike riding and soccer. There is crossover, of course (dogs and cooking and reading and things). But Hebrew is his and his alone. Intellectual and spiritual learning notwithstanding, Hebrew allows him a secret dialogue with his father. In Hebrew they can swear and make fun behind our backs and share things that only father and son should share with one another. Hebrew is his daddy-bond.

But Hebrew School is inconvenient. The Temple of our beloved Rabbi is far away and class often conflicts with soccer, work and sleeping in. But Child Two asks little and endures much. So if Hebrew School he wants, Hebrew School he shall have. Day One arrived and I felt it important to take him myself. Sig Other was out of town and Ex-Wife unfamiliar with our shul. So I took the afternoon off work and schlepped the sweet boy across town for his first day. He seemed calm and relaxed and my anxiety grew and grew as we neared. My own insecurity of not being quite Jewish enough, not being quite smart enough, simply not knowing enough, was taking over and I made light conversation about anything else to cover. We arrived, early of course, and made our way inside where immediately my own fears melted away as familiar faces and warm greetings reminded me, once again, how silly I can be. I deposited Child Two in his classroom with his lovely teacher, John, and made my way downstairs. My plan was to find a nice cozy place to sit and read and make phone calls while Child Two was in class. I’d make myself a nice little mobile office and alleviate the guilt of having left the office early.

I may not have mentioned but our temple is poor. It is young and vibrant and inviting and inspiring. And it is poor. There is no permanent facility so we are housed at the JCC, which may have been chic and sparkly in the 60s, but is now just old and dumpy. So finding a comfortable place to settle was a challenge. I picked a shabby but no longer chic sofa in the corner and hunkered down with blackberry and scripts. Twenty minutes later, a woman came and plopped herself down opposite me, shattering my solitude. “Do you have a child in Limudim?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. Sometimes I just say yes because it’s simpler than explaining that Child Two is my stepson. And sometimes I say yes to avoid the inevitability of what comes next. But the woman was friendly and also had a child in school and we kept chatting and of course the moment came when I explained that Child Two is my stepson and not my bio-son. And she did what most people do when that moment comes – she did exactly what I was trying to avoid. She gave me a “Good for you!” And she meant it quite genuinely.

The woman went on to tell me that she is divorced, that her ex has a new girlfriend and that she is trying to help her kids understand that liking the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they are choosing one woman over another. She’s been trying to tell them there’s room for everyone. She was talking about helping her kids adjust, talking about putting her own anger aside for their sake, talking about coping. And she said something rather profound. She said, “I could never hate my ex as much as I love my children.” She told me this, I think, because she was representing the ex-wife point of view on allowing another woman to care for her children. And I appreciated that.

I should say here that I quite like this woman and expect we’ll be friends. So the fact that I'm pointing out that she did the thing that makes me so uncomfortable is not meant as criticism. It's just the perfect example. And it wasn’t that she was talking about her divorce and her ex and his new girlfriend – I like all of that. Talking about divorced families and how to cope is one of my favorite subjects. The thing that makes me uncomfortable is the conversation that assumes that the ordinary things a parent would do fall into the category of extraordinary once you’re a stepparent. I know it genuinely and sweetly struck this woman as terribly nice that I was taking the time to drive my stepson to Hebrew School. But really, it wasn’t nice at all. It is just what you do. It’s completely normal and a little bit of a pain in the ass. And I also realized it would be almost impossible to say this to the woman without sounding either falsely modest or sort of school-marmish. So I just listened and nodded and smiled and said, “thanks.”

This conversation is not unusual to me. In fact I have it rather often. Often people act surprised and commend me for my exceptional step-parenting skills. But I do not want to be commended for doing the thing you’re supposed to do. I don’t want accolades for doing the same thing a bio-mom would do. And I find it odd that we live in a world in which stepparents doing things that bio-parents do all the time is commendable. It isn’t right. I don’t want to be singled out. I don’t want a pat on the head and I don’t want to be told what an exemplary stepparent I am. These are my children. Of course I drive them around. That’s what people do. The idea that someone would do more or less for a child depending on whether or not there is a biological connection is shocking and gross and foreign to me. Is that what other steps do? If so, then shame on you, bad stepparents, wherever you are. You’ve given the rest of us a bad name.