Saturday, May 29, 2010

44th Year!!!

It seems that the 43rd year is coming to an end.  I approach my 44th birthday and Sig Other and I are at odds about how to celebrate.  I insist I was terribly happy to celebrate my 43rd with my immediate family – Sig Other and the Steps and I had a delicious meal at my favorite Italian restaurant and, notwithstanding a minor teenage meltdown, it was a lovely evening.  Sig Other insists that wasn’t the case at all – he insists that rather than the bucolic evening I recall, I was in fact rather unhappy about the intimate celebration and longed for something more social.  Therefore, he insists, this year we must have a party.  I am quite sure I was happy last year (and if I wasn’t, why sully my faulty memory) and would be content to once again dine en famille.

But how to celebrate 44 is less an issue these days than something else – something that weighs heavier on my mind than weather to dine a deux, en famille or in a crowd.  And its this – what to do about the “43rd Year”.  I have loved my year of blogging, have taken great comfort in finding an outlet for my insanity, my frustration and my fleeting and wildly periodic creativity.  I’ve loved the friends I’ve made in the blogosphere, loved adding to the list of who I follow and loved checking to see who is following me.  I’ve no idea if I’ve five readers or fifty (and in truth, no idea how I would even find out), but I know I would miss my page if I gave it up but feel like an imposter if I continue to call it my “43rd Year” knowing I’m well into my 44th.

And so I turn to you, dear readers (or perhaps reader), and asked your assistance.  What is this Luddite to do now that the name of the blog is more curse than blessing?  Am I to rename it 44th Year?  Will my 37 followers (and whoever you are thank you so much) follow me into my aging future?  And how would they find me?  Is there a magical link?  An automatic re-direct?  Help blogospherites!  Help me navigate my age, the internet and the wonderful world of blogging!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shavuot 2010: Shalom, Salaam, Peace

Sig Other’s hold music is broken.  Whenever I call his office and am placed on hold I hear the same song.  In a loop.  I can be on hold for two seconds or two minutes and its always the same: “Shalom Salaam Peace” by HaDag Nahash, Sig Other’s favorite Israeli rap group.  I like hearing that song.  I listen to it and hear Sig Other singing in the car.  I listen to it and think of Sig Other in the hot Israeli sun sweating as we walk through the Old City looking for the perfect falafel.  And I listen to it and think of the deep inexplicable connection I felt with Sig Other from the moment I met him – as though we knew each other our whole lives and shared a deep history that few relate to.  The shared history is that of European Jewry – the memory of which we both fear will be lost when our generation is no longer around to tell the stories of our parents and grandparents.  This is the history of old world Jews who set the table with fine silver for breakfast, whose forefathers argued Torah for hours on end and whose futures were written in flesh in places like Theresienstadt and Auschwitz and Buchenwald. 

Lately there has been a lot of talk of Israel in my house – talk of Israel and talk of the Jews.  We talk of the particular and the universal – do we focus our tzedakah on the Jews or do we focus on the world?  What does it mean to stand by Israel?  Do we support Israel right or wrong or Israel only with a two-state solution?  Do we support Israel at all?  What does Zionism mean?  Modern Zionism? And where do we fit into all of this?  These are passionate discussions.  No conversation about Israel or Judaism is had in which the philosophical is not tinged with the wildly emotional.  Emotional topics.  Emotional times.   No political issue can evoke so much passion as that hinged on religion.  Consider the state of Israel.  Consider the issue of abortion.  If you can name two more polarizing issues – two issues that inspire more passion, wrath, contempt, ire or volume – I would love to know what they are.  What do the issues have in common?  GOD!  Where does God enter?  Where do we leave God at the door?  And what does any of this have to do with being a Jew in 2010?

To begin to answer this question, I have to dig into the past.  And I must begin the most recent past – my own.  In this past, the path of least resistance was laid out for me by parents who provided limited exposure to Jews and Judaism.   My father’s business led us from one small conservative town to the next.  Bakersfield to Edmond, Oklahoma and finally to a suburb in Northern California which, while seemingly in the heart of the liberal Bay Area, still managed to be a bastion of Reagan-backing Bible thumpers.  From one city to the next, we were always the only horn-headed, big-nosed, curly-haired devils for miles around.  The problem is we had neither curly hair nor big noses nor horns growing out of our heads.  We were just the weird neighbors down the street.  And we were probably considered weird more for our political views and self-isolation than for our religion, which was hidden from view both in practice and in name. 

“Harris” is not a typically Jewish last name.  It is, of course, a name adopted at Ellis Island – swapped out for something more Polish and unpronounceable.  The point is not whether my paternal great-grandparents had a desire to deny their religious or cultural roots.  The point is not whether they wanted to blend.  The point is that they left a generation of children undefined by name or history.  We cannot point back to generation upon generation of Harrises who have left their mark on American or even Eastern European society.  We cannot sketch a family tree with branches of well-known ancestors who left namesakes to carry on their legacy.  We begin and we end in some ways as immigrants – people determined to marry a cultural past to a bright shiny future – we bear the burden of those whose forefathers wanted to be unfettered by religious history and yet left a legacy that must be honored.

Here’s the problem: Dead Father was an atheist – and a strict one at that.  Mom is agnostic although she identifies as Jewish but also bristles at religious conformity.  And I grew up in a neighborhood of ardent Catholics, Mormons and born-agains.  “You don’t look Jewish” was a phrase heard often (mostly on Monday mornings when I gave to my standard “I’m Jewish” answer to the question “why didn’t we see you in church on Sunday?”).  So I grew up identifying as a Jew but I knew very little about actually being a Jew.  I didn’t learn to read Torah or speak Hebrew.  I knew little about holidays but for what kind of food was served on Passover (my favorite holiday) and how to hum the tune to Mo’az Tzur on Chanukah. 

So if the first part of my life was spent surrounded by non-Jews, it stands to reason that I would find myself utterly bewildered to be in the second part of my life surrounded by mostly Jews.  How did this happen?  How did I find myself at Shabbat services surrounded by davening, singing Jews?  How did I find myself with several rabbis in my rolodex, a closet full of menorahs and haggadahs and a shofar any temple would envy?  How did I find myself on the board of a temple I call my own?

Mostly my new Judaism (which is an odd phrase given my ambivalence about the whole God issue) leaves me frustrated and angry that I spent so many years with so little knowledge.  I mourn the education I don’t have, the stories I don’t know, the hours not spent studying.  Mostly I think its sad that I didn't know the meaning of Shavuot until a year ago.  Shavuos was a punchline in a joke, not a day to be honored.  I don’t go to shul to look for God.  I don’t expect to find her there.  Or anywhere really.  I go to shul to look for peace, I go to shul to learn the history of the Jewish people, to be inspired by song, by a sermon, by those around me who close their eyes and sing like they really mean it.  And I go to shul to keep hold of a tradition that skipped a generation (or maybe even two) but that feels somehow like home.  

Sweatpant Thursdays.

Truly one of the only things I dislike about being a working woman is getting dressed in the morning.  Is it a dress day or a pants day?  And if pants, can I fit in the skinny pants or do I have to figure out what goes with the fat pants?  The fat pants usually require a heel so then which one and how far do I have to walk today?  If a dress, is it long enough that I can go with bare legs or do I have to wear a tight to cover up the now jiggly skin on the front of my thigh just above the knee?  Jacket or no jacket? Sweater or no sweater? Which jewelry?  Am I going for accessible and artistic or businesslike and tough?  Argh!  I can lose up to twenty minutes a day to paralytic fear in my closet. 

Here’s what I love about “casual Friday”: jeans.  I can wear skinny jeans or baggy jeans, black jeans or blue jeans or even the occasional white jean.  Either with flats or with high heels, I can always make a jean look chic.  Jeans and a blazer, jeans and a sweater, skinny jeans disappearing into high heeled platinum Chanel boot – its all good. 

So here’s what I propose:  Sweatpant Thursdays.  Perhaps preceded by Comfy Wednesday and CozyChic Tuesday.  Monday could be a free day – wear a suit, go business chic, knock yourself out.  But five days a week is really just too much to ask. 

Men don’t have this problem.  Men just put on a suit.  And a shirt.  And they’re done.  My male colleagues could wear the same suit every day of the week with a different shirt and I would never notice the repeat.  Women can’t do that.  We have to create a unique look every day.  Elegant but not too sexy.  Businesslike but not too threatening.  I’m exhausted before I walk out of the house.

I tried the uniform thing – simple pants, shirt and a chic accessory every day.  It was lame.  I looked like a stewardess.  Or a waitress.  I realize now that one of the things I actually loved about being a waitress is that I always knew what to wear.  Black pants, white shirt, little green apron.  I could vary my earrings.  That was about it.  So maybe that’s the solution: uniforms for the corporate world!  Motion picture studio team shirts that mix and match with a black or navy blue pant.  I like it!  Maybe that will be my great contribution to studio history.  Take the guess work out of the morning.  Knock twenty minutes off the day.  Uh oh – gotta go figure out what to wear now…

Monday, May 17, 2010


Ex-wife got some lovely bath products this Mother’s Day.  I know this because I picked them out, supervised the wrapping and delivered them to Child Two to give to his mother at the appropriate moment.  I quite like her gift.  I hope she did as well.  Ex-wife bought me something too.  She got me flowers.  But Child Two told her not to give them to me – that I’d be mad because I don’t like Mother’s Day.  He’s right actually.  Not that I’d have been mad.  But that I don’t like Mother’s Day.  It seems silly.  Like Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day or Secretary’s Day or any holiday made up by Hallmark.  Consumer conspiracy – that’s what it smacks of. 

But I do like being a mom – even a stepmom.  And I like it so much I even tag along at events where really barely one parent is required much less two or three.  The other night I went to “College Night” with Child One and Ex-Wife.  Sig Other was out of town so I stepped in on his behalf.  It was fun actually.  Child One got to live her fantasy life as the daughter of lesbian moms for a few hours. Ex-Wife and I played along.  We shouldered through the crowds together, milled through the bustling gymnasium as partners and picked up information from Child One’s of prospective universities. We're rather successful as and Ex and Current wife team.  Its what I call "ex-cess".  

At one point during College Night, Ex-Wife stopped to chat while Child One and I wandered.  At the Pitzer table was a gentleman I’d met earlier.  “Oh,” he said, “lovely to see you.  Is this your daughter?”  “Yes,” I replied.  We started to chat about the Claremont colleges when Ex-Wife approached and I introduced her as Child One’s other mother.  “Oh,” said Pitzer Guy with the great enthusiasm of a man who’d just made an important discovery.  Suddenly, Pitzer Guy became just a little more attentive, just a little more interested, just a little more soliticous.  Because suddenly, Pitzer Guy was interviewing a girl who might be just a little bit more exotic than her fellow applicants – she was girl with two moms. Ex-Wife and I played our roles flawlessly, providing Child One great joy, if only for a moment, before she remembered the stress of the college application process.

And tonite, quite out of the blue, Child One asked me if I like having an ex-wife.  I gave her the most honest answer I could.  “Yes,” I said, “because if I didn’t have an ex-wife, I wouldn’t have children.”  And that’s the way I feel.  “Besides,” I continued, “as ex-wives go, she’s the best version possible.”  Child One seemed satisfied with this answer and moved on to a deep discussion about prom dresses and high heeled shoes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010



There’s a boy in my house.  A real life, teenaged, red-blooded American boy.  Except he’s English.  And talks with a funny accent.  But still, he’s a boy.  And he’s here for Child One.  He’s here courting Child One.  It’s so awkward and weird and uncomfortable and I wish he would just go away.  I want Child One to be happy.  I want her to have a normal, happy, hormonal teenage-hood.  And at the same time I want this interloper out of my house.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s a perfectly nice boy.  And as boys go – as suitors go – he’s probably about as unthreatening as it gets.  He’s sweet.  He’s smart-ish.  He’s shy enough to still be polite but brave enough that he doesn’t head for the door the minute Sig Other and I come home.  But he’s a boy.  And he’s in my house.  And he likes MY Child One. 

Is it wrong that I want him to leave?  Is it wrong that I want to keep her all to myself?  Is it weird that I don’t mind the idea of her dating but hate the reality of it?  I doubt they’ve kissed.  I’m not even sure they’ve held hands.  But Child Two caught them almost snuggling on the couch and called us twice in the middle of our dinner party to give us the full report as only a good little spy can.  Child Two is quite pleased with his role as lead spy and interrogator.  He’s not particularly articulate in his descriptions, but we feel sure that he is reporting the headlines as they happen.  And there is, so far at least, precious little to report. 

OMG – is this what my mother felt like when I was a teenaged girl with an inappropriate boyfriend?  Am I finally getting a taste of what she must have experienced when my tow-headed, pot smoking English beau came around?  Is there nothing I can do to liberate myself from emotions I know are old-fashioned and concerns that are unfounded?  Maybe.  But I still want that boy out of my house.  I still want Child One to revert to her plump, curly-haired little ten-year-old self.  I still wish I didn’t have to deal with the sexualized, sensualized, romantic future of my glorious, girly, gifted and perpetually gorgeous Child One.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A little inspired...

Last night, Sig Other and I went to Friday night services with the children.  We don’t go every Friday.  The temple isn’t close and services are early.  But we try to attend when we can.  I usually make the plan early in the week and then regret my choice as Friday evening approaches and I’m still in the midst of my work day and feel hassled and overwhelmed.  I always wonder what I was thinking.  I always wonder what possessed me to make a plan to attend Shabbat services .

I didn’t grow up going to temple.  I don’t speak or read Hebrew, don’t know most of the prayers, am not entirely sure what comes next most of the time.  But I love it.  I love the music, the sense of community, the sermons from my brilliant rabbi.  And at least once, every Friday night, I am moved to tears.  Maybe its because it’s the end of the week and I’m tired.  Maybe its because I’m a sap.  Or maybe because there is something about a room filled with passionate voices raised in song that gets me going.  But it happens, no matter what, every single time, and it always erases whatever hesitation I had about attending in the first place. 

This is not to suggest that the experience of going to shul is one which makes me entirely comfortable.  Often I look around the room and feel wildly uncomfortable.  Everyone else, it seems, does speak or read Hebrew.  Everyone else, it seems, does know most of the prayers.  They know when to sit and when to stand, when to bend at the waist and when to be silent.  They are at home in a place that is entirely foreign to me.   And yet I love it and have from the moment I started attending.  I’m just not sure why.  It isn’t God I’m looking for in that room.  Mostly because I don’t consider myself someone looking for God (or at least not by any traditional definition).  It isn’t even faith I’m looking for (because oddly though the concept of God eludes me entirely I do consider myself someone with a great deal of faith).  But clearly, I am looking for something. 

My rabbi’s services attract other rabbis.  And fine ones at that.  One of these rabbis is a brilliant speaker and a lovely man.  I’ve heard him speak a few times – he is always thought-provoking and passionate.  This man has an autistic son – a severely autistic son who comes to shul on occasion and has spoken to Child Two’s class about his experience of being autistic.  Last night, there was a moment of wild raucous joy as my rabbi announced the engagement of two congregants.  A dozen people surrounded the couple and sang and danced in celebration.  And the boy suddenly came up the aisle toward the revelers, fingers in his ears, clearly disturbed by the din and terribly upset.  The boy is not young.  He is a young man and not small.  And his father tried, at first, to stop him gently.  “No,” I could see him say to his son, “Come back this way – we’ll go outside away from the noise.”  But the boy was too strong for him and pulled away.  The father had to grab his son in a semi-tackle and pull him away down the aisle.  The boy relented finally, and the two went outside for a few minutes until the noise subsided.  It happened quickly and was over before most people noticed.  But I noticed - a private moment in a public space - a father who saw only his boy and the pain he was in - a brilliant scholar forced to tackle his autistic son in order to protect him.

This was the moment that stuck with me this week.  This was the moment that moved me to tears.  It isn’t that I feel sad for the man or even for the boy.  Quite the opposite actually.  What I felt in the moment, and what has stuck with me since, is the power of the bond between these two souls – the power of the love that leads a father to stay consistent, to stay present and to stay dedicated to a son who seems unreachable to most.  He isn’t unreachable, of course.  When you read the writings of this young man or hear him speak, you understand the brilliant mind and soul trapped in a frustrating cage.  But not every parent would have the patience to remain dedicated.  Not every parent would have the faith to sustain this relationship moment after moment, day after day. 

So it was not a sermon that moved me to tears this week, though it was a damned good one.  It was not the songs or prayers.  It was this moment, this moment of pure love and dedication, this moment of perseverance in the face of challenge, which became a moment of extraordinary inspiration for me on this Shabbat.   Maybe that’s all I'm looking for.  Maybe it isn’t about knowing the order of the prayers or the exact moment to bend at the waist or when to sing and when to be silent.  Maybe its just about finding a moment of pure inspiration in the sanctity of a room that is outside of my daily life.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sleep when you're dead...

Sometimes I say to Sig Other, “ugh, I’m so tired – I have to sleep.”  And to this he says, “Sleep?  I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  I never knew what he meant until I heard a rabbi tell the story of man with a bank account.  In that account, he received a credit of $84,000 every morning.  And by the end of every day that $84,000 was gone whether he spent it or not.   He never knew if more money would come the next day and so he worried about spending any of the $84,000 lest it not come again the next day.  But the money didn’t stay in his account.  Whatever was deposited in the morning disappeared by the end of the day.  And each day he got another $84,000.  He realized, over time, that the money would not accrue.  And the money would always disappear.  And so he came to understand that he should spend whatever was in his account and enjoy it while he had it.  It’s sort of like being in the desert with a jug of water.  The jug has a slow leak.  Every day it might get filled but there is no point in rationing as the water will have dried up by day’s end anyway.  So we should look at the hours of our day.  We get 24 fresh shiny new hours every single day of our lives.  Those hours do not accrue.  They do not carry over.  If we don’t squeeze every minute of possibility and life out of every single minute we have, then what is the point?  

Shabbat shalom. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It must be love, love, love...

 Child Two has a crush.  A genuine, 11-year old boy, blushing-with-embarrassment crush.  We were all taken by surprise.  He’s just a little boy, after all.  Isn’t he?  I suppose by “all” I mean we grownups who still look at him as the tiny little flaxen haired boy that he was and not at all as the strapping young man he is becoming.  And if ever we thought we’d have to face the crushing blows of romance to young hearts, we felt surely it would be with Child One who is nearly in her seventeenth year. But no – it turns out that even though Child One does have periodic friend drama and a date for prom – the bigger deal, the more curious turn, is Child Two’s crush on the girl from Hebrew school. 

The object of Child Two’s crush is fabulous.  She’s a precocious girl with glasses and long brown hair and an adorable smile.  She’s from a great family, she’s smart as a whip and she’s exactly the sort of girl that Sig Other would pick for him given the chance.  But we weren’t given the chance.  Child Two’s baby-boy heart grew an adolescent beat of its own and he went off and picked for himself.   How about that?

We don’t mention Child Two’s crush around the house.  Even Child One is respectful of the delicate glass box Child Two keeps his heart in.  We tiptoe around the issue – periodically suggesting outings or dinners that could include Miss Crush and her family so that the two might spend time together.  I don’t know if Miss Crush knows that she is the object of such ardent affection.  And I certainly don’t know if she reciprocates.   But I do know that the crush makes me love Child Two that much more.  I find myself in awe of who he is today and who is becoming.  He is changing so fast.  Every day I am fascinated to see the young man who wakes up in place of the little boy who went to sleep the night before.  And I am always pleased with who I see.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Little Retarded

I’m a little retarded.  There, I’ve said it.  And surely dozens of readers will gasp in horror.  I’ve used the most politically incorrect phrase of the decade.  We shouldn’t use the word “retarded”.  Apparently, whenever we use the word “retarded” it is assumed we are referring to someone with special needs, say Down’s Syndrome or autism.  It couldn’t be that I am using the word correctly.  It couldn’t be that when I say, “I’m retarded” what I mean is just that.  But it is.  And I do.  The simple truth is, I’m a little retarded.  The simple truth is that I am employing the world properly. 

The Webster’s dictionary definition of the word “retarded” is as follows: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.  That’s me!!!   I am slow to respond to things.  It takes me longer to figure stuff out than it does most people.  When my father died, it took me six months to absorb the information and another decade to figure out how to mourn him.  I come up with clever retorts only AFTER I hang up the phone or leave a room.  And certain issues that might strike me as acceptable in the moment, sometimes stew and come to light in different ways once I’ve had a chance to consider them.  

The problem is I don’t present as retarded.  I present as facile and quick and highly opinionated.  But the truth is, it takes me a while to formulate an opinion.  Often, I am too ill informed to come to a real conclusion about things requiring more information and rumination.  The opinions about which I am most passionate don’t come to me in a flash – they don’t grow organically in the fertile soil of my brain and belly.  And they don’t grow – in part – because the ground is far less fertile than I’d like.

Lately, I find myself in the midst of controversy – people I care about sit passionately on either side of a political fence and I find myself floating over the middle – observing both but siding with neither.  I feel somehow entirely ill-equipped to choose a side.  Rarely in my life have I felt this uneducated, this uninformed, this insubstantial.  Notwithstanding a day job and a sense that balance must be maintained, I fantasize about diving headlong into research that would land me in a more educated, more knowledgeable place from which I could articulate (nay = perhaps even pontificate) my point of view.  When able, I grab moments here and there to scour the internet for information which I try to absorb with a critical eye.  But mostly I find myself angry and frustrated that I didn’t take more responsibility for my own education as a child – that I squandered good brain cells on less important issues.  And then angry again that those thoughts take up time better spent. 

So if I fall short of blogspectations or go missing from the blogiverse for spells at a time, you’ll know I’m out there somewhere – searching for information to fill the gaps in my education and trying to rev up the retarded motor of my brain to a faster cycle.